Oftentimes I’ll get curious about what happened to an artist. They were big once – sometimes for a while even. Then…nothing. If you are a fan – and you stay a fan – then sometimes you’re able to tell other people just exactly what that artist is up to. But the Where Are They Now? File still exists of course. Some artists just seem to disappear…they stop making music. Or they stop making good music (most likely). Or…they change their name.
I got in touch with Sananda Maitreya because I wanted to know what he was doing. You see one time – a long time ago now – he was known to the world as Terence Trent D’Arby. I was allowed to interview Sananda but not TTD. In fact I was told it would be damaging (“extremely negative”) to refer to him as Terence Trent D’Arby. You see he had actually spent 15 years as Sananda. Terence was buried. No more Terence. You don’t refer to Terence. He didn’t like talking about when he was Terence. He’s always been Sananda. Or in fact they have always been Sananda. Ever since the rebirth. The answers arrived in third person, in plural, with discussion of Sananda as a spiritual being, a force – an embarcing of both genders. Either that or his publicist answered (at least some of) my questions. Or, just as likely, he wore a wig and dress and acted out a role as his own publicist, changing between characters with only a few little slip-ups.
And people were concerned when Prince changed his name to a squiggle.
The Artist Formally Known As Sananda Maitreya was pleased to hear from somebody in New Zealand. The Artist Formally Known As Sananda Maitreya was happy to answer most (some) of my questions. The Artist Formally Known As Sananda Maitreya even (helpfully) supplied a few questions that I did not ask (with answers too, of course). The Artist Formally Known As Sananda Maitreya did not want to talk about the groundbreaking debut album that Terence Trent D’Arby released; you know, the reason anyone had heard of him (or the him from then).
The Him From Then was never present in the interview. It was only Sananda. Only Maitreya. A name as absurd as most of the music he has continued to pump out at a furious rate across the last decade. Music that makes Prince’s Rainbow Children sound like, well, Prince’s Purple Rain.
I’m sure The Artist Formally Known As Sananda Maitreya would find comparisons to Prince now just as he/they did then: “extremely negative”. But I tried listening through to The Sphinx. It was a bit like if you’ve ever tried reading the pamphlet a certain type of doorknocker demands that they leave with you. It’s recongisably the same langauge you speak and usually understand. But it’s somehow totally incomprehensible. Or if you’ve ever heard a science fiction TV actor speak at a Comic Con event…it’s a similar thing.
But this bonkers new music is certainly something he feels.
“My music is informed by the moment’s inspiration, and the freedom of imagination to follow it. I look to my muses for inspiration and from my memory of the music that influenced me growing up. I take it as it comes, and follow only my own curiosity and passion. My heroes are musicians who make an honest living with their music and efforts and are willing to live with the burden of being an artist. Otherwise: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Sam Cooke, Rod Stewart, the Beach Boys, and a list that could go on, but does include other friendly familiar faces!”
“What inspires me is the URGE. When I get an idea that stimulates me, I fall under its spell and translate it as best I can, to be of use to whatever situation applies. Writing is also a form of therapy for my soul, a way of bleeding creatively back into the rivers of life which sustain us all”.
Despite the loftiness he did acknowledge the name-change. Even if that simply allowed a bit more loftiness – he deemed the name-change, “Important enough for me to have bet my entire life on, the very rebirth of my will to survive and move on to a world I wished to live in and continue creating new life in. And to move out of a life that had become foreign and trapped in a past hard to escape”.
He refers obliquely to his “past life” and to it being “the other time”. He clarifies for me, “The ‘other time’ was another time and place. You realize that you are talking about not only another era, but another century, altogether, indeed another millennium. That time belongs to that time and this time belongs to now and what the present is giving us to share. These times call for a new rock, and we are answering the call of these times. Otherwise, I’m a nostalgia act and I have no interest in that. I am like a shark, if I don’t keep swimming and moving in the water, I’m dead. What is exciting about concerts today is that I get to stay with whatever songs are most exciting and compelling to me in that moment. It is not a ‘set act’ like the one in the last life had to be. Concerts now can change from night to night, mood to mood, closer to the spontaneous spirit of jazz and rock and roll”.
After a while he moves into talking about some of the older material. Or rather they do.
Talking about Let Her Down Easy, a song that appears often in Sananda sets to this day: “the special ingredient always belongs to time and not to invention. We just know that we got lucky as a songwriter, when time and circumstance came together and created this song”.
The return of the past life still haunts as an idea though.
“It really does change from night to night or from one group of concerts to another. I am very lucky, in that I get to perform the songs now that excite where my life is now and to share that excitement. I am making the music that I can only make at this time in my life, and to have the opportunity to do so is a wonderful space to be in, so I try to take full advantage while I have it. I am not the same as I was, so I cannot write the same songs, and ‘he’ couldn’t write the songs that I am writing now. It was a fair exchange and I moved on. The latest songs being played always brings a special buzz”.
Sananda enjoys working “prolifically”. A glimpse of his website will reveal screeds of doggerel masquerading as poetry, prayer, hymn and lyric. He divides his time between writing and performing and looking after his toddler son.
And when he speaks it’s almost always in rather silly riddles. A doth-protest-too-much name-clearing/cleansing:
“I go into the studio when the writing is ready. I wait for the songs. When I have the songs and the arrangements, then I go into the studio. I always go where the music takes me, I never impose an agenda on what wishes to be written, I never turn down what excites me as a good idea. I always follow it up, and see what happens. What is left to come? History is ‘HIS’ side of the story; the mystery is ‘MY’ side. So stay tuned and see it as I see it. As I go, I bring you with me, so we will both be witnesses to whatever crimes are committed in the name of love and art”.
Still, it’s kinda fun, right? I mean, chuck in the obligatory/rather silly question about whether he might visit New Zealand. And receive this as a reply.
“When The New Zealand Situation is ready for takeoff, we will gladly be there, and be grateful to share Post Millennium Rock with the faithful and the furious. The stable and the curious. We look forward to the time when it comes”.
There wasn’t an indication of when that might be. Or of what’s holding it up. Or what the “situation” is exactly.
But I did get to find out – if not anything at all about Introducing The Hardline – one of my favourite songs that bloke named Terence put down for this world. Holding Onto You.
“It was written because, at the time, I shared a mutual friend with a hero of mine, Rod Stewart, and was told Rod was looking for a final song to complete a record he was making at the time. I went into my studio and recorded the song I came up with. Within a couple of days, Rod got the song, but too late for the project, which had already met its deadline. So I kept the song. It was an honour to sing a song written for Rod Stewart”.
A pretty cool story about an enduring song – a comeback for Terence Trent D’Arby after the disastrous second album. We don’t really get to that record either – nor to the comebacks Symphony Or Damn or TTD’s Vibrator. But instead there’s this spiel:
“I support and embrace ANYTHING that gets the music into the hands of the people, especially without the filter of corporate boards and sensibilities often antithetical to the music itself. Music was being gagged and bound by much corporate determinism in controlling it. Now, closer to the hands of a diverse and intelligent people, the music gets a chance to revive itself. To reinvent itself and add surprise back into its repertoire and bag of tricks. I would also like to see the artists rewarded for the fruits of their efforts. No one should have to sacrifice for an honest day’s work. And by the Darwinian laws of the economic model they serve, record companies SHOULD be struggling, they made some truly bad and unfortunate decisions, just one of which was to deprive me of my natural audience through machinations and games. We could have been of help to them in their transformation and survival had they allowed us to be. When it stopped being about music, but about market share, it went downhill from there and took a lot of sensibility with it”.
Some of those machinations and old-model safeguards are still useful to Terence Sananda. Money still arrives from cover versions. Something he’s grateful for.
“I appreciate them all, it is always really cool when an artist chooses to revisit your work, a song tells more than one story, and every one brings a different shade to it. I also appreciate what the money does to help me look after the health and welfare of my family. For which we are most grateful”.
I suggest his journey has been interesting.
“Listen, one is ALWAYS BREAKING THROUGH, if one, as an artist, is true. What else is there to do? A hallmark of ALL successful singers is the ability to ACT out a song through the emotions; otherwise people won’t buy into the performance. Yes, I can see my life being acted out on the big screen, even on an iPad. The problem is, by the time the studios are ready to make a film of my life, Meryl Streep will be too old to play me”.
And we’ll leave it there. Which is what I should have said after listening once again to that wonderful debut record some other guy from some other time offered to some other world.