Interviews
Interview Secret Chiefs 3

Interview Secret Chiefs 3

par Aurélien Noyer le 20 octobre 2011

Merci à Olivier de zicazic.com pour ses photos ! English version page 2.

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Eventually, all pieces fall into place... In the morning, a voice recorder taken without real conviction, then, in the evening, some traffic jam, a delayed band, Secret Chiefs 3 who plays before a.P.A.t.T, and here I am, asking half-improvised questions to Trey Spruance, former guitarist of Mr Bungle, who played briefly with Faith No More and is now the mastermind behind the Secret Chiefs 3 nebula.

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Trey Spruance et son saz électrique... ou l’inverse
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All the way through this half-hour, discussing the ins and outs of a music bringing together persan rythms, gnosticism, death metal, eastern philosophy and Ennio Morricone, Trey Spruance was voluble, impassionned, fascinating, something cryptic with some metaphors... and, above all, extremely kind.

Thanks to him for agreeing to to this interview !

Inside Rock : I know that Secret Chiefs 3 is a lot about mysticism and hermeticism. So my first question is about how a kid who was playing something like The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny at 17 turned to be interested in gnostic and esoteric writings ?

Trey Spruance : Maybe because there’s a ceiling. If you climb a ladder and you’re using your rational mind exclusively, I think it’s inevitable that you come to the ceiling that Nietzsche describes and what you do once you reach that ceiling is important. After Nietzsche, you have people beating their head on that ceiling and making it bloody and ugly and disgusting. On the other hand, you have people afraid of looking at the ceiling, jumping off the ladder, falling all way down to the ground. I guess I don’t accept the ceiling - this is a point - and I don’t accept that there’s a linear progression that inevitably leads to Nietzsche and that ceiling. So I can only say that now that I’ve maybe looked to the side and seen different ladders that goes right through that so-called ceiling with no problems at all. So that’s my enter.

IR : And how did it started ? With which books ?

TS : That’s a hard question to answer because, yes, you brought up gnosticism or hermeticism and though I would say that I never found a gnostic doctrine that made enough sense, it filled in some gaps for questions that I had about religious things that seemed incomplete. So it made me more curious actually and I think that from being open to that, I actually ended up finding the persan philosophy from the safavid era (between 12th and 13th century in Iran). It’s a very graceful balance between the rational approach to philosophy and a very open universe where the mystical dimension is being paid equal honor, if not more so. It’s the way, in fact, Aristotle himself said it should be and, for some reason, that approach changed in the western world. If you think about it, we blame Aristotle for all kind of conceptual problems we have in the West. But if you read Aristotle, he put the metaphysics first and said that the physics derive from the metaphysics... but we teach the physics first so that we can reintroduce ourselves to the fact that the metaphysics has to come first. This is the part that we have lost and that’s the part they didn’t lose in the muslim world. And the persan philosopher at the safavid era, specifically, are extremely lucid and extremely balanced with regard to both perspective.

IR : The Secret Chiefs 3 project is a lot influenced by surf music, persan music, soundtracks... but also by the writings of René Guénon and Julius Évola [2]. So how do make Guénon-influenced music or Évola-influenced music ?

TS : Well, I would say that René Guénon and Évola are people that can help you to discover some things. You know how compass works and that it always locates magnetic north ? I think these writers, or at least this movement, were the only people in the 20th century who were really trying to locate that... because it’s very easy to chase every other direction and say « well, this phenomenon came into our sphere of perception, so if we want to understand the nature of reality, we just chase it ». While, knowing that we actually condition everything, they full well knew that our perceptions condition and color every phenomenon that comes into it. So how can you possibly say that you’ll discover the nature of things by chasing things that are conditioned by your perceptions ? Guénon and Évola are the only thinkers in the 20th century who, I think, took account of that and then said « okay, so what are we really working with here ? » and « if there is a wisdom that’s been built over time by humanity, is it material interactions that give us the insight into the nature of reality ? Is that really it ?! » And I think their critique of that perspective is extremely important. So you don’t really play music that’s influenced by them, it’s just that you honor their perspective and their efforts to set things clear. And I feel that is why how I refer to them is really as honoring the fact that they did that and that they did it very very fucking well. Évola, maybe less so and with some problems... There’s some problems with Évola, there’s a few problems with Guénon too, but this is just my stupid opinion and they did a great job trying to retain the compass point.

IR : There is seven satellite groups in SC3 and I was wondering... When you are writing music or rehearsing, do you say « I have this melody which fits more this genre » or do you say « okay, I want to do this genre and we have to find a melody for that » ?

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Trey Spruance en mode Star Power
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TS : If it’s starting from a pre-conceived premisse, I would say « there’s the geometrical matrix that we’re working with » and we see how we can sink within this geometrical matrix, what melodic or rythmic content comes out of it. That’s a very specific band does that. Whereas sometimes melodies just comes out of the ether, and that’s a couple of other differend bands where you take those melodies and you dress them up in certain ways ; and sometimes you take those very melodies and you put them through that geometrical matrix. That’s why there is shared thematic material between the different bands, because they all process things differently. So sometimes the material pre-exists and goes through the different bands filter, and sometimes the idea behind the band is what generates the music material.

IR : Speaking of geometric matrix, I read that you sometimes use pythogorian scales. Is that one of these matrix that you sometimes use ?

TS : I would say that it’s not the scales that we really use. It’s not pythagorian scales but we use the pythagorian geometry to create scales... and they’re not even really scales ! They are families of scales that have harmonic relationship.

IR : Like modal composition ?

TS : Exactly ! It’s like a modal world that holds together the way a ball of string holds together. There’s tension pulls in every directions and if you don’t have the relationships right and the ratios correct, then it’s not a ball anymore, it’s a egg or something. So they’re very definite and you know exactly where you are in the ball based on what the tensions are. We bring just strict pythagorism when it comes to that, but if you look at what pythagorian scales are, in a modern book about Pythagoras, you’ll find that we’re deviating a bit from that because there are things you have to do to adjust tensions : here’s the harmonic series and then there’s modulating... and, with instruments that are tuned to a certain pitch, you really can do both. So to me, Secret Chiefs 3 is a matter of knowing when we’re changing from the actual natural harmonic and knowing when we’re imposing a mathematical structure that holds the tension together correctly. And we know precisely where we doing it, when we’re doing it on the three different stages of a tetrachord. I think that’s what was lost when we shifted everything to equal temperament, we forgot that we imposed this harmonic rule and how we derived the twelve tones. When you forget what we’ve done, you’re doing violence to harmony.

IR : And there are some Renaissance organs that are not even tuned to the 440Hz pitch. So that rule is not that old, even in western music.

TS : Absolutely. And I’m not even really against western music having become this sort of regimented, rigid system of supposedly perfect tones that ignore harmonic reality completely. But it’s true that, in the Middle Age and Renaissance, the harmonic system was different because people were still aware of what the natural harmonics were, their ears were still conditioned to hear things that way... and they were trying to figure out how to modulate through different key centers without fucking up the natural harmonics too much, because they were still hearing the dissonances. In a way, we reconditioned our ears to know when we’re violating natural harmonics. So when we do it, we do it intentionally ; and there’s other times when we try to stay as true as possible to it, because we’re doing different things in different bands.

IR : The seven satellite bands of Secret Chiefs 3 are The Electromagnetic Azoth, UR, Ishraqiyun, Traditionalists, Holy Vehm, FORMS and NT Fan. If I’m not mistaken, the first track from NT Fan appeared recently on Satellite Supersonic, Vol. 1 (released in 2010). Yet you’ve said for a long time that SC3 were seven different band. Why did you wait so long ?

TS : (smiling) Is it credited as an NT Fan song ?

IR : It is on the Internet.

TS : On the internet... but on the CD itself, is it credited as NT Fan ?

IR : Well, not on the CD...

TS : Here’s the thing. That recording comes from 1995, I believe, before Secret Chiefs 3 existed, by year and... hmmmm... let’s talk about Hegel for a second. You know what Hegel says : « you have the thesis, the antithesis and then you have the synthesis as a medium between them ». That’s a sort of bonehead explanation but when you go into it, you discover that the synthesis is actually the a priori phenomenon and the opposition between the thesis and the anti-thesis is a coincidence, a co-incidence that comes out of the a priori synthesis. So in fact, we have six bands as a coincidence that were coming out of NT Fan.

IR : In a review, Pacôme Thiellement...

TS : Yeah ! He’s brilliant !

IR : Yes, he is... He wrote a couple years ago that NT Fan was kind of the Hidden Imam of SC3, and was never to be shown.

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Secret Chiefs 3
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TS : Oh ! We never said it ! And i’m not admitting that that’s what it is... but fans decided that’s what it is, while we did do that back when there was no SC3 that was called like that. So I don’t know... (laughing) you tell me !

IR : Well, it’s a theory about NT Fan.

TS : Hmmm... it’s fair. It’s a fair way to think of it, for sure... because, what is the Hidden Imam ? This is a figure, a person... it’s a person. And it’s the person residing at the center of things. The way that Ismaelis think about it, where they use the Seven Imams system or the Twelve Imams system with the Mahdi, it’s the person that leads the natural person back to the divine person or the divine personhood. So, in a way, it would be completely irresponsible from me to say anything about it, because this isn’t about my ego. I have fidelity to the way those kinds of symbolic contours express themselves but for me as an artist, it’s where it’s getting tricky. I’m not really going as myself, I want that to be something that people can get. So if he’s seeing it that way, that’s not something I want to contradict because there’s truth in that. But, on that level, it’s really not for anybody to say. Really ! Anything you say is gonna end up being wrong... Even I would be wrong. I’m the one that’s creating it and I’m just as wrong as you or him, you know...

IR : But is there a symbolic meaning that Timb Harris, your violonist, has his face covered on stage ?

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Timb Harris
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TS : That’s another situation. It’s truly interesting... A lot of times, people receive that hooded thing different ways. I just did an interview in New York recently, by a persan guy, and he said « why do you obscure your face ? You look good, so why ? » And some people are « aaaargh ! It looks so black and sinister ! » Everybody sees that different ways, even within the band. I think sometimes that in the band it is thought as an anonymity thing, something to make us anonymous. My thinking was that it’s always been to draw us into more interior space, so we can actually be together, we can play together because we’re not really been distracted. We’re actually going into a more interior place then we do catch glimpses of each other ; and we know that we’re in this musical moment together and it becomes more profound because we’re not distracted by a lot of things. Timb had the feeling it was about anonymity so he needed to assert himself. I invited the bant to create their own costumes so we could take it to the next place, where you involve your own personnality a bit more. Nobody wanted to do it, nobody did it... but he did it and he was into it. He actually felt like he had to assert himself in a way that was like saying « Yeah ! fuck you ! This is me ! » to me ; because i’m the creator of the whole thing. I wouldn’t say it was a egotist thing but it was like « Fuck you ! I’m here ! I’m playing this instrument ! » and that was great ! To me, it was really exciting, that’s when it’s becoming real because it’s really about him inhabiting his space in the band... and he completely respected that thing of being interior ! It was beautiful, it was beautifully done ! I think he’s progressed a thousand fold since he did that, as a musician, as a person. It’s just been wonderful.

IR : And the violin has a very important role in your music. So he has to be up to the challenge and very self-confident.

TS : Yeah ! And he rose to it completely. And even if it was because he was looking at the hooded thing differently than I was looking at it - because I wasn’t looking at it as « everybody in that band has to be anonymous ! » - even that sort of slight misperception allows the right thing out of it. I love stuff like that !

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Matt Lebofsky
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IR : You covered soundtracks like Halloween, Exodus, The Day The Earth Stood Still, you also composed some imaginary soundtracks with Traditionalists. Where does it come from ? A friend of mine likes to picture you and mike patton as two teenagers looking at tons of horror movies in a couch. Does that come from that period ?

TS : No, we were listening to Sodom’s Obsessed By Cruelty and Stravinksy’s Rite Of Spring. We weren’t listening to the soundtacks back then. That came later. Like in ’93 or ’94, we were starting to go deeply into the soundtrack composers.

IR : Yet on the first Mr Bungle, there was references to movie subculture, like Girls Of Porn. How did you decide to use that movie subculture musically ?

TS : I think that we were really automatic about that. The thing is that we came from a very small town and we were reactionary. « Everybody’s partying » and stuff like this, I would say that it’s this very boring hedonistic existence that we were disgusted by. So our kind of very nihilistic reaction to it was to be not just asexual but completely socially withdrawn and reclusive and weird about that kind of stuff. So that’s all we shared, that’s all we had in common... and our solution in that time to that personal crisis of development or something was this very solipsistic, onanistic sort of position. It didn’t have anything to do with movies or anything like that...

IR : And that reactionary position made you read these strange books about spiritual stuff and hidden gods ?

TS : Hmmm... No. It’s complicated, but i would say that it’s like taking the nietzschean poison. Nietzsche is sitting there, saying things like « what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger », with all that bravado, like he’s some fucking Viking, he does that when he’s criticising Wagner because he’s jealous of Wagner... and it’s two weeks before he’s gonna go mute and go insane forever. As an invalid, laying in bed, he’s writing these things - « what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger » - and he’s a weak, pathetic invalid. You know what i’m saying ? It’s these things you
have to keep track of because it’s the same thing : it’s this bravado, chest-pounding bullshit written from this completely flacid and bodily and sort of mentally diseased point-of-view. So I’m admitting that’s what we’re doing at that time too. We were taking this very reactionary sort of chest-pounding - « well we don’t want to have anything to do with this ! » - and we were total nihilistic. The punk rock was way too life affirming, people were too together, too idealistic and thought they were gonna change things. We were just laughing, « that’s ridiculous ! ». We were really dark... very deconstructionists. Without knowing, we were automatically doing this sort of disintegrative process. We were very much part of the disintegrative mentality of the time.

IR : Last question, I read that you are about to play with Faith No More in Chile.

TS : I will. They invited me and I’ve been to rehearsals and stuff...

IR : So they just invited you and you said okay ?!

TS : Yeah... and we did the rehearsals and it sounds really fucking good ! It’s actually gonna be really cool !

IR : Okay. Well... thanks a lot !

TS : Thank you ! Too bad we missed the show...



[1Écrivains de la première moitié du XXe siècle dont la pensée était très influencée par l’ésotérisme et les traditions antiques et orientales

[2Writers from the first half of the 20th Century, whose thinking was influenced by esoterism and ancient and eastern traditions

Vos commentaires

  • Le 24 octobre 2011 à 02:20, par Pimous En réponse à : Interview Secret Chiefs 3

    Une explication est prévu pour toute la partie sur l’harmonie ou c’est incompréhensible pour tout le monde ?
    J’ai vaguement cru comprendre qu’il n’utilisait pas de gamme tempérée mais je n’ai pas l’impression qu’il ai refretté sa guitare ou accordé son piano.

    Sinon, les violonistes (et les dérivés, altos, violoncelles, etc) utilisent encore maintenant un la 442 lorsqu’ils sont entre eux (et exigeant... parce que 2Hz, c’est relativement peanuts).

  • Le 24 octobre 2011 à 15:25, par Aurélien Noyer En réponse à : Interview Secret Chiefs 3

    Désolé... Les explications de Trey Spruance sur l’harmonie ne sont pas spécialement claires pour moi non plus. J’ai cru comprendre qu’il n’utilise effectivement pas toujours la gamme tempérée et qu’en studio, il utilise parfois des guitares microtonales comme celles-ci : http://www.jeanpierrepoulin.com/Gui.... Ce qui lui permet d’utiliser d’autres tons que les 12 tons de la gamme classique, mais l’oblige en même temps à oublier les règles associées à la gamme classique qui sonnent « faux » avec les notes alors utilisées.

    Cela dit, mes connaissances musicologiques ne s’étendent pas pas jusque là et j’ai l’impression que Spruance est surtout un autodidacte qui a sa propre façon de s’exprimer. Du coup, je ne peux pas proposer d’explication avec certitude.

  • Le 27 février 2012 à 20:50, par JPP En réponse à : Interview Secret Chiefs 3

    Sur plusieurs vidéos j’ai vu que les frettes des guitare et de la basse sont droites. S’ils étaient accordés en « Pythagore » les frettes seraient tordues à cause des grands et des petits demi-tons. Je les soupçonne donc de jouer sur des guitares tempérées !

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