Somewhere between the soothing, yet castrated emotional detachment of New Age, and the hot and sweaty sexuality of World Beat, lies the tantric passion of Soundstream’s audio exotica.
by Lee Abraham
Swirling, low end modulations of a didjeridoo buzz like a bumble bee in heat - urgent but aimless. For a moment, that’s all you hear. Then, as if to answer, lonely whispers of a single drum begin to beat. Quietly at first, then louder. Now the sound has structure. Another drum joins in. Textures and tones of a flute, guitar and bass start to float melodically around the pulse of percussion. Electricity crackles. Musicians and dancers exchange energies as the lush sound stream of audio exotica now shimmers with a life of its own.
"I just got so tired of distorted guitar that it got to the point where I couldn’t really express myself musically," says Soundstream percussionist, Bill Mcallister. "When I saw an ad looking for a percussion player to start a ‘world music’ project, I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do." Mcallister’s interest in exotic music forms dates back to his days as a student at Western high school in the mid ‘70s. "Back then there was absolutely no art or culture in this town at all," he recalls. "The old Moby Grape was the only live music club in town, but everybody would just show up at parties, it was kind of the west side of town music clique. Everybody kind of knew each other. The town was a lot smaller back then."
Things have changed. Well, sort of. "Now we’re starting to get a little bit of a foundation for arts and culture, people who interested in that kind of stuff around town," says Mcallister. "There are more places to play now, but there still isn’t that much support. In other cities, people go to clubs no matter who’s playing, just to go hang out at the club and see something new. Here everybody gets their 20 or 30 friends to come out and see their band play, and as soon as their friends are done, they leave. It’s weird, but it seems like that’s still how it is."
Although interested in exotic percussion, Mcallister always found himself playing drums in a rock band. "A lot of funky thrash," laughs Mcallister. "Bands like Off To Mars, Blackhole, No Is IV... we would just change the name of the band every time we got a new singer." Ultimately, the heavy metal grind got old and Mcallister opted out. Free to explore the exotic sounds of indigenous music, the born again beatnik expanded his collection of hand drums, shakers and bells from around the world. He also channeled his energy into playing the didjeridoo. Before long Mcallister was getting together with local didj wiz Rick Dusek, and eventually wound up playing drums for Buddha Man Cometh, which featured Dusek’s didj.
BMC provided a refreshing approach, but Mcallister again tired of sitting behind the drum kit. When the band changed musical direction, he answered the ad for a percussionist. And in the process, found a musical soulmate in multi-instrumentalist Chris Daniel (guitar, keyboard, percussion).
"He had a band going and I had a band going, so we just started getting together one day a week and songs started to develop," says Mcallister. "Then his band started to fall apart and the band I was in started to get more poppy, looking for some kind of commercial hit, and I didn’t want to do that stuff, so we just started to make this our main focus." Along with Dusek on didj, Soundstream performed its first shows as a trio.
At the same time, the search for more instruments and a unique sound continued. Experiments with a violin, cello and native American flute were interesting but short lived. "I was kind of against having traditional rock instruments in the band," says Mcallister. "I wanted to get people who played strange things from around the world. But we needed some bottom end... so we wound up with Greg (Oliver) on bass. He’s a great asset because he’s really creative and has a lot of different styles of playing the bass."
After Dusek left the band, Soundstream enlisted Winston Murray on flute, and another percussionist, Jimbo Gehris. Everything clicked. For the first time, all the elements of audio exotica were in place. And in addition to having the right chemistry, the new band had plenty of material, so they recorded an album. The results are stunning. Soundstream’s self titled debut exudes a tantric passion that falls somewhere between the soothing, yet castrated emotional detachment of New Age, and the hot and sweaty sexuality of World Beat. Music for the mind and body, as well as the soul.
The official CD release will be at Legends Lounge on June 30th, and plans for the next album, a live recording, are already in the works. "We’ve got so much material, we’re coming up with more all the time," says Mcallister. "We’ve got enough right now for at least two more CDs. Usually everybody has their ideas in parts and then everybody does their best to try to change it. We’re not really trying to follow any set type of format, but once we do a couple of songs in a certain direction, we stop doing that and then go in a different direction, just as long as it has exotic flavor, is tasteful and explorative."
The concept is catching on. "Most of the times when people see us play, they are seeing a lot of instruments they’ve never seen before," says Mcallister. "When I used to play in rock bands, everybody would always relate you to something. They have a mind frame, like, ‘Oh, you guys sound like the Chilli Peppers, or the singer sounds like Rush.’ They relate to things that they already know. So as soon as you start playing... you’ve already been classified. But when they see us, they see things they haven’t seen before, and hear things they haven’t heard before, so they listen with an open mind, and I think that’s where we get their interest. Plus, alot of our music is danceable, at least 80% of it, we definitely keep the rhythm goin’!"