Name: Ben Chasny
Occupation: Guitarist, composer
Nationality: American
Current release: Ben Chasny's The Intimate Landscape is out November 5th via Drag City.

If you enjoyed this interview with Ben Chasny and would like to find out more about him, visit him on twitter or check out his artist profile on the Drag City website. You can also read our previous Ben Chasny interview.

Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?

I would say the impulse to create comes before dreams or other inspirations. First there is an impulse and then there is the inspiration. The impulse is primary.

Where that impulse comes from, I can’t say. One might argue that the impulse may have been built from inspirations when one is growing up. If that is the case, then we have a real chicken-or-the-egg situation going on here.

For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

In general, yes, I always have to have an idea of what the peace will be.

I don’t sit around writing songs because I feel moved. I don’t collect songs. I don’t know if I can say that I actually visualize what it will be because that might be a little more concrete than what actually happens, but there is a direction. Luckily for me I usually just end up sounding like me, so I can even have an idea to make a piece that is an attempt to step into a sound world that someone else has created, but I know it won’t sound like them.

For instance, when I recorded the School Of The Flower record, I was trying to make my Alice Coltrane style record. I have never heard anyone describe it as sounding anything like Alice Coltrane. But one of the interesting things about have an initial idea is I always let it flow and I never cut something out that sounds good but might not stick to the original idea.

I think it’s important to let pieces develop as they want to naturally. So there is an initial idea, but it’s never concrete.

Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?

I’ve done things with preparation and I’ve done things without. I am not locked into any one way of making something. Sometimes I will only have a handful of sketches before I go into a studio just to see how everything turns out. Sometimes I will work on demos, sometimes not. Sometimes I record at home. Sometimes I do both home and studio.

I think the only preparation is knowing or having the confidence that the thing I want to make can be made. There has to be an idea there for what a record will sound like.

I don’t really do research except when I was working on the Hexadic System, and then I did some mathematical research into probabilities, but that was about It.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

I used to write and record at night but as I have been getting older I’ve been working more and more in the morning. Getting up before dawn and recording before the sun comes up is my favorite time to record now, but that’s not always possible. It will probably be no surprise that yes, I enjoy coffee during those times.

The Companion Rises record was mostly worked on pre-dawn, which sort of hints that maybe the Sun was the companion in the title, even though in title song it refers to the star Sirius being a companion to the constellation, Orion.

I think perhaps the only real ritual I have is I need my creative space to be clean.

What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?

Mostly it starts with a riff or a musical phrase. Then everything spirals out of that.

I had a conversation for Arthur Magazine with Al Cisneros of Om about the riff and this process a while ago. The riff is the base. Unless it’s Hexadic, in which case tit all starts with a card shuffle.

Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?

I’m not sure that fits with how I do things just in that I don’t really think in terms of narrative. I think in terms of the general gestalt but not in any through-line. As I mention above, I like to just let things take shape, though.

Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?

It depends on how extreme the new idea is. There’s a reason I have so many different project.

There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?

It’s hard to say because I don’t think there is a hard line between the creative state and the non-creative state. It seems to that it’s more of a matter of intensity than on/off. So sometimes you might be more aware of being in that state or it might seem more heightened, but who knows what sorts of things are going on behind the scene, so to say.

I am highly suspicious of anyone who claims what they do has an element of spirituality because that would imply there are things without an element of the spiritual. Either everything is spiritual or nothing is, I don’t see any hierarchy.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practice?

When I am done with a record I usually still listen to it for a bit just to see how it fits in with everything else I have done before and to calibrate the next move to how that will fit in with everything. But once the record is released I never listen to it again unless I need to go back and relearn something from it.

But once I know something is done then it is done.

What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?

Considering that I don’t see the record as a collection of songs but a piece in itself, production is massively important because that is the main thing making the record the record. So it’s not so much like a band with a handful of songs that says, “how do we want these songs to sound?,” like, say, the way Rick Ruben took The Cult’s goth songs for Electric and turned them into an AC/DC sounding rock band. The record comes first.

I always mix the records myself, or at least with an engineer if I am in the studio, but all that stuff is just as important as the music to me.

After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?

I don’t know, I’ve never felt that emptiness but that’s usually because I have more than one project going on at the same time. So when something is done there is usually something else simmering.

But if I wasn’t doing that I can see how it might feel a bit empty.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

It depends on who is writing the music and who is making the cup of coffee.

A few of the possible variables for measuring the two against each other might be to look at each instance of the creation of either and examine the style, intent, purpose, skill, love, etc. that was present in the creation of each.  All of these would determine how close or how different these two creative acts could be for any given instance.