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Paracosmic Interview Part 2: A Spectrum of Musical Scenarios

In part two of our interview, the L.A. band talks about their creative process.

Dominique Dungo

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A psychedelic, funk-infused, improv/flow jam band that incorporates rock and blues is definitely an ear-catching formula. Especially if they only play instrumentals.

Paracosmic was formed by guitarist Ashton Slater, bassist Leo “Toad” Meginley, guitarist/bassist Travis Soto, and drummer/percussionist Brandon “Funknasty” Cooke in early 2015. The musicians hail from different parts of the U.S., mainly California.

I had the chance to interview the band earlier this year and here’s the second part of that conversation. Make sure to read part one, too!

Paracosmic is:

Ashton Slater – Guitar
Leo “Toad” Meginley – Bass
Travis Soto – Bass/Guitar
Brandon “Funknasty” Cooke – Drums
Evan Hatfield – Sax/Sitar/Keys
Adrian Johnson – Harmonica/Flute

CMN: How are the tours/shows/events going?

Ashton: Our local shows have been fun. Usually a bunch of friends just makin’ it happen! We’ve been riding around LA for a few years now. Once we came home from New Mexico last year I felt a great urge to be on the road as often as possible. And though it’s easy/fun to stay in LA, going in circles, we want to share what we’ve been doing as much as we can.

Toad: I feel like most of them have been going pretty great! We have been getting such a cool response from people and a lot of them have similar feedback which is been really appreciated

CMN: What’s your music writing process?

Ashton: We usually start with an initial riff or groove from one person and we will phrase around it as it evolves and forms into a new part. From there we either see where is goes or find and end point to close it up, depending on the moment. Some of our songs have become bridges to each other based on the tempo or key. The process seems to become more detailed as we go, so far!

Toad: Most of the time it all starts with a jam session or a practice or a section of live show that we really liked and we will take that and work on it for a bit and try to formulate a tune out of it also leaving space or parts for improv a lot of times. I think we are going to be trying some new stuff here soon. By that I mean we could have a practice where if any of us that have little idea or riff we want to bring to the table we could do that and develop a song from that as well, its something we haven’t done as much recently I think we’d like to do in the coming months.

CMN: What drew you guys into the music industry?

Ashton: The music!

CMN: What are some your favorite venues you’ve performed in?

Ashton: In LA, Townhouse in Venice, and more specifically The Del Monte Speakeasy! We always have a great time at that spot. It’s over 100 years old and you can almost feel the permanence of high energy! Im told it was an active speakeasy during prohibition. Great sound and staff, a lot of our local friends hang out, and they treat us well.

Next, The Mint is a venue that I love particularly for the sound and history! Corazon Performing Arts In Topanga Canyon is one of my favorites for the atmosphere and community. Very cool tribal decor and a venue that supports multi cultural music and art. Outside of LA, Garth’s Boulder Gardens, home to SoCal Psycheout and many other happenings is definitely a band favorite!

Toad: I love playing the Mint in LA the most. It’s a fun place with a perfect vibe and a sick green room for the bands. Socal Psychout in Pioneertown, CA has gotta be my favorite festival so far! Incredible place, epic people, and vibes every year so far.

CMN: Explain your creative process

Toad: If I’m playing with other people then most of the time I try to feed and vibe creatively off of them and take it from there, but if I’m playing by myself then I try to not really think about anything too much, and start playing.

I think it really depends on my mood, also. If I’m feeling really inspired at the time, I may take it to a really unexpected place, but if I’m feeling like I really need to practice and get into something deep I may just stick to one thing for hours but that will really usually help me break out more creatively later on.

Ashton: I like to sit in a quiet place and just let ideas happen whether I like them or not. Usually they evolve over time and turn into a different tune, other times they just happen in an easy sort of flow. It took me a long time to stop judging myself based on comparisons. I once read a list of reminders and the one that stood out the most was “be kind to yourself” I try to keep that one with me.

Evan: I personally produce a lot of music every single day and practice all the different instruments I play. I also am a student attending music school during the weekdays, and usually am out gigging at night and over the weekends.

CMN: What’s an average day like for the you guys?

Toad: An average day for me is usually spent with my dog and girlfriend, just trying to live and love an best as we can. If I’m not playing music then I’m usually working on other hobbies like our school bus. I have also worked on a farm five/six months out of the year when I wasn’t playing in Paracosmic. Just stayin’ busy with life.

Ashton: Hangin’ with my dog, Astro. Playing guitar. Cooking up something delicious with my wife, Sarah. On days I’m not working I get to hang at home and make music and art, sometimes by myself, sometimes with the band or other friends, sometimes with Sarah!

I go to school once a week for a music class, which has lead to me to studying new instruments. I aim to play or do something musically related every day. A lot of my days are spent organizing plans for Paracosmic, although lately we’ve been more focused on our recent recordings. Sometimes I have this nervous feeling when we don’t have shows booked. I feel like that’s been our best way to stay active so far, but this album and studio process has been a lot of fun.

CMN: Do you collaborate with others? What is the process?

Ashton: I like to jam in different settings and have been in many projects. With Paracosmic we like to have a friend sit in with us every now and then. We’ve had fill-ins and altered line-ups, but most of our collaborating happens organically and in a pretty comfortable environment.

Brandon: I think collaborating with people outside of the band is hugely important. I love bringing friends who are in flow with us on stage to sit in at shows.

Toad: We have people sit in from time to time, you know like if we got a good friend in the house, or someone that we know can throw it down, then we usually take advantage of that and get some live jams goin’.

Evan: Most of us are in multiple different projects outside of Paracosmic.

Adrian and Travis are in another band called TV Broken 3rd Eye Open so there is naturally a bit of crossover between the two groups. Brandon and I are also in another band called The Blood Moon Howlers. We actually went on tour together and after the tour, I could see bits of Paracosmic rubbing off into their style of playing, and vise versa.

I really see all of our bands as just being a pieces of a larger scene rather than individual groups of musicians. It’s a lot more fun that way. We also helped out Ashton’s mom one time as the backing band for an album she was working on. I’m pretty sure she has sat in and sang with us at a party in Malibu a while back.

CMN: Is there any hidden meaning behind any of your music?

Toad: I always think of the whole “painters of sound” concept with us and so with no singing in our music it leaves all the room for us to design a sort of journey or picture with our songs for everyone to create their own meanings for the the music.

Ashton: It’s hard to know the real meaning of music. And most of our material is instrumental which has even less deliberate meaning, though we do try to capture a spectrum of musical scenarios or paracosms that tie together into a story of some kind. I feel it’s important to create your own meaning, and remember that we are all having this strangely fun and awesome experience together.

CMN: Have you ever dealt with performance anxiety?

Ashton: Definitely. When the music I played was much less detailed I never got nervous, but once I was performing in this project, I learned and am still learning a lot. Every show is different and that makes things really exciting, but with that comes those moments or events that you did not plan for, room, sound, technical difficulties etc. It’s important to keep it simple if the anxiety strikes!

Brandon: From time to time I will get anxious before a big show. Meditation is key for getting around this and allowing yourself to surrender to just playing the music and not thinking too much. Once you start thinking too much, you’ll mess up. There’s no reason to think. The musical ability is already in you.

Toad: It used to be a lot harder for me to let loose on stage and kinda get into the flow, but the more I play the more I realize it’s all about having fun really so the faster you can just forget about everything and just play some music the better off you are with all the anxiety and stuff.

CMN: Do any of you teach music?

Evan: I do. My degree in school is in Music Education. I teach private lessons on sitar, saxophone, and piano. I even used to teach a beginning guitar class at the YMCA when I was a late teenager.

Teaching music feeds my soul in a very different way than performing live or doing studio work. All of my music teachers have impacted me in really profound ways and I feel like it is part of my duty in this life to carry on the knowledge to others.

Brandon: I teach drum lessons! if anyone is interested into diving deep into the drums, get in contact with me! brandoncooke90@gmail.com

Ashton: A few friends have just recently reached out to me about giving lessons. Mostly tips and pointers, but it feels good to be able to share what I know with people.

CMN: How often and how long does the band practice?

Ashton: When we are practicing, we do it for a few hours once a week. Lately our practice game has been off. Life happens pretty quick and LA is a busy place. Most of us have other projects we work with as well. So we get practice outside of Paracosmic which benefits us when we can’t rehearse.

CMN: What advice would you give beginners?

Ashton: I would say if you really love music just focus on it. Be patient with yourself and practice as often as possible. If it feels like a chore, give it a break. It’s important to feel the music, each note, each sound. Try to SEE the music in some way.

Brandon: Practice practice practice. The more you practice, the more the musical ability is ingrained in your muscles and your soul, so you don’t have to think as much while you play. Just enjoy playing and truly feel the emotions that arise from each song.

CMN: How do you handle mistakes during performances?

Ashton: Laugh, shake it off, and dive back in. It’s taken me years to really start to let mistakes pass. A quick burp and then onward! Then again, every moment is new and you never know the things flying through the air!

Brandon: Just move on and don’t think about it again. It’s like mistakes in life: life just keeps going. If you dwell on those mistakes you will make more

Toad: Think and act fast, really. Don’t panic, of course, you gotta just handle it and move on.

CMN: Describe your first instrument

Evan: I took piano lessons from a pretty young age. I honestly hated it. I remember have tantrums when my mom would make me practice. I’m incredibly grateful my mom forced me to stick with it though. I have known idea what I would be doing now without that. Probably playing drums, thank god I’m not.

Brandon: A drum kit.

Ashton: A Danelectro Cream Coral U2 Reissue guitar. A very old school kind of 50’s style guitar with two lipstick pickups and a creamy caramel body. Definitely a stock instrument, but I loved it. I was about 11 years old at the time.

Toad: My first instrument was a drum kit when I was seven or eight years old, I guess my parents figured I had been showing enough interest after I had been playing on pots and pans in the kitchen on the floor for a little while before that.

CMN: What was the first tunes you guys learned as individuals?

Toad: “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath and also “Come As You Are” by Nirvana

Brandon: Gorillaz song “Clint Eastwood.” For some reason that was the song that got me into the drums.

Ashton: At this moment I couldn’t remember the first song I ever learned. Though now that I think about it, it might have been “Come As You Are” by Nirvana. I also remember sort of picking the melodies from songs and trying to mimic them.

CMN: How do you describe your music to people?

Toad: Space funk I guess you could say. Funky jams with spacey soundscapes.

Ashton: A funk-based improv flow. Something like an intergalactic get down. See definition of “Paracosmic.”

CMN: What inspires you all?

Ashton: Music, the buttery essence of life. When I hear things I see things, and vice versa. I love interpreting art. Helping others, understanding and compassion. Seeing the people that I love doing what they love to do. I find inspiration in that quick spark of energy in all things

Brandon: Everything in life! Every sound I hear, every interaction I have, Every good thought that enters my mind inspires me

Toad: The love of good old music for me. I just wanna make sure I do my part to keep real music alive. The live show with a few friends playing their hearts out together man that’s all I care about.

CMN: If you guys never formed this band, what would you imagine yourselves doing instead?

Toad: I would be playing music one way or another.

Brandon: I would move to Fresno to become a DJ like DJ Dave from Fresno.

Ashton: Still playing, but somehow wishing this band had formed! Hah.

CMN: Have you had any previous print or broadcast media exposure or reviews?

Ashton: We have been on two previous online broadcasts. The first one was with LA Excites out of CSUN and then with our friends at Radio Venice. We did a scaled down acoustic version of our set we called “Paracoustic”

CMN: Who handles your daily business activities?

Ashton: That would be me. Though we don’t really do business daily, I have been managing our funds with help from Sarah. Brandon helps with merch orders and that keeps us afloat when we need funds for an idea or project.

What image do you think your music conveys?

Brandon: A journey through space and time that exists inside the deepest reaches of your mind.. Uncut Funk.. Tha Bomb

Toad: I think our music paints some really great pictures man. It takes me through a bunch of different feelings and I think it can groove you in a few different places it let’s lose and gets cool, funky, and then can get pretty heavy and serious and take you to a pretty deep place if you let it.

Ashton: A very colorful one! With many smiling faces. Lots of shades and textures and details, but just abstract enough to see something new every time.

CMN: What do you enjoy most about being a musician? What do you hate most?

Ashton: The feeling of interacting with the music itself. I love everything about being a musician. Anything I don’t like has nothing to actually do with the music.

Toad: I just love being able to speak through vibrations. It’s the universes language, everything and anything can feel it. it may be one of the most magical feelings around – can’t really say I hate anything about it really, maybe just being a starving artist gets tough sometimes but it’s all worth it in the end.

Evan: Playing music is a very sacred and healing thing for me. I get to express myself and let go of things I am holding onto every time I get on stage. A lot of people will go their entire life without getting to experience that kind of magic. Worst part is probably having to drive everywhere. LA is a gnarly and enormous metropolis. It sucks having to sit in a car for two hours to get to a one hour show that’s only 20 miles away.

Brandon: I love that I get to express myself artistically through this medium! Music is such an emotional journey through frequencies, that I feel I can truly convey my deepest emotions through music better than through words.

CMN: If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?

Ashton: It would be nice to make a better living as a musician, but to change the music industry in a bigger way would mean changing other constructs of society (maybe we should). First, many sides of the industry do not focus on music. So I guess that would be a good start. Other pockets of the industry are doing just fine. It’s hard to find in LA sometimes, but it’s happening for sure!

Evan: I really dislike the fact that social media has made it possible for anyone to be able to simply pour money into advertising and fake followers to make it look like they are big shots. It pulls a lot of integrity out of the game. It makes a band like us look like and feel we are not really getting anywhere when the truth is we are, even if we only have 1k followers or whatever. I have pretty strong feelings about that issue and I wish promoters and venues were more aware of the fact that most of these social media accounts with astronomically high amounts of follower are fake as fuck.

Brandon: That I could make an easier living just providing music to people!

Toad: I try not to think about the music industry too much, I would rather just focus on the music itself at this point.

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

Dominique is a Photo and Music Journalism student in SoCal. She has a radio show on her college campus focusing on talented and upcoming musicians from Los Angeles and is working to finish her degree. In her free time, Dominique is a fire performer and loves traveling, Jazz, Drum & Bass, and making music as a vocalist.

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