Exclusive interview with Sananda Maitreya: “My music is a quest for freedom and authenticity”

by Biagio Carrano

Sananda Maitreya will perform on Wednesday 26 June in Jevremovac Botanical Garden in Belgrade at 20.30. He is the rare kind of musical artist focused on his art and not on his image, devoted to his inner research more than his brand, focused on giving to his public something new coming from his evolution and not the same stereotyped sounds they are expecting for. In this exclusive interview for the Serbian Monitor, Sananda Maitreya talks about his artistic roots and influences, the archetypes inspiring his latest albums, the indomitable quest to express his talent, far from the trends of the moment and the demands of the recording industry. 

You are coming to Belgrade for the first time in your almost 40-year career proposing your new album “The Pegasus Project: Pegasus and the Swan”, a whopping double album with 41 songs written, sung, arranged, and produced by yourself. What do you mean for you Pegasus and the Swan?

“The Pegasus Project: Pegasus & the Swan” is the ending of a trilogy that began with “Prometheus & Pandora” and the predecessor album to this one, “Pandora’s PlayHouse”. 

So from Prometheus & Pandora, Pandora’s PlayHouse, to the Pegasus Project, we’ve basically exhausted our alliteration of the letter “P” and you will notice the theme is that we have used the story of Prometheus as basically a proxy story that stands in for the life that I have lived myself and seen. I could relate very, very easily to the idea of a God who was banished from the top of Mount Olympus because of the jealousy and confusion of the other Gods as to what Prometheus was a harbinger of and what he represented. And so basically it became politically expedient for Zeus, his father and the king of the Gods, to banish him because he understood that if he didn’t, he was going to lose the support of the Gods that were already there on Olympus. And he understood how much he needed those Gods because they had helped him overthrow the Titans, which were led by his father. Prometheus’ story is one that I’ve always, along with the story of Orpheus, had the most powerful emotional connection to. So I saw myself in his story, and that’s what allowed me to use it to basically express a lot of the concerns and the emotions that I had as an Artist. 

Your new  album is divided into two sides, Pegasus and The Swan.

The side to The Swan side is the side that more or less expresses the perspective that I would imagine filtered through the energy of what a Swan represents. A swan, for me, is more of a lunar, a symbol of lunar power, mystery, and beauty. The fact that the moon and the lake are so closely connected in our psychological terrain, the swan embodies this for me, something that is mysterious and unknowable. It can be seen and appreciated, but you never really know a swan the way you feel like you know a pigeon or a robin or an owl. There is something of the mystery of a swan. So we determined that since the moon is much more of a collaborative type energy, that’s the side that we were going to put collaborations on as filtered through The Swan side. Pegasus being a horse, a flying horse, is much more of a solar representative energy for me and represents more of that, the hero archetype of the Promethean figure who’s unafraid to go alone and will walk into the forest or the jungle alone if called of necessity to take courage in whatever they need to take courage in. So side one is me pretty much doing what we’ve always done since the beginning of Post Millennium Rock, which is to handle everything in that particular way, which is much more of an insular vision and then to have expanded it on the side of the swan.

Almost forty years ago you gave a great interpretation of “Who’s Lovin’ You”, originally a song by The Miracles in 1959. How big has been the impact of Motown sound and culture on your career?

I MENTION SEVERAL PEOPLE WHO INFLUENCED MY DESIRE TO CONSUME MULTIPLE INSTRUMENTS. Stevie Wonder, Prince, Todd Rundgren, McCartney, etc. However, I have failed to mention another gentleman who was a ‘country’ artist when I was coming through by the name of RICKY SKAGGS. He played EVERYTHING, the guitar, mandolin, banjo, pedal steel, fiddle, the ‘whatyoumacallit’ and the whatever, and sang like an Appalachian Angel of Announcement. What is special for one era and generation becomes ‘de riguer’ for the next. Now playing many instruments isn’t the big WOW factor that it once was and is becoming more of the norm. One should gravitate to whatever fascinates, though how much music is in you is far more important than how many instruments you choose to express it. And if content to master one instrument, that is just as awesome! Sometimes, I break out the KAZOO, when I really want to get funky and rock the whole neighbourhood. And I still keep one of those plastic RECORDERS ( those little clarinet-type things we had to have in school when I was like about 10), and jam with my wife, who still plays hers that she kept from school, she were schooled by the ORSOLINE Nuns who happened to favor the teaching of music as training for the mind. I also grew up influenced by the multitalented, lovely and most importantly, televised MANDRELL SISTERS ( and they played anything that could be, so there). I also recall wishing to emulate the whole of the great MOTOWN rhythm sections, though most particularly, the masters Benny Benjamin (drums) and the great genius, for me the Coltrane of popular bass, JAMES JAMERSON.

In one of your masterpieces (Holding On To You) you wrote “All poets must have an unrequited love/ As all lovers must have thought-provoking fears”. Do you miss the wide success among the general public you had at the beginning of your career, is this your unrequited love?

I would begin by saying that basically my evolution is the natural evolution of an artist that you would expect when that artist has not been hindered or hampered by interference from outside parties or outside sources. I have had the great, great fortune of, for the most part, being able to spend most of my career listening first and foremost to the muse of Music, which is my responsibility, and I haven’t had to consider too much other people’s idea of who I was and who I represent to them as an artist, which I never felt was as compelling as how I understood in my own imagination I was capable of fulfilling my destiny as an artist. So, from the debut, ’87 to now, you basically witnessed the natural evolution of an artist left to his own imagination and his own passion, as well it should be. But most artists do not necessarily have this opportunity that I was given, and because I was given it and understood the rare opportunity that was, it just fueled my determination that much more to make sure that I did not waste that opportunity. 

What does mean for you rebirthing discovering our roots and how music can help in this goal?

I take my inspiration directly from the music itself. I’ve always believed that I have a special connection to the music, a special relationship to the spirit of music. I believe that ultimately my spirit and the spirit of music are one. So my relationship to music is just as natural as our human relationships to thoughts or thinking.

Since you write, sing, play, arrange, and produce almost all your songs, you have been compared to Prince, you have said that yours was a big brother/little brother relationship and “Prince!” is the title of a piano track in Pandora’s PlayHouse. Do you have other soul brotherships in the present music scenario? Do you see today musical artists willing to pay a price to keep pure their gifts?

Certain people are signposts. I’ve often believed that the people who most influence you are the people that have shown you that you were also that. You know, there’s a lot of people that I have great respect for their music, but they didn’t necessarily influence me because I didn’t hear myself in what they were doing. As an artist, I might have just enjoyed what they were doing as a listener. Along with Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones of course, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, The Beach Boys, Steely Dan, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Sly and the Family Stone, Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five. Certain artists had such a profound influence on me that they become a part of how you see your own expression. Because what they’re doing speaks to you of what you also are. And you know, like Springsteen, Prince, these gentlemen, when I heard what they were doing, I knew that I was of a similar ilk, that these were my brothers, and that I belonged to this lineage. So Prince was an incredible friend to me as well. We were very, very close. Also Miles Davis, I was very blessed to have been mentored by Miles Davis. I’d say the same, I would call Bruce Springsteen a mentor. I was also greatly influenced by Rod Stewart. And everybody that has had a profound influence on my life, like Frank Sinatra, if you listen to my music over the years, you can hear all of these people’s influence in the way I’ve taken that influence and shaped it into my own unique expression. My aim has always been to give back to the music at least half as much as it’s given to my life.

Who are the Mr. Magoos of our times?

‘MR. MAGOO is a song which (in ‘code’) pretty much encapsulates my own experience with the fluctuations & verities of Babylon as it exists as opposed to the idealized version of it that many of us have to be disenfranchised from before opening our eyes to see & measure ‘THE COST VS. THE PRICE! Or when ‘The Dream’ becomes ‘An Illusion’, only for that illusion to reveal itself as ‘A Nightmare’ in repose. A Chupacabra dressed as Mutton, a Serpent posed as a Question Mark, A HIGHWAY TO HELL POSITIONED AS A STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN. “BUT WHERE IS THE FUCKING CHEESE THAT WAS PROMISED” ? asks the Mouse traversing the Maze in a Daze, while in a Haze, chasing the latest Craze, & wearing the Hat of Willie Mays. BUT ANYWAY THE CHEESE WAS TOXIC, so either he Fucks it or he Rocks it or he takes his Key & Locks it, to save for a Rainy Day when he gets to Unbox it& pray that it’s Turned at least into a Cautionary Tale From which lessons were Learned. 

The song “The Things U Like” is a hymn to beautiful promises everyone makes to him/herself. How the artist, the contemporary Prometheus, can keep the promises of his/her art and not be an ally of the present, materialistic Gods?

Photo Credits: Michela Zizzari for TreeHouse Publishing

Photo Credits: Michela Zizzari for TreeHouse Publishing

There is nothing better than doing “The Things U Like” because nothing connects us more to the spirit of living than our joy. The spirit of living is in every human emotion, but I think it is most pure when we’re joyful when we’re experiencing the connection to our best self. And I do believe that doing the things you like brings us closer to our joys. 

And if there’s anything in life that we don’t have enough of, I believe it’s JOY and maybe we aren’t even encouraged to experience as much of in life, because people who are experiencing joy are a bit harder to manipulate and control. Somehow more Free. So, as I sing in my song “Dolphin” we have to take this upon ourselves. 

The role of artists is to point the self, back to the self, as the main answer for everything that we need in life. That ultimately, if we can just be inspired to realize how powerful we are as creators.

Will you dedicate one of your songs to your Belgrade public? And if yes, which one and why?

This is an immense opportunity to speak to your wonderful readers in Serbia, and I’m really excited to have an opportunity to come back after such a long time to perform in your wonderful country. And I just want everyone to know how much — how grateful I am to be invited and how much I’m looking forward to the experience.  I’m just happy to be there, and I hope we all enjoy ourselves very much, it will be a concert full of surprises, about my journey in Music over the years! 

Photo Credit for the Featured Image: Manuel Scrima for TreeHouee Publishing.

Tickets on sale here: https://tickets.rs/event/sananda_maitreya_13150

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top