You, Me and New Orleans
An interview with Sandunes on the magic of NOLA
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? If not, stop reading right this moment. For a non-NOLA-devotee, this piece will be incomprehensible and painfully enviable. Why? Because Profet’s Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström interviews Mumbai based producer Sandunes about her EP »NOLA Daydream«, and extensively leans back into the intoxicating memories of New Orleans.
Last year, I fell in love. I fell headfirst for New Orleans and enchanting power the city possesses. NOLA is built on music, and has survived on music. Culture is everything, everywhere you go the culture takes you in and spits you out as a whole new you. It can be as decadent and ecstatic as the sip of a Hand Grenade on Bourbon Street or the beat of a tambourine in an Indian parade. It can just as well be as sorrowful and respectful as the marching funerals that ends in a dancing honoring of a life that just ended. The NOLA culture (from here on out spoken of as »The Culture«) is all-encompassing and it’s only if you’ve been there that you know what it means to miss New Orleans.
Producer Sandunes must know what it means to miss New Orleans. During a US tour, the Mumbai musician stopped in NOLA with traveling companion Pretty Lights. One day prior to a planned recording session in one of the city’s many music studios, Pretty Lights urgently had to leave for Colorado, stranding Sandunes with the studio time to herself. Blessed with some of The Big Easy’s natural musical resources, Sandunes put together what ultimately became the EP »NOLA Daydream«. The four songs presumably point to the spirituality and mysticism of New Orleans and its equals in other corners of the globe.
What comes to my mind when learning that a record has been envisioned in, and influenced by, New Orleans is of course music that resonates what I heard on the streets and stages of The Crescent City. »NOLA Daydream« doesn’t really sound like anything I encountered in New Orleans, initially making me struggle to find a connection. Later, I start to hear traces of the joyful parades and the unmistakable Culture, cleverly sneaked into Sandunes sometimes peculiar productions.
- Had you taken part of The Culture before you went to New Orleans with Pretty Lights? I ask Sandunes, since I for one had some idea of what I could expect, but still was blown away when I finally got there.
- Yes, I actually spent half a month in New Orleans doing a residency there with a bunch of musicians from India, Pakistan and the U.S. It was a collaborative project involving travel across the East coast with pit stops for gigs and residencies, and when we based in New Orleans we had this gift of meeting and working with some incredible local talent. It certainly painted a picture of what it was like as a living and working musician in New Orleans, which felt like a really relatable and yet eye-opening image.
»I had an acute sense of knowing that I would return there when I first visited«
- Sandunes, about New Orleans
I miss New Orleans almost daily. Among my strongest NOLA memories are riding a bike down St Charles Avenue in the sunshine and escaping a thunderstorm during a crawfish party at a Norwegian Jazz Church. What I miss the most is the late-night dancing on Frenchmen Street and going to the hipster café Rook to write during the day. Sandunes’ memories and experiences are not too far from mine.
- Walking down the streets of the Bywater and hearing various bands rehearse in various homes/community centers is something to be missed. I’ve also got a bunch of awesome memories from Frenchmen street - it was great to watch members of the band finish a set, and then go next door (from The Maison to The Spotted Cat) to go play the next set. The abundance of live music and its presence all over the city is what the essence of New Orleans was really about for me. I also miss an amazing fresh food joint called the Sneaky Pickle, which I will be SURE to go back to.
- Could you name any of the local New Orleans musicians you worked with during your stay?
- Aurora Nealand, Cliff Hines, Jasen Weaver, AJ Hall, Shea Pierre and someone who really impacted me was Eric »Benny« Bloom.
- Did you find any difference in their musical mindset compared to what you are used to?
- What was really interesting, that I learned from Aurora, was that the version of »New Orleans music« to an outside perspective is stereotypically trad-jazz, and that as musicians living there, they sometimes struggled to push other areas of music and represent a newer, different sounding, but still completely local New Orleans sound.
I felt, unlike Sandunes, that most of the musicians I met in New Orleans had either come there or stayed there because of their love for the traditional NOLA music scene. Still, only love can break your heart, and even love of a genre can turn into artistic limitation. Sandunes herself seems unconfined by cities or traditions when she makes her music.
- Have you ever taken on a city like you did New Orleans, and based a body of work on it?
- I did once build a sample bank of sounds from Bombay and I created a piece of music around it, but it was a different process than with New Orleans. In NOLA, I didn’t have the advantage of knowing I was going to build a body of work before I was actually in the studio with these musicians. In fact, I was looking at it as a really fortunate opportunity to build a sample library, but the idea of building an EP from those sounds came later in my studio in Mumbai in the midst of the production process.
I was clearly inhabited by the NOLA magic during my stay last year, almost possessed. When I ask anyone who has visited, they have all felt a similar obsession. You can’t be indifferent to New Orleans. Sandunes explains her feelings for NOLA, and magically manages to describe mine as well.
- It’s difficult to articulate why it is that someone feels connected to a place, but that could be said to come from a feeling of Deja Vous, perhaps. That, coupled with certain synchronicities and connections while I was there, made the world seem very, very small, and NOLA seem very, very homely. I had an acute sense of knowing that I would return there when I first visited, and I definitely considered moving and living there for a brief period too!
The premise of »NOLA Daydream« is identity, and the way our past takes place in our present. New Orleans is a place where you sometimes can feel like you’re in the middle of a terrific timeless loop, where tradition is key and the city stays the same. But does tradition mean denouncing progression? One thing that tradition does do is inviting us to evaluate our own rituals and what made them be.
- Was there something special about New Orleans that made you choose the theme »identity« for the songs?
- The cues that New Orleans provided, probably set the tone for one aspect of this body of work, which was looking back at where we come from. Often a helpful guide if we’re lacking clarity on where we’re going, I think something about my time there and my continual, often unplanned returns to the city, made it feel important to question the sense of belonging, of which identity is an integral part.