Buddha Gets Jazzier (with a touch of folk)

There is something distinctive about musical artistry when one decides to forsake all over-generalizing clichés and downright explore authentic, spiritually-rooted world views. Adopting their name from Buddhist philosophy, Avidya and the Kleshas focus on what hinders us from obtaining true enlightenment, and they have a knack for doing so by sweeping the cloth out from under their jazzy china set without breaking a single dish.

While at times playful, the band's eclectic, winding road of soulful vocals unites with a vagabond sadness where guitarist and lead singer Stephanie Carlin, guitarist Xander Naylor, bassist Russ Flynn, percussionist Wes Reid, and pianist Javi Santiago join the listener on a pilgrimage though political injustices, internal regret, spiritual reflection, and attempting to build a more realized version of ourselves.

Having recently released their first album, Tree of Series, the Brooklyn quintet is learning firsthand what it means to struggle against the desires of producers and to come to terms with, and embrace, that which they set out to do: giving an authentic voice to the ever-evolving experience we call life.

By humanizing the myriad universal energies that birth from personal and social journeys, these guys shed light on what it means to bleed out pain, joy, failure, and the complex search for inner peace.
Heather Pugh (Songfacts): Congrats on dropping your first album. Exciting times these are! Can you tell us a little bit about what this process has been like and what you've learned?

Stephanie Carlin: The time it took to go from funding my Kickstarter to releasing the record took about 26 months, and in that time I learned how precious my authenticity is as an artist. In the beginning I found myself being swept up by the ideas of outsiders; producers and engineers whom I had paid a lot of money to participate but who did not understand my artistic motivations or goals. I quickly learned that one way or another those relationships dissolve. What I struggled most with was being patient with myself in finding the right people to work with. I had to shift my mentality from, "Wow, I'm failing because I can't make this collaboration work," to "Wow, I'm really honoring my artistic process by finding someone who can collaborate with me in the most authentic way possible."

Songfacts: With your band residing in Brooklyn, how has the music scene there (and the area's overall vibe) affected your music making and inspirations?

Stephanie: I think Brooklyn can be both the best and worst place for artists. There is so much creativity bursting at this borough's seams, and there is such a tremendous respect for artistic culture. The opportunities for collaboration are exponential.

On the same note, alongside this bursting artistic energy comes an aesthetic of nonchalance and indifference. Cue blasé eye roll: "Oh, you're a musician. Me too. And my mom. And my mail man. And my boss. And this dude next to me peeing on the subway."

Songfacts: Avidya and the Kleshas, an interesting reference to Buddhism. Will you explain the connection and how this realm of thought and living has impacted your musical and lyrical approach?

Stephanie: American yoga teachers have this robotic, mindless way of chanting, "Just let go. Just be peaceful." I kind of think that's bullshit. I think simple, declarative statements like that don't honor the emotional struggles we all experience as humans. In yoga philosophy, the "Kleshas" are five universal hindrances to our own enlightenment; they explain the reasons we can't be joyful, peaceful beings all the time. The mother klesha is "avidya," meaning ignorance. From our own ignorance, we suffer.

Through this project, I aim to personify these kleshas, give them space to live and be understood. Only then can we rise above them. If our ego is getting in the way of our spirit, if we're clinging to something pleasurable and fearing it's loss, if we're running away from a necessary pain...

Songfacts: The following lyrics are from the album opener, "Mother and God":

I am a rock
I glued my rusted roots, my spine is used to bear fruit - I am rooted
But you are not, you cocooned my blooming womb
I am the fuel – seducing, introducing, confusing you with truths
But you don't really understand these tools

These seem to allude to perhaps something greater than individual feelings or experience. However, what do these words mean to you personally? Is there a story or point of reference that acted as a muse?
Stephanie: "Mother and God" started as a homage to women who are in destructive relationships with narcissists, but when I chose Avidya And The Kleshas as our band name and mission it evolved into a reflection of ignorance (the definition of "Avidya"). It helped me forgive my own ignorance, and be patient with the ignorance of those I love. We all have our own warped process of working through our stuff and it's not my place to try and "fix" others. I wrote the tune in 20 minutes after being forced to end a terribly sour relationship. I had poured a lot of energy and nurturance into him – maybe too much.

Songfacts: "In the Hospital Room" is a robustly pensive, seemingly personal song, no matter what meaning one takes away from it. Between the emotional intensity of your voice and the pressing directness of the lyrics:

Let me look at you now like I looked at you then
Let me look at you now
Let me look at you now-before it hits me
Silent as your heart beat

What thoughts or memories go through your head when performing this song?

Stephanie: Maybe the song is about regret. Or that stark, desolate feeling of authentic loneliness. "In The Hospital Room" was a dream where my ex was paralyzed and dying. We weren't on speaking terms and the relationship had ended several months ago.

Songfacts: You guys throw out a brave, political punch with "Babies Grow Up." Thus far, what has the reception been like for this song? If you could perform this in front of American troops and our government, what would you hope to bring to the table in terms of dialogue?
Stephanie: "Babies Grow Up" is a homage to children; particularly families residing in Fallujah, Iraq who have been giving birth to deformed or stillborn children since the US military dropped depleted uranium and white phosphorus in 2004. I wouldn't expect anyone in this political/militaristic regime to feel a residue of sympathy for the suffering of these families, but if the song were to have any impact it would be the seemingly obvious push to end this absurd war. There are no winners. There is only anguish. As John Lennon said 40 years ago, "war is over if you want it." editor's note: Yoko Ono wrote that song with John

Songfacts: The Buddhist Heart Sūtra, gate gate pāragate pārasamgate bodhi svaha, is a reoccurring theme in "The Human Struggle (Gone/Gone)." The rhythmic flow of these words and syllables seem very natural. Would you say that there is a connection here between universal rhythm and the ways in which it is portrayed by humans, most prominently in music?

Stephanie: I don't know how others feel but when I think of universal rhythm I think of a pendulum swinging back and forth, of highs and lows, of silence versus noise. I think of all opposition, really. And that's what "The Human Struggle" is about - making peace with yourself when everything and everyone you love disappears (more likely than not this will eventually happen).

Songfacts: Avidya and the Kleshas present a polished and complex approach to what some might classify as funky café jazz. While trying to steer clear of artistic pigeon holing or classification, what kind of musical elements would you guys like to see explore as you progress as a band?

Stephanie: Cafe jazz. Is that like somewhere between stadium jazz and basement jazz?

Terrible joke, I'm sorry. Let's get serious… The stories woven into the music have very poignant messages and maintaining a polished structure to tell the story is important. But my primary objective as a group is to stay present, to stay so present that time slows down and speeds up, then eventually melts away. The goal is to transcend time and space; to be without thoughts and separate from your body. It's a very spiritual, sacred thing, to create and empower yourself and others via music. It's transcendental; it's meditation.

Songfacts: On the band's blog, we came across a great Patti Smith moment where she offers advice for artists, and everyone really, about staying true and honest to one's artistic endeavors and keeping a clean name. How have these words affected the band's mission? If you could offer advice to others, what would it be?

Stephanie: Be your authentic self. This takes a certain amount of fearlessness. As musicians we have a responsibility to others; we can sculpt the energetic space of each other and our world. I feel we must empower and enlighten each other. If you are doing the work to dig through the Kleshas - your ignorance, your ego, your fears and attachments, your aversions - you find your own authenticity underneath those layers of baggage. And it takes courage to expose that to others, for they may criticize or condemn. Do it anyway.

Songfacts: Are there any specific bands/musicians that you would love to tour or perform with, if given the chance?

Stephanie: Tortoise, My Morning Jacket, and Avidya And The Kleshas doesn't seem too bad a lineup...

Songfacts: What other kind of projects and/or day jobs are you each involved with?

Stephanie: I founded a songwriting program for children and adults in Brooklyn called Free Spirits Music (www.freespiritsmusic.com). Our mission is to use music as a vehicle for creating self-awareness and confidence. I've met so many people of all ages who have always wanted to make original music but their own self-doubt prohibited it. I work to pull away those layers to understand each individual's creative process.

Songfacts: Now that the recording is over and your first album is released, what can we expect next from Avidya and the Kleshas?

Stephanie: I'm writing another record. God knows when it will be out. Probably when it's ready.

August 8, 2013
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