@skopemag Q&A Featuring Ariana Saraha & Flight Behavior

– “From The Wild” is a stunning album, which feels like something coming to us from another moment in time. There is an ancestral quality to the music, which makes it incredibly deep and inspiring. What does it feel like to be a stalwart for this timeless sound in a world that’s so frantic and fast-paced?


[Ariana Saraha] First off, thank you! And second, that’s a great question, “what does it feel like?” It feels like a river that just keeps flowing, always changing, over rocks, through trees, under stars… It feels like the whole arc of human history coming through in a song of grief and praise. It feels like swaying trees and pulsing waves and craggy peaks and changing clouds…

Ha ha, that probably all sounds very poetic, but it’s actually true… See, I tend to spend my days listening to birds, growing herbs and flowers, and simply living at what I consider a natural pace. Apparently I’m allergic to the ever-churning gears of modern life.

So I’m glad that comes through in the music – I’d like others to join me in a bit of that timeless, natural pace…

[Fernando Medina] Thanks, and glad to be here! Yeah, it does feel like it comes from another place and time, doesn’t it? But it was written and recorded in recent years, amidst all the mess of civilization as we know it now, which is so much about overreach, in my opinion. So, the album’s about sinking into our timeless depths more so than about reaching laterally in any linear way – the vertical dimension, as Robert Bly would say, rather than the horizontal.As for being a stalwart for it, dunno what to say about that other than it’s both frustrating and relieving, I guess. What’s that Lily Tomlin quote? “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”Universal remedy, right there.—

– The dichotomy between the past and the future seems to be a unique feature of the music you make. What lessons can people learn from the music of yesteryear?


[FM] The “music of yesteryear?” Jesus, Stoli, what the hell ya trying to do? Make us look old? Hahaaa! But honestly, I don’t think of it that way. Timeless is from any time, not just yesteryear.

But to actually answer your question, at least some of the music of yesteryear was about not relying overmuch on the latest tech toys, for instance. And that’s probably still true today, at least for some of the music out there. Fewer distractions – however you can pull that off – helps with good music-making. I mean, who’d disagree, right?

[AS] I too am laughing at “the music of yesteryear” concept, ha ha ha. I mean, music is and always has been a living, breathing, ever-evolving craft – and these days there’s a lot of merging of old and new, as we do. It’s true that we play with instruments that have been around for centuries, millennia even (like Turkish baglama saz, frame drums, oud…). And we draw upon rhythms and scales that have been passed down through generations. But our music is original, and made here and now, in response to the mad, mad world as it is. So in that sense, it’s as modern as they come 😉

But all that said, I do love to see artists steep themselves in traditional music, as I really feel it enriches our depth and sense of possibility. I was very fortunate to have learned so much Mediterranean and Middle Eastern music very early on in my career – that has definitely shaped my choice of melody, rhythm, and even the palette of vocal sounds I make.

That said, it doesn’t always have to be old music. Some of the Arabic music I’ve sung has been modern pop music! But yes, it’s true, I also sing a Sephardic love song that is closer to 500 years old 😉

– Your music features a huge range of influences. Is there a starting point in your process to incorporate all of the different styles, or does it pretty much just happen naturally as the songs come up?


[AS] At this point, the blending of musical styles is pretty natural. For example, I don’t necessarily contrive to write a song in 7/8 or 10/8 – but having learned music in these rhythms already, that’s what comes out when I start writing. It’s the same with the melodies – the Middle Eastern “maqaamat” scales I’ve learned and also some years of studying Indian Classical raga both come through in the choices I make.

But of course that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of all the influences that get woven in – Fernando’s history, those of our musical collaborators – these all add to the character of what gets created.

But regardless of all the cool “styles” or influences we weave in, we’re really most interested in serving the song – what will help convey the meaning, the feeling, the message? We just also happen to have history and connections with weird, out-of-box instruments and musicians.

[FM] That’s a toughie. It’s hard to generalize about the music as a whole. The influences actually shift from song to song to some degree, don’t you think?

Anyway, my rock, world, jazz, and classical influences are deeply ingrained, but pretty mutable also. Similar for Ariana with hers. Ditto for when we play together. So when she comes to me with a musical idea, she generally has a good idea of the starting point, stylistically, and then it can be a fairly natural process that kind of takes care of itself, at least initially.

Ain’t gonna lie, though, it can get contentious too, even or especially early on, because I do come from a pretty different place than Ariana and it’s not always complementary.

[AS] Ha, I’d argue that our different perspectives are generally complementary – sometimes even surprisingly so – but sometimes it takes a little convincing to get the ideas across in a way that’s understood.

– Rhythm seems to be a very important component of the album’s sound, with big, tribal-like drum parts that drive the energy of the music. Do you start composing based on a rhythm, or is it something that comes later?


[FM] Oh hell yeah! Big, yet sensitive, drums are a great support and complement to Ariana’s special brand of vocals, and work with the whole aesthetic and sound, for sure. But it’s fucking hard to pull off though because I’m a goddamn monkey herding gorillas with that drum kit. Too easy to overpower her. It’s been hard and humble work keeping them in control so as to achieve some level of her poetry and lyricism, but on the drums, if that makes sense. That’s the sensitive, musical part. That’s my goal, to be as expressive as her, and that’s a high bar. But it’s my kind of challenge.I really like being in the role of sculpting or even kind of terraforming her songs in my way, each a kind of planet, ya know. It was the best compliment when a filmmaker friend of mine referred to my playing as “planetary drumming and percussion.” Thank you, Mike!

But I digress (already!), haha! So when Ariana comes to me with a song idea, she often accompanies her own vocals with a frame drum or kalimba (it’s a wonder to see her do that, by the way – wow!) either of which gives a basic rhythm. That’s generally what I go by to reinforce and/or counter rhythmically and even melodically/tonally on my weird, eccentric drum kit.

That said, the frame drum thing can be a bit of a box. We even recently agreed to begin trying to leave the frame drum out of some of the initial guide tracks I use to compose & record my drum kit & percussion parts, so that I have an even freer hand playing and composing.

[AS] Yeah, we’re still trying new things…

But yeah, rhythm is at the core! In my writing, I generally start with a vocal melody – but because I’m also a percussionist, there is almost always a rhythm accompanying me. Sometimes I’ll write to the rhythm of walking, to the ever-changing landscape. But just as often I’ll write while playing my frame drum. Even when I write without accompaniment, I always feel a rhythm in me – it’s something I can’t seem to get away from. So working with Fernando – a master drummer/percussionist – has been a natural and exciting collaboration.

Fernando definitely takes rhythm to a whole new level. I call him a “rhythm painter,” as he creates whole worlds with his many brushes. And I’ve always loved big drums! It’s been so nice to work with someone who’s not afraid of the drama they can bring! Honestly, prior to founding Flight Behavior, I always craved more of that big sound, but it wasn’t easy to find musical collaborators with a rock background who also have both the chops and the tasty sensitivity to interface with the World influences I bring. I think one of the first-ever songs he and I jammed on was an old Arabic song, “Lamma Bada Yatathanna,” in a super long 10/8 rhythm cycle. Not easy stuff!

And yes, Fernando, I love how you stretch me out of my boxes and invite me to try on new things. It’s been a dream come true having a true collaboration like this, not just somebody who accompanies me prettily and safely.

[FM] You’re welcome, Ariana. You wanted drama, and you got it! Hahaaaa!

– Is there a song, in particular, that was the most challenging to record on this record? Perhaps one that took a lot more labor than the others?


[AS] Uff, the whole album was pretty challenging! It’s one thing to meet such a great musical partner [Fernando] and have a reasonably shared vision – it’s another to find other people to accompany it! Not to mention while doing most of it from afar, during a pandemic! That in itself made the whole album challenging…

“White Thistle Garden” stands out. It took a while because it was a lot of work convincing folks of my vision for it. Everyone thought it was just a pretty little Celtic-sounding ditty, but I kept saying, “no, I want it dirty – I hear electric guitars, crashing drums…” They all thought I was crazy until Fernando – inspired by my nudging and some found-object inspiration he got listening to Tom Waits – came up with a really unusual and cool sound. Once those clangy drums were in place, it wasn’t so hard to convince Jesse Manno to lay down some more dirty sounds.

“Shelter of the Wood” was another that took a particularly long time to dial in. In the end, I ended up scrapping almost all of the non-drum-based instrumentation. I then proceeded to add so much “treatment” to the oud that it’s beyond recognition. I honestly don’t quite know how we’d even emulate it live – maybe with keyboards – but sometimes the studio (and all its toys) is its own animal…

[FM] Yeah, Ariana, you really did an awesome job with that oud “treatment” on “Shelter…” But oh god, I’ll be honest, this album was just a motherfucker all around for me, hehe. In fact, hate to say it, it felt like a long-hanging albatross around my neck. And safe to say it was a feat of grit, for both of us, and for years at that! Besides the musical challenges, there were lots of just life challenges and upheavals to deal with too. But the music (and some good fortune, here and there) kept me going, as well as having the space and time (what a luxury!) to be with the songs and be with what they’re about, which included getting bucked up by “the wild,” as Ariana would say. She really helped me in that particular way and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.But yeah, each song had its mix of trials in terms of recording and production. So I’d say “Beneath the Waves,” “White Thistle Garden” and “Shelter of the Wood” are my candidates for Most Laborious, haha. Can’t narrow it down from there, really.

– “Night Ride Across The Caucasus” is perhaps one of the most ambitious tracks on the album. What are the hurdles and challenges of writing a song that’s almost eight minutes in length?


[FM] Well, first of all, “Night Ride…” is a cover song, so we had to try to outdo Loreena McKennitt! Did we succeed, Stoli? Just kidding, you ain’t gotta answer, ha! So obviously we can’t take credit for writing the song.But the biggest overall hurdle for writing our version of this song, I think, was trying to keep such a long song interesting. Took a lot of time and work at intervals. At the behest of our mix/master guy, David Bergeaud (look him up, he’s a heavy-hitter!), we had to do overdubs on this one, and most of the other songs, to give them even more arc and interest, and this song was the most stubborn of them all. Hell, I think Ariana was still getting a guitar track from one of our session collaborators while the thing was going through the final mix phase. I mean, down to the wire!!

[AS] Ha ha ha! Yeah, those were some last-minute guitars, for sure! As for how we kept it interesting, keep in mind that the whole final minute of the song was easy to fill, as it’s just Jesse Manno playing a duduk solo. (Duduk, by the way, is an Armenian woodwind.) But yeah, there were still seven more minutes to fill. Loreena McKennitt simply wrote a lot of lyrics, and repeated the chorus so. many. times.

Fernando definitely helped craft some of the drama and arc of our version with his slowly-building drum part. And I also have to give credit to David Bergeaud for encouraging me to go back and re-record the vocals – their first iteration was a bit too “monochromatic.”

So yeah, for a long song, one must really craft the “topography,” as Fernando would say, to make sure it has lots of intrigue and drama and shape. To some degree that comes naturally once paying attention to the feeling of the song – but even the natural can take time to coax out…

– The quality of the production on the album is quite unique, because it combines the essence of music that’s timeless with the clarity you’d expect from a very modern album. Was it a conscious choice to combine these two aspects in your music?


[AS] I suppose it was conscious in the sense that I’ve always enjoyed weaving those two worlds. Though I’ve chosen not to take up the pace of the modern world, I still very much use our many human inventions and technologies. I love trippy sound effects and have been crafting my own delays, reverbs, harmonizers, pans, and psychedelic sonic drones for many years now, even in the live stage context. I also do much of the recording engineering, editing, and pre-mixing of the albums. Heck, I even do all our digital art, and dabble in video creation – so I’m no stranger to our modern tricks and toys!

So I guess we could say it was more “natural” than “conscious” to weave the timeless and the modern in our album. I definitely inhabit both worlds!

But there was a bit of conscious intent in the end. We discovered that the 3 of us working most closely on completing the album – Fernando, David, and myself – really like a warm, earthy sound. But when we listened to new recordings by other artists we consider pretty earthy, such as Wardruna, Heilung…, we realized the “modern sound” uses a lot more compression and brightness than we’d implemented. So David and I went baaack into the mixes (even though we were already at the mastering stage!) and reworked them so they wouldn’t stand out in the modern market as muddy and old sounding, ha ha ha!

[FM] Good question, Stoli. That conscious effort, which came towards the end of the album production, was mostly on the part of Ariana and David Bergeaud. They did the heavy lifting with that. I just tried to stay out of it by that point because I had bigger fish to fry taking the lead on organizing everything for our then-upcoming London show opening for Faun at Union Chapel in early April. But I totally dug the final mid-March mastered product, believe me!

– If you had to handpick a single song from this album as a “calling card” to introduce your sound to new listeners, which song would you choose, and why?


[FM] I’d say “Grandmother’s Tears,” because it’s so dark, tribal (as you’d say, Stoli) and trancey. This combo is definitely a calling card of ours.

OR “The Last Days” because it’s got such a ballad-like, groovy, cinematic quality with exceptionally exceptional lyrics by Ariana – all of which seem to strike a deep chord with a lot of our fans.

[AS] Ooo, those are great choices, Fernando! I looove those songs! And yet if we could only have one, I think I’d choose the title track, “From the Wild.” It’s somewhat more of a journey than a songy-song – but this album is meant to be a journey, a dive into actually experiencing that wild, more-than-human world…

But yeah, as a journey you really have to listen to the whole album. 😉

– Do you have any touring plans this summer or later this year? Tell us more about your recent performance in England.


[FM] I wish!! None at this very moment but we’ll see later this year and into next.

As for that recent show in London opening for the German pagan-folk band, Faun, it was bloody massive (as the Brits would say)!

But Ariana had a rather rough time, we had all kinds of sound issues (not much of a soundcheck, etc), and we both expended loads of energy and resources to make it happen. But speaking for myself, it was such a relief and joy to be on stage again after a 2.5-year hiatus performing in such a magical space for such a large, appreciative audience, that all the bullshit just dropped away from me within minutes and I was sooo in it, man.I mean, I was home again, ya know, being on stage. And over the decades I’ve had great gigging, touring and personal experiences in London and it was such a trip to see some key peeps again. What a reunion!

[AS] I’m actually currently traveling, attempting to find my sea legs again after a pretty deep (and fertile!) hibernation throughout the pandemic. I may play a few solo garden concerts this season, but we don’t yet have any actual Flight Behavior gigs booked again yet. We’re taking it slow to re-emerge, but really hope to before long, as there is nothing like playing live!

Oh my gosh, speaking of, London was amazing and oh. so. hard. Opening for Faun at Union Chapel was pretty much a dream come true. But as my first overseas gig ever, it had a steep learning curve. Since 2009 I’ve done all my gigs in the western US via tour vehicle. So I have been able to bring all. the. gear.

Unabashedly. All my effects, any pedals I might want… I thought I would be safe paring down just a tiny bit to fly overseas, but I left out one crucial piece of equipment – my mini mixing board that ties it all together. I won’t go into too much detail, but lesson learned: I’ve spent too many years crafting my “sound” to leave it in the hands of an engineer who hasn’t even heard me before, in the midst of a way-too-short soundcheck, even if they are very skilled.

So yeah, it was technically kind of a mess, but energetically so good to get to play live again and hang out with music fans – we really hope to do it again soon!

– What is the best way for fans to connect with you and keep up with your projects online?


[AS] Well of course the very, very best way is to go to our website and sign up on the homepage! But we totally love when folks join us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube too. And yes, even Spotify (or wherever you listen). Just be sure to click the actual “follow” button so you hear when new music or videos are released!
Of course we want to sing and play for everyone in person, but we’re grateful we have these places to stay connected until then…