Campbell Youngblood-Petersen

NYC based Composer, Drummer, and Percussionist

Blood Witch Tour Days 8, 9 & 10: Water, Fire, Earth

First there was the relentless Winter Storm Jonas that tried to keep Vajra from leaving New York. Next, the heavy rain and flood warnings outside of Santa Barbara, a rare occurrence in the area. Then, the metaphorical leaps of fate we took off of imperial sand dunes in Arizona, leaving us devoid of a very important possession. The #bloodwitchtour has been infused with the elements in some insidious ways.

Imperial sand dunes in Arizona Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Imperial sand dunes in Arizona

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Sunday marked our "ta ta for now Cali" show at Brick By Brick in San Diego, but much like NYC, California tried its best to hold on to us. During the drive south, we all got pinged for flood warnings, creating an apprehensive energy in the van. It was raining a bit in Santa Barbara, but nothing that seemed too severe. Any amount of rain is apparently rare in the area, so it felt like the warnings might be overplayed, and to a degree, they were. Halfway to San Diego we found ourselves backing out of a closed highway, admist multiple other vehicles attempting the same. We made it to a separate highway, but just outside of LA we found the streets to be filled with debris and pools of water. We did have to traverse around some gnarly fallen trees, but all in all it could've been much worse. 

"YOU SHALL NOT PASS" 

"YOU SHALL NOT PASS" 

When we finally arrived at Brick by Brick to load in, we realized that the cold warehouse was a true metal venue. It is co-owned by former members of metalcore band As I Lay Dying, now defunct due to the incarceration of their singer for some messed up shit; google if you please. As bassist Kevin Jones pointed out, Vajra doesn't fit traditionally on to a metal bill, and this one was no exception. Conversely, we don't fit exactly into a softer world music or rock category, which leaves us in an interesting middle ground. It seems that Vajra's music is dynamic enough to keep the attention of a more traditional rock crowd, while being heavy enough to intrigue the metal crowds; it's a fun place to be!*

Brick By Brick show board: if you're a metal-head, you probably know some of these names.

Brick By Brick show board: if you're a metal-head, you probably know some of these names.

Other than some initial setup and sound issues, the show went smoothly, with one notable exception. At some point in the night our photographer Max Sequeira was asked to leave by the co-owner/former As I Lay Dying drummer Jordan Mancino!* As it turned out, they suspected Max to be dealing drugs after seeing him go in and out of the venue all night. I guess these guys are probably on high alert with all of the recent negative media attention, but I'll be damned if it didn't feel somewhat discriminatory against Max. Weird!

"Drum selfie" from Brick By Brick

"Drum selfie" from Brick By Brick

Monday was our first full day off of tour and we spent it LIVING IT UP, PARTYING SO HARD WITH ALL THE GIRLS AND ALL THE DRUGS!!  No, not actually. We actually spent Monday driving, and driving, and looking at our iPhones, and driving some more. We did have one notable stop at the imperial sand dunes for a quick photo op, and it turned scary for a second. 

Jumping shot: every bands gotta have one   Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Jumping shot: every bands gotta have one  

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The dunes were windy as hell, creating fresh layers of sand every minute, and blowing it in our eyes as we jumped. The look of the sand blowing on top of the dunes was so cool that I had to try and capture it in a video:

 

After snapping a couple of pictures, we decided we'd had enough sand in our eyes and boots and hightailed it down to Beatrix the van. Upon reaching Beatrix however, we realized that the keys had been lost in the act of jumping off the dunes, with no accessible spare set! Considering the amount of wind, it seemed likely that the keys may have been buried in sand in the time it took to walk back. Panic ensued, as we traversed back up the steep dunes, covering as much ground as possible. As seems to be a theme on this tour, we had some good fortune in overcoming adversity, as Dave managed to find the needle in the haystack. Few!

Guitarist Dave Sussman, triumphant in his find of the keys 

Guitarist Dave Sussman, triumphant in his find of the keys 

Interspersed with full shows on the #bloodwitchtour are numerous acoustic radio dates. These performances are an entirely different animal, as the instrumentation is completely paired down and changed. Instead of the usual vox/guitar/bass/drums/percussion/backing track instrumentation, the acoustic set is simply voice, two guitars, and doumbek. As you might imagine, it takes a fair amount of rehearsal to adapt the material. Even though the arraangements themselves don't change, practically everything else does. 

Rehearsing acoustically in a cold New Mexico parking lot like a bunch of hippies  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Rehearsing acoustically in a cold New Mexico parking lot like a bunch of hippies 

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

The first acoustic set and interview of the tour was on Tuesday night: Cranked Up Live with Curtis McKinney in Carlsbad, NM. Curtis is a former drummer and radio personality based in Carlsbad who, in addition to hosting  Cranked Up Live (which is heard on over 45 stations around the world), also owns MSL productions: a company that puts on huge shows at the Walter Gerrells Performing Arts Center. 

The Cranked Up Live studio

The Cranked Up Live studio

Similar to Ted Mills from the FunkZone podcast, Curtis is the type of guy that could be the saving grace for the music industry. After undergoing a serious drumming injury, he was forced to reconsider his career, but knew he wanted to stay in music. He says he now gets even more of a rush from putting on a show than he once did from playing in one, though he admits it's a different kind of satisfaction. After talking with Curtis for some time, I got the distinct sense that he approaches his work with a great deal of pride, and is especially concerned with treating artists and bands fairly, possibly due to his past on the other side of the equation. The Cranked Up Live interview and performance painted the same picture. Curtis was unendingly patient as we figured out the balance of the room; a task that we could not of completed had our sound person Chris Castillo not come to the rescue! In the interview itself, vocalist/bandleader Annamaria Pinna did most of the talking (as it should be), but Curtis was also very clear about wanting to speak to each member of band individually, a fairness that I am a fan of! You can check out audio and video of the show (that we're splitting with Megadeth) later this week at www.crankeduplive.com. 

Ram.  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Ram. 

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Annamaria keeps bringing up this concept in interviews that really hits home with me, as I think it gets to the heart and energy of the #bloodwitchtour, and life in general. From her perspective, music- along with sex, religion, etc- is a pathway to the "one." Everyone's pathway might be different, but we're all looking for the same thing. So what is that thing? I like to think it's a state of awe. An interconnectedness of all things that transcends ego, basks in the glory of the universe. Personally, I first experienced this feeling experimenting with psychadelic mushrooms. Psychadelics have the power to give your ego no choice but death, and it's  scary as hell. Your ego fights and fights for control, causing overwhelming anxiety, building and intensifying, suffocating you until... RAM!* It all washes over you in a moment of clarity that, as my man Ram Dass says, is "an ineffable experience. I'd like to tell you about it but it's ineffable, sorry."  

Album Cover Material? Ram.  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Album Cover Material? Ram. 

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Ram Dass also talks about how psychadelics are only a temporary window into the "one." They showed him the possibilities, but no matter how many times he experimented, it was not a permanent "oneness." I can say that I too have felt I would never lose this feeling of "oneness" once achieved with mushrooms, but like Ram Dass, I always returned the next day to old neuroses and anxieties. I did however feel a subtle, but permanent shift.* Eventually the truly permanent path for Ram Dass was spirituality, but like Annamaria says, music is another one of those paths. 

We Montanans like to call our state Big Sky Country, but I think New Mexico qualifies as well! Oh, and, Ram! Photo credit: Max Sequeira

We Montanans like to call our state Big Sky Country, but I think New Mexico qualifies as well! Oh, and, Ram!

Photo credit: Max Sequeira

I want to leave you with a quote from my favorite movie, American Beauty. Here's the ending monologue from Lester Burnham (played by Kevin Spacey):

"I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time... For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars... And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined our street... Or my grandmother's hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper... And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird... And Janie... And Janie... And... Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday."

Ganesha  Photo credit: Max Sequeira

Ganesha

 Photo credit: Max Sequeira

*A little research shows that one of Jordan Mancino's favorite bands is heavy metal group Fear Factory from LA, who plays occasionally at Brick By Brick. Coincidentally, Max is friends with Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares, whom he calls the meanest right hand on the west coast. The other day I was chilling at the hotel room in Hollywood when there was a loud bang on the door. I opened the door and this huge dude bellowed in my face "Where's Max?!" I had no idea who the dude was, but felt myself fearing for Max's, and my own, safety. Turns out, that dude was picking up Max for a burger, and that dude was Dino Cazares. 

 *After writing this, I was shown a great article written about Vajra in the Hutch Post from Hutchinson, KS, which coincidentally talks about some similar stuff. You can check that out here: http://www.hutchnews.com/the_bee/rockers-of-vajra-laud-independent-style/article_32206a97-52c8-51c4-903a-8eaa739215b0.html

*Ram is a mantra that has slightly different meanings in every religion, but basically just represents God, or the "one," or whatever you want to call it.  

*There are actually tons of interesting studies being done right now on the lasting, positive effects of mushrooms on people dealing with severe depression or anxiety, especially related to terminally ill patients.