Interview with Jon Mueller

Interview by Christopher S. Feltner

Few artists have been more inspiring to me in recent times than Jon Mueller. His solo work is ace, as is the various collaborative projects Mueller is/was involved in. If you are already familiar, I hope you enjoy the read. If you are unfamiliar? Well, you are in for a treat!

You just brought the Death Blues project to a close recently. Why end it now? Did you accomplish all you wanted with it?

There was always an intended arc to it. It was a message, translated through various forms, and that message was relayed. My only regret for the project, potentially, is that there was not more severity to it. Having had some recent experiences, I realized how powerful the sentiment of limited time is, and I hope this message didn't get too lost amongst the music and other things.

What do you mean by "severity?"

The message might have been heavier, almost fearful, but not to erase awareness. Total absolute focus.

With a strong focus on being present, in the moment, do you believe that is something lacking in people these days; particularly, with everyone staring into a screen?

It affects me as well, and I talk to people about this often. Yet, here we are, nonetheless, staring at a screen. I think it's not so easy to judge this activity as completely useful or not. The answer is in each individual's use and how they see themselves changing in the process. How the experience of living this way affects them. Sometimes, staring at nature isn't as productive as emailing someone who is dealing with major issues and needs to just feel connected to something. The question is, how are we working on our face-to-face connections? Are those changing, improving, etc.?

I have talked to a lot of parents, recently, who talked about how their teenagers are now at the age of getting their driver's license, but their children seem uninterested. A common variable between them is that they all like to spend a lot of time on their phones and laptops.

I have a family member that is afraid to get their license as well. I mentioned that the more you do it, the more comfortable you'll get. It seems the negative potential is too real. It can't be deleted or ignored. It's too real. This, of course, is troubling, as driving is only one part of reality that holds this potential. Maybe it's an individual case, but if that's indicative of a generation, that will be an interesting social change.

It is also concerning that they only time that people seem to unite is after a tragic event. Maybe even more the fact that people come together in support and/or protest after these events, and passion seems so strong, then a month later, it begins to dissipate and people go back to their singular focus.

We are overwhelmed with information because we choose to be. It is only natural to seem to focus and react to singular things at a time. It seems 'normal' to do this. Imagine posting a link or statement about a different topic every minute for the entire day, with occasional themes emerging. That would seem schizophrenic, and surely people would unfollow, yet that's sort of how our brains really work. Maybe it will get to that point, and as we see the overwhelming input of all brains in real time, we will implode! I'm listening to Xenakis right now, which is the perfect soundtrack to this idea.

Something that may or may not be related to this is that I've seen and heard a lot of great art come out in the past five years. Technologies ability to make it easier to create art could be a good side-effect.
What drives your creative process? Is it the Human Condition, overall, or there certain elements that inspire you?

I would say that I'm more concerned with the Personal Condition, how certain things and experiences have affected me.

A lot of your work has a meditative and spiritual feel to it. You use a lot of symbols with your projects: the Death
Blues site, the circle and the ladder of Initiation, the masks of the Ensemble record...
Where does this interest come from?

Symbols generally have meaning, yet they are interpreted based on individual understanding. That is also the aim with my work.

So, would you say that your work is your personal journey in understanding, a journey created for the listener, or a joint experience? What do you hope someone gets from listening to one of your records, or seeing a live performance?

My hope is both a personal experience and a shared connection. It is not just about what I "do."

Your recent project, Initiation, is only available to experience live. What is the drive behind Initiation?

It addresses the 'focus' that we've talked about here, what 'records' mean to people and what the experience of them is and might be like.

Do you worry that only making this experience live-based will limit people's access to it vs adding a recorded, physical format?

That is actually part of the intent. Those that attend will have the record inside them, forever. Because of this, the record will partially be made by them, and they will only be able to share parts of it through their own ability to describe what it is to others.

Like how we used to share stories, pre-internet.

I'd say it happens more with the internet. But yes, a platform for a personal folklore, a tale of an experience that might be difficult, or easy, to understand and describe. I want to make things that encourage that.

You have a new solo record in the works, as well, right? Each of your records, rather solo or in collaboration, have covered so much ground in terms of different approaches, feels, and sound... Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?!haha

The solo recording session will likely be replaced with a different project now. So, at the moment, there might be too many ideas! But that isn't always the case. In fact, ideas are always abundant, but the ones worth materializing can sometimes be tricky to identify. After all, what is worth it? And how might one know? I'm trying to get better at answering those questions.

For me, I sift through ideas by refusing to follow any of them, at first. Certain ones will keep popping back up in my head, and those are the ones I pursue.

Exactly. I have the same experience. Maybe not 'refusal' but patience. I try not to jump at anything too quickly, but let it develop subconsciously.

"Patience" is a good term for it. Do you write your ideas down at all? I like to write things down, then I'll make changes to the notes over the next 6-10 months until I feel it's right to try them out.

I will sometimes write things out, when it seems there are specifics that will be difficult or too numerous to remember, and I fear forgetting them. Then, often, when I step away and revisit them later on, I realize that I've mentally rewritten a lot of it, and the written version seems so wrong. Ha! It's good though. I've reminded myself of many interesting things this way.

Before closing, who are some artists whose work is really inspiring you right now?

Recently, I've revisited my obsession with Alex Jordan after reading his biography. His House on the Rock was a lifetime achievement. The Shaker movement is a continuing source of interest and inspiration on many different levels. I've also been reading different books by Hazrat Inayat Khan, which inspired parts of INITIATION and seemed to speak to a greater perspective in general.

When your time is up, how do you hope people remember you as a person and artist?

That I contributed something meaningful.