The musician and visual artist psi tallstar (@psi.tallstar) was born into a grunge and metal fan family, but ambient is the form of expression that has felt most his own. He grew up in the American state of Idaho surrounded by wild nature but now lives in Tokyo, one of the largest metropolises in the world.
In addition, throughout his life he has been a classical music interpreter, playing the cello in orchestras, but he has just shaped a personal project with which he has decided to make his own music, moving away from any pre-established norm.
For psi tallstar, as dictated by the spiritual tradition that inspires him so much, these seemingly opposite realities are not contradictory, but complementary. His dual background has allowed him to complete a universe of his own and has prompted him to create, encouraged, and supported by the Tokyo scene that has welcomed him.
To do this, he has questioned what he held as unshakable after years of classical musical training. He has listened to himself to find his own path and move forward by leaving behind the imposed restrictions.
This path of music, image and video has turned out to be defined by a conscious observation of the world that surrounds him, and by his own identity linked to his instrument, the cello, alongside a certain physical particularity that has defined his perception of sound. To all this he has applied a personal filter of surrealism with which everything seems to happen in a dream or a colorful and luminous memory.
psi tallstar has just released his first audiovisual pieces through Speed label. I decided to meet him to talk about them and above all, about him.
Chorareii: First things first … who is psi tallstar?
psi tallstar: My name is Tanner, I’m from Idaho, USA. I have been living in Japan for two years, and well, I’m very tall! I’m 6,8 ft or 2,04 cm.
In my name, “psi” comes from one of my favorite video game series, known in Japan as “Mother 2” or “EarthBound” in Western countries. In the game, all the abilities are called “psi-something.” I think “Tallstar” could be the ability to become tall! I added “star” because I like the idea that everyone can see me from really far away [Laughs].
You define yourself as a “music psychotherapist” and a “multimedia impressionist.” You should make some business cards with both job titles, they sound amazingly cool. Could you explain them to me?
I’m working to become a licensed psychotherapist, as I have a degree in Psychology. I like the idea of making music which is therapeutic, both for myself at the moment but also to the listener.
About being a “multimedia impressionist,” I take pictures and shoot videos with an old digital camera any time I feel inspired. Then, I combine elements from different images to create something new.
How did music become part of your life?
My dad was involved in the metal / hard rock scene when he was young and my mom was a big punk, grunge person. My first concert was Rage Against the Machine when my mom was eight months pregnant with me!!
However, my music is much more ambient with a bit of edge. Growing up, there was an ambient music show on our local radio station called “Echoes and Edges.” It was around my bedtime, and every single night we religiously listened to it at home. The show is still on the radio with the same DJ, I will send him my project, I wish he plays it!
You have started creating your own music just recently, now that you are living in Japan. Why is that?
I have played the cello since I was ten, pretty much exclusively classical music. When I moved to Japan I didn’t have access to a cello, it’s a very expensive instrument and difficult to transport. However, I went back home in the summer and my stepfather, who is a guitar player in the band called Treepeople, asked me to play a cello part at one of their acoustic concerts.
This band is one of my favorites so I definitely wanted to do it, but I was afraid to play something that was not classical music! I had to learn how to go outside of my usual boundaries. It was absolutely freeing.
That path has taken me here. When I came back to Japan, the inspiration to make my own music came to me. The Tokyo scene is very collaborative and open. I was afraid because I’m new to making my own music, but noticing how open people are here inspired me to try harder and create.
At the moment, you have released two singles with video through Speed. Let’s talk about the first one, “Palindrome Trail.” I can definitely see the therapeutic side of it, as a journey through the forest where you find your own demons and angels. Tell me about it!
In “Palindrome Trail,” the samples came from recordings I did last year, but I never knew what I was going to use them for! The footage came from a trip I did to Yakushima by myself. I went hiking for three days in the mountains, sleeping in mountain huts.
I had a very powerful experience there. When I was walking around I had this circular feeling, my thoughts were recurring in a circular pattern, like a cycle. Even the trail sometimes felt like it was looping into itself. I created the song and visuals based on that experience.
Now let’s talk about your second release, “Cognition.” It’s very clear the dichotomy between dark and light. I would like you to tell me more about this piece!
“Cognition” represents the central element of my new 4 track and visual project which is releasing soon! I don’t want to give much away, as I intend for my project to be freely interpreted by the listener. Essentially, it represents my singular process of reflection, starting with a trigger, cyclical thoughts, and ending in a release with a deeper understanding of myself. The themes are very personal and full of many samples, including my mother. I hope that all who digest my track and visuals can come out of the experience with self-clarity.
Looking at these pieces and your photos, nature seems to be a great inspiration for you…
Growing up in Idaho I was surrounded by nature. My mom was an avid camper so we were often in the wild country woods, wiping our asses with leaves! [laughs]. I feel that nature is the master of all things. Nature has patterns but it’s also random. I’m fascinated by the patterns that arise from something that is presumably unplanned.
The credence I have to be here on Earth is to be part of nature, experience and absorb it, and actively observe it. I use nature as if it was my art palette. In my music and my videos, I take patterns, textures, and sounds from nature and create a new environment as an emotional expression.
Besides nature, what are your other sources of inspiration?
Spirituality has always been a formative aspect of my worldview. When I was a kid, I used to be in my head a lot, thinking about life, death, afterlife … My uncle was a Hindu monk for the majority of his adulthood (about 20 years), he used to live with minimal belongings and money. He left his monkhood when he married my aunt, but he was still connected to the community. One year I visited them in Seattle and we went to a Hindu monastery in the forest. As a kid, I remember joining the spiritual chanting and religious practicing. I was just a child enjoying the moment. I always loved to ponder all kinds of different worldviews and the wonderment that came along with them, yet never subscribing to a particular belief. I thank my parents for fostering such open-mindedness.
Recently, I’ve been interested in cults. It’s obvious that I don’t agree with their ideology, but I find it very fascinating how these false idols feel so self-fulfilled and transcendent that they need to teach others until it becomes manipulation. Using my psychology background, I like deconstructing cult ideology trying to figure out how these people’s minds work. Understanding the human desire to achieve fulfillment in some form is very important! I guess that’s why naturally, I’ve fit into a therapist role. I want to help people achieve fulfillment in a positive, constructive, and nonharmful way! Just live for yourself, and the ones you love!
So, are you a religious person? What do you believe in and how does it reflect in your music?
I’m more spiritual than religious. I consider myself as non-religious, I will be content no matter what the truth ends up being! I am here to live my life, and that’s special. For my recent music I’ve been taking inspiration from holy meditation music. I’ve been searching for the holy chord, a sacred chord structure that is supposed to be in the “Hallelujah” song. In that song, the vibrations are supposed to align your gut, your heart, and your brain. Which I am not sure I totally believe in, but I do believe in the power of true will of mind. So maybe if you meditate hard enough on ailments, they can be relieved.
You said that as a kid you were in your head a lot. I know there is a particular reason for that which has also been very important to understand your journey through music …
Since I was five, I have had 45% hearing loss in both ears. I used to wear my hearing aids, but in university, I wore them less and I got used to the world being muted.
Hearing loss is a very inspirational thing for me and a very formative element of my creative process. I don’t really look at it as a disadvantage, it’s relaxing not to be overstimulated. It’s my way of life. However, as I am learning, it is important to be present in the world’s reality at some moments, in order to connect with others.
Having hearing loss gave me the ability to detach from reality and be in my own head just enjoying myself. It has put me in my own headspace where I have created my own reality out of things, taking the elements that I want. This is a theme that is present in my art and music.
You’ve chosen the label Speed (@xpeed5) to release your material, being the first non-Japanese artist they support. I remember when we were at the Pure2000 rave they organized. We didn’t want to leave although the sun was shining bright after a whole night of amazing music. Did something happen there? How did this connection with Speed take place?
Actually, I first heard about Speed when I went to Pure2000 rave. What I love the most about them is their appreciation of multi-genre when it comes to music. Streaming has opened the doors to music being more accessible, not confined, and that has marked our generation. Speed represents that.
Also, they are very open-minded when it comes to multimedia art, their aesthetic is very psychedelic … we share the same vibe. I never had the intention of a release, but I showed them my material and they encouraged me to release it and keep creating.
You just said you share Speed’s psychedelic vibe. In your visual creations, reality is distorted with extreme light and color. Is this how you see the world, or how you would wish it to be?
In my creations I enjoy using hyper-realistic colors and design elements as an euphoric, blissful expression. I see my art as histrionic and exaggerated, both in a visual and emotional sense. It’s rooted in my reality but exaggerated for a cathartic expression. I’m a huge fan of creators such as David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Harmony Korine who play with surrealism and fringe perspectives, so I’m also influenced by their vision. Nature is also quite psychedelic and full of so many colors, details, and surreal situations. So of course, it is also my inspiration.
When we look back into our memories, sometimes they are much more vivid, dreamlike. That is because we fill in the blanks with elements from our imagination. I create this novel reality because this is how I tend to romantically or some cases cynically remember the moment
What can we expect from you as a musician in the near future?
I’m working on a project with which I want to convey my experience through music, which involves my cello but also my hearing loss. The theme of detachment and reflection both audibly and mentally will play an important part because it has also been my own therapeutic process. It will also feel meditative and fulfilling.
Each song will take place in a location where you can place yourself, but what you hear will be expressed from my perspective, muffled or with sound coming in and out. This is something you can also notice in my singles, it will follow the same pattern.
There will also be more collaborations as it happened in my recent single, directed by my friend Harry Fisher (@harryfish.er). Experiences and the creative process can really be elevated when shared with another, and here in Tokyo, I feel that even more. Life is a collaborative effort!
Update! psi tallstar’s first EP, “icsm”, has already been released through the Speed label (@xpeed5). Listen to it here!
Follow psi tallstar on Instagram.
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