Die Wurzel magazine interview ~ Germany 2013

Self-healing music
Asher Quinn ('Asha')

1. Die Wurzel:

Dear Asher, we have presented some spiritual musicians in former issues. Now it’s your turn, after „Deva Premal & Miten“, „Satyaa & Pari“ and „Ulf Johannsen“ you are the fourth musician with a spiritual accent. When and how did you start with music?

Asher Quinn:

I'm 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!

Ursula 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!

2. Die Wurzel:

And when did your interest in spirituality awaken, and became part of your music?

Asher Quinn:

Spirituality 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!

But 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,

3. Die Wurzel:

Was there a key moment in your childhood that brought you close to God and nature?

Asher Quinn:

I 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.

4.Die Wurzel:

Where and when were you born? Where were you raised and where did you go to school?

Asher Quinn:

I 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 'savant'.

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.

5. Die Wurzel:

Have you always been a passionate musician or which career did you do after school?

Asher Quinn:

I've 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.

Shunning the 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.

6. Die Wurzel:

Where and with whom do you live today?

Asher Quinn:

I 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
and 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.

7. Die Wurzel:

Do you have children? And how old are they? Do they play an instrument?

Asher Quinn:

My 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 was 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 wizards themselves?

8.Die Wurzel:

With 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?

Asher Quinn:

I 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!

I 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.

9.Die Wurzel:

In which country are your albums sold most? I guess in England, or not?

Asher Quinn:

In 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.

10.Die Wurzel:

And where are your fans spread over the world?

Asher Quinn:

I 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.

11.Die Wurzel:

Which are your favourite instruments beside your voice?

Asher Quinn:

To 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.

Piano 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.

12.Die Wurzel:

Your 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?

Asher Quinn:

I 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!

Like 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.

13.Die Wurzel:

There 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,  to the core of the soul and pulls them out of the daily routine.

Listening 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?

Asher Quinn:

Thank 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.

Many of 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.

14.Die Wurzel:

And 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?

Asher Quinn:

Well, 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.

Die Wurzel: 

We 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.