Samsara Blues Experiment

Samsara Blues Experiment. What can you expect to hear when you read a name like this one? The first thing that would probably pop out on your mind would be psychedelic rock and you would be right. But it’s not everything this relatively young German act brings on the table. I spoke recently with the prime suspect for running this magnificence, Chris Peters. Besides SBE, we talked about his previous projects, today’s musical scene, his other commitments and…

Nick: Hello Christian, thanks for agreeing to this interview for Prog Sphere. You’ve just returned from a tour with Sons of Otis. What are your impressions? Are you guys satisfied with the responses you get from the audience at gigs?

Chris: Hey Nick. Actually it was a pretty good tour, we ́ve seen some beautiful landscape in Switzerland, ate much healthier than regularly these days and also Sons Of Otis turned out to be really nice guys. The gigs in Halle and our last gig in Wintherthur were really impressive. Many people showed up and all of them seemed to be really into SBE. Apart from a few tech-problems, that we always seem to have, all shows have been really good. I got a bit tired of playing songs from “Long Distance Trip”, but people still love them. Really amazing.

Nick: Before you started Samsara Blues Experiment, there was a project you were involved in called Terraplane. From what I understand this period before SBE began was a bit frustrating and thus you decided to move on and come up with SBE. What happened with that whole story? Tell us a bit more about the beginnings of SBE.

Chris: Well this was mostly a personal issue between the Terraplane singer Chris Oelke and me. We ́ve been very close friends, but then things changed and I saw that it could not go on like it was. Then we ́d been stuck in the middle of nothing, playing gigs for 20 people and most of the times it was frustrating to drive three hours, playing just for a bunch of musicfreaks and getting 50 euros and a lousy excuse from the bartender like “Oh last weekend there ́ve been 200 people watching the Dozer show.”. Maybe it was also a bit too early for Jam Psychedelia? Also I have to admit that Terraplane haven ́t been a very good live act. Some gigs were pretty cool, other times someone ́s been too drunk or too tired to play…

Terraplane ended up when I decided to move to Berlin. I had already started SBE as a jam project. We were just doing these jams, like 20 minutes on one tune with several guitar solos and stuff, but we weren ́t much a “serious” band. It became more serious when I started looking for people in Berlin. It took almost one year to find Richard and Thomas and later on Hans. Most of their predecessors just wouldn ́t match.

Nick: As it’s said on your official website, the meaning of the word “Samsara” could be understood as “to flow together”, like some form of naturally cycling. Was that on your mind when you started the band back then, to make a music which will appear totally without any pressures, just plugging in your instruments, to play and float? One would say that the name of the band does not actually mean anything, but not for you. Blues and Experiment are not there for fun, right?

Chris: What was in my mind, hm… I read Hesse ́s “Siddhartha” back then. Once I said it would be the only book I would keep in case I had to decide to just keep one book haha… I was pretty impressed you know, started to get into these kind of mythological, spiritual things, mostly eastern stuff. This thing about reincarnation really hit me. The word Samsara just had been burned into my memory when I first read it, something like this.

I don ́t remember how or when exactly I came up with the whole term, but I remember telling my buddy Oelke, that I would call my next band Samsara Blues Experiment, on the way to one of the last Terraplane rehearsals. He thought it sounded a bit odd I guess, but I have always had this passion for the effect of words or word-combinations. Samsara Blues Experiment just sounded great to me as a band name. You know Blues has always been a big influence for me – one way or another. I love Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and so on… all more or less Blues-rooted musicians from traditional to modern times.

Nick: In 2008 you recorded a famous demo with SBE that actually launched band directly in the orbit and people around world, thanks to MySpace heard, your songs and the band started to get very good feedback. Are you surprised that in such a short time you actually became a band in focus? If I’m not wrong, soon after you released that demo, you’ve been asked to tour US.

Chris: These days I am much surprised that our album is still so popular. Still quite many people buy it – we sell a lot MP3s, but also the LPs and CDs are still going. Thanks a dozen to our fans, you make it possible that we can pay our rehearsal room rent and strings ;-) !!!

When we put out the demo, we ́ve been one of the first bands who did it for free. People could listen to it just by downloading it from the band ́s website. There ́s no financial risk, whether you like it or find it boring as hell. And without being much egocentric, we did or do also something that very few bands do. Yet I can not recall one band that combines Blues, Stoner/Doom and Raga. Can you? Krokodil did Raga and Blues back in the 70s. Bands like Queen Elephantine use a lot of Tanpura sounds in combination with lowdrones and stuff, but the mixture of these three ingredients, maybe that ́s it? I know quite many bands in the genre and beyond, but I ́d say no one sounds like us.

And yes, we ́ve been asked to play a festival in Humboldt County, USA, just some weeks after releasing the Demo, which was really awesome haha…

Nick: In comparison with Terraplane, SBE has brought forth much more complex and intense music. You decided to turn towards a more heavy psychedelic sound and it resulted in some pretty great music. Where did it come from? All that interest for psychedelic rock? What were your influences at the time?

Chris: Main influences, from what I could remember, in the early period of SBE were basically Stoner/Doom-Bands like Colour Haze (can ́t deny it) or Toner Low, some rather mystic 70s bands like early Camel and May Blitz and some Indian guys like Nikhil Banerjee and Ananda Shankar, who came up with some pretty experimental stuff in his times. Also I have been in love, which might explain these very romantic lyrics like “Have you seen my queen? She ́s a divine child.”. Well that ́s it. I am not only into Psychedelia, but a great lover of music you know, especially from the early 70s.

Nick: Last year you released your first full-length album called Long Distance Trip, which in comparison with the demo sounds a bit more tame. Of course, I am talking about the actual music, not about the production. Do you agree?

Chris: Actually the final mastering kind of cleansed much of the roughness for a good and a bad result. We are not completely happy with the final sound of “Singata Mystic Queen” for example, but there ́s always compromises to find. Also the songs have been more structured, if you mean this, and that ́s a natural effect when you don ́t want to stick to just one genre forever. We don ́t label our songs like “This has to be the Psychedelic song.”. Some songs like for example “For The Lost Souls”, that ́s almost Classic Rock, but it ́s also more than this you know. We play whatever we like to play. Anyways one should also mention that the demo was recorded two months after our very first rehearsal with three microphones or something like this, so it could only sound rough.

Nick: Your demo has intrigued many record labels, but the choice has been made and you released it through World in Sound Records, who released the album in a LP format. Was it your idea to have it released on vinyl?

Chris: Actually our live performances gained a lot more attention of labels than the Demo itself. We got five offers from mostly smaller labels, but then decided to work with World In Sound who were also the first label to offer us a deal. World In Sound does vinyls for every release and have a pretty good distribution to offer. For all of us as vinyl lovers, it would have been the only golden goal to get released on vinyl.

Nick: I would say that the most important structural element in SBE is actually jamming. How much do you care about improvising when it comes to creating music in SBE? Also, how much overdubbing you use in a recording process?

Chris: Oh, I guess the most “jamming” is my guitarsoloing while the guys keep going along on a theme, but not changing pace or whatever. Yet most of the songs are structured, even if one part might go on for quite a while and gives time to improvise on the lead instrument – a bit like in the philosophy of Raga music. In my opinion one really needs to maintain a minimum of discipline, otherwise it can get really crappy. I had some experiences with Terraplane where we sometimes improvised like 70% of a song. It ́s also harder to really jam with two guitarists in the band.

Overdubs differ from song to song. “Center Of The Sun” had like 40 Tracks and not even half of them were from the original take. Others had less, but we always overdub and really enjoy to experiment with sounds, samples and Synthesizers and other “toys”.

Nick: What gear do you guys use while recording/playing live? How important is it for a musician to try new things in regards to equipment? You know, new amps, guitars, pedals, effects, etc.?

Chris: I really can not bring up a complete list of gear here, we basically use Orange and Marshall tube amplicication and Orange cabinets for the guitars. Richard got a 1960s Sunn cabinet, Ampeg amplification and a 1970s Gibson Grabber bass. We use effect-pedals by Electro Harmonix mostly and some others plus a selection of Guitars, mostly Humbuckered-Epiphones, but also Gibson or Gretsch and I played a lot my Fender Strat on “Long Distance Trip”. We have a Moog Little Phatty, a Korg CX-3 which sounds awesome combined with my Echolette Leslie-speakers and some other stuff. Don ́t ask me what Thomas plays, I know nothing about drums. But he ́d tell you the same about our stuff haha…

I ́ve been playing around with things like E-Bow and a dozen effects, but in the end this is less important than your actual skills on your instrument. These days I tore down everything from my effect-board that just bothered me from really playing and concentrating on my instrument. In the end I only need a Wah-Wah, a good Fuzz and a Delaypedal.

Nick: Singata (Mystic Queen) and Double Freedom are tracks which, we may say, build up Long Distance Trip. These two songs carry a feeling of your own personal seal, as both of them have a history. Tell us a bit more about these particular tracks.

Chris: They ́re about love. I met this special person, shortly before I started SBE. Both songs were kinda like dedications to her. She also encouraged me to sing and bother mankind by crooning in this funny accent ;-) . The “mountains of madness” were my home back then, I told you about the area where I used to live in days of Terraplane. These were mountains of madness, not referring to H.P. Lovecraft what I found out much later.


Nick: The overall impression I have about Long Distance Trip is that it actually makes me feel like these songs off the album are just a pieces of one huge segment, like they are not closed, which makes me feel that they are just a part of one big conceptual story. What’s your take on this?

Chris: I think they are closed somehow, also in the concept of the album, but maybe I see it different because we played these in this exact order when we did the USA-tour, which itself had a huge personal impact on each of us and the songs became soundtrack to this experience. We always thought the album was almost conceptual as it is, even if there is no distinct red-line between the themes of the songs.

Nick: Can we say that the internet and especially social networks like MySpace helped SBE a lot with promotion, by spreading your demo? What’s your opinion on sharing music for free?

Chris: Of course it did. We share our music for free since the first Demo. You can listen to all our songs for free on Last.fm. I think this is just necessary when you want that people listen to you and you have no money to promote it otherwise. No one listens to a Demo that costs money. I remember the 90s when bands sold tapes, but who bought them? A few hundred people maybe, while we had thousands of downloads of our Demo.

I am also aware that giving away music for free and the whole actual behavior of downloading music causes a certain superficialty towards music. I mean I know several people that download tons of music but never really listen and even worse, they judge it with stupid ratings. That ́s really ridiculous.

Nick: You toured the West Coast of the US, are you satisfied with how it turned out? Not many bands not from the US have a chance to tour there at the very beginning of the career, but we may say that you succeeded in it.

Chris: It was okay for when we did it. We were a pretty unknown band, but had luck to play with great bands like Farflung in some really cool clubs like The Echo in L.A. I am not sure how much we succeeded, if I compare it to nower days. We were really in the beginning.

As I said it was much impressing for us personally. We saw that there are big possibilities in life that one just has to grab to make dreams come true, you know.

Nick: Speaking of concerts, is it hard to carry all that gear with you, especially when you play abroad? Or you make compromises and in such particular segments you improvise a bit more, just to compensate the lack of organs or sitars, perhaps?

Chris: Actually we hardly ever use Sitar and Keyboards. It is too much and stages are often too small, even if they became much bigger these days. But then I am no Octopus, I often wished I had six arms to play all my instruments. But playing live really came down to the basics of our music, which is two guitars, bass, drums and vocals. Sometimes we borrow amps and cabinets but we try to play our own as much as possible. Anyway we are still free to fly anywhere and bring up our sound without having to carry everything of our equipment.

Nick: You were confirmed as one of the bands on this year’s edition of the Roadburn festival and it seems like your long time wish is about to come true. Are there any further touring plans? Maybe you could come to Serbia?

Chris: Actually it is my long time wish to play Roadburn yes. I couldn ́t do it with Terraplane, I couldn ́t play last year, while the other three SBE-guys jammed with David of The Machine. So it has to happen sometime, hopefully this year. We had some more touring plans, but it is not certain yet if we can manage to tour another time this year. Some of us have to face serious personal challenges these days, while we earn not enough money to live from the band, quite obviously.

Nick: To keep up the story with psychedelic rock, I know that you work on another project called Solitude, an acid psyche rock outfit, which has been active for 10 years. Would you mind telling something more about it?

Chris: Oops actually I became very lazy with this, maybe that ́s why it kept going for so long. The last months I have had pretty much other daily-life troubles to manage and SBE became my main project. So I don ́t know if there will be any other release of Soulitude, sorry.

Anyway this is my solo-project, so there ́s no one else involved.

Nick: Besides being a musician, you also run your webzine called Electric Magic, and it’s nice to see musical enthusiasm like that coming from an artist. When I started Prog Sphere, all I wanted was to give an equal chance to both underground and well-known bands, although I may say that we are an underground webzine with the intent of promoting good music. How do you see the situation on today’s music world market?

Chris: Man you have really done your homework, haha ;-) … But actually also here I have to say that I am not much active these days. With the help of some other writers I have been doing the magazine for five years until now, including the release of our much-appreciated download samplers. Initially I had the same aim as you have, doing it as a passion, but then I saw many writers come and go because they soon lost their passion or had to care for their jobs or whatever. I am not sure if I will go on these days.

Speaking about today ́s music, I still find it interesting to seek treasures you know. There aren ́t much, but occasionally I find one, like Imaad Wasif or also some Italian bands that I really dig like Emmablu. I mean the “market situation” most probably was similar for at leats the last twenty years and apart from the “internet thing”. You always had to seek the real treasures. Looking at the bands there ́s always been artists and copycats. While, you know, I just love good music… something that really appeals to me, really strikes a nerve.

Nick: Do you think that 70′s occult hard/psyche/stoner rock is a new hype around these days? There are so many bands that actually put their music under these label. Where does this fury come from, in your opinion?

Chris: I think it is really great, when people go beyond the veil of our so called truth and discover that there ́s more in life than listening to a slimy babyboy-singer complaining that he ́s not having a hard-on or fat chicks (I don ́t use this term too often, but here it is appropriate.) praising their inner emptiness. There ́s a universe and it ́s up to everybody to discover it. Psychedelic music might help you to reach other spheres or at least give an idea that there are other spheres – and these are not exclusively accessible by using drugs. How about this?

I haven ́t heard about a hype, though there ́s been a certain change within the “stonerscene” from late 90s Heaviness á la Dozer to more Retro 70s stuff. It ́s interesting, brings up many nice bands.

Nick: It’s been said that you recorded new album in January with a possible release later in summer. What can we expect this time? Any bigger changes? More experimentation, more blues?

Chris: Some more Blues for sure and maybe more heaviness. The songs are shorter, a bit more compact let ́s say. We ́re still in the recording process, which is always interrupted – as usual – by our jobs and personal issues. We hope to finish the album in May, so it might be released in August or September.

Nick: Is there anything you would like to add that I didn’t cover in my questions?

Chris: Nuclear power totally sucks and we should have known it from a day back in 1986. Still every asshole seems to need 100 and more electronic devices and they invent a whole lotta crap, because they can put it in a nice package and make a million bucks to buy more electronic devices. Let ́s say I am glad to be no politician, just a fuzzy worrier… Please switch off the lights when you leave home.

Nick: Thank you very much for you time, Chris. All the best and hope to talk with you soon.

Chris: Thanks for your interest. Namaste.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.
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