Tuesday, December 29, 2009

IRT 2009 REISSUE OF THE YEAR: YAHOWA 13 Magnificence In The Memory (Drag City)

Dave Nuss from the No Neck Blues Band on Ya Ho Wa 13
Story: Ron Hart
Photography: The Source Family Archives/Process Media, Inc.

Ya Ho Wa 13 was a freewheeling psychedelic rock outfit that was led by the late Father Yod, a Rolls Royce driving polygamist and spiritual leader of The Source Family, a cult based out of the Hollywood Hills back in the Vietnam era.

Though the band was originally founded in 1969, Ya Ho Wa 13 didn’t begin making proper albums until 1973, which they recorded in the wee hours of the early morning following all-night meditation sessions inside a soundproofed garage-turned-studio and sold out of the Source Family’s legendary vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles; Frank Zappa, Julie Christie and John Lennon were among those who frequented the establishment. The music created by the Father and his brood was a completely improvisational mind-meld of drum circles, otherworldly chanting and spacey Magic Band-style guitar jams, creating a challenging and wholly unique style of rock that has since been emulated by such modern-day acts as Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice, Tower Recordings, Sunburned Hand of the Man and the No Neck Blues Band, whose guitarist, Dave Nuss, plays an integral part of this here story.

It has been said that the band’s recorded output consists somewhere along the lines of 65 albums, although only 9 were officially released before a fatal hang-gliding accident in 1975 killed Father Yod. Shortly following the Father’s death, the Source Family scattered across the land, with several key members taking up residency in Hawaii. While much about this most interesting group’s history has been shrouded in mystery for many years, a renewed interest in Ya Ho Wa began in 1998 following the release of God and Hair: Yahowa Collection, a massive 13-CD box set celebrating the many incarnations of the band produced by the Japanese psyche label Captain Trip and curated by the late Seeds frontman and onetime Source Family member Sky Saxon. However, in 2007, surviving members of the core Ya Ho Wa line-up, Sunflower, Octavius and Djin, began playing out again on the West Coast to promote The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13 and The Source Family, an amazing biography written by Source Family members Isis Aquarian and Electricity Aquarian and published by the visionaries at Process Media, Inc. It was then that Dave Nuss from NNCK, through Process publishers Jodi Wille and Adam Parfrey, got to meet and befriend members of the Family. Eventually, Nuss ventured to the surviving Source compound in Hawaii, where he was invited to squirrel through the group’s vast archives of unreleased music. The fruit of his digging appears on Magnificence in the Memory, a compilation released in 2009 by Drag City containing nine of the finest Ya Ho Wa freak-outs available to public ears. IRT had the pleasure to communicate with Dave about his experiences getting to know this most extraordinary rural route of American counterculture and the wealth of knowledge and spirituality it provided him.

For more on Father Yod and Ya Ho Wa 13, please check out this amazing interview with Sunflower, Octavius and Djin, originally published in Jason Gross’ Perfect Sound Forever back in June 2002, now available here.

And please, if you are at all interested in the weird, wild history of The Source Family, you would be foolish not to seek out The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13 and The Source Family, available now through Process Media, Inc. There isn’t a more definitive or trustworthy source on The Source.

A big thanks to Dave for doing the interview and Nicole and Sara from Drag City for supplying the music and the positive vibes.

IRT: How did you first discover Ya Ho Wa 13 and Father Yod?
Dave Nuss:
I first discovered Ya Ho Wa 13 at an NYC record shop with a vinyl reissue of Savage Sons of Yahowa. I bought if for the cover and took it home and thought, what is this, ROCK music?? I was basically only listening to Stockhausen and Alan Silva at the time and was momentarily blinded to the beauty. Interestingly now Savage Sons is my fave album of the Higher Key releases, followed by All or Nothing at All. [These are] timeless, dramatic, transportive songs.

IRT: How much of an influence does Ya Ho Wa 13 bear on the music you create with NNCK?
Ya Ho Wa 13 is an influence on NNCK in that it stayed independent from larger business and was buttressed instead by a close knit internal community; also the improvisatory aspect, composing with the music rather than any predetermined plan.

IRT: How did you come into curating Magnificence in the Memory for Drag City?
I've been traveling already to Hawaii for years because of the mystical attraction, and when I finally heard from Process publisher Jodi Wille about the Source book and reunion of the band in LA, I cruised out there to catch the events, met the Source Family and connected. By the way, the best book about Source is this one on Process, and it is the best place to start for one not familiar with the legacy. So I went to Hawaii again shortly after and stayed with Isis, who toured me around the sacred sites and was kind enough to let me explore the audio archives.

IRT: How much unreleased Ya Ho Wa 13 music is there and can we expect to see more releases like Magnificence in the Memory in the future?
There is SO MUCH there that is unreleased—hours and hours of Ya Ho Wa 13 and many related projects. Much of it may not yet be ready to pass through the portal into this world. Each track and project really lets us know when it's ready to come in...

IRT: What did the song selection process for this set entail?
For the songs on Magnificence I selected music which has a unique character vis-a-vis the Higher Key Records. In short I would describe the selections as highly musical - many were selected from rehearsals rather than recording sessions, so there is a sense of freedom and playfulness, as well as a marked lack of self-consciousness. What I recognized in certain moments was a sense of the band, including Yod, working together as a band, rather than musicians supporting a charismatic leader.

IRT: To the layman, Father Yod seems like he started The Source Family so he could hook up with hot hippie chicks. However, what have you come to learn about his teachings in your years listening to his words and music?
Yod did not start the Source to hook up with hippie chicks; the intention was to provide them - and the guys as well - with a sense of clarity and focus on peace and universal love not available via the status quo. He offered a chance for them to pursue their dreams of living in freedom, care, and comfort, and created the mission of developing a more expansive consciousness via ancient methods, Eastern and Western. the path he showed was exceedingly deep, yet glittered with mirth. Yod strikes me as a man of infectious and irresistible joy.

IRT: If you were of age in the late 60s/early 70s, would you have joined the Source Family?
I imagine I would have joined had I been around because I have a strong penchant for the values the Source Restaurant espoused dietarily, and an inclination towards learning the metaphysical through symbols. Yod combined the metaphysical and the concrete in a completely artistic and jovial way, and in that sense is one-of-a-kind.

IRT: Did you get any good recipes from the old Source Restaurant while you were in Hawaii curating Magnificence?
Yes. Actually, all the recipes are in the back of the Source book on Process. When Ya Ho Wa 13 came to NYC, we recreated their restaurant in the NNCK space, the Hint House. The biggest hit of the night was, of course, the cheesecake.

IRT: What do you think young Americans can get out of the Father's teachings?
Regarding the effect of the Source on people today: Many recognize the message as a familiar call and approach it without questioning. The message of Source is not analytical but experiential, and Magnificence is intended to illustrate that experience of Source metaphysics through music, unashamedly. In the album’s full package, you will see the pictures of the major players, witness the key symbols and tune in to the particular frequency that is the experience of harmony in community, celestial and mundane. It is not important to justify or define this message further, for in the release it becomes self-explanatory.

What is relevant for you is: Can you perceive what is being offered?

Here is the invitation from the top of the first track, "Camp of the Gypsies," spoken by Yod:

"There is nothing you can do,
there is nowhere you can be
that you are away from me.
End it, begin it, always as you seek,
but go with Love...

I'm talking to the few that I'm seeking.
Awake from your sleep, your Father's home.
He wants to find his Sons. You were stolen long ago, yeah,
you were very young you know. But I've come to find you.
Don't worry I've prepared the way for you.
Are you ready?
Let's go!"

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