The psychedelic 6-stringer steps back from the musical fringe—where he’s helmed Six Organs of Admittance and a slew of noisy avant collabs—to create polite production music and release The Intimate Landscape, his first album under his own name.
Ben Chasny has spent his musical life firmly rooted in the undergound. If you’re an avant aficionado, you might be familiar with his project Six Organs of Admittance. Or his band 200 Years. Maybe Rangda, New Bums, Badgerlore, or even Comets on Fire?
You get the point. Chasny is prolific. Over the past couple decades, he’s proven to be an unwavering devotee of the musical fringe. He’s a noise-rock experimenter, and his acoustic work is revered by the heaviest of metal communities. He’s even created a vastly complex system for composition and improvisation that you can learn about in his 2015 PG interview.
But Chasny is changing his M.O. with The Intimate Landscape. The first album to be released under his own name, it’s a collection of beautiful, melodic, and accessible acoustic fingerstyle songs. And they were all recorded in hopes that marketing agencies would buy them. Seriously.
Ben Chasny "Second Moon" (Official Song Visualizer)
How does a psychedelic noise warrior who grew up on the Melvins and built a career in dissonance end up here? According to Chasny, it goes back to one of his early, understated guitar heroes. “I actually played bass in punk bands. I never wanted to play acoustic, but when I heard the first few chords on [Nick Drake’s] Five Leaves Left, it blew my mind. It wasn’t the lyrics. It was the sound of his playing. He’s doing syncopated stuff between his thumb and his fingers that I’ve never heard anybody do. He’s someone with his own thing. You know immediately when it’s him. That’s when I wanted to play acoustic guitar. That’s what changed everything.”
Drake’s influence helped shape Chasny’sdebut recording, 1998's Six Organs of Admittance, an album he initially tried to keep on the down-low. “At the time, I was getting very into ’70s cult stuff, like Comus and the Incredible String Band,” he explains. “I wanted to create that illusion of an anonymous acid-folk cult band, so I released it myself. And for the first couple of Six Organs releases, I didn’t put my name on them. Nothing’s really a mystery now, but back then you could do a mystery LP and there were distributors that would distribute it. Then it would be written about in ’zines and no one really knew who it was.”
After a few releases, Chasny settled on the Six Organs moniker. It became the banner under which he cultivated new styles of haunting experimental music using dark harmonies and drones as well as atmospheric synth and vocal sounds. As he fearlessly shaped his rock and punk background into a captivating form, his acoustic playing, specifically, found an audience among the biggest names in stoner, doom, and black metal. Improbably, he was soon sharing bills, tours, and festivals with artists such as Om (with whom he released a split 7"), Wino from the Obsessed, and Neurosis.
“It’s funny, because everyone wants me to play acoustic guitar,” he says. “The heavier dudes seem to prefer it. It’s like, ‘No, no. We’ll do the heavy stuff, kid. You play the acoustic guitar or something.’”
“My favorite guitar players are the ones who are, as they say, in the service of the song: guys like Richard Thompson or Lindsey Buckingham.”
Even within such an unpredictable career, Chasny’s latest veers like a left turn into outer space. The Intimate Landscape was initiated when KPM Music—a production music business with a large catalog that specializes in commercial placements—reached out with an invitation to create a set of library music. The only catch, he says, was that, like the metal guys, KPM wanted his acoustic side.
“I had visions of doing a soundtrack, some weird, horror, Blade Runner record. But they said, ‘No, no. We want acoustic guitar,’ which was a little disappointing. But I said, ‘Okay. I can do that.’”
Wary of simply knocking out a handful of jingles, Chasny decided to create an artistic album—which would also be released by the Drag City label—that suits commercial use. “When I hear music that could be used for a fishing show or something, I don’t think that it’s an artist putting everything into it,” he explains. “One of my ideas was to try to record nice music, not production music. Even though that’s what it would be used for.”
Deep into a career in underground music, not only did Ben Chasny accept an invitation to create a set of fingerstyle-guitar library tunes for commercial placement, but he’s made it his first album under his own name.
Conceptually, this runs counter to what Chasny has done across his Six Organs discography. “I’ll do acoustic that’s often smeared with dissonance, or noise, or something,” he explains. “This was my chance to not do that. But I had to fight against my instinct to subvert the melodies. It’s a challenge to make music that is a little more pretty. I want to start doing music under my name that will be a little more on this side of things. And I’m hoping to steer Six Organs into more of the experimental side. It’ll be easier for people to know, ‘This one’s going to be a little more mellow, and this one’s going to be a little tougher to listen to.’”
If words like “pretty” make it sound like Chasny has sold out, don’t worry. He was free to pursue his own vision. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t know I was going to have so much freedom,” he says. “I gave them a little sample and said, ‘This is what it would sound like.’ They said, ‘That’s great. Make a record like that.’ And it was cool because I was working for somebody else, in a way. I knew exactly what I needed to do instead of sitting around wondering.”
“I had to fight against my instinct to subvert those melodies. It’s a challenge to make music that was a little more pretty.”
The result is focused and warmly listenable. Every piece on The Intimate Landscape puts Chasny’s guitar melodies front and center, while his touch and tone fill out his sonic vision. On “Cross-Winged Formation,” the intimate sound pulls you in. It’s as if you can hear the guitarist’s fingerprints on the strings. And just when you’re lulled into the moment, the song’s chorus expands with a low-string melody and open-string ornamentation.
Then there’s “Water Dragon,” a minor-key dirge that blends classical picking technique with an ominous vocal backing. It’s the one song that bridges the gap between his past and present work. “‘Water Dragon’ is a little nod to Six Organs,” he admits. “It has that more modal playing and the vocal drone. I did want to have a little window to something that ties it to previous records.”
Ben Chasny's Gear
Chasny still plugs in but says his acoustic playing has developed a reputation among metal audiences and commercial music houses alike. “Everyone wants me to play acoustic guitar,” he says!
Photo by Tim Bugbee
- Alvarez Yairi Bob Weir model
- Martin 00C-16DBGTE (with LR Baggs Anthem pickup system)
- D’Addario .010 sets
While mainly a new direction, this album doesn’t sound like someone stretching for something new. It sounds more like an artist drawing on familiar influences to paint a new picture. But Chasny did mine one influence that, until now, he’s kept close to the chest.
“There’s this one record that I absolutely love that I never hear any acoustic players talk about, and that’s A Shout Toward Noon by Leo Kottke,” he reveals. “I love that nobody talks about that record, and I’ve never talked about it. I always try to keep it a secret because that’s the one that always inspires me for melody. The melodies on that record floor me.”
In addition to Kottke’s influence, we hear Chasny’s consistent fingerpicking technique and how he pushes and pulls time to suit the moment. And we know how much work it takes to get there. “I practiced a lot when I was younger,” Chasny says. “It was serious. I had very part-time jobs, and I practiced guitar for a long time. I’d try to learn as much as I could. I don’t really practice acoustic guitar. So, the actual technique stuff maybe comes from playing electric guitar. That gets ported to the acoustic a little bit, like some fretboard, left-hand stuff.”
“One of my ideas was to try to record nice music, not production music. Even though that’s what it would be used for."
His electric playing had an influence on Chasny’s choice of acoustic instrument, which for about a decade or so was his trusty, highly playable Alvarez Yairi Bob Weir model. “I love it because of the neck,” he says. “It’s easy to go from electric to acoustic because it’s really fast, like a shredder neck or something. I fell in love with that before the tone. I used to have some ‘real tone’ friends that would give me shit about it. But I really liked that guitar a lot.”
Unfortunately, the decade did a number on that guitar, and it started showing its age, so Chasny has moved onto a Martin 00C-16DBGTE that he says is “not that much different than the Alvarez.” That guitar had a rough start, developing cracks after one tour, but it’s now become his go-to acoustic. Paired with a set of dead, bronze guitar strings, it’s the sound of The Intimate Landscape. “It was only that Martin on this record. I think I changed the preamp plug-in for a song. The rest of it was one preamp emulation and that guitar.”
Much of The Intimate Landscape’s charm is in the immediacy of Chasny’s simple, DIY production and arrangements. From “The Many Faces of Stone” to “On the Way To the Coast,” it’s as if you’re sitting in front of the guitar’s soundhole. Though KPM offered to send him to a professional studio, he chose to keep things as straightforward as possible. “I did it by myself, at home, with my gear. And it’s all mono,” he points out. “The stereo is from the reverb, but I didn’t do any stereo recordings. I start getting freaked out about phase cancellation. Then I start wondering, ‘Can I even hear phase cancellation? What am I doing? Maybe I need to go to a studio?’”
TIDBIT: KPM Music offered to send Chasny into a professional studio, but he opted to record at home and kept his variables simple, using just one mic and one guitar.
Resisting the urge, Chasny pushed himself to get the most from a single, affordable microphone in an untreated room. “It was recorded with this really cheap mic called a CM3,” he says. “It’s a little pencil condenser made by Line Audio. It was one of those things where you go on the forums and look for ‘the best mic for acoustic guitar’ and everyone’s arguing. Five pages later, I found out about it.
“I angle it down a little bit, and it’s pretty close. I like close-miking at home because my rooms are not treated very well. Which is another reason why I don’t do any ambient mics.” Once it hits his DAW, he continues to keep it simple. “I do EQ, but I don’t do compression with fingerstyle. I leave that to the mastering person if they want. I just smack some reverb on it.”
Chasny prefers to stay rhythmically unencumbered when recording solo playing. “None of this record was done with a metronome. It’s all free time,” he says. “I think it might set it apart from other production music a bit.” This allows Chasny to manipulate the feel of each section on the fly. A case in point is “Second Moon.” Listen as he pushes and pulls the time, matching the emotional flow of each song.
“When I heard the first few chords on [Nick Drake’s] Five Leaves Left, it blew my mind."
This level of control only comes through practice and commitment to craft and genre. Yet Chasny avoids labelling himself a fingerstyle guitarist. He’s more inspired by players who put the music before the playing. “I’ve got a few tricks and I probably could learn some more,” he says. “But my favorite guitar players are the ones who are, as they say, in the service of the song: guys like Richard Thompson or Lindsey Buckingham.”
If it sounds like Chasny has abandoned his electric side, fear not. While he already has plans to record another acoustic set for KPM, he’s also conjuring a cranked-up vision for the next Six Organs album. “It’s definitely going to be electric, and I’ve got some ideas about it.”
Explaining Ben Chasny as an artist isn’t going to get easier any time soon. His music is all over the place, and he purposefully avoids classification. But there is a common thread that ties his entire career together. Look too hard and you might miss it, but it’s always there.
“This sounds cheesy as fuck, but I really love guitar,” Chasny says. “I remember when I was young, playing one note. It was so exciting. It was so fucking good. I still have that every once in a while. Maybe that’s why the varied stuff. I love absolute noise guitar, but I also like Paul Gilbert! I don’t know why I love guitar so much. I ask myself that all that time. I don’t know what it is, but I love guitar.”
Six Organs of Admittance - Shelter From the Ash
- Ben Chasny: Six of Everything - Premier Guitar ›
- Zen Guitar for the 22nd Century ... and Beyond - Premier Guitar ›
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials
The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
For more information, please visit gibson.com.