INTERVIEW WITH KIMARA SAJN - June 14, 2019
by Lee Henderson , for BIG BEAUTIFUL NOISE
Below is a self biography of Kimara Sajn. Most know him as a one time member of Thinking Plague. What many may not know is he has a huge catalog of self released (on his own label) recordings that will interest anyone in both avant-garde pop, experimental, and mixtures of styles, all done in a prime way. His multi talented skills allow him to play all and any instruments (and a great voice too) along with sometimes cohort B. Sue Johnson, his wife, who also has some solo work in the Precognitive Records catalog). My interview with Kimara is one of the best and most interesting pieces I have ever been involved with. I think you will agree. I appreciate the details and nice information he gave on this.
"Born in British Columbia, Canada. Grew up on hefty doses of Joni and Neil, Buffalo Springfield and that. Moved to Los Angeles in 1971 to help a friend build a recording studio, ended up staying. Continued to study music privately and ran our recording studio "Stoned Crow Studios" (aka SCS). Worked as an independent producer there and then moved to Mendocino, California. There I taught music and recording and met my wife B.Sue Johnson, who is sometimes featured on our albums. We moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1985 and lived here ever since. I finally naturalised in 2016 after 40+ years here, at long last and at the worst possible time LOL" - Kimara Sajn
More info on the members, the releases, and the thoughts of Precognitive Records can be found at:
KS = Kimara Sajn
LH = Lee Henderson
LH: What can you tell us about your first experience with music?
KS: My parents were both professional musicians. My mother, in particular, was a concert pianist in her youth and a performing jazz musician who also worked as a musical director for various casinos and other entertainment venues. So i grew up listening to a lot of classical music, including a fair amount of contemporary stuff, as well as heavy dosages of jazz, often by folks she was working with. These were folks like Maynard Ferguson, The Adderleys, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Burrell and others. Also my family is Iranian and so there was always a lot of middle eastern and Indian music played at my grandparent's home. And my grandfather played jazz guitar... yes, a lot of early music experiences
LH: What was the first instrument you learned ? Did you have a dream of playing that instrument in a band or what was your feeling about it at the time?
KS: I learnt piano early on from my mother around the age of 3. She started teaching me to read and write music around age 5. I was a music prodigy and did the early advanced school thing by way of my composing and interest in recording technology. I was a tape machine nerd by the time i was 9 years old. I started producing little albums on our reel to reel and, later, cassette deck, using bouncing and other techniques i still use today. Around 5 years old or so, i moved to drums - actually my very first instrument - and bass guitar. Those were my primary instruments but as a youngster i could pick up any instruments and make music with them. I also sang my first melodies. Maybe my voice was really my first instrument. As for bands, that didn't come until later. My main focus was composing and recording. I started my first band at 14 and released an album with it. This was circa 1968. It was a time when i was actively seeking out ways to make my recordings. My work is very often more about recording and conceptual art than songs. Not to say i don't do that also. But bands and the like were always a means to an end for me. Never really had a dream of playing in one. And having done so now many times, still don't.
LH: How did your making music (composing) begin?
KS: I started singing repeatable original melodies as a very young child. Then i started playing the drums. Then i started picking out melodies and chords by ear on the piano. Then i started creating instrumental compositions at the piano. Then i started recording these things and became very odd indeed. My mom was a seriously bad influence in that regard. She bought me Lumpy Gravy when it first came out (and i think also 200 Motels). That pretty much changed my life. It had everything i loved - tape work, contemporary classical music somehow mixed with excellent rock and a conceptual art bent. That showed me a way forward with the kind of thing i was interested in. All of this really kicked off in my early teens.
LH: You have a somewhat pedigree with Thinking Plague. How did it come about that you joined with that band, and why did you leave?
KS: Dave Willey and i have been very good friends for close to 20 years. He turned me onto Mike Johnson and Thinking Plague's music, which I loved immediately. Dave's Hamster Theatre is also pretty bad ass, by the way. I had often expressed to Mike, who's also been a friend for almost that long, that I'd like to work together on something with him. I've never had any issues with his rhythmic complexities or harmonics, which surprised him. I understand what he's doing. Over time, the opportunity to perform with them came along. They don't play out often, which suits me fine. Plus we're are separated in location. In 2009, i officially joined the band. I played with them until 2013. Decline and Fall (2012) was a genuine collaboration between Mike and myself early on. I helped to get the ball rolling, producing the initial basic tracks (drums, percussion, tape effected stuff, misc) and later keyboards. He worked closely with me on it but gave me free reign with the drum parts and keyboard sounds. He wanted a drummer's perspective, he said. It was tons of fun to work on that with him. We did a number of domestic gigs and a couple of tours together. As you know, there is no money in the music we make. Consequently, it can be a hardship to stay with a band like that. Especially if travel is involved to simply rehearse. It was a wonderful time though. As one who is not fond of performing with a "band", I felt among real compadres, musically and otherwise. The shows we did were very high level. It was an honor to be part of that. It's just difficult with a day job, family life and finding the time to produce my own music to commit properly to a band. Bill Pohl joined in that last year, for our tour of the Pacific NW and the first SeaProg. The new dual guitar outfit is a great evolution. The members are now close together (Denver/Boulder Colorado area) which facilitates more live shows for them also.
LH: Can you explain some of your most important influences and what musicians really struck you in such a way that made you spark in your own way musically?
KS: My mother; pretty much every jazz record from the 50s and 60s; a lot of the pop music also - Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Laura Nyro, Chicago, Elton John and certain others. I was sort of a jazz & classical snob in my younger days. For example, The Beatles didn't click with me until around Revolver. By that point, however, all rock music had become more interesting to me. I was finding gems everywhere (Egg, Henry Cow, Zappa, Cream, Hendrix, et al). The rock music of the 60s and early 70s became big, as progressive ideas were everywhere even on the radio. FM radio was inspirational.
I immediately loved bands like Steely Dan, Gentle Giant, Mahavishnu and Jan Hammer, especially, being myself a drummer and keyboard player. Todd Rundgren also lit me up in his early days. A friend had the Nazz records and suggested we shared some traits. When I moved to L.A., I started catching him live whenever I could. I found his attitude toward production and his musical scope refreshing and very inspiring.
Aaron Copland, Elliot Carter, Stravinsky and Benjamin Britten were very important to me as a young person, as were some of the more avant folks like Berio, Wourinen and Cage. At university, I became very involved with music theory and electronic music. Serialism and various systems of composition remain a focus of a lot of my work to this day. The way these things can spark new ideas and creative musical solutions continues to excite me.
LH: The alternating calmness of ballad and complex pieces are so abundant in most of your releases. Could you speak about those results?
KS: It's just how the flow for a given album winds up. I try to determine what the context is for a release and it's not always clear. I write in all of those styles and enjoy working out sequences wherein they can live together comfortably. I'm most proud of the sequencing on our records.
LH: Does your process of making an album (or set of songs) change from time to time, or do you have a nice honed method at this point, to how you approach that?
KS: I am very quick in the studio, having done it for a very long time. And with digital technology, things are quite a lot easier these days. That said, the approach changes often. I never know when or where material might come from or if and when it might morph into an album. Sometimes it's very clear but more likely i'll wait for inspiration. There are never guarantees. As i get older, it also becomes a decision about how much effort i want to put in vis-a-vis recording. It's still a fair amount of work to produce at the quality level i want. So it just depends on where i am in my life and the life of a given project.
LH: You have a very generous policy with your vast collection of musical offerings, on your own self controlled label, Precognitive Records. What is your philosophy with your music?
KS: Polyethylene Pet self-released its first two albums on cassette to an audience of tens for free. The +1 concept originated from my pressing an album on flexi-discs when i lived in Santa Cruz and mailing it to a random mailing list i purchased, also on my own dime. The idea at the time was radical - sending free music out which people would have to understand in non-commercial terms. Nowadays, everything is free but the concept is the same. Pretty much anything you can buy on our site can also be streamed for free. Likewise, anything you buy will have value added beyond what you've paid. It's not that i support the "everything free" movement, mind you. It's just in the DNA of the PP project. It's never been about selling the CDs. That's nice - people should have it on CD. But it's never required ever. This stimulates one to think about the dialectic between the artist and the audience (as relates to the producer and the consumer). Or so i like to think.
LH: You have several different groups you record with. Can you tell us a little about each band and then your solos, as to the styles, and reasons they all exist?
KS: A general guideline of what to expect would be given by the "band" name, as a rule. Polyethylene Pet is the overriding project, actually. It's got it's roots in the Mendocino Dada movement circa 1979 or so. It's a conceptual art piece ultimately about the relationship between the listener and the artist. The history of the project can be found at the link below.
A Polyethylene Pet album tends to be more abstract, often very avant-ambient-conceptual. Very seldom would you find a ballad or linear rock track unless +1 is involved too. Those are the PP/+1 albums. You have pretty much ALL of the pure PP albums, i think. You are among a rare few. You'd be better able to explain the difference based on your listening, perhaps. +1 is conceptually a radio show. As my stepson once explained it to someone, they are rock band type albums. I'd add a fusion twist and some musique concrete to that. They are essentially album oriented musical things. PP may or not even involve music. +1 is the accessible side of the coin. Poignant material is generally in there somewhere, if possibly with some irony. Albums under my own name tend to be song collections or jazz rock fusion type affairs or straight out classical. It all gets sort of mixed together though. There's way more about any of that than you should care to know!
LH: What would you say to young or those starting out musicians today? What advice could you offer, and what do you feel they should know?
KS: I'll simply quote Frank Zappa - "Get a real estate license" :P
LH: All said, would you recommend other musicians to devote all their time to making music?
KS: Certainly not. If you're serious about being a good musician though, I'd recommend devoting as much time to listening as possible. And then, of course, if you want to be a working musician, practice makes perfect. But you need to have a life too.
LH: Looking back, then putting a telescope on your own musical works, how do you feel about it all?
KS: I'm very proud of my work. I've never released anything i was unhappy with, thankfully. I have a quite large body of recorded work too. It represents over 40 years of my musical life.
LH: What were some of the early bands you played with and what kind of music have you been involved with?
KS: I've played in various and sundry rock bands for money when i lived in Los Angeles. I've had a couple of my own - including one ("Edgewize") with my advanced music students when i taught in Mendocino, California. There is a lot of variety in the kinds of music I've been involved with - pop, jazz fusion, rock, avant-progressive rock, etc etc. I've also composed a lot of chamber music and continue to do that including a lot of music specifically for reversed tape and musique concrete pieces. Some of the latter ends up on my records. The original Polyethylene Pet was about live conceptual performance art compositions which I'd been writing at the time. We did a performance every year from 1979 through 1981. So there is also that sort of thing.
LH: Is there anything you wished a person would ask you in an interview, that you would like to state and answer now?
KS: Oh goodness no. You've asked great questions although I'm sure it's way too much about myself. I hope it satisfies the handful of readers who know anything about my work and even care. Thank you for taking the time to virtually interview me. I'm honored.
LH: Thank you so much Kimara, you have been most gracious with your time. I look forward to your next release (s).
KS: Thank you! All the best to you and yours, Kimara
© Interview by Lee Henderson June 14, 2019