So what is it like to be a Native American Musician?
I don't look at life that way. I am Indian, I am a musician, and I've been called a whole bunch of other things, both good and bad!(LOL) As human beings we just tend to want to simplify things and pick out the so called unique things in a person. All these things make you the person you are today and change you from the person you were yesterday. Being Indian doesn't make you a good musician and being a musician doesnt make you a good Indian, they don't fit a convenient equation. But I am happy to be who the Creator made. It's always interesting.
You have played professionaly since age 14, why are you doing a Native American CD now?
Up until now I was never the "Bandleader" not because I just realized my Indian heritage. Therefore I won't be on Oprah saying "I am coming out of the closet!!!(LOL)". Before I formed my current band, I was just happy to play guitar, doing any and all music that I love and care for. That by itself is what a musician lives for. Thats what (guitarist for the Band) Robbie Robertson, (Jazz Sax) Jim Pepper and Rita Coolidge did. They knew they were Indian but they didn't wave some kind of Native American flag. They just exercised their Native influences when it felt right. I am no different.
Living in Portland Oregon at present, I found that no one here wants to put a band together.. At least not in my age/experience group of musicians. The players here are more like guns for hire, so I was forced to be "Band Leader" and since I am, I say, "yeah I want to express myself in regards to what it means to me, to be Indian".
Like any artist, you reflect on your upbringing, your environment and your culture. This is my story about my cultural experience. You won't hear me say "here everyone, this is what being Indian is all about, listen to me." If that's what you want then find someone else, there are some Indians out there who think they know. No, I won't mention names (LOL).
I speak for my experience, I don't wave Indian flags or any other flag for that matter. I am proud to be a Northern Cheyenne and part of the tribe. I try and help where I can, I work for an Indian Health care organization and I try to raise money for Indian related benefits by playing. But I don't want to be the spokesman of a tribe, I hate politics. I am proud of what I am and its part of me, and its enough.
Why is your new release entitled "Wild Indians"?
Wild to me means letting your spirit show. The thing in you that makes you dance, laugh, cry, yell and scream. Wild doesn't have to mean something negative, something that will hurt you, that you have to run from. That spirit is sometimes lost, even Indians tend to get docile, park their butts in front of the TV and let the world go by. I want people to get in touch with that side again. It sounds cosmic I know, but I can't describe it any other way. But the songs are all calls for not loosing your spirit and celebrating the spirits that are here and for those spirits who have gone to the next world.
I am just now learning from my lessons in life. When I was a skinny quiet kid, the white kids would hold their arms up to my darker skin and make fun of me. I needed to learn that lesson. I would be with my cousins on the rez and feel a place of belonging. I needed to learn that lesson too. My father was shipped off to Genoa Nebraska, Indian boarding school by the government, where they tried to beat the Indian out of him, and succeeded to some extent. I needed to learn that lesson as well. The rodeo stands in Sheridan Wyoming were segregated, not by law, but segregated non-the-less, when I was a kid. However my white mother grabbed me by the arm, and sat me down on the Indian side because she had the smarts to know that I would never be fully welcome nor prosper on the other side. There were plenty of Indians who didn't want some out-spoken white woman imposing her breed son on the Indian side but you couldn't stop that woman. I learned that lesson too.
I don't mean to say I have had a hard life. I have had a marvelous life. I have never known what it is to go to bed hungry. I've always been taken care of by my Mom and Dad. They did their best with what they had. You can't ask for better than that, I love 'em for all the things they did and do for me.
It's just these hard lessons that influence a person that's so important. It's the lessons you catch yourself day dreaming about. My blessings and my demons are in "Wild Indians". I have to exorcise them as an artist.
How can you describe the music on Wild Indians? Influences?
I work with the lyrics as far as Native American influence is concerned as well as traditional drum beats. I am not really into the protest thing all the time. There are Native Artists who do that so let them do their thing. I prefer subtle, not hit you over the head "We're a pissed off bunch of Indians" kind of things. I prefer to test someone's intellect with the words. So really I am winking at you as if to say, "did you get that?".
Musically its drums. You can't get Indian flute out of a guitar. I think that non-Indians only want an Indian to freeze his butt off on a mountain top playing haunting Indian flute melodies to the sound of the whistling wind. I don't make a good Romantic Indian Warrior, bad profile, my nose isn't hooked enough, my dads got a good one though!(LOL)
The first music I can remember was a Native drum group at about age 3 or 4 but I remember it like it was yesterday. Nothing sounds like a traditional Native singer, it is an incredible sound. Native singing is in my guitar playing in the way I phrase my notes. Non-Indians don't recognize it readily because they don't listen to Indians much. Although most recognize the Hamms Beer comercial song!(LOL) The drumming has had a profound effect on me as I am drawn to other music that has heavy drums and percussion, especially reggae, afro-cuban and latin.
Being a musician however makes me listen to music that is timeless and transcends all cultures. Nothing in this world can do that but music, it is truly a wonder. For me, Bob Marley, Carlos Santana, B.B. King and Robbie Robertson are the artists who best transcend all the cultural barriers.
As I have my cultural experience, these artists have their's as well. They take what they have learned and take us all to a different place, if only for the length of a song. I want to do that with my music too. I hate the "Look at me, I am this nationality, ain't that cool?" kind of thing. Its all about lifting people to a different place.
If I never play to sold out stadiums, never see my mug on Rolling Stone well so be it. The big name artists who have had all of that, don't seem to be the happiest bunch on the planet either. The earth, the wind, the sun, and the wonderment of being a human being is true happiness. I just conveniently forget that on occasion!(LOL)