Each Wednesday, Rocks Off arbitrarily appoints one lucky local performer or group "Artist of the Week," bestowing upon them all the fame and grandeur such a lofty title implies. Know a band or artist that isn't awful? Email their particulars to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before you get into this, you should know these two things:
- A Thousand Cranes is an awkward, woozy, surreal band that's probably a band in only a liberal sense of the word. The first time you listen to them, you're either going to say that they might be the greatest thing going on in the city right now, or you'll put finger quotes around the word "music" when you describe them to someone else because you think really its just a bunch of weirdos making noise into a microphone. (We're of the thinking that it's the former.)
- We fully intended to hate these guys when we initially heard about them.
Oh, you probably need to know this too: The interview below is long as shit, more than 1,200 words. And that's after it's been parsed down to the most important parts. Mostly, we try to keep these interviews somewhere in the vicinity of 600 words, because anything beyond that is usually uninteresting. But this time we couldn't cut it any shorter without thinning out some of the brilliance behind the music.
Keep it moving to read about a lotus, a really expensive fishing net and the greatest single answer to a question in the history of the Artist of the Week column.
Rocks Off: Standard AotW Opener: Tell everyone everything they need to know about A Thousand Cranes in exactly six words.
A Thousand Cranes: That lotus always rises from shit.
RO: You have a song called "Diamond Net." Would an actual diamond net be the greatest net of all time?
ATC: The name is taken from Indra's Net of Jewels, which is related in the Avatamsaka Sutra. It is a parable that there is a net covering the universe, and at each intersection or node of the net, there is a jewel. The net is infinite in every direction and every dimension, so the jewels are also infinite.
The jewels are precious and beautiful. However, if you look closely at only one jewel, you will see reflected in it all of the other infinite jewels, and each of these infinite jewels in the reflection of the one jewel reflect every other jewel as well. So the reflecting is infinite.
Indeed, this does sound like the greatest net of all time.
RO: You went with the name A Thousand Cranes for your band name. Why? Did you feel that 990 cranes weren't quite enough cranes to represent your band's awesomeness?
ATC: Thank you for the compliment. We named ourselves A Thousand Cranes because it is poetic and pretty. There is a Japanese legend that if you create A Thousand Cranes you will be granted a wish. Also, the quantity 1,000 is overwhelming in magnitude.
RO: We listened to "Wounded Crane" three times in a row last night. Then we felt this subtle desire to murder everyone that lived in our house. This, we assume, was not the intention of the song, was it?
ATC: Thank you for listening to "Wounded Crane" so much. Wounded Crane is a unique song produced by Tyler Morris. A number of years ago I was on a first date with someone I really liked and it was going very smoothly until we walked out of Mai's. A lady approached me and explained that she was homeless and pregnant and she had AIDS and then she asked for spare change.
The lady was desperate in her demeanor, and she had off-color spots across her body. This killed my evening's happy romantic momentum. My date stepped back in fear and froze up. Among the million thoughts going through my mind as she talked was judgment of this lady, of her being a prostitute and her being so reckless and irresponsible that she got pregnant and now her child has a death sentence.
I could sense that my date was scared, I wanted to protect her, impress her, be on the same wavelength as her, and I had an inclination to politely dismiss the homeless woman, but I didn't. I listened sincerely to her and before I knew it I had taken her hands into mine and was holding them and I told her I didn't have any cash, but I did have leftovers I could give her.
While holding her hands I had terrifying thoughts of getting cut and then being infected by her. She was very grateful and I think my listening to her and my physically touching her had a positive effect on her. She took the leftovers and then she hugged me tightly (and once again my mind raced with nightmarish scenarios).
A couple years later I was living in Los Angeles and I was (and am) a member of this organization called Food Not Bombs (FNB), which shares food with the homeless. The LA FNB group would set up on Skid Row. We would walk down the alley and prop up our table to put the food on it, and almost each time I remember passing a junkie leaning against the wall, in the middle of shooting up in daylight as I passed him.
My emotions would get confused and I would get temporarily upset, thinking "How dare he do this right when we bring him food? How dare he flaunt that he doesn't give a fuck?" A couple years after that I was back here in Houston, still doing FNB. One night after we had shared food we noticed a scuffle amongst two homeless men. We went over to break it up and what we saw when we got closer was frightening and oppressive.
One man was beating up a man in a wheelchair. The man in the wheelchair was passed out and had a long deep bloody gash running down his face. The man who was standing was waving a bloody knife and stomping on the wheelchair-bound man's chest with his boot. We held the standing man back and got the passed out man away to an ambulance.
I remember fighting the urge to be acrimonious to the man with the knife, wanting to call him a monster. It was difficult for me to remain in the moment and just allow what was happening and what had happened without labeling.
Those experiences weren't all lovey-dovey. I'm a saint and life is so lovely as long as you are a good person. It is rewarding when you open your heart, but it is difficult and sometimes scary. The fact is compassionate action isn't always easy for me.
"Wounded Crane" is my confession: I am the homeless pregnant lady with AIDS. I am the oblivious junkie. I am the furious man who demolishes the defenseless cripple. I am the coward who doesn't want to touch the diseased person. I am the sanctimonious, self-righteous person who judges others. And that deepens the compassionate experience: Loving those who it is hard to love, including yourself.
This is the aforementioned greatest answer in the history of the Artist of the Week column, rivaling the infinite diamond net in greatness. If you want to stand up and clap right now, you're more than welcome to.
RO: When you're putting together a song - let's say "Prana," for example - what exactly is going on in your brain? We mean, how once you're completely finished with a song, does it sound exactly like it did in your head?
ATC: "Prana" and a number of other songs were made in a meditative trance. During rehearsal we choose a virtue to meditate on. We imagine or meditate on that specific virtue being spread by the sound waves of the instruments we are using. We don't choose notes or sounds to make, we allow them to come out, the only thing we keep our minds focused on is whatever specific virtue for that song.
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We just keep coming back to that, even if we break focus. And the sounds come out. Afterwards, we decide if we had a good experience in that rehearsal period, and if so, we have an idea of the sounds we had created, and we record or play shows once again meditating on whatever specific virtue is related to that song, and then an idea of the sounds or tones or notes.
The timing doesn't matter, not in rehearsal or recording or shows. The notes or sounds don't matter, either, but usually they stay close to what we created in the rehearsal period.
See A Thousand Cranes January 29 at The Mink with Dead Roses, Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except, The Lady Jung and Julia Wallace.