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Newest James Hood InterviewExclusive interview in 2014 with music artist James Hood.

Interview host and publicist John P. Olsen recently had an opportunity to interview celebrated percussionist and soloist James Hood, creator of the ambient electronic group, Moodswings, and former percussionist for the popular new wave/alternative band the Pretenders.

Composer, producer and percussionist James Hood has enjoyed a diverse and lengthy career as an instrumentalist. Highlights include a successful solo career, having just released a new 2 disc solo album titled Ceremony. This new release, recorded at the Integratron structure near Joshua Tree, California is currently the #1 album on iTunes Canadian World Music Chart.

James Hood is a highly respected artist who possesses, and has delivered, a versatile range of music to millions throughout his decade’s long career. During this newest interview conversation, which takes place in March of 2014, a wide variety of in-depth topics are explored.

Included in this discussion James Hood talks in detail about his new solo album Ceremony, which is performed exclusively on an exotic percussion instrument named PanArt Hang.

Information on the unique tonal qualities of the percussion instrument is provided, along with the fundamental variations of the Hang. Today I am pleased to present an informative conversation with fans and visitors.

Interview with James Hood in 2014:

John P. Olsen: Thank you so much for accepting my interview invitation James. I have been a fan of the music you have produced for years, and it’s a privilege to host your newest interview in 2014.

James Hood: Thanks John. I appreciate all of your support over the years and it is a pleasure to talk with you.

Band Moodswings Album MoodfoodJohn: In addition to your solo career as a new age artist, you have enjoyed a diverse and remarkable music career, including being the originating member of the popular, ambient electronic band Moodswings. Plus you were a percussionist for several other bands, including the music icons Jeff Beck and pop new wave band the Pretenders.

James Hood: Actually it was Jeff Beck who played on Moodswings’s first CD “Moodfood.” He is a good friend of Chrissie Hynde and she loved the track “Skinthieves,” which she heard me working on while I was playing with the Pretenders the first time. It went on to be the TV theme music for “America’s most wanted” for about 5 years, which was a bit of a shock! I’ve never once watched an episode – not my thing at all!

John: You have a new age double CD album titled Ceremony, newly released on February 4, 2014. I wrote an album review about Ceremony and in preparation for our interview together I read your new solo album is unlike any other album you have produced. I now understand why. Ceremony was recorded at the Integratron structure near Joshua Tree, California, in the Mojave Desert. Why did you decide to record your album at the Integration?

James Hood: I went to the Integratron to hear for myself because I had heard that the sound there was extraordinary. And what I had been told was true; it was an extraordinary aural experience. And I thought it would be a beautiful match for this wonderful sounding instrument.

There are a number of different natural sound effects in different places inside the Integratron and we found the area that suited the instrument best. Then we just put mikes everywhere and started recording. There is something wonderful about listening to music in a building that has been constructed solely for its sound. It was an honor to play there.

John: There are 11 songs on the 2 disk CD Ceremony album. Were all songs improvised or was Ceremony played from a composer’s song sheet while recording at the Integration?

James Hood Integration StudioJames Hood: Angelica and Biorhythmetic were entirely improvised by what I call stream of consciousness playing where I become mesmerized by the beauty and subtlety of the sound until I simply lose track of time.

With the more rhythmically melodic tracks, I wouldn’t say “from a composer’s song sheet” but I already had some melodies planned and grooves in my head when I got to the Integratron and then it just developed on the day from there.

The entire 2 hour double album was recorded in just 2 days and not much longer than that to mix down back at my place. I don’t know what happened here to be honest, ask anyone – I’m the guy who takes 4 years to make a Moodswings album!

John: The music you produced on Ceremony is near opposite in composition to the music you produced with your ambient electronic group, Moodswings, and band the Pretenders. Other people will be writing about your work so your own words James, how would you best describe your music compositions today?

James Hood: I actually don’t agree that they are completely the opposite of Moodswings. It’s simply a different sonic vocabulary. In the Pretenders, apart from a couple of co-writes, I was simply the drummer. Despite the fact that Moodswings and Ceremony sound so different, they were actually written in a similar process.

It starts with hearing a melody or a groove in my head, something that evokes that feeling of something timeless and magical. It’s just that it is found through utterly different musical modalities – really the difference between finding beauty through the digital or the analog. In the case of Ceremony by playing a concave metal plate or with Moodswings by firing off billions of samples!

John: What were the circumstances or events where you discovered the PanArt Hang for the first time, and why did you become interested in this exotic percussion instrument?

PanArt Hang at Integration James Hood: I was at a drum circle at a British music festival. Someone had one and it was love at first sight. Having been a drummer my whole life, I was very interested in a percussion instrument that was so melodic – or a melodic instrument that was so percussive!

The sound totally mesmerized me, made me feel instantly inspired and elevated. Why wouldn’t you want to play that instrument every day? I immediately started imagining first how to play it both very fast and very lightly to create a sort of watery rhythmical momentum that I felt would be very mesmerizing.

It took me a few years to find out while I built up the finger strength, because to hit the drum consistently softly strangely takes more strength than hitting it hard. I had to train my right arm to be stronger so that I could play completely evenly which is more comforting on the ear.

John: There are several variations of the PanArt Hang since its creation by Felix Rohner and Sabina Scharerin in the year 2000. At your official JamesHood.com website you describe the PanArt Hang as a musical instrument with seven holes, and a dome in the middle. Included in our interview together are photos, but could you describe the instrument in more detail and explain the variations of this exclusive instrument?

James Hood: When PanArt first released the first generation of Hang drums, which are still my favorite, they were very adventurous with the range of tunings, both Western and Eastern scales were experimented with. This allows me like a harmonica player, to play in multiple keys.  The second generation, they reduced the range of tunings and although I have a second generation hang that I love, I think the first generation are the most magical of all PanArt products.

John: What version do you play with live performances, and why have you selected this specific version?

Newest James Hood CDJames Hood: I perform with a first generation Pentatonic F (Metal Ambulance, Sonic Ashram, Friendly Alien), a first generation Pentatonic C (Sweet Acceptance, Imaginary Friend, A Goat Called Lavendar Angelika).These two are both very light with a  beautiful chime. The second generation D Minor Pentatonic (Cherry Mandala, Fey Bedouin) is much warmer in tone, darker and almost sultry.

John: In terms of the music you produce today, was making a transition from more popular forms of music to a niche genre like new age music a challenge for you, or was the change a relatively easy one to make?

James Hood: It was both. Having produced music from an almost infinite palate of sounds, it was refreshing to limit myself to one instrument. It certainly made completing a record that much faster. But I was also aware of a sweet momentum with “CEREMONY” – everything just flowed.

 As a producer it didn’t feel at all limited to just use one instrument because by using different microphones and certain different sonic approaches. I found I could get a very wide variety of sounds.

And something extraordinary started to happen when I overdubbed a couple of different parts with the same drum. I started to hear wonderful harmonics that were simply the sum of all the individual parts – sometimes I thought could hear angelic voices and washes that are entirely a sonic mirage, caused by the pure harmony of the overtones in the metal.

 I have become used to really taking my time over completing a record. I am perhaps a little bit of a perfectionist. Recording with the PanArt Hang was like learning how to produce in a different way. Because it already sounded pretty perfect in its raw form, whereas I suppose in the past I would spend a huge amount of time trying to polish samples to get to the same glistening effect that the Hang does so naturally.

I never listened back to much in the studio but would rather do a rough mix-down and then go listen to it in a normal environment like my car or in the kitchen. For some reason, I was unable to make decisions regarding the pacing or progress of a track in the usual studio environment. As soon as I took it out of the studio, it made more sense. It’s a different kind of music that wants to be part of scenery – like sonic incense.

Musician James HoodJohn: I would imagine most musicians know from experience, what may appear to be an easy instrument to play is often more difficult than it looks, and vice versa. Is playing the Hang difficult, or is the instrument pretty forgiving, and relatively easy to play?

James Hood: I think it is fairly easy to sound okay on the Hang pretty fast if you know how to play a steady rhythm. Some people hit it and can’t really get a sound out of it. It’s best if you have pretty rubbery wrists! If you have to learn both all about playing rhythm and getting a sound out of the hang, I think it would be pretty challenging.

Since I already knew the rhythm bit, it was just learning the technique of how to hit the Hang. Some people can just pick the hang up, hit it and it sounds nice. But a lot of people, when they first hit the hang, it makes no sound at all, just a dull metallic clunk.

John: In relation to being a solo instrumental performer, what are the main components that set your music apart from other musicians who perform on a hand played solo instrument?

James Hood: I think I play softer than most people. I am obsessed by the gossamer light warm tone that the instrument emits when stroked very lightly. I also don’t think a record quite like this has ever been made, apart from a couple of solo performances.

Most of this record is a veritable orchestra of interweaving hang parts intricately pieced together rather like making sonic jewelry – then add into the mix (literally), a brilliant warm old valve microphone that we recorded everything on and of course the  extraordinary sounding place we recorded everything – love it or not, it’s undeniably a pretty unique album. What I am trying to achieve with this instrument is to find sacred sonic moments that warm the heart and make time stand still for a while. I consider the Hang to be sacred, created by a small company with an inspired pure intention to reach the divine.

John: The sound qualities of a PanArt Hang are quite unique, possessing tonal qualities apart from all other percussion instruments, including the Steel Pan or Steel Drum percussion instruments, and other directly struck, or hand played idiophone. How would you describe this unique sound?

James Hood: I feel it is the sound of perfection, a simple pure ringing tone that sweeps thru the body and I think for other people it is the same. People react instantly when they hear it! I feel the sound has an almost primordial quality, a thin piece of welded iron that sings with a compassionate grace.

Newest James Hood InterviewJohn: In addition to your current studio album Ceremony, you plan to perform live on stage playing the PanArt Hang. Are there any obstacles for you to overcome while performing a live solo act?

James Hood: My approach is rather like that of a classical Indian musician or those who play kirtan, in that I aim to birth a devotional sacred atmosphere that speaks to the warm sensitivity in people.

Live I also perform with beautiful immersive visual accompaniment going on around me, mostly created by a brilliant Russian artist, Tatiana Plakhova from complexitygraphics.com to encourage the mind to swim in this ecstatic reverie of pure sound and light.

The combination of the sound and the images form a powerful transformative experience that aims to help people fall effortlessly into that intimate pure inner space within them self where they can really access their own power and clarity thru this instrument.

When I perform my intention is first to try get out of my own way mentally and allow myself to be in a trance by the sound. If I can get there it’s more likely that that energy will transmit to the audience. There can be no stress in my mind when I’m playing the Hang. Luckily the amount of time that I have played the Hang now and the mesmerizing effect of the sound usually helps me to get into a sort of trance and awe which can have a powerful effect on both me and the audience!

John: Obviously the concert venues you will be performing at will be a lot different than say, The Pretenders and Moodswings. What venue setting would be a likely venue for you to perform live solo music, and who would one contact to book you for a performance?

James Hood: The ideal setting is an intimate seated, comfortable warm environment with lots of wood, where there is no background noise (like in a theater or cinema). You’re right in that this is a very different type of show to what I have previously done in my musical career. Simply put, I’m trying to calm people’s heart rates down rather than whip them up into a frenzy of rocking excitement.

James Hood WebsiteJohn: I try to provide music news coverage for an artist’s fans if possible, so do you have any press information about upcoming events, your solo work or news related to Moodswings?

James Hood: Just keep an eye on www.jameshood.com and my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/jameshoodmusic all news will be posted there. It’s also worth keeping an eye on YouTube because I will be posting regular improvisations and other sonic snippets because I am recording all the time and it has to keep flowing out so as to make a space for the new to come in!

John: In closing I want to thank you again for agreeing to our interview James. I am pleased to present your newest interview for your fans and visitors. I hope we have a chance to visit again to update everyone on current news about you.

James Hood: It has been a pleasure! Thank you so much for your interest and support. I appreciate you and everyone who can help me reach as many people as possible with this unusual music, because this instrument needs to be heard and not many have. There are not many undeniably and uniquely beautiful things in this world, something whose beauty you can’t deny and the PanArt Hang is such a thing! It has been such a joy to learn its ways, it has already changed me for the best and I feel I am just getting started. This instrument is like a fractal-the deeper you go into it the more it reveals!

Visit JamesHood.com for more news and information. You may also sample and purchase Ceremony at Amazon.com. Follow current news and events at James Hood Facebook page. Photos and album cover art courtesy jameshood.com.

Percussionist James HoodNew Age Music Review: Renowned percussionist for band The Pretenders and Moodswings originator James Hood releases 2014 solo instrumental album titled Ceremony.

If you take the time to listen close enough, synthetic and natural ambient sounds surround us daily. Some sounds are preferable over others, and making the distinction of whether the sound you are listening to is one of beauty or not is naturally up to the beholder. This is especially true when it comes to the diverse forms of music.

Composer, producer and percussionist James Hood is a respected artist who possesses, and has delivered a versatile repertoire of sound to millions throughout his lengthy music career.

If you have heard and are a fan of the popular, ambient electronic group Moodswings, you can thank the group’s originator James Hood for the beautiful melodies he has produced since 1992, to present day.

The ambient electronic song Spiritual High (State of Independence) from the Moodfood album is a fan favorite of the group Moodswings, featuring vocalist Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders.

Moodswings James HoodLikewise, if you admire the musical sounds produced by music icons Jeff Beck and the pop new wave band The Pretenders, you also have James Hood to thank, having been a band member of these popular bands, each with millions of fans worldwide.

Ceremony is the new solo album by James Hood, officially released today on February 4, 2014. To say this album is an exploration in sound is somewhat of an understatement. Everything about Ceremony expresses a definitive statement in relation to beauty and sound creativity.

What makes this new release special is the performance by James Hood on a relatively new percussion instrument named PanArt Hang. The sound effect of the instrument, classified as a directly struck, or hand played idiophone is one of peace and tranquility.

James Hood CD titled CeremonyThis exclusive percussion instrument is related to the more recognizable steel drum, but the musical sound qualities are much smoother and produce, in my opinion, a richer less metallic sound texture.

James Hood is a versatile artist whose creative achievements for producing musical sounds of beauty just took an enormous leap forward. The sounds performed on Ceremony are designed to be inherently relaxing, and the result is a remarkably effective one.

Another quality is a cinematic effect, making it a good instrument for movie or film scores. No matter how you perceive this new album, you will be hearing more about percussionist James Hood and his Ceremony album going forward.

Although this is a solo album, the unique sound structure of the PanArt Hang would blend well with an orchestra too. Either way I hope you take the time to listen to James Hood’s newest adventure in sound production.

The 2 disc Ceremony CD’s 11 songs are: Metal Ambulance, Sonic Ashram, Faerie God, Cherry Mandala, Friendly Alien, Angelica, Imaginary Friend, Sweet Acceptance, Fey Bedouin, Biorythmetic & A Goat Called Lavender.

For information visit JamesHood.com. You may also sample and purchase Ceremony at Amazon.com and iTunes.com. Photo and album cover artwork courtesy jameshood.com.

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