When was the last time you sat still and just existed? That means: not thumbing through Twitter, scouring any room you enter for the best thing to Instagram, or following ten different trains of thought at once like you left all the tabs open in your brain. It's rare that we remember to take a breather, and be silent, which is why artists who prompt you to do that can often be some of the best.
Ali Beletic is best known for her work as an installation artist, but she recently poured her energy into a debut album that's been several years in the making. Leaving the art/punk scene and saturation of Brooklyn for the Sonoran Desert to "explore concepts of transformation, personal rebellion, and that which exists out on the boundaries of our humanity," Ali creates an experience that gives your nerves a massage and strips your mind of distraction—kind of like putting your head underwater in the bath.
The result harnesses the determination of Patti Smith, the dark drawl of Cat Power, and the beatnik home-is-where-my-harmonica-holder-is vibe of early Bob Dylan. In a world that moves a hundred miles an hour, where instant gratification rules supreme, Ali's work is patient and sensory. If you'd like to get an idea of what that feels like then we're premiering her new video for "Walk This Earth" which is filmed entirely at dusk and features Ali riding around on a horse, traversing a river, and doing lots of other things that can cause people to consider the profundity of being alive but nobody ever does because we're too busy ordering Deliveroo to the pop-up "urban beach party."
Watch that below and read our Q&A with Ali after the jump.
Noisey: Hi Ali. So, this video is beautiful. What was the inspiration and where was it filmed?
Ali Beletic: Lost communication, fire in the streets, the knowledge that comes without electricity, seeking wild places left out there and in ourselves, camaraderie, hearing distances beyond our limited capacity, setting people ablaze, the current lost generation...
It was filmed in many different locations, mostly in California—Pioneertown up near Pappy and Harriets, Joshua Tree, outside of my studio in the desert, and the Coast, as well as including some footage from my travels.
The video feels very sensory to me, like a call for people to slow down, reconnect with themselves and their surroundings. Is that fair to say, or am I way, way off?
The inspiration for the video is in the inspiration for the song. “Sensory” is a great word; It’s definitely about pace, getting in touch with your senses, letting a certain wild spirit out, that freedom, the earth on your feet, a non-dualism, about joie de vivre, and about a certain vanguardism.
You're also an installation artist. Could you tell us a bit about that and how you fell into songwriting?
The art I make is based on creating 360 degree sensual experiences or environments. When I moved out West, my artwork grew to scale. A lit boulder field you can hike through, a lake of many floating fires, drummers scattered throughout the backcountry that stun and surprise the attendees at night in the echo fields of the wash and mountains. Simultaneously, I started throwing what I called Vanguard Parties. The idea here was to get people out of their normal mindset—pushing the edges of our experiences and the edges of our limitations. Throwing a ticker tape parade that doesn’t just fall on the artists—hiking in to backcountry to build a sculpture, or lightning ice on fire, building a surfboard out of Tule reeds and then going out to surf it and so on. Eventually these two forms of expression merged to become the sensual and the radical sides of my art.
I’ve been a musician for a long time. But in the past, it was more of a personal study rather than an expression. My mother is a singer. I studied voice and piano my whole life and then guitar once I moved to Brooklyn. I wanted to make a record, but I waited until the expression felt right to start songwriting. I moved to the Sonoran desert to work on this record. Seth Olinsky (Cy Dune, Akron/Family) and I set up a studio in this ultramodern house on the edge of the desert. We both recorded records there. We were moving amps all over the house testing different acoustics. I had a collection of these old drums and percussion I had collected over the years. And he had all these tape machines and cool vintage gear. Our friend Jeff Stokes made us these cool fuzz pedals. It was pretty fun. And the whole time, I was hiking into the desert daily and spending nights in my studio writing.
How come you left New York City for the desert? For you, what virtues does the desert afford you that the city doesn't?
Earth art, vanguardism, a million motorbikes traveling in tandem, getting to play loud music, riding horses, nature, space, the quietness of working on your own ideas, getting to ride dirt bikes into the backcountry.
I definitely miss the culture explosion, painter, record digging, secret loft parties, playing guitar in the dark with your neighbors, Guggenheim retrospective, Malian music down at Zebulon, MacArthur genius friends, sneaking in to C.U.A.N.D.O to sing in the pool, transforming abandoned places into secret parties, street culture, of New York too!
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
Kauai. That place is so phenomenal.
Legends of These Lands Left to Live will be released on June 17 via Lightning Records.
Follow Emma Garland on Twitter.