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Truth, Creation and the X-Files: Interview with Aaron Kruziki

By Mike Bjella

Aaron Kruziki is one of my favourite musicians and people. We hail from the same town of Stevens Point, WI – although we didn’t connect until we found ourselves living in New York City in 2008. 

Aside from the Zodiac Ensemble (a collective group we both play in), Aaron leads a band I love called Education Reform and is a member of Andy Milne’s Dapp Theory. Aaron is magical crusader for connection and truth. He sings and plays saxophone and keyboards. 

Mike Bjella: When I listen to your music, it has this wondrous and mystical quality that for me is very broad….expansive. And with Education Reform you are writing words and using Lesley Wheeler’s words. So I was curious about the abstract quality of your music versus a specific message.

Aaron Kruziki: It’s interesting that you bring up the mysticism aspect. I do think about the spirituality of music and, I guess, how it pertains to my own spiritual growth or upbringing. I grew up Catholic and always heard music surrounding religion. I thought that religion was this organized thing and music accompanied it and spirituality was the same thing as religion: community and friends and studying the bible.  When I first met Deb (Bassist Karl McCommas-Reichl’s mother), I started to think – although music is a part of church maybe spirituality could come through the music. I started accompanying masses on piano and organ and I found that playing both piano and organ during Christmas and Easter and special times, the spiritual idea or feeling I got was directed from the music, not the congregation itself, and it started to make me more aware of music being a spiritual thing.

When I started in college I got tipped off to a book called the Mysticism of Sound and Music (Hazrat Inayat Khan). It’s an amazing book about how music and sound itself is a mystical, spiritual experience. I thought about that a lot as I read that book, and I guess spiritually speaking, music is my spirituality, my religion. I feel most oneness with god when I am able to free my thoughts completely through sound.

MB: It seems as though there is an underlying political component to your band, in a way. Education is a word that can be taken a lot of ways. Education reform or ‘let’s change what’s happening, tangibly’…or, when I think of education, I think of re-educating my mind, or de-assimilating. Are either of those things more pressing with this band?

AK: Education reform started from awareness of my own teaching in the elementary school setting. I wanted to make a statement about what I was seeing and how kids were being raised and my own opinions, etc… So I guess, in a way the songs are meant to breed awareness of how we think about educating ourselves, but also the de-constructing of our preconceived notions of what education is and how we were taught….’from, what ‘The Man’ put down on upon us!’…[laughter]…..and search out the truth.  As Fox Mulder says, ‘the truth is out there.’ [laughter]

MB: The truth thing is what interests me the most. For me, I’m always going through this process of trying to break out, or something. Part of my life I’m in this place of understanding, accepting.. and for me that is what truth is. And music is one of the major ways I’m able to access that truth.

AK: It puts you in the moment?

MB: It can, or I can already be there and go to make music at that point. There are different shades of being and some are in accordance with some kind of flow and some are fighting, or not accepting the truth.

When I hear the melodies that you write, there is this feeling of awe or wonder and I know you must have accessed a place of truth when writing those melodies..it is so apparent to me when I hear them. Do you find that it is a finicky head space when you go to write music?

AK: Man, it can be finicky and it depends on the flow. I happened to write a lot of that music when I was un-employed and had a lot of time to think, maybe too much.

So, I felt that I actually composed under a microscope in a finicky way. And it’s odd and beautiful and amazing that you feel that way about it. And maybe there is a juxtaposition there, maybe the harder it is to write something, the easier it is to come across as having wonder, etc? I don’t know. I guess it depends on your personal situation.

My own particular process… If I can find the flow it becomes less finicky. If I can find the time in the morning, when my head is the clearest, I can rid myself of my thoughts and compose purely. At the time I wrote that music I was thinking of some techniques from school (New England Conservatory), composition techniques, lines that I’d be learning from Ben Davis of Cuddle Magic and Alec Spiegelman. I had a lot of different components to work with and a lot of new things I was thinking about and it magically worked out but it definitely was a struggle at times. But as far as being finicky yes, I feel that often.

You experience the same thing?

MB: Sometimes it’s finicky even when I’m there in the flow. It’s not always a sweeping thing. But there is still something about the mechanism in our minds that is discriminating and making decisions, however that is happening,…for me it oscillates between being really fast and decisions making themselves and then sometimes it takes a while, difficult decisions, and then something just pops up, and that’s it…not sure why, infinite variables…it varies greatly for me.

AK: And sometimes it’s like pumping water…you ever been to one of those old fashioned water pumps? You pump it a couple times to prime it and through that effort all of a sudden the water starts to flow and maybe the compositional process is a similar thing.

MB: Why are you making music? Is there a state of mind that you find yourself reaching down and hunkering down in?

AK:  I think that it’s a question that one asks himself every time they pick up the pen or their instrument either subconsciously or consciously. We’re doing this mechanism that makes us feel a certain way and for a lot of people it’s initially about the feeling, and I don’t always think about it consciously, but sometimes I do. And sometimes when I’m listening to music I’ll get a certain feeling and I ask myself, why that was a pretty outstanding feeling, why am i feeling that way? I don’t usually have an answer but it’s fun to raise the question, wouldn’t you say?

MB: Yea, [laughter]…Yes indeed.

AK: I wish I had the answers but i feel like the older I get, the more questions I have.

MB: Give me answers! [laughter] Whats a Sun Bear?

AK: The Sun Bear is the answer to all of life’s questions.

MB: When you are writing words, do you feel similarly to writing notes?

AK: Great question, No… notes come easier, words come harder. I feel like I’m much more analytical when it comes to words that I write and that’s why I love working w/ Lesley Wheeler’s words… the words are already there and they are already perfect…[laughter] They don’t need to be changed at all.

My own words… that’s probably the thing I’m most self-conscious about…the notes I feel much more comfortable with…maybe sometimes too comfortable and I guess sometimes it’s easy to include a lot of notes.  Sometimes I think I write too many notes and it makes it too complicated. And in that mindset, words are also over-analyzed so I try not to think about it too much.  It’s just dumbing it down or editing it to a certain degree. But at the same time, sometimes in a very rare instance I’ll think of a phrase of text that fits so well musically that it dictates what the melody should be. And a good example is Lesley’s poem, little flowers.. at the very end, last stanza…”How well we let our selves be trained, is only a reflection of how much we love our master.”

MB: mmm hmm. For me when I’m writing words for any reason I feel another thing where the words are a tangible reflection of what is happening in my mind. Whereas tones, there is more of a translation thing. Right? I’m experiencing these things. I’m experiencing life from my vantage point and then I want to express myself through music and somehow I’m putting that into tones and when improvising it’s more of a meditative thing where I’m not analyzing. But when I’m composing, there is an element of that. That translation mechanism is something I’m pretty interested in. And in the wondrous scenarios, I’m turning it off and the neurosis is gone.

AK: We both practiced a lot, went to music school, both studied jazz and have a certain inclination towards improvisation… mystically speaking. Improvisation is probably closest to that for us, for me at least, maybe for you too. It’s not like I’m a writer per se or a poet that I feel closer by writing words… maybe Lesley gets a similar feeling when writing words as when we play a long tone with one another.

MB: So we have this creation mechanism in our mind. There’s this desire to create something. And we do it however we are going to do it…visual, words, whatever.

Well you know, some times there is this thing, ‘lets get to the root of creation, the root of creation sounds pretty grandiose’. And then there is this underlying knowledge of ‘everything is happening as it happens’ and for me the creation happens when the analysis turns off and something else kicks in, and it feels really, really vital.

Last summer when we did a Zodiac Ensemble tour, I really felt that thing you were just talking about, that kinship with others. There’s this personal artist, personal voice thing, I’m an artist and I’m going to express my existence in this way. And that sometimes seems relevant and important to do. But then sometimes when you are with a group like that, where it is super fun and nothing is really serious except the music, the artistry. It just happens. And it has nothing to do with everyone going into their mind, it has to do with losing the individual. I learned a lot on that tour about making music.

AK: But maybe what we’re talking about is the difference behind individual creative thought, where I am the artist and I shall create and it’s lofty at times and people who are not artists look into the creative world, and they see artists as egotistical, out for themselves. I never heard the term ‘douche-bag’ artists before I moved to NYC and it kind of opened my eyes to every hipster artist…I had never heard that before, but I think it does exist and if someone is gonna be too much of an individual that they aren’t willing to look outside themselves and see that creation, it’s all just recycled. I mean, there is no such thing as an original idea, or an original human… We are all recycled beings who have recycled parts and the thoughts that we think are recycled and the music that we compose has all been written before.  People that may think that they are solely an individual might have their heads too far up the capitalist ass-hole of individual thought. It may be an ‘American’ way to think about it, but it’s also dangerous because you start to forget the fact that we come from the same recycled umbrella.

AK: The intangible, even though music and sound is a vibration, a tangible thing, the intangible qualities raise the most important questions, raise the most openness and that is what I would love, if everyone could walk away from a song from Education Reform and if even one person can come away with that openness, that is what the reform really is…reform from reform. Reform from a controlled way of teaching and learning…which is in it’s own right important…we live in a society that is bureaucratic. I think it is important for everyone to some point in their lives get away from the confines of traditional education. That’s why these abstract things are so vital to talk about but they are kind of hard and lofty to talk about. In my mind, I wish people wouldn’t feel that way and would just be open about it, not closed off…I feel too many people are closed off when you start talking about abstract things…either people lose interest or are uncomfortable. But fortunately we are doing it…

MB: Yea, everyone is dealing with their reality the best they can….it’s a double-sided thing how I want to go in the street and yell, check out life! Lets wake up! And the other side of it is, it’s pretty fucked up in a way…there is a judgmental side to that, or a wishing things were different side. It’s an interesting little fragile battle in my mind…nurturing this sense of wonder in an honest way that doesn’t feel forced…you just want to show some people something that is really cool, you know, and it is sometimes tricky to do, especially when self-conscious about being righteous.

AK: which is what I think a lot of people are afraid of. If they choose to be overtly righteous then they’ll be deemed as douche bags but just do away with that and know that everyone in there own right, since we are all connected, is going to be righteous, and that’s ok…

MB: I look at Trane or Hendrix or certain other folks…there is nothing self-righteous…it’s such an abstract message but the power of the tones comes through searingly harsh and truthful. I think those folks were able to really look deep into this thing we are talking about and centre themselves in this message where they are encouraging others to love and feel.

AK: And to find part of the truth…the truth is out there.

MB: It’s everywhere.

AK: You have to excuse me, I have been watching ‘The X-Files’…

Check out Education Reform.

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