The Wisdom of Shankara is a New Zealand-based electronica duo of Brendan Evans and Eli Wilson-Kelly. They weave together a range of styles including psychedelic dub and tribal energy.
After being introduced through a mutual friend at school, Brendan and Eli found that they had similar musical interests, and began sharing ideas and producing music together. Part of their goal is to incorporate many different sonic styles, giving them a unique sound which is difficult to pinhole genre-wise. The music has elements of dub-step, tribal, bass, chill-out, and psychedelic-dub.
Reality Sandwich spoke with Brendan Evans about their creative process, inspirations, and thoughts on the EDM scene.
Reality Sandwich: Where does the name Wisdom of Shankara come from? What about this wisdom are you trying to transmit through your music?
Brendan Evans: Shankara is another name for Shiva. For those who don’t know, Shiva is an Indian god of yoga and arts as well as transcendence and limitlessness. When we started to make music together our influence was very Indian and ethnic, so the name just worked. The wisdom to be shared is just a plain and simple love for music! We try to make a lot of different genres. We have even made a few rap tracks to break up the monotony of staring at the screen all day.
Do you feel that there is a relationship between spirituality and music? If so, could you comment on how this relationship affects the way that you perform, create, and listen?
I really do think so. For example, if you hear a track or piece of music (even just one sound in a song) that really resonates with you it can really get you in an almost meditative state. I love that about music. It’s so universal as well. There is a lot you can do with music spiritually, such as trance drumming or shamanic chanting, etc. When we are making music, we generally try to capture a vibe, image or full story sometimes. For example, in one track (Forgotten Temple) we used an experience that I had at a New Zealand festival with a didgeridoo as an inspiration.
I felt an extremely strong connection to the earth listening to this didgeridoo – it took me to a place I’ve never been before. So we tried to capture a piece of that vibe in the track using real recordings of birds and water we recorded at this festival, as well as long introduction and then didgeridoo as the bass line and darbukas as the main rhythm. For me spirituality, music, and nature all blend into the same thing at some point. The challenge is to join the dots correctly.
You mention the didgeridoo’s ability to bring out a strong emotional reaction. It seems that electronic music shares this unique ability to stimulate an emotional reaction without relying on traditional elements such as melody or lyrics. When you are making music are there certain elements that you try to focus on in order to create this type of reaction?
I think you’re right however we are big fans of melody, nothing better then a really nice flute line or guitar riff. But yeah, electronic music just has so many possibilities. We often record our own darbuka (an Egyptian hand drum) loops or other percussion, we find that can really set an emotional backdrop. We also use a lot of nature sounds in our tracks as well, such as a soft gurgling stream bubbling over moss or the sounds of a thick moist jungle, etc. That’s always a great way to set a feeling. I could go on forever on this question. More or less anything you put in a track can add a new piece to the puzzle – I guess that’s why most musicians never stop being musicians.
I’d like to ask about your general approach to making music. When working on a new track, is there a standard approach that you start out with, or is it more of a free flowing process?
Not at all really. We will just sit down in front of the screen most of the time and start messing around with sounds or synths, etc. Sometimes one of us will want to make a certain genre so we will start with that as an idea. Most of the time though a track starts out as a wee jam we are having. Then we decide to see what we can do with it. Tracks also tend to change a lot during the process, for example “Doors to the Digital Dimension” starts out as a crunk dub step-ish track and turns into psy-trance half way through, mainly because we couldn’t think of anything else to add. Eli just started to mess around and that’s what came out. We prefer it that way though, it means we have endless creative freedom.
How do you know when a track is finished? Do you decide by saying “this sounds good to us” or is there a question of “will this be something our fans appreciate”?
Mainly it’s when we think it sounds good and have done everything we can think of doing at the time. If we listen to any “finished” track now there is always something, if not a lot, we want to change.
Are there any musicians or genres that are currently influencing the way that you make your own music?
Shpongle is always a massive influence for us. The way they can break through with moments of stunning beauty is always an inspiring moment, I think they have probably been the biggest influence in terms of how we make music as we always are trying to add more sounds and make it more intricate. The way they can jump genre has been a big influence as well. We are influenced a lot by our country and surroundings I think. New Zealand seems to pulse with bass heavy vibes so we generally tend to lean on that side of things. In terms of influencing the way we make music, maybe someone like Kalya Scintilla or the like. Recently we have been playing around with those sort of glitchy, squelchy sounds. Dub step like Kryptic Minds for the bass. We also listen to a lot of dub so most songs end up with at least one shank.
As musicians, what do you feel is your relationship to your audience? How do you hope for your music to be received?
Relationship to the audience has always been a very relaxed one for us, generally when we play it’s very easy going as we are just up there having fun and hoping whoever else is there is also having fun. I think we just want to make the music that gets us excited, and hope there are others out there who also get excited by it. We hope that our music can trigger those moments of musical meditation to our listeners that tickle those brain waves.
The web has given artists the ability to connect with a global audience and also allows for a tremendous cross pollination of ideas and genres. I was wondering if this has in anyway affected the ways in which you make music?
For sure. I mean, if the Internet didn’t exist we would have never have heard almost all the artists that have influenced me or Eli. On a practical level if you don’t know how to say put a reverb on something you can just look it up online. The Internet has definitely affected the way we make music. It’s also really cool knowing that people for all over the world can hear your music. Same with the cross pollination of ideas, I love being so exposed to so many different ideas musically, spiritually, politically through the Internet. It’s great.
Electronic music culture is often associated with psychedelic drug culture. Do you feel that electronic music and these drugs are sympathetic to each other? Do you feel that the experience of electronic music is enhanced in anyway by the use of psychedelic drugs?
I think altered states and music will always be closely related. Music is almost a psychedelic in its own right. If you have a great track you’re listening to it can really open your mind and make you think. I think psychedelic drugs, in particular the hallucinogens, and electronic music are sympathetic to each other, especially the downbeat relaxing type, the likes of Shpongle or Desert Dwellers. I think that’s because these guys making this type of music have experienced these states and we’re so inspired by the experience they express it in the best way they can, through music, as language often fails to capture it, and this generally rubs off on the music. I’m not a huge fan of trance, but there is definitely something to be said about the hypnotic effects of psychedelic trance that is something sympathetic to psychedelics. Sure you could go to a rave and get blasted with loud techno and have a great time, but if you sat with some beautiful ethnic chill out stuff I could guarantee it would be a deeper experience. In fact, no music is probably better. I think the types of sounds you can now make on a computer are so wacky and alien, the two experiences really go hand and hand. There is also something to be said with psychedelic music and its use of ethnic sounds like a sitar, didgeridoo or chant. I think all these types of sounds have been brought in somewhere along the line because of the earthy, psychedelic hypnotic feel they bring. It’s like trying to recreate the psychedelic experience through music.
The Wisdom of Shankara is currently working with Keyframe-Entertainment on distributing their first full length album. Keyframe plans to bring The Wisdom of Shankara to the U.S.