Die Wurzel magazine interview ~ Germany 2013
Asher Quinn ('Asha')
1. Die Wurzel:
Asher, we have presented some spiritual musicians in former issues. Now
it’s your turn, after „Deva Premal & Miten“, „Satyaa &
and „Ulf Johannsen“ you are the fourth musician with a spiritual
accent. When and how did you start with music?
honoured to be included in such illustrious company, and thank you
kindly for inviting me to answer your questions. I began to play the
piano intuitively aged 3. To this day I cannot read or write music; I
play from my emotional heart… I just seemed to completely know and
understand the piano. By the age of 10 I liked artists such as Bob
Dylan, and later Leonard Cohen and Georges Moustaki, and they were a
great inspiration for me to become a singer.
I taught myself
guitar in my teens. My biological father was a singer and my adoptive
mother a cabaret artist. My first girlfriend aged 17, was a German
girl, Ursula… and she introduced me to Baroque music. Ursula went to
university in Gottingen, and we'd listen to the radio in the evenings…
people like Mike Oldfield and Fairport Convention… and we'd go to the
Blue Note Cafe to listen to folk artists. I wanted to play at the Blue
Note and to be on the radio, and so my ambition was kindled!
greatly expanded my cultural awareness, too, opening me up to art by
Chagall and Kandinsky, and films by Fellini. I also loved Celtic
Jewish folk-music as a child. The piano has always been a way for me to
express my deepest emotions. I had two natural gifts… being able to
play the piano and being able to play football. I tried the football,
but the call of music was stronger!
And when did your interest in spirituality awaken, and became part of
opened up for me consciously in my early 20's. I was experiencing a lot
of emotional difficulties, with severe symptoms such as panic,
depression, hallucinations and agoraphobia… perhaps partly because of
my adoption, but also partly because I felt I did not fit very well
into a competitive, material life, with my more mystical sensibilities.
I was quite psychic as a child, and had other-worldly visions and
ideas, but my adoptive, Jewish family were more materially minded, and
the emphasis during my schooling was also materialistic. I began to
develop the notion that somewhere in the world there was a
teacher who could help me. It was almost a calling… I heard the call of
Spirit. So I sold all my worldly possessions (for about €90) and bought
a one-way ticket to the USA. Within a week I had found a Sufi teacher
from Baghdad, up in the Catskill mountains.
I stayed with him
and his group on and off for two years. The spiritual practices were
drumming, chanting, whirling (like the dervishes), Zikr (reciting a
mantra… mine was 'Haq'; 'truth'), meditation and fasting. We also ate
healthily… an organic, vegan diet… and exercised well. I was almost
instantaneously cured! I felt like I was coming home to the proper
life. I had been writing songs since leaving University, but I was
rejected by all the record companies at the time. They liked my
melodies but not my lyrics. I had nothing to write about, or not the
wit to write about being a middle-class, suburban, Jewish boy in the
wrong life. I tried writing love songs, but I knew nothing of that, and
I tried writing political, protest songs… but I knew nothing of the
world. The songs always came out innocent and small-minded!
after my initiation into the Sufi tradition, the ecstatic intoxication
with the Divine, I had the deeper truths to write about… that we are
all part of the Divine, and that it is our birthright to discover and
awaken that. Then, I understood my life's purpose, which was to use
music to awaken the soul to Love. It is, of course, an infinite well of
inspiration. I was particularly inspired by the Sufi poets, especially
Rumi, who wrote love poems as if they were to a loved one, but at
another level they were to God. I knew and understood fully that we are
Love, Lover and Beloved.
That, along with Bob Dylan, who put
images together like no other writer, for me… images like 'the foggy
ruins of time'… that got me started as a serious poet and minstrel; as
a troubadour. I began to write decent songs and sing them to the group.
This was in the early 1980's. Then I travelled around earning money by
picking fruit, or shifting boxes… I even had my own ice-cream van in
Arizona once… following my teacher, loosely, on his travels, and sang
in the street, or in cafes. I busked in Greenwich village; Boulder,
Colorado; Fisherman's wharf in San Francisco; Guanajuato in Mexico… all
over. I was eventually deported from the USA with my Mexican
girlfriend, whom I'd smuggled across the border, for being an illegal
alien. My tourist visa was about 21 months out of date, and she,
Otilia, had no passport at all. I was put in a juvenile detention
centre for eight days, paddled, and sent home! I'm still in touch with
both Ursula and Otilia,
Was there a key moment in your childhood that brought you close to God
had visions of Jesus, aged 5. They were in my bedroom. I saw him with
thousands of children, coming over a hill, and I was there. They were
not dreams, but they were not fantasies, either. They were very
emotional. I've been in love with Jesus ever since. But I have a
private, mystical bond. He is a spirit guide for me. I do not belong to
any church. I told my mother about my visions, but she quietly said
that we were Jewish, and didn't believe in Jesus! So Jesus went into my
private life. It's interesting… I'm Jewish by birth, my spiritual
awakening was through mystical Islam and my guide is Jesus! It's clear
to me, however, that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are brothers.
Where and when were you born? Where were you raised and where did you
go to school?
was born in south London, and raised in west London. I had a difficult
time early on, because my Jewish mother gave me up for adoption aged 2.
She was 18, and a fan of my biological father, who was a big band
singer. He was already married with two children, and I was
illegitimate. Apparently I was conceived behind the drum kit at the
Lyceum, in London, a dance venue. My mother, who'd had a Rudolf Steiner
education, was spurned by her family and took to prostitution. I was
eventually put into an orphanage, before being adopted. I remember
things about my early life… traumatic things… because I was not adopted
until I was nearly 3.
I went to a great school in London, with a
celebrated academic and theatrical tradition. Many of my fellows went
on to become figures in the public eye, like the actors Alan
Rickman (who was older than me) and Hugh Grant (who was a bit younger).
I was probably slightly dyslexic and maybe even suffering from a bit of
Asberger's syndrome, so I found it very hard to learn. I excelled at
literature and art (and sports)… anything creative and expressive… but
struggled with the sciences. As was the custom then, I was frequently
caned for what seemed to the teachers like laziness or dreaminess, but
actually I could not really conceptualise knowledge the way that it was
taught. Like many with this slightly dyslexic/autistic condition, I had
compensatory gifts… music, football and psychic abilities. They call it
However, I persevered, passed my exams, and went to
university to read English and American literature. I became
particularly impressed with the 'beat poets', like Kerouac and
Ginsberg, who influenced Bob Dylan. I developed the notion that I could
be a kind of troubadour, a story-teller in song… a minstrel… a
wandering poet, and folk-singer… like Woody Guthrie. I loved old
traditional songs, myths with archetypal themes… songs that told
stories about the human condition.
Have you always been a passionate musician or which career did you do
always been a passionate musician! It's a calling… I have no choice. My
soul does not rest unless I am fulfilling my life's purpose. The
difficult thing was to find out that this was my life's purpose. I got
clues along the way, but I didn't put it all together until I was in my
mid 20's. I've been following it ever since.
My parents wanted
me to get a secure profession, as Jewish parents do, but I looked at
every option and none appealed. In fact it was scary… I couldn't see
how I was going to fit in with life at all. My father was an
accountant. With my literature degree I could have been a journalist,
worked in publishing, or been a teacher, but I had a burning desire to
write songs and sing. I briefly tried writing adverts, but disliked
that world intensely… I found it more manipulative and deceitful than
helpful. But these days I feel that any profession is valid if it has
consciousness and ethics in it… even advertising.
obvious options, I did odd-jobs whilst writing songs. I cleaned houses,
I worked in restaurants, I even was a cab-driver for a while. I was
truly an artist living in one room, struggling and going without food,
sometimes. I cheated on benefits and stole from supermarkets to keep
going, on occasion. Then, it all fell to pieces, and I had the notion
about finding a spiritual teacher.
After my Sufi experience, and
my deportation from the USA, I returned to London. I began to write and
now record songs… better songs… and take up doing odd jobs again. I
finally got a contract in 1987, with New World Music, and began a
Sufi-inspired psychotherapy training in the same year. This training
was deeply spiritual, including elements of Rudolf Steiner's vision,
the Sufi way, Jung and the transpersonal, as well as all the more
modern models of psychology. It was an extensive 5-year training. I
learned how to do talking therapy, but also energy therapy… how to work
with Spirit. In truth, we are trained to be ghost-busters! It's a
combination of detective work, priestly vocation, demolition and
building work and the creative arts! Actually, I am a shaman. I have
also trained with shaman.
I have been a professional musician
and psychotherapist ever since. My first album was recorded with a
friend, Anthony Phillips, who was a co-founder of the group Genesis. I
see, on average, 25-30 people a week as a therapist, and I also
supervise other therapists. I have taught students, run workshops on
archetypal themes like 'Dreams', 'The Divine Mother', 'Eros', 'Spirit',
'The Shadow', 'The Shaman' and 'The Eternal Child'. I record at
weekends, when I'm making an album. These days I can write songs in
between seeing clients. I feel more prolific than ever. I feel I
channel Christ energy, in both my music and my therapy, and the flow is
very strong. I don't, of course, sell religion to anybody… it's not
Christ as in the Christian church. I am actually an animist; a pagan!
My Christ is the soul who is the bridge between the Divine and
humanity… I feel him/her in everything I do, say, hear and see. It
exists as a vibrant, guiding energy. There is no ideology behind it… it
is a spiritual reality.
Where and with whom do you live today?
live in London with my wife and two sons, Theo aged 18, and Isaac aged
15. We have two cats, though my particular pet cat died in November. I
wrote a song for her and made a YouTube… the song is called 'Thank
you'. My wife is a Daoist shaman, and psychotherapist. We live, work
study at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, in effect… like
in the Harry Potter novels! J.K. Rowling has a great grasp of myth,
archetype and the spiritual dimensions, and her creation is also an
imaginative bridge between the ordinary and non-ordinary realities…
just as shamanism is.
Do you have children? And how old are they? Do they play an instrument?
sons are not interested in music or in any of the culture 'out there'
really… not football, fashion or music. They like films and books, and
we are quite a self-contained unit. We are very used to non-ordinary
reality in our house. We are comfortable with the Spirits who come. I
have a peculiar relationship to electricity sometimes, as if I'm not
always an adequate container for the energy in my being. I stood by my
toaster once, and it blew up, with a big, blue bang! Another time, my
wife worked with a Daoist shaman called Lama Thunderbolt, who
giving a workshop in Switzerland. I met him myself, and we shook hands.
Then I saw my watch had stopped! When we returned to London all the
appliances in our house had stopped working. My wife's computer had
re-set itself to 1969!
This is our reality! It's hard to be that
engaged with the outside world, fashion or sport with all this
entertaining stuff going on at home. I wonder if my children may become
half a million albums sold you are really successful as a spiritual
musician. How many different albums have you produced up to now? Which
album was your most successful?
have recorded 26 albums in 25 years. Some of the early ones were
instrumental, or piano based… new age albums, like Vangelis or Phillip
Glass might make. Gradually I introduced spiritual love ballads, and
this is what I'm really known for. I helped to pioneer it, this genre,
the spiritual love song for the modern age.
I also sing some
traditional folk songs, and some songs by other artists. I've done
versions of 'The first time ever I saw your face', 'Hallelujah',
'People get ready', 'Golden brown' and so on, as well as versions of
'Silent night', 'Greensleeves' and 'The raggle taggle gypsies… songs
from previous centuries. I made a double CD called 'Songs of Love and
Chains' where I re-interpret ballads by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen (two
great Jewish prophets), Bruce Springsteen, Sam Cooke, Tim Hardin and
all the artists I loved, growing up. But I sing them as if sung in a
cathedral, in a very other-worldly way. On this album I also sing 'Sagt
mir wo die blumen sind' in German, like Joan Baez famously did!
now have my own indie company, Singing Stone Music, and I have 18 of my
26 titles in my current catalogue. Some of the older albums are now in
various compilations. My biggest-selling title has been 'Concert of
Angels' from 1993… an improvised instrumental and piano album, inspired
by the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. It took only 3
days to make and cost only €300, ironically. The title, the music and
the artwork are particularly homogenous.
These days, CD sales
have been supplanted by download, YouTubes and streaming, so it's hard
to tell how to measure commercial success, exactly. My most popular
recent song is 'Falling through time' from 2010. Someone cleverly used
it as the music for a Dr. Who tribute video (Dr. Who is a time
traveller… the series has been running in the UK for 50 years!!), and
it's gained many. many views.
In which country are your albums sold most? I guess in England, or not?
England, just about… certainly when I was with New World Music from
1987-2004. Nowadays it is all international, through website shops. I
seem to have a particular following in the Netherlands, because I was
well promoted there by New World's representative. I have recorded in
Holland, and am doing so again now… in Buchten, right next to the
German border, near Aachen. We pop into Germany to shop! Many of my
concerts are in Holland.
In German-speaking countries my albums are distributed by Silenzio
music, run by lovely chaps called Saeed and Gunakar.
And where are your fans spread over the world?
receive letters, emails and comments from so many countries…
Uzbekistan, Brazil, Romania, Israel, Turkey, Cape Verde, Iceland, South
Africa, India, Singapore… pretty much everywhere. I don't think I've
yet heard from anyone in China or Japan, though. Writing and recording
songs, and then making YouTubes is now the way to go. And it's such
fun… I film them myself. With that one can really reach out to
everybody in the world.
Which are your favourite instruments beside your voice?
listen to, I love the classical guitar, played well, more than any
other instrument. I simply strum, pick or manage a bit of lead melody,
myself, but I marvel at proper, virtuoso classical guitar playing. For
my recordings, I love the combination of voice, warm keyboard pads, a
deep shaman's drum, and guitar rhythms… this synthesis really combines
the ancient and the modern and allows me to create trance-like pieces.
and cello is another combination I like to use. There is something
profound and mournful about the passionate depth of cello strings
offsetting the angelic frequency of the high piano notes.
music works as a healing, as it speaks to the people on a spiritual
platform, it touches one's heart. Your songs are about friendship,
love, relationships, nature and God. When and how do your songs
originate? And with which intention do you compose them? As a help for
other people that are in a similar mood like you? Or in the first line
for yourself in order to handle your own life better?
still write and sing to heal my own heart, first, as I did when I was a
child. I can play music and sing in a way which opens my heart and
allows me to cry and release repressed emotions… either darker ones,
like fear or loss, or longing, but also higher ones, like God's glory.
I simply wish to then share this healing with others, and to my
amazement found that hundreds of thousands of souls responded!
Amma, the hugging mother, who travels the world hugging souls who need
to re-connect to the Divine, I sing and play music which does the same
kind of thing. If I could play the piano all day, and sing this
heart-music I receive, I would!
I never think of an idea and
then make it happen, I am always called to receive the song from God,
and then I must become the faithful scribe, and simply honour it. I go
to the piano, close my eyes, and play what comes into my heart. Then
the message comes and I write the words. It is clear to me that my
songs come from Jesus and Mary… from their ray of being. The songs are
designed to open the emotional heart and connect us to the Divine.
is also a purely instrumental album, 'Sketches of innocence'. That
album, from the first till the last song, flows like a drifty piano
sonata. These songs bring the listener to their inner selves,
the core of the soul and pulls them out of the daily routine.
to this 70 minute album, one forgets time. At the end one pushes the
repeat button. For long chimney evenings it is a real pleasure. Who or
what inspired you creating a purely instrumental album? In which state
of life and emotions where you when this album arose?
you for saying that, and recognising that! I love that album, too. It
was entirely improvised and spontaneous… like I used to play the piano
for myself as a child. Actually, 'Concert of Angels' is like that, too,
and my first album 'Open Secret'. I began as a new-age instrumentalist,
with New World Music. They didn't want vocals, but I persuaded them to
include them. My debut instrumental album 'Open Secret' sold very well,
so they said 'more of the same, please.' I then composed 'Mystic
Heart', a combination of instrumental pieces and spiritual love songs…
much to their alarm… but it sold even better, and I broke the mould!
Other artists then did the same thing.
'Sketches of Innocence'
is a compilation of two previous albums, 'Single as Love' and 'The Art
of Love'. They are essentially vignettes from my holidays when my kids
were tiny, or when I first met my wife… in France, Spain and Crete.
They are like water-colour paintings… impressions. I was inspired by
hearing 'The Suite Menorcan' by Corrado Bennett… a collection of piano
sketches celebrating his love for the island of Menorca.
my closest friends like this CD the best of all my albums. My website
designer, Emoke Labancz in Budapest, who also does my artwork and makes
my YouTubes, and is part of a Rudolf Steiner community for conscious
living in Hungary, likes this simple piano music the best. I am now
intending to produce a new piano collection later in 2013, with more
improvised sketches, and including a Hungarian violinist, Olga Horvath.
Emoke is also a Eurythmist, and studies with Georgina Kares, a
Hungarian/German. I saw them perform in Stuttgart last year, and was
mesmerised by Eurythmy. They plan to use a piece from 'Sketches of
Innocence' in a future production… this music suits that kind of
spiritual, meditative dance. I love the Hungarians! Last year they
invited me to sing at their annual festival in front of 800 people… my
biggest ever concert, so far.
now the last question about your 'live' concerts. They are very rare
and you decided just a few years ago to perform 'live'. Why did you
make this decision and why did you prefer producing in the studio
rather than making music 'live' on stage?
there are two main reasons why I didn't give so many concerts in the
past. Firstly, I want to provide for my family, and be there for them,
and I am already full with being a therapist, composing and recording.
There simply wasn't the time to organise concerts, too. I have no
manager or agent, and these things are very problematic and
time-consuming to arrange. My music is not for pubs and clubs, or big
arenas with light-shows… it is intimate and spiritual. Most managers or
agents do not understand this concept! A classical setting is best… a
small theatre, a church or a meditation hall. But I needed someone to
offer to help arrange such a thing.
My concerts now are always
by invitation, from yoga groups or spiritual organisations. I have
played to a large yoga group in Pamplona, Spain, at a healing centre in
London, in a meditation room in Holland, and for Theosophical, Rudolf
Steiner groups in Budapest, Reykjavik and Holland. It is a big job to
organise, and I need help!
The other reason was my shyness, at
first. I had a big vision, but a fragile soul! My early recordings were
often quite grandly produced instrumental pieces, which did not
translate so well into a concert format, unless there were accompanying
visual effects or dancers (all very expensive). Essentially I am a
wandering minstrel not a techno-wizard!
But gradually I
learned how to refine my songs into a concert format, like a Picasso
line-drawing… how to produce just the essential message with a
keyboard, guitar, voice and shaman's drum. Now I can do that, I LOVE
giving concerts. These last 3 years, with my children older, I have
been able, finally, to perform more. I just love the positive, healing
energy exchange from a concert.
are very happy that we can finally see you on stage in Germany. On 20th
May (Whitsun) from 5-6.30 p. m at the Rainbow Spirit Festival in
Karlsruhe, you will be the musical main attraction. Thank you very much
for the interview. We will be very pleased to see you on 20th May.