Riff Relevant/Taste Nation LLC Interview (Thanks to Pat 'Riot' Whitaker)
Anyone that is a lifelong music fanatic discovers certain artists that do more than merely provide some moments of entertainment for them throughout the years. You occasionally locate and identify the rarest ones that propel you into a seemingly transcendental state where your mind is opened to an elevated consciousness and you just know you should garner and gleam from them all that you can, while you can. I intended to do exactly that when I inquired of Gideon Smith if he would be a willing participant in an interview and he graciously conceded. For those of you already familiar with Gideon then you know he is a multi-faceted artist in every sense of the word and one that is able to articulate and share mind-expanding ideas..not to mention he has made kick-ass music in the highly regarded Gideon Smith & The Dixie Damned as well as his newest project, the Doom-driven Cemetery Crows. His music has been used in various television programs from MTV’s Nitro Circus and Dudesons In America to FX’s Sons Of Anarchy, A & E’s Dog The Bounty Hunter, and The Sopranos as well. He’s a published author and a noteworthy proponent of positive thinking and religious freedoms for all and he has stockpiled awards and accolades from publications, groups, and other entities so if you are somehow not familiar with Gideon then you just got the condensed, crash course version of Gideon Smith 101.
In the late 1990s my own musical tastes were, as usual, always broadening and evolving and as I grew older those tastes became much more appreciative of actual talent. It was becoming less and less about the brutality of the 90s Death Metal scene and more about that time’s kind of return-to-the-drawing board of what inspired me in the early 70s, as well as the current bands that were channeling that inspiration. It was around that time that I first heard Gideon’s music through the self-titled EP being distributed by Game Two Records and I was an instant fan. That fandom has remained intact through various albums and inclusions on tribute compilations, both to other bands as well as to Gideon Smith himself so I was stoked when he and I struck up an electronically-based communications exchange in 2011 that is still ongoing but it’s with an almost shameful demeanor that I admit that I have never met Gideon in person nor seen him perform in a live setting. Thankfully that admission does not taint the admiration I have for him or his artistry because as I said previously, we sometimes experience epiphany-like instants where we just know certain things are universally shared. It’s in that very tradition that I now share the following exchange with the Shaman himself, Gideon Smith, after the jump.
1.How did the formation of Gideon Smith & The Dixie Damned come about in 1996 and do you have any plans to mark the band’s 20th Anniversary next year?
Gideon Smith – “I started my music with Boo Duckworth and Otis Hughes from Animal Bag. I related to them due to their love of music in many forms and as good friends. They believed in me and propped me up, they saw me as this shamanic space biker guy with big Sabbath riffs and I couldn’t have been happier. I had quit music completely at the time due to burnout. So when I came back to music it was with a fiery determination and a whole new philosophy on how to kick ass and take no names with an eerie calm about it all. I was like, ‘yeah, here it’s coming get down with the plan or out of my way’. I worked in an occult bookstore, had studied kung fu with my Sifu Tian Ying Long, was really submersed into my studies outside of music (archery, yoga, chi kung, aikido, etc). I loved biker culture and listened to Sabbath and old blues, lots of reggae and living wild and free. But in the back of my heart I was holding some pain because I had given up my dream of music. The business pissed me off and I sat on it a few years.
Finally one day I said, “I’m not gonna stop until I have that framed cd hanging on the wall”. So when I started GSDD it was because the fires of inspiration lit again and were huge! I said time to begin again. I think I jumped up off my chair at the bookstore one day and looked around the room like a psycho. That scene in “Game of Thrones” where Jason Mamoa jumps around the room declaring all the things he was going to do after the king had tried to poison his wife was kind of what it was like only I was having a rage that I would not let my music be over. Everybody that worked with me there was like ‘oh hell he’s on the warpath now.’
So me and all these witchy chicks I worked with were our sacred coven. I was the only man around at the time and surrounded by loving beautiful women who all believed in me. What a gift to my life. We all loved and believed in each other like a perfect moment of friendship, love, power, harmony. I’m so thankful we all had and still have each other. Honestly the foundation for what I did later was all built by my tribe at the time. I look back on that feminine divine power as part of what pushed me up and out into the world from their love and belief behind what they were watching me do with such conviction and will always hold sacred places in my life. So, in walked the great Boo Duckworth, one of the best friends I ever had. One of the greatest drummers the world ever got the privilege to hear lay it down. With him came my great friend, the brilliant Otis Hughes on bass and they said ‘we’re going to be your band. Come on, you got any songs?’ It was so healthy, so real and bad ass sounding. Both talked me out of retiring, I talked Boo out of retiring and they both said ‘you are awesome, just be Gideon’ and I said time to hit the warpath. Otis came up with the name“Dixie Damned” because he said it sounded dark but bluesy. So we felt like it described the sound: swampy blues, Black Sabbath and psychedelic gothic jams.
I got a job working for free at the best recording studio I could find in exchange for free time. I recorded the first ep with Otis, Boo and Keith with producer Tracy Shroder who had done COC, Confessor and bands like that. I signed to the great Small Stone around 1999 and then the rest is history. I have mad respect for Scott and the label for believing in me and always being my corner. We made the first album around 2000. It was an awesome time and we had so much fun, the thrill of all rock n roll had to offer really.
Sadly Boo died in his sleep from sleep apnea and left us for Valhalla in 2002, and I can say without a doubt all of us who knew him have never been the same. When guitarist and friend from our circle Rich Parris died a few years ago as wel, I was totally devastated to lose my colleague. I just kept rebuilding the band with other friends and did two more full lengths over the years. I’m so thankful and kind of startled it’s alive and all that’s happened. So many of my dreams have come true. No, unfortunately for now there are no big anniversary plans. I hope so and we’ll see what happens. I would love if anything just to have a big pagan snake handling level party, but who knows. Man I will try now that you mention it to track it do the day and set something up, maybe we’ll have a big Dionysus ten day festival and invite only the highest members of the inner circle of musical magic. My people will contact you good brother. ” (Awesome! I’ll be waiting. – Dragon)
2. Your music is highly praised and well-appreciated, so much that it has been used in television shows and has inspired tribute compilations. Has there ever been a time that you said “I’ve made it” so to speak or felt that if it all ended today, you could die happy with what you’ve done musically?
Gideon Smith – “Man when I started GSDD I had a huge chip on my shoulder the size of a battleship. I went at it for my own satisfaction and sense of purpose, but I also had something to prove to all the people who tried to kick me when I was down. I succeeded. But such motivation is only temporary. Motivation like that is good because it can give you fuel to the fire, but after you pass that it’s kind of one dimensional. I am glad the real reason for playing music was at the center of it all, my true deep love for music. I entered into it like a bloody tiger carrying a huge torch in my heart running into the fray. Now all these years later, across so many battlefields, I have found a new sense of peace. Knowing my music is loved by people around the world is the greatest gift. I’m deeply honored. The examples you gave, a single one would make even an arrogant man happy. I am in many ways past my goals I had back then . But as the nature of my soul is to continue onward I have yet to be able to find enough peace with it to call it a day. Even when life has tried to force me to retire, the bigger picture of life itself has pulled me higher to keep on.
I do feel as though I “made it” for all the love and respect sent my way from people and knowing people out there dig what I do. I am really staggeringly thankful. But I am a triple Leo, so with that western astrology rare sign I am pretty driven and always on the hunt. My natural nature has two sides, one is very calm and chilled, controlled with a hard won peace. The other is constantly on the hunt, the path, the quest. The old Native American saying is that you have two wolves that live in your spirit: the good one and the bad one. I don’t think it good and bad as much as light and dark, and they say they live inside you your whole life and the one that wins is the one you feed the most. You hear that a lot in movies and things now, it’s pretty common phrase. But in reflection, I feel you cannot live without both. You must nurture and feed both like in Chinese culture we say yin and yang energy. The right rises at the right time for the right reason. If you try to give into only one, you lose the qualities of the other.
So I am peaceful and so very grateful for all the good in my career and life, but also my drive never ends and my ambition and white hot inspiration continue. It will probably last that way until my last day. There are times when I wonder if life would be happier and more peaceful without such constant drive. I have found a new sense of Zen like peace, but yet perhaps the story remains unfinished. For the adventures that continue to beckon, they still call very loudly. To anyone who loves what I do, I send you great respect and thanks for all you give my life.”
3. You and I are kindred souls when it comes to personal freedom via rebelliousness or be it being (an) outlaw in general but how do you view America’s current state of existence (without getting too specifically political)? Any concerns or are you more “what will be, will be” about it?
Gideon Smith – “I believe at this time there is so much tension in the world created by disharmony which is encouraged by the fear, paranoia, actions and words of ignorant people. People with no dignity and no respect for others that treat people so badly. The bad treatment of any one individual by another causes resentment and fear of future wrongs, from many directions across the board in all walks of life. Everyone likes to chill and feel safe, enjoy their life, be with their loved ones, know health, abundance and security, peace and happiness. The tension and hate continue to shake up the harmony that all mankind should be focused on as a tribe. We should be a united tribe of strength with its leaders, its shaman, its warriors, artists, lovers, healers, its mothers and sisters, its teachers, all the figures instrumental in the power of the whole.
I do feel mankind needs to evolve as a whole and focus on unity, harmony, dignity, respect, kindness, value and peace. The superior man comes in all forms from all backgrounds, the spirit operates the body. These kind of people rise up and change history.
We strongly need heroes who will guide the tribe with a soul that often is seen as old world. Nobel men and women are rare and few but make the biggest changes in history for the rest of the world. The terrible things I see in the news almost daily are appalling. I am thankful for the good people in the world who make it a better place. Hang on to the good in your heart, one small action may change the world for the better. As far as ‘what will be’, it’s a beautiful world but it can be a rough jungle out there. I just say always be aware of your environment and stay on top of your game in any situation.
4.Moving on to other art mediums: You are a published author, a poet, and an artist of varying outlets. Do you do such solely to engage a creative “jones” in yourself or is it all actually cathartic for you personally?
Gideon Smith – “I have pursued different creative forms as I realized years ago that music was only one method in my mission in life. Writing books, poetry, doing spoken word pieces, all of the ways my creative expression comes out are just other methods of shooting different arrows at the ignorant. I feel like a shaman’s role in a tribe is to provoke, to teach, to heal, to be a connection between the spirit world and the human’s world, to pick someone up and above all to give and keep learning. A leader’s work is to guide, to encourage, to protect and to inspire. Yes all of it is cathartic and also is a release as it is never a plan it’s a release of what starts rising in my heart like a creative Tsunami. Once it comes out, it reaches those who will get it and need it and then settles and often changes form.
Being artistic is a gift and you have a responsibility to non-creative people to give what you can create. They rely on you to give them songs to help them find expression they might struggle to release. So be it angry and dark, etheric and beautiful and all in-between. From musical snowflakes to poetic lava you give because you hold it and need to release it for your own sake and for others.
Of all art forms, though at this stage in my life I really feel that Van Gogh was right with the quote ‘Truly the most artistic thing is loving people.’ I am all about seeing and praising beauty. War is part of a warrior and it’s a part of me I cannot erase, but my love is just as big and before it’s all over, all I have to give will echo across time.”
5.I know you are a voracious book reader, what/who are you currently reading? What is one of the best books you have ever read and why?
Gideon Smith – “Constantly surrounded by books, I often carry them with me. I rarely leave the house without a book in my hand. I read many at once and can’t even count all I have read. At the moment, books on Wicca, Buddhism, Parapsychology, martial arts, ancient Greek and Roman history. Viking history. Samurai and Bushido books. As for one that has profoundly influenced me, there are too many to name. Books are good old friends like records or films, you can always go back to them and they keep speaking to you. I don’t often read fiction, I read for knowledge, inspiration and occasionally just for entertainment. I read to absorb and take from it what I need. I don’t read to escape. I watch films of all kinds for all reasons, but when it comes to books it all about learning: knowledge, inspiration and power.”
6. Concerning the fact you are quite a positive thinker and an avid proponent for such, what have you found is the (your) key to being positive and what would you suggest to others that are seeking to establish a positive outlook in themselves?
Gideon Smith – “Personal ethics and mantras to live by are good to have. I used to write phrases on pieces of paper and hang them in a mirror. I would stare into that mirror every day in the early years and focus. I often carry around a piece of paper with a quote, a tattered one that holds meaning to me at the time. I think you should read, listen, learn from life experience and watching others life stories. Then just re-focus if you get thrown off the path.
Many positive thinking books are slight variations of ways to introduce the same concepts from schools of thought that are thousands of years old that span all cultures. But eventually you come across the point it doesn’t matter who you hear it from.
As for work ethic and keeping your mind clear, nothing gets done without hard work but you have to work hard and work smart. The only thing that matters is what lies within and how you bring it out into the world. I used to say and I’ll hold onto it ‘Be Yourself, be bad ass, make the world recognize it.’ Perception determines reality. Thoughts are power and physical power is power. Turn all dark emotions into positive use.
Don’t ever beat your self-esteem down. Enough of the world from those some of those you may think are closest to you to complete strangers will try to destroy your sense of self-worth. Don’t ever contribute to their efforts by doing it to yourself. I have had many dark days and many beautiful ones, you just seize one what is best and let it define you. Believe and stay positive, the world should be an endless series of adventures filled with magic. If your world isn’t magical, it’s because you chose to see it that way. All kinds of things will cross your mind, it’s the nature of the mind. You just gotta seize on the good and let what appeals to you define you. To me, I was born this way and will walk it like a boss.”
7. Back to the music…it has been 4 years since the phenomenal 30 Weight album was released, what is currently going on with Gideon Smith & The Dixie Damned as a band?
Gideon Smith – “Thank you brother I am pleased you enjoyed it. That album has had a weird effect on people and I’m grateful when people say it means a lot to them. Man it has been way too long between albums for me. I love ’30 Weight’ and am so proud of it and thankful for its success. I loved collaborating with Phil Durr and Eric Hoegamyer. I hope to do a new one in the near future when the time is right for the great Small Stone Recordings, my gratitude to the label is boundless. I have been writing songs for the next album now.
In the meantime, I am recording side projects when I can in different styles to have some fun. There are several already recorded or in the works. One is my side band Cemetery Crows, which is pure doom metal. I have always had traces of doom in my usual stuff but this one is full on doom metal with old school death metal vocals buried in mix, whispers and psycho-acoustics. I wanted this sound to be doom/death/skate/crust punk mix. The vocals are buried on purpose to create atmosphere while the songs are not vocally focused they are more riff heavy groove. I will get back to doing my usual style when the stars are right under the eternal night sky. I am determined to make music and keep the cobras of creativity striking.”
8.Despite most folks need to classify everything musically, just exactly how do you see your band and how would you describe it to someone unfamiliar with it?
Gideon Smith – “I would say that’s all up to what the listener finds there. It’s seen by many in many different ways. But I think at the core it’s sixties and seventies retro rock, psychedelic bluesy biker metal and gothic rock. I love The Doors, The Cult, Zeppelin, classic rock all the way. If you’ve never heard my music, begin anywhere and take what you will find. Step inside we await you with a full cup and place at the table.”
9. Speaking of the music “scene” in general, what are your views about how it has drastically changed (i.e. demise of corporate labels, downloading, the overwhelming need to film instead of experience, social media, etc.)?
Gideon Smith – “I think it is a rough time in the music business for underground bands and anyone just under the major label pop stars. You see almost everyone but the very top struggling. The net is amazing as it is such an astounding communication tool, but it has done great damage to the music industry which we all know by now. People who love your music need to acknowledge all artists give. We bleed it out and lay it down with all we have. Fans need to lay down the support in return to help a band create it, to in turn, give it to them again. Artists need to be good to their fans and show them great respect.
Money is really unnatural to art, but it all comes into the picture when you’re in the business of it. Artists need to keep making their art and people need music, they just need to keep up the good fight and support each other for mutual exchange.
As for filming, sure everyone has cell phones and wants a photo because they’re excited and want to capture the moment of their happiness. I don’t blame them at all. The old school guys bitch people shouldn’t take photos at shows, but man they should be honored somebody wants their photo. They do it because they love you and what you do. There is no way fans now are going to resist having personal pics of their favorite bands if you are standing there performing and everyone walks around all day with their cell phone camera. If you’re giving a performance or agree to stop and meet a someone who wants to tell you they like your art, it’s acceptable that they ask you if it’s okay for a photo. I say keep them happy and just roll with it. If the circumstances are bad, don’t make yourself available.
Social media, I have many thoughts about. I do not use it as a personal basis. I maintain my own site instead. If people use social media for fun or business, they should do it as what feels right for them. They are employing the popular and fastest tools of this time period for their agenda. I think it can be overwhelmingly negative when used in the wrong manner by people with bad hearts so I just don’t use it. It is unhealthy for people to get caught up in the web of toxicity that can sometimes form when people use it in endless negative ways. It can cause a lot of needless drama and I don’t receive drama in my heart. I believe people will look back on some of the stress in their lives from this time and see certain examples were completely unnecessary and preposterous, all caused by misuse and drama in a social media shifting Greek tragedy of communication.
Social media at its bad side can be like a twisted drama theater, where keyboard tough guys pound their opinions away to tiny amounts of listeners where they can name each one personally, where relationships get strained or ended by misunderstandings because people don’t soul communicate but hawk on each other hourly on a computer. It can be a place where people use passive aggressive or open hostility toward others because their own self-esteem is so fragile. They seek to antagonize others than face their own weakness and better themselves. People openly promote blatant racism, a sick sense of humor, many variations of negativity, so much bad with some individuals it is like a personal flowing channel of all bad. It can show the bad sides of people that is hard to ‘un-see’ once they open up like that.
Trolling and cyber bulling is for cowards who need to go to a counselor or therapist and conquer their own issues, to better their own lives. The growing trend of people who love to spread hate and anonymously argue on social media sites or forums, news pages, is bizarre. It shows the state of the minds of many that they even have time. It is rooted in their own great dissatisfaction. It is a strange, dishonorable sickness that spreads across people like a mental virus, but their spirit only is susceptible to the virus if they are inclined to such lowly behavior.
Like Teal Swan said when giving a lecture on psychic vampires these are people who “ ..feed off of negative attention, cause problems and create unnecessary interpersonal friction on purpose so they can have all eyes on them. These people pick fights incessantly; because of this you are back to square one with them no matter how much you try to help them. Because it is not the healing they want, it’s the attention they get when they cause problems that they want. They are deceptive. Their number one favorite for developing friendships is to turn people against each other. They are famous for picking sides and playing sides, for pitting people against each other because they can feed off the energy of someone ‘siding’ with them.” I’ve always bucked the trends and the system while the wanna be rebels and pretenders suck it up addicted to gossip and just go in circles.
The people who feel inspired to do that, it’s really easy to ‘read’ their traits of heart . The targets change, their jokes change, their social groups that are today’s buddies revolve back to hating each other due to shallow friendships based only on their own gain. Then they start over again yet all the while, the personal issues at the core remain the same open wound for years on end. Now that they have social media it is just an illusion of having a powerful platform because they can type and post it hoping for validation for the posturing. But under the posturing, there is usually something deeply wrong with them and they know it. They need to turn off the computer awhile and focus on their own lives.
When I hear about people that cyber bully young people, women or the elderly, ill people, it makes me disgusted and furious at their actions. Young people that are bullies just need better role models, someone to step in and encourage them in a better mindset. Grown men and women who do it are shameful. In the end, they have no honor and no class. If someone does that to you, report it and make sure you protect yourself. Know that they are ignorant and don’t let them get you down for one minute of your life. If you see a friend being cyber bullied: stand up, don’t quietly watch or be intimidated. Martin Luther King said something along the lines of “In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
But also I see why people use it for good reasons. If it is to have fun with friends and stay in touch with people you love that live far apart, of course it’s an easy and good tool. If an artist uses it to promote their band or network, sure they are just working the latest tool of getting the word out and hoping for recognition. People use it for many, many good reasons too.There are lonely people that find their only support or social life via social media. If it does good for their life that is awesome. It should be used that way. It’s all in how people choose to use it. I always say having a social media page is like handing someone a blank piece of paper and pen, what they choose to do with it says much about what’s inside of them.
I focus not on social media but on my own website. If you want to keep up with me, follow me on my site. It’s just as easy to find and read my site everyday as it is to check your social media page, so come see me. People that dig my music can find my site in a few seconds and get down with my news, message me, check out positive quotes, my writing, things from my history, my blog and periodically I have featured guests from all walks of life.”
10. Hypothetical: You are being eulogized, what would you want to hear said about yourself?
Gideon Smith – “I would say that is up to the individual, those who knew me in my personally and people who have never met me but enjoyed my music. It would be for them to say. I would hope to be remembered with honor, dignity and iron determination. But yet, also with even a fraction of the love I have given in my life, echoing across fields of gold and green grass, watercolor with compassion and joy.”
11.Are there any realms of media that you haven’t engaged in that you want to or is there anything you want to do that you haven’t yet?
Gideon Smith – “Man there is always more to do. More fun you want to have, more music to make, new realms to enter. For years have fought arthritis. I have autoimmune disease which can be debilitating and came upon me about ten years ago now. There are times when I have thought I have burned too hard and now life has handed me challenges and a hard won sense of peace. But then by the grace of the Gods I get up moving again. It slows me down, and man I hate being slowed down when I’m inspired in any fashion even though my patience level is pretty high. If it’s meant to be I’ll be on it. I’m honestly so thankful I have been able to do all that I have done thus far but know the journey is not over yet. I have plans and time will tell the tale. I believe man makes his own destiny, but at times I know life is in the hands of the Gods and all we can do is ride it out. I got knocked off a few waves in life and just caught another one that turned out pretty good! So yeah, the future is an open door.”
12.The floor is yours, Brother..anything you want to share, have to say or proclaim, whatever, now is the time:
Gideon Smith – “Be Brave. Give your love. May your enemies run in fear. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Follow your heart like a tiger of fire and you’ll never go wrong. Keep hope alive even if it’s just a match in your heart. There is only one you in the world, make it matter. Like Yukio Mishima said “Perfect purity is possible if you make your life into a line of poetry written with a splash of blood”. Give your all and go for the dream like a hungry jaguar. Make small the sun with your passion.”
PAT– I want to personally Thank You for allowing me the honor of this interview, Gideon as it is a definite highlight of my as-yet somewhat meager journalistic “career”, ha! Seriously though, Thanks, Bro!
Gideon Smith – “Thank you for taking the time and having the interest to do an interview with me. It is my honor you wished to speak. Many thanks for the high regards. It’s a pleasure to speak with you today. I value that you took the time to speak with me brother. Keep up the metal and talk to you again soon.”