Ari Z Satlin is Zman8, an all-in-one producer, composer, guitarist, keyboardist, and vocalist from New York, USA.
His music defies categorization. Psychedelic, electronic, post-rock, downtempo, electroacoustic, funk, ambient, live instrumentation, space rock, singer-songwriter, rock, acoustic folk, reggae, dub, balearic, or we can choose everything at once.
Transforming sound into a deep beauty, his first album “The Rebirth of Red Cloud” has recently been released, and taking this opportunity, we chat with him about music and all that surrounds music.
Interview by Shantiago on 09/09/22.
Hi Ari, how are you? It’s great to spend time talking with you.
Santiago is an honor and a pleasure, great to be here, feeling very well thank you.
How is the summer going? Are you currently in your city?
Yes I’m here in NYC, it’s been a very productive summer musically and artistically and I’ve been kept very busy by a few opportunities & projects that have manifested recently and some years in the making. So I would say it’s been a great summer, can’t believe it’s almost over.
You bring different genders of psychedelic chill brewed in New York. Is it a smooth place to create this type of sound?
It definitely is aesthetically, visually the entire city is like a canvas of art, sound and multi cultural vibes in full effect, so there is lots of artistic stimulation to keep you inspired, that’s for sure. Musically these days where I am in NY right now all I’m hearing is tons & tons of HipHop; so for my music inspiration atm I turn elsewhere.
Which is the musical journey of a multi-skilled guy composing, playing guitar, or producing electronic music? Have you had a special relationship with sound since you were a little one?
My very first memory of music consuming my entire soul was when I was about 4 years old, I was in a living room with my mother and a bunch of her friends and there was a piano in the room. A man sat down and started to play this piano and I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I was completely transfixed on this man playing this piano and marched right over, sat myself right next to him on the piano seat and just stared & listened to his fingers dancing all over the keys.
My father was a basic player and wrote and sang songs on his guitar and they were lovely beautiful songs and of course I used to stare and listen to him for hours when I was young. So when I was 9 I asked him to teach me a chord on the guitar and he taught me a G chord. He saw I took to it like a fish to water and got me a teacher. I was only 9-10 yrs old and the teacher started me with some old American folk and blues classics as well as some very early Rock and Roll songs and some Beatles. The first song I learned was Bill Haley’s version of ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and I think I played and sang that song 500 times in one night. I was so addicted to this new experience of playing guitar and singing a song. I also found myself starting to write songs at 9 following the structures I saw in the song books of these early rock tunes and the Beatles, verse, chorus, bridge, verse etc. with lyrics, vocal melodies and chord changes.
When I was around 16 yrs old I started to take guitar more seriously and was starting to develop slowly on the electric guitar and play solos and branching out from the acoustic. I was learning note for note what Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Pete Towhnsend, whatever those guys were playing I was trying to learn it. All the Classic British Mega Rock Bands were my music gods at that point. All the while still writing songs with guitar & vocals.
At 18 I started to hear even more interesting prog rock with YES & King Crimson etc. Then on April 1, April fools Day 1988, my friend took me to a Grateful Dead concert in a huge arena in New Jersey called Brendan Byrne Arena, with a bunch of friends I grew up with. We all took LSD that had a clown on it and it was at this concert and this experience that I decided that I was going to drop out of college and pursue music for the rest of my life.
It wasn’t long after that I befriended a British singer songwriter, guitarist at an arts summer camp in Upstate NY and spent a whole summer with my new friend Ben from England, writing songs together, we could harmonize vocally like Simon & Garfunkel, so it was a lot of fun and we really enjoyed ourselves. It was kind of like Paul Simon meets Pink Floyd and we got a bit of a repertoire down. So when the summer was over we decided to make a go of it and start a band. Ben stayed in NY for awhile but it proved to be very difficult and he went home. Only to return 3 months later at Christmas time, to tell me he was playing his guitar at a house party, that means Ben was serenading people with one of his songs and some young entrepreneur type guy in a business suit, smoking loads of hash, offered to pay for a recording studio for Ben to make a 3 song demo. So Ben was basically saying to me come back to England and record this demo with me, so I did. Suddenly I found myself in Surrey England in May of 1990, I was turning 20 yrs old. When I left the states the biggest thing on MTV was fake glam rock & I was pretty fed up with it all. So what wound up happening was Ben & I recorded this demo and within 1 month we had a regular gig every Friday night, as a duet, down this pub for 80 quid and it would fill up to the max from the local art college in Reigate, every time Ben & I played. So of course I was in heaven and I was set on staying & living in England.
It was around this time I started hanging out at one of the local squats where we would score our hash and hang out and became friends with a bunch of British Hippies and plus New Age travelers who were squatting lands nearby and living in vehicles. Not long after this I was taken to a field where they had set up sound systems and were throwing free acid raves with hardcore techno and everybody gathered, the teenagers from the surrounding towns, the hippies, the travelers and my mind was blown from this new type of music and this entire phenomenon I was witnessing and hearing.
Around May of 1990 the Ozric Tentacles dropped the album Erpland and I was never the same after that, I had never heard a band so groundbreaking except maybe in a far away dream somewhere and that cemented my commitment to staying in the UK & finding or forming a band. Which I did with 6 other British guys I met in the area called Spangle Head and we were a 7 piece Dub Reggae, Space Rock, Acid Jazz mashup, with 2 percussionists, a Moog and synth player, drums, bass me on electric guitar & a vocalist in between instrumental numbers and I wound up staying in England 5 yrs. Gigging with Spangle Head. Of course The Orb/KLF came out in 1991 and I was entrenched in all the incredible music in UK those 5 years, Eat Static, Spiral Tribe free raves, serious Roots Reggae shows with Culture, Steel Pulse, we had a Rasta conga player in Spangle Head, Trinidadian but British and all day I would hang out at his house and listen to Roots and Dub. Our drummer Dudley turned me onto Steve Hillage and Gong and all that and Steve Hillage actually became my favorite guitar player, composer, wizard engineer of all time. Drum and Bass was invented while I was there in 94. Trance music was pounding away, acidjazz labels and bands were pumping some great retro funk. Portis Head and trip hop started to appear. It was an epic 5 years of music inspiration that never left me and became a part of my soul.
When was Zman8 born as a producer? What is the inspiration behind that name?
That really happened after my friend Barry helped me set up my first home studio. Barry and I had made a rock album together in New York and he was a wizard on Pro-Tools. I’d never seen anything like it. It was incredibly fascinating to me. Because I was co-producing but not working on the DAW; I would watch Barry operate and that was the beginning of seeing how it worked. It wasn’t until I sat staring at my Mac with Logic Pro reading the instructions for like 2 weeks, that I finally read the only way to really learn to make a track is to try to actually make a track. So I took the Big Dive into the ocean and started pasting loops together. Then I started plugging my guitar in and playing the keyboard and triggering midi and getting it by trial and error and with my ears and before I knew it in about 8 weeks I wrote 5 tracks that were very exciting to me and sounded like instrumental electronic tracks and I couldn’t believe it. So that was the Genesis.
The name came about because my friends always called me Z or Zman because my real middle name is just the letter Z. My mother was inspired by a famous old Greek movie and Zed might have been the title and apparently was the symbol for life in Greek culture or this movie, so she put the letter Z as my middle name on my birth certificate. So I was thinking Zman but there is a HipHop Dj called Zman and I was listening to a lot of Zero 7 at the time, one of my favorite groups and so I thought perfect Zman8.
It’s a difficult task to define the style of your last work, “The Rebirth of Red Cloud” as it is surrounded by different enriching sounds. How could you define the album?
Well it all came about in a roundabout way. Unfortunately my first home studio experience got cut short and I went off the grid for years. Took me about 4-5 years to come back online and when I did I was in a homeless shelter with just an iPhone 11 Pro Max and GarageBand. I wasn’t allowed to have my acoustic guitar in the dorm of the shelter and I was missing creating music and especially being in a band, so on a whim I turned on this GarageBand on the iPhone to see what it could do. I wanted to pretend I was in a room with Spangle Head with a full band of musicians and pretend we were writing a song. So I started messing around with the Drums and virtual synths and actually playing and programming all these virtual instruments in this new iOS audio production I didn’t even know existed. Necessity is the mother of invention is a true story and the result was the track, ‘Street Lights Space Rock’. So I blasted it on my Facebook wall one day and Dudley from Spangle Head & Jumping Jon from the Ozric Tentacles liked it and I knew I was back! So I started taking some tutorials on YouTube and learning more about this iOS and found other music apps to interapp in my GarageBand and plugging away at composing tracks, just felt all this music pouring out.
Then Covid hit and I fled from the dorm to my friend Barry’s house for 6 months where I was able to set up a computer and get a DAW running and by this point I was just on this mission to make content. Probably trying to make up for lost time all those years off the grid and I started just getting sounds up and experimenting. The only direction I had in my head was I wanted to sound like a live band with an electronica/tribal mix. I would just start improvising with a groove and all these tracks just grew out of that.
As well, adding video and visuals to each track is something to note. How did this idea come about?
Well before I went off the grid, I had a brief stint working for a famous Modern Jazz bass player and doing his promotion online. One day I took one of his songs & put it in Logic and edited it to a 3 minute soundtrack and went into iMovie and synced it with a few photographs. When I posted it for him on this bass website it
reignited his career and he started getting a lot of phone calls, so I knew there was something to it, as in the power of video with music. When I started to share my music online using SoundCloud and some YouTube, some people were checking out the tracks but only the really dedicated. When your friends won’t even hit your YouTube link and I realized you could upload video straight into Facebook and have a running loop that people could see, I knew I could potentially grab a lot more attention. That’s exactly what happened and more. It grabbed a lot of people’s attention and then they got into the music as well and became more dedicated, so it was a win-win situation. The videos actually breathed new life into the tracks.
Which is the source of the album title? In addition, the track titles.
Well this is a true but weird story. I was in the bathroom of the homeless shelter, to get away from everybody & was composing on my iPhone laying down a live solo with a virtual synth to what became the title track and name of the album. I finished the solo and I closed my eyes and I asked the universe what I should name this song. And immediately the image of Red Cloud came to my mind. I had recently had a conversation about his life and subsequently read about him online & my parents and I have always had this unexplainable affinity with Native American culture, so I thought wow The Rebirth of Red Cloud and felt a strength in me arise as if Red Cloud was with me guiding me. I wanted to incorporate that vibe into my persona and music somehow and this was the perfect inspiration to do so, so I stuck with it.
Song For Roly came about when I connected with a young woman online who asked me to be in a documentary she was making about musicians and covid and she told me she loved my Street Lights Space Rock tune and she went on to tell me she was Roly Wynne’s daughter Sophie Wynne. I was so blown away because I was a big fan of her father, the late Roly Wynne, the original genius bass player for the Ozric Tentacles. Sophie and I became and still are really good friends, I was so moved by the experience that I wrote the track in honor of Roly Wynne.
The other tracks are pretty self explanatory, Fascism Follies Calls to the Light was titled from the inspiration of Donald Trump losing the 2020 election in America.
Let’s jump now into some technical stuff. Which kind of DAW, hardware, or any other external material do you use?
I have a very simple set up, I use Logic Pro and Reason, I have an Apogee Duet 3 interface and I trigger my midii with an axiom pro 61 and a 25 key, midi keyboard. Of course my Fender Stratocaster Guitar is sitting around. I’m planning on syncing my iOS to my new Mac mini with an iPad and iPhone and have a 3 way audio production unit. I would like to explore and add some more synthesis eventually as well as learn more about audio production. I’m really just a song writer. Audio production is still new to me, I haven’t had a chance to really learn yet how to mix down tracks or mix properly. This is going to be one of my new missions.
Do you follow a structure when creating new songs? How are you usually organized?
Not really my structure has always been intro, dynamics, start the journey, dynamics, break it down, bring it back, take off for the peak and slowly come down for a landing. I go into it like I’m playing a live gig and at any moment I might need to improvise to make an exciting moment. As if I’m playing for a live audience and I need to rock their world and keep them interested in every nano second.
Which kind of set up do you use when performing?
I’ve never performed as Zman8 or as a Dj. This whole thing is totally ironic to me because I spent my whole life trying to become a guitarist, the Dj to me was always the guy who couldn’t play an instrument and now here I am contemplating learning how to Dj a set of my music one day maybe as Zman8.
Could you also tell us about your involvement with the Digital Nomads collective?
Yes, that came about in 2 ways. One was my longing to be a part of a band again and then my involvement with the Forevershpongled album V/A we made that wound up on The Psychedelic Muse and Chill Space. We all became really good friends and it was such a great experience and really reminded me of the power of strength in unity and when the sum of the parts become greater than the whole. So when that was over I started to formulate a plan to try and put a super electronica group together of talented Producer, Composers. So I called up Dudley Burrell aka Vissudda, my old drummer in Spangle Head who’s a brilliant producer, musician. Paul Hamilton aka East Coast Electronics who was an old friend from Reigate, England and the next person has to remain anonymous as a ghost writer due to legal issues but let’s just say she is a very talented composer, producer I met in the Shpongle FB group. Also YaYo Beat from the Forevershpongled V/A album and I became very good friends as well and are planning on collaborating and I’m actually signing The Rebirth of Red Cloud Album to his label, FrequenSeed, out of Tepoztlan, Mexico.
Let’s now talk about life, actually your daily life. Besides a great musician, who is Ari?
My daily life is quite boring atm, I’m still living in a homeless shelter, looking for a place to live. I have however started a music class at the shelter and teaching some of the clients some guitar and helping them learn how to learn a song.
Which plans do you have for the near future?
My immediate plans are to improve my education with audio production and keep producing tracks to get better. Also I want to develop Digital Nomads as a group and cut an album.
And before finishing, would you like to share a message with the psybient.org readers, listeners, and sound surfers?
Sure all I would say is keep it real with yourself. I’ve found the minute I try to become something I’m not, it feels like I’m lying to myself and everyone around me. Pretend like nobody is listening or watching and have fun making music that personally inspires you. Don’t compare yourself or try to be anybody but you. If it moves you and you enjoy it, chances are other people will too.
Thanks a lot for sharing your wisdom, vision, and observations. We keep enjoying the musical journey contained in “The Rebirth of Red Cloud”, and we look forward to having more material for you in the future! Cheers!
Cheers Santiago and Psybient Fam!
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