born to be wild
Multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer Ben Leinbach has played a key role in the creation of some of the most innovative music in the yoga world. Though he has worked with Shiva Rea, Hans Christian, Manose, Geoffrey Gordon and others, Ben is best known for his collaboration with his longtime music partner, Jai Uttal. Their recordings include the Grammy-nominated Mondo Rama, Music for Yoga and Other Joys, Kirtan!, and “Loveland”: Music for Dreaming and Awakening. Ben’s solo album, Spirit of Yoga, is a yoga studio staple – defrosting even the most hardened souls with its evocative and sweeping soundscapes.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben after a yoga class he took with Nubia Teixeira, on whose album, Pranayama: May Our Breath Be Our Prayer, he collaborated. He was recording with Jai later that afternoon and was due for a big caffeine blast, so I fixed him some Peet’s Lemon Rose tea and a bowl of berries and shredded coconut and we sat down to chat on my cushy red couch”¦
YT: Jai loves working with you. What’s it like to collaborate with each other?
Ben Leinbach: It’s been totally mind-opening and ear-opening! Jai has a huge reservoir of ideas, yet oftentimes we don’t know quite what to do. Jai will come up with a crazy idea like, “Ok, let’s put this guitar through a wah wah pedal and then I’m gonna route it into an amplifier that’s in the bathroom, then we’ll mic that from the living room and we’ll slice it and dice it on the computer and reverse it all backwards and retune ”˜em and we’ll see what we get!’ [Ben and I laugh like crazy, visualizing this.]
YT: And I say ”˜ok.’
Ben Leinbach: I’ve learned to”¦[Ben’s laughing so hard the words break up]”¦not”¦say anything with Jai but, ”˜let’s give it a shot.’ Because he comes up with some wacky ideas and generally they lead to amazing stuff. That’s just a good policy as a producer ”˜cause you can’t really determine intellectually whether something’s worthy, you have to try it. We’ve delved into some really cool, creative musical spaces because we don’t shun any ideas, so anything goes really. From the styles of the music you mix, from what parts of the world, to how you treat ”˜em on the computer – there are limitless opportunities to explore music. That’s part of the joy of working with Jai.
YT: Your solo CD, Spirit of Yoga, is like a deep massage for the brain, body and soul. Was that a deliberate choice?
Ben Leinbach: Well, it’s more because that’s what I like. Life can be broken up into very concrete things – you got your 9-to-5, your kids, your freakin’ coffee every morning, you got your Blackberry, cell phone, organizer. Everything can be so rigid and compartmentalized – and I’m that way too. So in my art I reach for more of a timeless experience, where you’re lifted out of all those delineations so that you can rise up above the patterns of your life and hover and think, “Oh my god, check out this space, it’s pretty cool to be alive.”
There’s a concern for humanity in my music. I like to help people pull out of the mundane and have a little bit more of a floaty perspective on how incredible it is to be alive, how beautiful it is to experience sensation and love.Some of my music can be slightly darker and evocative, and it’s necessary to explore that part of life too. I’m not trying to make happy music that helps you escape from your life. Hopefully I’m helping you feel a little bit more in all realms – the joy and the melancholy.
YT: There’s this concept of the Wounded Healer – how your deepest pain becomes your deepest gift – and I’m wondering if there are any defining moments in your life where you hit a wall and had to reach deep inside and grow, and how that’s affected your music.
Ben Leinbach: Part of why I got into music was for an emotional release, because it wasn’t really happening in my home early on. We eventually went to enough therapy that things are great now. I got into Hendrix and Zeppelin because I was like, “Oh my God, feel THAT!” And it was cathartic and beautiful. But I think overall, I was just born into the wrong era. It’s more of a longing for a spiritual existence, a longing for connection to human beings and connection to nature.
There’s a oneness [pauses and laughs]”¦do I have to say that word? [we’re laughing again”¦]
YT: I know!
Ben Leinbach: It’s a New Age clichÃ©. All the tangibles disappear and you start to vibrate with the power of life all around you, especially if you go to a really lush environment. There’s a molecular buzz and a feeling of being without all of the other traps that your brain piles on you.
Back in the day, you could obviously experience that with hallucinogens and substances, and I’ve done that, but generally that leaves you fully tapped afterwards. If you use those substances, you’re sapping future reserves. Afterwards, I’m at the opposite of where I was. I’m not feeling this beautiful oneness, I’m feeling laden with heavy depression.
YT: When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?
Ben Leinbach: Early on. It might have been the same time I was listening to Hendrix and Zeppelin, maybe ten or 11 or so. When I was eight, I wrote a really silly song”¦I think the title was “Music Is a Way of Life.”YT: I’d love to have a tape of that! [we both crack up.] How is it today for you? You have a beautiful wife, beautiful son, you live in paradise”¦
Ben Leinbach: Actually life is really good right now. I feel like life’s too short to do something you don’t love. I have a child and we have another child on the way. Right now I’m working with Jai on a couple of projects, so that’s really exciting. Nubia, Jai’s wife, she’s Brazilian, so a lot of Jai’s new songs are heavily influenced by the Brazilian sound, a lot of the sambas and cool, jazzy chord progressions, Joabim-style, slightly quirky and fun. And then the samba feels and the bossanovas. This next one is gonna be such a party, such a celebration, full of so much joy!
YT: What solo projects are you working on?
Ben Leinbach: Most likely a collaboration with Jai with elements of kirtan and Indian music”¦Jai playing dotar and singing”¦groove collages.
YT: Any last words?
Ben Leinbach: Great tea and great fruit.