Byron Metcalf is an award winning musician who specializes as a percussionist, drummer, producer and recording artist. His well-rounded career spans many decades and he has been involved in a wide variety of genres of music. After achieving major success as a country artist - by recording and performing with well known artists such as Kenny Rogers and his former wife Dottie West - Byron now specializes in a meditative, deep-inner exploration and shamanic musical approach. Holding a Ph.D. in transpersonal psychology as well as a masters degree in counseling, Byron uses this knowledge throughout his music. He also teaches, aids, and has personal growth and healing workshops, featuring Holotropic and HoloShamanic Breathwork. Byron has just completed a new album titled "Inner Rhythm Meditations" and it is sure to take you on a journey of inner peace, self awareness and happiness. I recently asked Byron a few questions about the new CD.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on the release of your latest CD "Inner Rhythm Meditations". Is the title representative of the point you are conveying about the music?
B.M. - Thank you and yes, for several years I’ve been wanting to create an album of relaxed tempos, easy meditative rhythms and compositions which is a dramatic departure from the deep-trance oriented, concentrated sonic driving of the tribal-shamanic music and sounds that have primarily defined my music over the past 18 years. I feel really good about how this album turned out.
R.V.B. - With song titles such as: "A Perfect Place", "The Awakened Heart" and "Presence for Longing", you can't help having positive feelings while listening to them. Do you think that this music brings a sense of positivity?
B.M. - My intention was to create an album that the listener would find inviting and friendly as opposed to challenging the listener in the way that some of my tribal-shamanic compositions often do. So yes, I was attempting to create an album that the listener would feel had a sonically and emotionally positive vibe. I want the listener to feel drawn into the music and the rhythms – to really feel and experience what I was striving for and what the album is about.
R.V.B. - How do you go about naming a song? Do you name it after it's completed or do you have a title and create the soundscape around it? - or both?
B.M. - Usually it is some of both but on this album, the titles came to me as I was listening to and working on the final mixes. Generally when the arrangements and mixing start to take shape, I often receive visual images that convey a title or a theme of some sort. For example, on the first track “Garden of the Peaceful Warrior”, the sound of my drums together with Peter Phippen’s shakuhachi flute evoked a very clear image of a ‘Samurai’ type warrior walking and sitting in a beautiful garden – very contemplative and very much at peace. The title naturally emerged from that beautiful and powerful image and fits the music track perfectly in my view.
R.V.B. - How did the writing process proceed on the album? With you primarily being a percussionist, do you accent other ideas or is there a collaborative process in the making of this soothing music?
B.M. - For this album I began experimenting with periods of meditation (both sitting and walking) followed by sessions in my studio with my intention set to fully trust what emerged from the rhythms and grooves that developed. I recorded some basic percussion tracks to see if the rhythms, tempos and feel of what was emerging were aligning with my vision for the album and they all felt really good to me. At that point I began working with the renowned guitar player ErikWøllo from Norway, and Grammy nominated flute player Peter Phippen to create and add their parts. It’s a very spontaneous and creative process. We didn’t write out charts or arrangements because we all totally trust the creative process and we know that more often than not, magic reveals itself in ways that none of us could anticipate by writing out arrangements in advance.
R.V.B. - Do you think that this release can help you evade reality? Is it designed to take your mind off the everyday hustle and bustle?
B.M. - I suppose that is one way of looking at it. But in my view, “everyday hustle and bustle” is the major distraction and the cause of most of our stress. Ideally I don’t want to try and ‘evade’ anything because I believe that what we resist will persist. I think Carl Jung said that and I agree. So I need to let go and surrender to something deeper and to trust in that process. I believe that the truth of our experience – our true reality and our true nature – lies within. So the music I create is designed to invite the listener inward and into their inner-experience so that they may become closer to the truth. This naturally supports the experience of being fully present in the moment and more fully engaged in what is happening in the moment. For me, this is what its all about. So I guess from this perspective, this album will definitely ‘distract’ the listener from their everyday, ordinary reality.
B.M. - Absolutely! I live in the high desert at 5000 ft elevation in a somewhat rural community. I have views of long vistas and mountain ranges that are simply stunning and it’s also pretty quiet. So for me, it’s really a perfect setting for a studio and the creative process. I only listen to music when I want to totally focus on it, so a lot of the time my environment is very quiet. For me, quiet and silence support creativity and inspiration more than anything else.
R.V.B. - How did you get involved with music at first? Did you come from a musical family?
B.M. - My father was not a musician but he was a record collector and liked all types of music. I grew up with music being a major part of my experience. The sound of music permeated that house. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been exposed to all kinds of music in that way.
R.V.B. - Who were some of your early influences?
B.M. - I loved jazz and the early big bands, especially the Benny Goodman orchestra with Gene Krupa on drums. Krupa was my first real ‘hero’ and listening to him is what inspired me to play drums. Jazz was my first love and I liked the old stuff as well as the new. I listened to Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck a lot and wore out several of their redcords. In fact I still listen to Miles on a regular basis. But I also was drawn into the energy of blues, rock and roll and some country music as well. The first record I bought was a Little Richard 45 single and then Buddy Holly, Elvis, etc. If it moved me, it influenced me and I wanted to hear more.
R.V.B. - Can you describe one or two concert experiences that you really enjoyed in your career?
B.M. - Well I have to say that playing to a sold out Carnegie Hall during the “Full House Tour” in 1979 with Kenny Rogers was the highlight. Most of my music heroes and most of the greatest musicians in the world had been on that stage. I vividly recall looking down at the worn steps that led up to the stage and thinking to myself “the greatest musicians in the world stepped here”. Sometimes it still seems surreal.
B.M. - I played on 3 tracks on The Gambler album. The studio drummer that played on most of that album was called away in the middle of a session to deal with a family emergency. I happened to be at the session as a friend and observer, so the producer, Larry Butler asked me if I would fill in for the drummer. I was thrilled at the opportunity. The first song we recorded was “She Believes in Me” which was the biggest hit I played on. Getting to play with those amazing studio musicians was always an incredible experience and of course, an album credit on something as big as The Gambler certainly helped to enhance my reputation as a capable studio musician. But mostly I just feel grateful for the opportunity and the experience, and Kenny gave me both a gold and platinum album as a token of his gratitude for the success of the album. They hang on a wall near my studio with other memorabilia and wonderful memories.
R.V.B. - With the Ph.D. Degree that you have, and all the intense studying that goes along with achieving one, was it difficult to acquire this and still have the life of a musician?
B.M. - It was very hard and really challenging. I put in many long nights, especially during the dissertation process. But during that time, I was also a psychotherapist in private practice and was not as involved in music as I am now or was prior to getting involved in my psychology career. The research I was doing actually helped me to be a better and more innovative therapist and later on, I also was able to incorporate that knowledge and experience into the kind of music I’m making now. My extensive understanding of the transformative potential of expanded states of consciousness deeply informs how I create the music.
R.V.B. - What made you turn to the meditative style of music? Was this a natural event because of your education?
B.M. - As I just indicated, my education certainly helped to inform the type of music I create and how I create it. But early in my psychotherapy career, I was naturally interested in the role that music could play in the healing process. I eventually was exposed to shamanism and shamanic practice, which of course utilizes drums and other percussion instruments to induce altered states of consciousness for healing and divination of various kinds. My interest and involvement in shamanism and altered states naturally evolved into the music I have been making for almost 2 decades. And it continues to evolve. Inner Rhythm Meditations is the first album I’ve made that explores slower tempos and more meditative grooves and textures.
R.V.B. - What are you proud of in your career in music up to this point?
I’ve been doing this for a very long time and I am deeply grateful for the amazing opportunities and all the incredible experiences along the way. I’m proud of the outer recognition of my work such as awards, good sales, and the ability to continue doing what I love in these challenging and potent times. But without question, what I’m most proud of, and also most grateful for, is that my music is being used for deep inner work and personal healing in a large variety of contexts such as shamanic journey work, breathwork, plant medicine ceremonies, yoga, massage, sound and music therapy, movement and dance, and more. The transformational and healing arts communities have embraced and supported my music for almost 2 decades and this is especially gratifying because the music I make is specifically designed and created for this purpose.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Byron Metcalf visit his website www.byronmetcalf.com/splashpage
Special thanks to Beth Ann Hilton
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