Interview with Nimbudala (November 2021)
1. What are some recent inspirations?
Playing percussion has really inspired me. And I have fallen in love with the ukulele. I spend more time these days playing drums and ukulele than I do on my synthesizers.
Lately, I’ve been listening to lots of Pink Floyd, Don Cherry, The Cosmic Jokers, Pharoah Sanders, John & Alice Coltrane, stuff from the Inner Islands and Flower Room labels, Psychedelic Source Records, Sun Ra, Jimi Hendrix. But Hendrix isn’t a recent inspiration. He was probably my first. I’ve been listening to him since I was 12. I always go back to his music. I remember when I first heard “Are You Experienced?” About halfway through “Manic Depression,” I knew I would never be the same.
Here are some albums I cannot live without right now:
“Future Days,” Can
“Big Fun,” Miles Davis
“Paêbirú,” Lula Côrtes e Zé Ramalho
“A Meditation Mass,” Yatha Sidhra
“Astral Traveling,” Lonnie Liston Smith
“Lord Krishna Von Goloka,” Sergius Golowin
2. Will “Life On Bird Mountain” remain the final Inner Travels release? Or can you see continuing to work on Inner Travels material going forward in addition to Nimbudala?
If I make more quiet, inward-looking music, I suppose it could be under the Inner Travels name. I have no plans right now to make a new Inner Travels album. Then again, I try to avoid plans as much as possible when it comes to making music. I like surprises.
There is a finished album that bears the Inner Travels name. It’s a collaboration with Endurance, where he created these field recordings from another planet on his modular synth, then I played keyboards over them. We’re just looking for a label to release it.
3. You were working on “Universal Compassion” over the last few years — how did you feel that these pieces stood apart from your work as Inner Travels during that time?
It may not sound that much different to the listener who is familiar with Inner Travels. But to me, “Universal Compassion” has a broader spectrum than most of the Inner Travels stuff — except for “Yonder,” which I think is the direct predecessor to this album. “Yonder” had some cosmic sounds but also an earth spirit. There was a balance. “Universal Compassion” also has it, but with more depth and focus.
I felt like this album and what I do now as Nimbudala really evolved out of Inner Travels, much in the same way Inner Travels had evolved from Riot Meadows, my first recording project. I think in making “Universal Compassion” I gave myself different roles. I started to think of myself more as each different band member, the part they would play in the song, and I started to think more like a producer. I immersed myself in each role. Then I grew the songs, lived with them for a longer time than usual. I believe all that improved my focus.
Also, at the time I was making the album, I was reading books by Thich Nhat Hanh, whose work certainly influenced the album title. This music really helped me get into the idea of a universe where everyone showed compassion for each other.
4. I know you are working on new Nimbudala material. Has your creative process changed at all since you officially started working under the new moniker?
I think it has. I feel like I am learning to be my own band, if that makes any sense. But the Nimbudala sound has changed since “Universal Compassion,” plus I have some new gear. Anytime there’s new gear, the process changes.
5. What is your process for figuring out if a track is finished?
I listen to it a lot. Much of the time spent on “Universal Compassion” was listening to the songs. For this album, I spent a few years listening to about half the songs on it. But I don’t think it will take that long for the next one. Once I no longer feel the urge to change a track, I know it’s finished.
Then again, a song is never really finished, is it? I would like to re-record some of the “Universal Compassion” songs. But if I did that now, I would probably lose focus on my current projects. Maybe someday down the road I’ll re-record those songs.
6. When did you first play a synthesizer and what was that experience like? Did you know pretty quickly that it was something you wanted to get deeper into?
Ah, thanks for asking me this! It takes me back to when I was a kid. I grew up in the 80s, when synths were everywhere — on the radio, in music videos, in stores. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted a synthesizer.
The first time I ever played one, I’m sure it was in a department store or a mall somewhere. I can recall waiting to play them when there were no employees around. Most times, the people working in the stores wouldn’t let you play them very long. They probably didn’t want some 10- or 12-year-old gunking up the keys or whatever. Surely they knew I wouldn’t be buying one at that age.
But if I could get away with it, I would spend as much time as I could on them, tweaking sounds or just exploring how a piano keyboard works. Then my mom would come find me, her face red from running all over Sears or wherever, and she’d be like, “Do you know how long I’ve been looking for you?” I’d be like, “Well, if you bought me one of these, you wouldn’t have to go looking for me.” Of course, synthesizers were very expensive back then. I never got one until I was in high school, and what I got was a Yamaha Portasound PSS-380. Hardly the industry standard, but it’s a great starter piece. I still have it. I used it a lot on the first Inner Travels tapes.
7. Do you feel like self-expression is a part of your work? Or is the work more about serving a particular purpose or functionality?
I think it’s both. Music is a form of communication. We use it to convey ideas, elicit a response. It helps us feel and imagine things. When we communicate, we have a message that we deliver, each in our own special way. We also express ourselves through the act of communication. We can’t help but express ourselves. We don’t even have to think about it.
8. What excites you about releasing music into the world these days?
The prospect of giving someone a wonderful experience by doing the thing I love most. I hope to make an album or a piece of music that inspires the listener to do something great.
9. What is your primary mode of listening to music? How do you think that affects your experience of what you listen to?
Quite honestly, I probably listen to most music on my phone. With a phone, I can listen to music whenever I want. But I prefer listening to music on my stereo system. Listening to a stereo can be like warming your feet by the fire at the end of a long day. Even on an average setup, which is probably what mine is. I still buy CDs, tapes, vinyl — not as much vinyl as I did 10 years ago. I buy CDs the most.
Recently, I had a conversation with someone about the difference between streaming music and CD or vinyl. Listening to a song on CD or vinyl, or even tape sometimes, is like seeing the Mona Lisa up close and in person. Streaming is like looking at a Xerox image of the Mona Lisa. You have an idea of what it looks like, but not the tactile sensation. You lose the depth.
Recently, I got my first SHM CD — Pharoah Sanders’ “Live at the East.” I streamed it a lot before it arrived, and I enjoyed that because I could hear it anytime I want. But man, once it arrived and I pressed play on that CD, it was like the band was performing right in front of me. Cliche, I know, but it’s true. My listening experience was enhanced so greatly by that CD.
10. Words of wisdom you like to recall in times of need?
There was something a stranger told me a couple months ago. I was buying something at a store that cost $1.06. I had just a $1 bill and a $20 bill. The cashier couldn’t make change for the $20.
Some man I never met, who was almost out of the store — like he was out the door, but he heard us talking — he walked back inside, approached us and fished in his pocket for some change. He wanted to pay the 6 cents. I tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted.
“We got to take care of each other,” he said. I have heard and read this bit of true wisdom before but it is easy to forget, given the way things are today.
Nimbudala is the work of Steve Targo. He recently released Universal Compassion
on Inner Islands on October 22nd on cassette and digital formats. The album is available from our Bandcamp page.