Part 1

Name: United Freedom Collective
Members: Mathieu Seynaeve, WaiFung Tsang, Robbie Redway
Occupation: Musicians, clinicians, researchers of psychedelic therapy (Mathieu Seynaeve, WaiFung Tsang), Producer, yoga instructor (Robbie Redway)
Nationality: Belgian (Seynaeve), British (Redway), Hong Kong (Tsang)
Recent release: United Freedom Collective's "Mercy" is out via Dama Dama. It is the final single before the release of their Am Ta EP, slated for release on September 30th 2022.
Recommendations: Kae Tempest - On Connection (book); Leor Roseman - Palestinians, Israelis, and Ayahuasca: Can Psychedelics Promote Reconciliation? (More about this on Youtube)

If you enjoyed this interview with United Freedom Collective and would like to find out more about the band, visit them on Instagram, and Facebook. They also have a dedicated artist page on the website of the ninjatune label.

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

Mat: Robbie and WaiFung were born into musical families, for me it might have been slightly later but I think it’s fair to say music and sounds brought us together in this project.

I think like many others, as a child I felt pretty lonely and disconnected at times, not able to understand the world, and not feeling understood by it, and discovering huge comfort in music. At the time it was just a feeling of course, a feeling of being touched by sound, of being let in on a secret that I could not really fathom.

Later on, shortly after I had moved to London, the city of so many of my musical heroes, to try to ‘make it’ with my band whilst doing psychiatry training, one of my friends put me in touch with Robbie and we started doing some gigs together. I was blown away by his voice, musical talent and production skills, but could also hear that his music wasn’t a true reflection of his real self - and he could hear it in my music too. We were trying to be liked, externally validated, being told to be good enough, by others.

Around that time WaiFung, who I met at work, and I went to the Peruvian Amazon to visit a friend and colleague who was doing research into the mental health benefits of Ayahuasca, a psychedelic brew. During the second ceremony WaiFung sang this old chinese folk song, and I felt he was able to access that core of music, that resonated with something deep within, and I got a strong intuition to bring WaiFung and Robbie together to record music that would be healing for us to make, that would help us to connect to ourselves and feel connected.

When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

WaiFung: I really love this question! The bio-psycho-social-spirit link is something which draws me so much to music. Personally, it mostly starts with emotion at its core, then my body reacts to the signal accordingly, affecting how I interact with myself/ others/ my environment.

I view music as a universal language essentially, a tool for communicating the purest form of a message – its underlying feeling or intention. The implications this has on my creative process just means its super helpful being in a place accepting of wherever I may be on the spectrum of emotions, allowing for honest awareness of intentions.

I am very grateful to Thieu and Robbie for holding such a space. Even when I’m feeling negative and overtly anxious, how honest music can shift these can be so empowering!

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

Rob; It’s been a journey. I’ve had many bites of the proverbial cherry. Singing and playing in indie bands, dabbling in electronic music as a songwriter whilst being intimidated by technology, unlearning the rules and form from my early classical musical education but also recognising how useful they can be.

All valuable experiences but I think the breakthrough was when I realised that trying to ‘make it’ at all costs was damaging both professionally and personally and that the real magic comes when I focus on the process, not the outcome. That was a freeing realisation.

Working with Mat and WaiFung in a non-pressured environment, practising meditation before and during sessions, seeking expression over perfection. The list is long.

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

Mat: A lot of what we do before and whilst making music, is trying to detach somewhat from our individual identities and opinions, to try to make space for the creative process. To try to think less and feel more, we do some yoga, meditate or play with the dogs before going into the studio, try to be aware of our own process, egos, and possible interpersonal conflicts that get in the way.

When a song is in it’s early stages, it can feel a bit like a young plant shooting, before it has roots, it’s vulnerable and a simple ‘I don’t like this’ can kill an early creative idea, at least if you’re not confident about it either - but perhaps it could grow into a mighty oak or a spinach.

It’s been said by others, and I think Kae Tempest talk about this in their latest book ‘On Connection’, but creating often feels a lot like allowing something that somehow is already there to manifest, to grow into being. It’s like that funny thing when you hear a track for the first time, but you feel like you recognise it, as if you already knew it.

It ties into Taoist and metaphysical thinking about time, or Koan practices, and into the belief in ‘plant spirits’ which is a part of the Ayahuasca training that WaiFung is doing.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

Mat: The key idea is a belief in creativity and the creative force as life energy we all have within, sometimes called love, chi, prana and which we can access in many different ways, through silence and solitude, love, hanging out with animals, perhaps psychedelics, yoga, religious and peak experiences, and so forth.

We believe we spend a lot of time looking for nourishment outside ourselves, which we definitely need, and I in no way want to minimise external needs, but when we forget about the other world, when we’re not aware of the inner world, of that life force, that safe space inside, we can start to feel exhausted, depleted, depressed. Like a tree with only branches but no roots.

We want to make music from that inner space, where we find connection with ourselves and others, and hope our music can be a door or path for others to connect to that space too, if people want to.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

Rob; I don’t believe it’s a binary choice between those two things to be honest. You can be forward-thinking whilst referencing people who have made important art before you. It’s an evolution that we can all contribute to, so I think the main thing is open-mindedness - seeing yourself as a channel through which ideas can come and go, not clinging too much to your own identity.

The sad truth nowadays is that it’s very difficult to be commercially successful if you are doing something completely unique. There are exceptions, of course, but it seems everyone wants to know ‘who you sound like’, and if you can’t be put into a pre-existing box or a genre-specific playlist you face a much tougher task of being heard.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

WaiFung: Out of the different instruments I contribute, I personally feel most connected to my voice and guitar. Like Robbie, I had been classically trained on the piano so music theory can be helpful and generalisable when getting going on other instruments, like my erhu (chinese bow) or the flute, but this can easily lead to over intellectualising or run the risk of returning excessively to comfortable patterns.

Overusing patterns or similar timbres is something we often try to highlight in the studio too. The most promising strategy I have to keeping a fresh sound and express effectively with my instrument is well ... firstly to practice more alone, but then being open to honest feedback from a loving collective! I’m trying to focus more on the instruments I play to get better at them, but learning new instruments and formats is also so exciting.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

Rob: When we’re writing as a band it’ll usually be a few days or weeks that we’re together, so we try to establish a few routines.

We have ‘noble silence’ until about 9am, a chance to meditate and reflect, something they do in ashrams in India. We often practise yoga together and verbalise our personal intentions before we start making music. If we’re starting something new we’ll share some references and then jam on some instruments to find the spark.

The preparation is key - creating an environment where the flow can flourish, and when it stops flowing, we take a break, go for a walk, or a swim in the sea. Do everything we can to not be victims of resistance or get boxed in by our egos and disconnected from each other and the creative source.

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