Gaia Consort
By Ronnie

Gaia (Gaea) 'guy-uh':
1) The Greek Earth Goddess and Mother of the Titans
2) The autopoietic superorganism that is the living biosphere

1) one who shares a common lot
2) a ship accompanying another
3) spouse / lover
4) to make harmony
5) a group of singers or instrumentalists performing together

The above definition of the Pagan rock band Gaia Consort says alot...but not everything. When I read that the band's recent CD, SECRET VOICES was totally funded by donations I was taken aback. How many rock bands can you recall that had such overwhelming support from the fans? I can't think of any. I talked to Gaia Consort leader (and songwriter and main vocalist) Christopher Bingham about what inspires the band and their expectations for the future.

E.C.: Allot of 'closet pagans' slip their music in via the 'Celtic' music moniker. With the popularity of Celtic music, it's an easy way to introduce songs with a pagan theme. I guess I should start by asking how do YOU yourself describe your music?

Christopher: Upbeat, earth friendly... If I could describe it with words, I wouldn't have to write the music. I tell people that we sound like Peter Gabriel meets CSN meets Jethro Tull with a little faux Bach thrown in for good measure... My voice used to get compared to David Crosby. These days we seem to get compared to Bare Naked Ladies in the reviews.

E.C.: We'll you certainly aren't Celtic and that's how alot of Pagan bands get their message across. But if you had to classify it in terms of today's music - would you call it pagan? Pagan-rock? Folk?

Christopher: Pagan rock works for me. It's a broad enough statement to contain what we do. One of the folks who reviewed us said "Seattle's Pagan Rockers are at it again." I can live with that!

E.C.: I like that you include the definitions of the band's name in its press material (see our intro above) From these definitions I could condense the description to meaning "songs celebrating the Earth Goddess"…is this an accurate description? How did you come to the name, Gaia Consort?

Christopher: I first read about the earth being called Gaia through poet Gary Snyder's book Turtle Island, way back in 1977. That led me to a variety of sources including James Lovelock and even a brief time with a local nest of the Church of All Worlds.

I came to the name Gaia Consort after my writing started to reflect my understanding and experience with the natural world and the Pagan community. I love the idea of a band being a consort – especially since the name has so many levels of definition. So music that celebrates Gaia, and musicians playing in consort not only with each other but with a love of Gaia and her systems. In terms of the songs celebrating the Earth Goddess, there is some of that in the work, but I try to be very careful about how I communicate that. In no way do I want to communicate the idea of Goddess as anything but beautiful metaphor. Many of the ideas are universal enough that just About anyone can celebrate them - some of the folks in the band are Catholic or recovering Catholic. I love much of the imagery of the Pagan movement, and it provides a readily accessible language that people within the movement understand.

E.C.: You've had a few solo albums, but how did you come to do pagan music?

Christopher: There are bits of the Pagan thing in all my CDs. I struggled for a really long time trying to “make it” as a “singer songwriter.” (Hint to singer songwriters out there: come up with a name that says something about your music – “Christopher Bingham” could be and probably is just another desperate fool in the corner strumming on a box with strings....) After playing the bars, the coffee houses, the folk festivals, having some disaster, I laid the music down and took a look at why I was doing it. I realized that it could be done sanely, if we came to terms with the fact that we probably would never be able to make enough money to live by the music. So I stopped playing any place I didn't want to play - no more smoky bars, no more shouting over drunks, espresso machines or people whose only purpose for attending is to get laid.

We limited ourselves to playing house concerts and festivals where people were coming to listen - to let us take them on an inner journey with the music and have some real connection and community. We started with the idea that we'd be happy with 11 people in a living room, and paradoxically more people started to show up when we played. The old bugaboo of getting People into the room solved itself when we simply defined our own environment as one where participants were told to come with an expectation of listening. Pagans, who are used to listening to hours of ritual, often poorly done, gave us enough attention to really hear the story. When we get half a chance to actually be heard, people get “really” enthusiastic.

E.C.: An old friend of mine now does Christian music. The problem I see with Christian music is that it is very lopsided: the instrumental side is usually very good...BUT...when it gets to the lyrics, they blow it on being overly preachy. Which is more important, the music or the message? Or should it be a perfect synthesis? Is there a conscious effort on your part NOT to alienate the mundane crowd with the lyrical content of your songs?

Christopher: I have to admit that it's a struggle to keep my natural tendency to Christian bash in tow. I was raised a Christian, so I know what I'm talking about - humanity will not be free until the entirety of the so called “great” religions - the Judeo / Christian / Islamic / Hindu / Buddhist traditions are relegated to the same kinds of museum oddities that the other ancient religions have become. Anything that abdicates the will of humans - including, I need to add, Pagans who make the claim “the Goddess willed me to fill-in-the-blank,” will keep us from dealing with the human issues that confront us. That message is certainly in several of my songs, so I suppose I may offend the fundies. Good. “omebody” needs to say it straight out. What religious fundamentalists are doing to the world is offensive.

That said, I try to keep my focus on celebration.

Musically, I try to make the arrangements support the lyrical idea of the song, but almost always start from the music. So the goal would be a synthesis - the idea of perfect is a little extreme - we're talking about art, not ball bearings... I certainly HOPE that when you listen to “The Old Ones” that the music conveys a sense of lamentation. Or when you listen to “Gathering” you get sense of masses of hopeful people converging....Part of what I hope to do is communicate awe.

E.C.: Is the goal of your music to reach a selective audience, i.e. the 'pagan friendly', or do you have a more wide-reaching scope in mind?

Christopher: I think Pagans will understand the references to doctrine or legends that other people won't hear. But all kinds of people seem to enjoy it. I'm often surprised and amazed at who likes what I do. Some of our best supporters are liberal Christians. Folks within the polyamory community have been very supportive as well and there is a lot of crossover between the poly and pagan worlds.

We're finding that folks who like psychedelia like what we do too. It makes sense when I think about it - some of my favorite music is early seventies tripping music. The difference in my music is that while I hope it takes you on a journey, it is about conscious participation in life, it's not about escapism.

E.C.: Your latest CD, Secret Voices was funded by donations of the Pagan community. That is truly amazing! What the entire album funded by donations? How exactly did that come about and how long did it take?

Christopher: All our CDs have been funded at one level or another by friends and family who wanted to see the music out in the world on CD. After we got The Burning on tape, we started the Adopt-a-Song program to raise enough money to get it pressed. For Gaia Circles and Secret Voices, we started fundraising earlier in the project, to both record AND press the CDs.

Basically for donating X amount of dollars you could get your name in the liner notes as a contributor at different levels. God/dess, Adoptive Co-parent, Favorite Aunt or Uncle, Contributor. We combined that with fund raising concerts and sold advance copies.

For Secret Voices we raised $13,000 in two months, including donations at fundraising shows. My jaw still drops when I think about it!

E.C.: Being a guitar player myself, I find myself really paying attention to the guitar playing on the Gaia Consort CD's. Does your background as a music major in college make you focus more on the instrumental arrangements of your songs? I also notice that a lot of your songs sound contemporary. What artists influenced you?

Christopher: I started playing when I was 13, writing songs at 15. I went to school to learn how to communicate the ideas that were already in my head. Twenty years later the musical complexity is much less important than I thought it was when I wanted to be Pat Metheny or John McLaughlin. I eventually accepted that I would never approach that kind of compositional dexterity,

and focused instead on my strengths - lyrics and story telling through song. I grew up listening to show tunes, and then later rock and roll. Everything from Black Sabbath to Bread. When I was 11 years old my brother bought me a 7 inch reel of tape and gave me a hand me down Wollensach reel to reel. He borrowed a bunch of “modern” LPs from one of his friends and we filled that 7 inch with Santana's “Abraxas,” Creedence Clearwater, and Iron Butterfly. I used to fall asleep to Abraxas - the tape machine would turn off when the tape went through. Years later I wondered why I could pick up Latin grooves so easily and then I remembered the tape. It must have been like those subliminal language tapes that teach you in your sleep.

Later I listened to a lot of Yes, Pink Floyd, Led Zep, Supertramp – all the classics, and even later still Joni Mitchell, Metheny, Rickie Lee Jones, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Cockburn, Afro Celt Sound System - anything done well.

E.C.: Both of the Gaia Consort albums, GAIA CIRCLES & SECRET VOICES compliment each other in overall style and content. How do your solo albums fit in? Do you foresee any more solo albums in the future, or is Gaia Consort your main focus?

Christopher: Funny you should ask - not all my stuff fits into the Gaia Consort framework, so as I write more stuff, I think about putting another Christopher Bingham album out. Gaia Consort is definitely the main focus, because we have an audience. I have some orchestral pieces that I think would be good for an epic movie. Maybe in the end we'll make some money in movies. Who knows? Gaia Consort is a labor of love that paradoxically pays for itself.

E.C.: Where is the focus for your live shows? Is it only pagan-friendly venues or is it more wide reaching? I know of one 'pagan' band, which actually has two set lists, one for the mundane crowd and one for the more pagan friendly folks. You mentioned an ill-fated tour of Europe - does Gaia Consort have any plans for a U.S. tour of any sort?

Christopher: We limit ourselves to listening venues - one honest club owner, years ago, told us that he really liked our music, but that we could never get a Saturday night in his bar because our audience doesn't drink enough to pay for the music. He makes his money with dance bands on the weekends and brings in the music he loves during the week. Saturday pays for Tuesday. He's right -our shows are are no-or-low alcohol, and I'm pretty sure there isn't much drug induced excitement either.

So we do house concerts as a duo/trio and festivals as a band. Within A limited area we self produce shows in halls in the Northwest, but club touring isn't going to happen. Festivals though - we love festivals.

E.C.: I can't imagine that you can just get in a van and tour the honky tonks of the Bible belt (although that would be interesting!). Is the Internet the prime marketing tool of Gaia Consort?

Christopher: Yeah! The Internet definitely has given us a global reach - and of course the bar thing I've already talked about. The Bible belt thing is kind of funny really - fundies are not given to critical thinking, so most of what we do goes right over their heads. There are pockets of Pagans everywhere, and for the ones under siege we're like water in the desert. And who knows - maybe we SHOULD head into the bible belt and get some famous preacher to start a Gaia Consort CD burning event - I bet we'd sell our first ten thousand CDs....

E.C.: Finally, what is your plan for Gaia Consort? More albums? Touring? Signing to a major label?

Christopher: I'm just letting the tunes come to me for the time being - not trying to push any kind of form, but the writing continues. We'll be doing a show a month for the foreseeable future, while I catch up on the parts of our life that we tend to leave behind during the record and release cycle. The touring thing is problematic - for us to get to the east coast costs a fair amount, and none of us are in the position to just drop our mortgages and hit the road. So San Francisco is about as far from Seattle as we're going to get for awhile. Probably won't get another Gaia Consort CD out for a year and a half.... unless it's of course a greatest hits CD.. heh.

As for the majors - the question really is why would you want to sign A deal with those guys? Nine out ten acts (by the majors own reckoning) don't sell enough to make a profit under their system. And the deal that they offer is so onerous that most of those acts end up owing the record labels. If I sold 100,000 CDs in a year on my own, we could retire, or at least pay off the mortgage. If I sold 100,000 CDs as an artist with a label, I'd owe them money and they'd own my music - the next six or seven CDs worth of my music.

The majors, by tying up all the commercial radio play, most of the distribution, invading college radio, have done more to destroy music than Tipper Gore's PMRC could have ever dreamed. Read the news – “marginal” Acts like Mariah Carey are getting dumped because they aren't selling 10 million units. Nice parachute for Mariah, but the notion of building an audience over a several albums doesn't feed the stockholders retirement funds. I don't buy any major label stuff new. Buy used, or buy direct from indies! Support your local musicians of all stripes! The good ones anyway...Most of them have their own sites on the internet!

Click here to visit the official Gaia Consort web site