Interview with Selaroda (November 2015)
1. What are some recent inspirations?
I visited my Grandma recently, and we had a party for her 99th birthday. Seeing her still able to get around and live on her own at that age is inspiring. Nature is a continual inspiration, as are good friends. Musically, I feel like I’m constantly listening to new things, which doesn’t necessarily mean new releases, just stuff that I haven’t heard yet. I love exploring music from other cultures, especially older recordings of traditional music. African, Indian, Cuban, and Colombian recordings are always in rotation, along with many others. I’ve been in a bit of a jazz phase lately, digging into some classic 50’s and 60’s favorites, especially Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and a couple of Art Blakey’s large group drum-centric albums where pretty much everybody plays percussion. Also been enjoying a lot of relaxing ambient and electronic/synth stuff from contemporary artists such as Simon Scott, Panabrite, Channelers, Ant'lrd, Bitchin Bajas, John Davis, Guenter Schlienz, Braeyden Jae, Stag Hare, En, Kiln, Brian Eno, Inner Travels, Kyle Landstra, and Sunmoonstar.
2. If Selaroda was its own planet, what would that planet be like?
It would be a planet dedicated to music… creating it, listening to it, sharing it, and mixing different musical ideas and forms together. It would welcome all beings from anywhere in the cosmos to come and stay there to enjoy and create in harmony, ideally fostering many intergalactic musical collaborations. With a bunch open-minded musical creatures from throughout the universe, I’m sure we’d be able to create some really amazing music!
3. Is there something you find yourself anthropomorphizing regularly?
Not exactly… I believe that all living things are connected, but don’t necessarily think about plants having human traits or anything like that. Maybe some pets can be a little like that. I’ve seen puppies that are definitely a lot like hyperactive kids, and some older dogs seem a bit like grumpy old humans. Who knows, maybe dogs give humans dog traits in their minds.
4. How do you find music made in ‘just intonation’ affects you, if at all?
I really like music in that tuning. At first listen, it might seem a bit out of tune, but the resonances are so much more pure mathematically, and there is something really special in those vibrations that isn’t there in ‘well-tempered’ music. It feels more mysterious, a bit like an ancient ritual that you don’t quite understand but are fascinated by nonetheless. I wish there was an app that would transpose any piece of music to be in just intonation. I’d experiment with playing all kinds of stuff that way, and I imagine that most of it would sound really great.
5. Your connoisseurship in the realm of chocolate is well-known. What are a few bars you can recommend to those looking for a fine chocolate experience?
Ha! I knew you were going to ask about that… It’s true, I love chocolate, and really enjoy trying different kinds, including ones with unusual flavor elements. I especially enjoy chocolate from Madagascar, as the soil there is rich in nutrients that are unique to the landscape, giving it a really earthy, almost fruity taste. A couple of my favorite brands are Raaka, who are based in New York, an Ecuadorean company called Pacari, and Dandelion, who are based here in San Francisco.
6. Has your experience as a radio DJ affected the way that you approach making your own music?
Definitely! It’s been a huge influence on how I make music, for multiple reasons. One way is that I’ve had access to large collections of music to explore at two different college radio stations where I’ve been a DJ, both of which were massive in both size and scope. I’ve learned to appreciate so much music just by being around different kinds of music and the people who enjoy them. Perhaps even bigger in terms of influence is the DJ style I’ve developed over the years, learning to mix different kinds of music together by listening for similar textures, melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. I enjoy making connections and blending together material that isn’t necessarily that similar on the surface level, finding creative ways to mix things like ambient music and African drumming together, blending dub reggae and Cuban son, or electronic pop and Indonesian Gamelan… it’s all about finding ways to link them, usually via a simple crossfade at the right moment. That aesthetic is also a big part of my style as Selaroda, something that guides a lot of things I do, especially in terms of mixing… I really dig making stuff with lots of layers, swirling in and out of each other to create an epic journey for the listener.
7. You have an album titled, “New Eternity”. What do those words mean to you?
Yes, that was the first album I made as Selaroda. The world is a complex place, and I try not to get frustrated by things like injustice, inequality, and pollution, but sometimes it feels like our planet will come to a tragic and unnatural end, one precipitated by our own greed and carelessness. Rather than get bogged down by those kind of thoughts, I chose to imagine a world where people unified into a cohesive and collaborative entity, and were able to build a society that could sustain itself indefinitely. I composed “New Eternity” as the soundtrack to that imaginary utopian civilization, one that would survive through healthy choices and loving, peaceful treatment for all people.
8. Do you have a morning ritual?
I wish I could say that I do… I’d like to meditate more regularly, but I’m not that great at making time for it, especially first thing in the morning. Generally I wake up, start listening to music, and eat some blueberries. If it’s a work day, I take a shower and get ready for work. On my days off, I might do stuff around my apartment, meet up with friends, or just relax and work on music.
9. If you could have been raised in a different tradition of music, which would you choose and why?
I’d really love to experience them all, since I think there would be so much to learn from each one. I’m so drawn to traditional music from around the world, and love the rich history that is inherent in every culture. I sometimes wish that I grew up with something like that, and really learned about my roots through music, instead of just listening to western music on the radio. I think many folks in the US feel a bit of cultural disconnect, like we don’t really come from a musical (or cultural, or even spiritual) tradition, and that our lives are lacking in some way because we didn’t have that. That said, I know I wouldn’t be the same person if that were the case, but still I can’t help but long for something I didn’t get to experience. I do feel confident that I would have been a great African drummer, or that perhaps I even was one in a past life.
10. Words of wisdom you like to recall in times of need?
All things must pass. It’s a George Harrison album title, but it’s also true… life moves along, and so do we, eventually. Knowing that our time is limited, I seek to use my energies here on earth to share my love and gifts with others, whether that be through music, friendship, humor, or anything else that I see a need for, even chocolate. Especially chocolate!
Selaroda is Michael Henning, who just released a new album, viaje a través de sonidos transportative, available from the Inner Islands Bandcamp page.