David Satori and Evan Fraser started the multi-genre band, Dirtwire, after a fateful recording session on psilocybin mushrooms in 2007. They have been cultivating a creative relationship with mushrooms, which they use as tools in the writing and recording of their music, ever since. The two best friends share an experimental background in the arts, having attended the California Institute of the Arts. These ingredients–their training, creative partnership with fungi, and world travels–create a signature blend of musical styles.
The band calls their sound, “back-porch space cowboy blues, swamptronica, and electro-twang.” This multidimensional music draws inspiration from many sources: Americana, blues, bluegrass, electronica, psytrance, folk, and world music. Dirtwire creates out of the box under the guidance of magic mushrooms.
Many refer to psychedelics and plant medicines as teachers. Satori has long advocated for psilocybin’s therapeutic and spiritual power. The band’s creative process reminds us that psychedelics provide guidance and inspiration for artists.
Dirtwire’s latest full-length effort, Electric River, is an homage to the creative partnership they’ve formed with mushrooms. The album’s name refers to the depths of a psilocybin trip when one is experiencing a charge, current, or connection between the self and the great unknown.
Satori told us that they stumbled on the album art serendipitously–a synchronistic “right place, right time”–a common experience on psychedelics. Stars seem to align. You find yourself right where you need to be.
At a friend’s house, they happened to “look over at this painting, and it was this beautiful blue electric river.” Given that Electric River was already their new album’s name, they grew enchanted by the deep blue composition that looked like a swirl of celestial planets coming out of a woman’s praying figure. That woman turned out to be a poetic portrait of Maria Sabina, the Mexican shaman responsible for introducing the West to psychedelic mushrooms. The album art became a way to pay tribute to her legacy and express gratitude to the mushrooms for their creative and spiritual guidance.
We caught up with David Satori between shows to discuss the new album, music being a psychedelic experience, and using mushrooms for creative and spiritual development.
RS + Dirtwire Interview
DS: We set up our whole studio with all of our microphones first. The goal is to get everything working because you don’t want to run into a technical difficulty when you’re on a psychedelic drug. All of our phones are off, we make intentions, and open that space. We treat it as a ceremony, as a sacrament.
I feel like there’s this pulsing fabric…an energetic field that I start to see. The color and the music creates holographic kaleidoscope tapestries. Everything in the studio becomes more vibrant. Reality starts to shift and I feel like I’m manning a spaceship with all the electronic gear around.
RS: You take mushrooms and then you guys start to write music? Do you go into it with a framework or record off the cuff?
DS: Sometimes we’ll do both. Mostly, it’s all improvisation. Sometimes we’ll set up some grooves, drum loops, some basic ideas that we want to play on top of. We will make a rhythm track or a bassline track and then we’ll improvise on top of that. So we’re overdubbing in that case but we mostly improvise. We’re not trying to come up with parts. It’s free for all. Then it’s about going back and finding those great moments after.
RS: Has Dirtwire been using mushrooms creatively since the beginning?
DS: Since the beginning of our recording project. Around 2007 or 2008, we did a big psilocybin session, Evan and me. The two of us founded Dirtwire. We recorded for a whole night and ended up editing that psilocybin trip for about four years because it was a side project. That was our first album.
RS: As a creative person, how has your experience using mushrooms influenced the way you make music?
DS: Mushrooms are a tool to open a gateway and connect with other realms, realities, and intelligences. I feel like I tap into an intergalactic internet that’s been around since the dawn of time. For me, I’ve had some very profound moments in which I opened up as a channel and created a space to communicate. The music is the outlet of that.
RS: How is music a psychedelic experience?
DS: You’re creating this emotional landscape of sound and you’re transporting people to different places. Music can take people on an emotional rollercoaster, through the highs and the lows of an experience.
RS: Tell us about the story behind Electric River.
DS: Electric River refers to the actual moment of when you’re in the deep psilocybin trip and you’re experiencing that out of body connection with the undefined universe, or the unexplainable. We’re trying to talk about the electric river being the channel, the source, the connection between the experience and the person.
RS: But you didn’t record all the songs on psilocybin…
DS: There’s a handful on there, like “Sabina,” “Psyloon” and parts of “Eagle and the Condor” that were recorded with psilocybin. This album is a tribute to Maria Sabina, (who is on our album cover) and the usage of psilocybin. Dirtwire was wanting to honor her memory and the sacrifices she had to make to bring psilocybin mushrooms to Western society.
RS: Was there a memorable trip that turned into a song?
DS: When the song “Sabina” was written, that was a dedication. We recorded it at a friend’s place in Santa Cruz. It a beautiful setup, in a house over the ocean. There were moments when we were getting into the groove when I felt like I was tapping into, or talking to this spirit that I’d never really felt before. My mom had just passed months before, so I felt like I was connecting with her in a different way than I ever have on that journey.
RS: Tapping into the divine feminine.
DS: Yeah, exactly. I felt her presence prominently.
RS: Your sound is a diverse blend of styles. Would you attribute psychedelics with creating out of the box?
DS: It’s really broken down our walls of thinking. We love so many different styles of music. Part of it is experimenting with the different blends of genres: mashing up a West African rhythm with an Indian melody. We like juxtaposing styles together and seeing what we get. Like a blues harmonica with a samba beat. We play around with opposites and see what we can come up with.
RS: What have mushrooms taught you about music?
DS: To get out of your own way. To not overthink things. When you’re really in the moment, take that first thought. 80% of our first initial improvisation is what we go with because that’s usually the best melody or the best idea we have. It’s when we’re trying too hard or overthinking it that we tend to start second-guessing ourselves. There’s this initial flow of inspiration in music that the psilocybin mushroom has helped unveil too.
RS: I don’t know if this would apply to music, but some would say that writing is listening.
DS: It becomes more of a dialogue, for me. Of course, when you’re in a high state of musical expression you’re listening very intently. But on psilocybin, the spectrum of your visual experience expands. The same thing is happening with your auditory system. You’re hearing frequencies and things that you’ve never experienced before. Those heightened sounds change the way that you play the music. Psilocybin does change the way that I listen in that it allows more space and I don’t feel the need to fill in as much space.
RS: Is healing one of the purposes of your music?
DS: We feel that music is a vehicle for a lot of people to heal. It allows people to experience their emotions that they’re maybe not dealing with, or could help them deal with their daily lives or even trauma that they’re going through. We’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of people let us know that our music has helped them through some difficult periods of their life. We’re honored that people listen to our music for that purpose. Music for us has done that as well. From the dawn of time, cultures around the world have been using music in ceremony as a way of bringing people together and uplifting their spirit.
RS: The universal language.
RS: Psychedelics are tools that can open up possibilities for original thinking. It feels like the commercial music industry could use a revival. We can use mushrooms to open up new creative channels.
DS: I feel like there’s a revival happening of the 60s- early 70s psychedelic movement right now. With all the evidence coming out on the treatment for PTSD and depression, and the decriminalization in Denver, Oakland, and Santa Cruz, it’s been validating the movement. There’s a wave happening. So I do think more artists are going to start being vocal about it because they feel safe. They don’t feel like their career is going to be jeopardized or anything. This is hopefully the beginning of artists being vocal with their usage. Because there are plenty of artists that have had amazing breakthroughs and experiences. We weren’t allowed to talk about it for the past 60 years but it’s been happening since the dawn of time. It’s not a new thing that people have been using psychedelics as creative tools.
RS: Let’s say someone who hasn’t tried mushrooms listens to Electric River. What is it that you want them to feel? What is it that you’re trying to communicate?
DS: Music is its own message. Psilocybin is just a tool to channel different music or to tap into different elements of your perception. But the music stands by itself. It’s a very personal experience. I feel honored to be able to be a messenger of the message. That’s what I feel with the mushrooms; I don’t own the message. I feel like it’s already out there in the ether and I have a little antenna on that I use to hear it. But it doesn’t matter if you’re on plant medicine or not, the message is what it is. Whatever that means for you.
For upcoming tour dates, check out Dirtwire’s website.