The Seeded Planet
Normally, this would be an article about the Seeded Planet. What they sound like. How excellent their album is – and it certainly is. And while the New York-based group should receive high-fives for not copying hometown heroes the Strokes and opting for a more rootsy style instead, the bigger picture belongs to Sans, who not only speaks about the war in Iraq but has the flesh wounds (and a Purple Heart) to prove it.
Being outspoken about America’s involvement in Iraq, do you worry about accusations from people that you’re using your experiences there to further your rock & roll career?
I wouldn’t worry too much about that. This is a new band yet. No one knows who I am. Still, it’s a point that has come up after other interviews I’ve given. I wouldn’t argue that my Iraq experiences are generating interest even before people hear the music. It would be a valid criticism. Norman Mailer served in WWII and wrote a novel about it. Oliver Stone made at least three of his signature films about Vietnam. I’d like my rock & roll career to stand on the merit of the songs and performances, yes. However, if the Iraq story opens some doors, I will walk through them.
I just want to sing for people. I enjoy what singing does to me. There is a vibration and a resonance that clarifies worry and brings what matters into focus. It’s like getting a tattoo. You start in pain – by the end, you want it to keep going. I’m blessed to be able to sing at all. I got hit in the throat by RPG frags and shrapnel from my own M-16 magazine. I told the trauma surgeon I didn’t care about scars, but please save my voicebox. Told him I was a rock singer. He probably thought I was a prima donna. He was right. But I didn’t care. When I woke up, he said, “You made it … good luck with your singing career.” Then I got interviewed by a spooky guy in civilian clothes about the setup of the ambush. It was like a scene from the Bourne trilogy. Apparently we encountered some hardcore dudes coming up from Saudi. Long story. Iraq was an experience that changed my life. I wouldn’t know where to begin to keep it out of my art.
One thing that struck me about the soldiers in Iraq is how they are able to tolerate such hellish conditions, not just the unpredictable violence but also the barren heat of the desert. Were you conditioned to that prior to going or were you simply thrust into the situation?
I was in an infantry troop, so I was lucky to have had very intense training before I got over there. I was in California training and flying around the desert in topless Humvees when word went around about an opportunity to go over early. Very short notice, but infantry and certainly Special Ops units are always ready to go. I can’t imagine pulling five and six tours like some of the lighter Army units and Marines are. But you have plenty of people over there who want to be there. The more mature special operations types, for example. Look, this situation is madness. Can I tell you something? I wanted to go over there. I was already 33 when I joined. I had studied Vietnam growing up; I was a Boy Scout and all that. There was something sinister about 9/11. Something just didn’t seem right. I never believed in the box-cutter stories. With all the grown men on those planes? Preposterous. I don’t know why, but during summer of ‘01 I started thinking about going back into the service.
Anyway, in Iraq, we were good to those people, man. Not the ones shooting at us, no. But the farmers and schoolteachers and kids? I watched medics cover children with their bodies during a mortar attack. I watched men run right into fire to save people after car bombs or ambushes. I watched vehicles and people disappear. I watched mortars land and bloom like green electric trees through night vision goggles.
War rewires your soul.
I’ve spoken to veterans of the Vietnam War before, and to them it was a “loss of innocence.” Would it be the same case for you in Iraq?
I was already in my 30s so not so innocent to the world and the origins of – and manic need to begin – this war by its architects. I think, for me, it was more a case of an intense witnessing of life and death that made the world almost seem to take on additional dimensions. I knew this war was going to be bad. I had a bad feeling about 9/11. I almost feel it was a trigger of some kind.
What politically minded musicians do you feel the most kinship with or inspiration from?
Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jim Morrison (Frank, my guitar player, and the guys at Hoboken Recorders will mock me, but Morrison absolutely was a political artist and poet, just overwhelmed by drinking in the end), Jimi Hendrix (National Anthem redux) Neil Young, Ani DiFranco. John Cage comes to mind. I’m sure there are thousands of artists whom I can’t name who are taking action. I see myself becoming involved in Latin American causes. I don’t know why. I don’t even know the language yet. I’m sure I will find them as we move forward. This is a tough question because the idea of politics tends to be defined and limited by elections and governments. ‘Politics’ to me is more about taking action against inertia, violence, racism. Taking action against the general insanity and decadence and rampant waste being propagated in the modern world.
My music is in no way openly political. Perhaps moreso in the future.
I’m interested in revolution. But the sort of revolution proposed by Khrishnamurti. A revolution from within more so than without. A revolution of the self moreso than an ‘other.’ I am an American. I am far from wealthy but I enjoy a quality of life and a general state of freedom living that I don’t take for granted. I am free to say in print that I feel great rage, mistrust and disappointment in my government, elephant and donkey alike. Everyone comes here to make money, yeah. But culturally and ethically we are like the overweight schoolyard bully of the world. Our leaders shoot their friends while hunting birds. It’s pathetic. If I had the money, I’d move south to Latin America and never look back.
In the late ’60s, youths were more involved in politics. Do you feel that the draft had something to do with that? Do you think that, if there was the threat of being forced to fight in Iraq, that many teenagers would hold picket signs and march around the White House?
That’s a really good question. I have a lot of admiration for American kids today. They’re going to be inheriting a terrible mess, aren’t they? Politically, economically, environmentally. I wish their parents would stop feeding them fast food and sugar water so that we could get a handle on their health. We need every American child to be healthy, educated, and safe. We’ve led ourselves into a valley of woe, and the next generation is going to have to lead us out of it. As for the ’60s versus today? Let’s see. I can’t name one of the architects of the Iraq War who served in Vietnam. Can you? I know Dick Cheney got five college deferments. And he’s a gun lover. He knows what it’s like to shoot a man.
I don’t know how kids would act if there were a draft. I think definitely there would be uprisings against it. With the internet? Blogs, etc.? It could never get off the ground. I would be much more concerned with another 9/11-style get-out-of-jail-free card for whatever remains of the neo-con movement. That’s their only hope to have any credibility at all in their waning years. You have to ask what it is that so fiercely drove these men to get this war started. Was it just peak oil? Or was there some secret Indiana Jones power talisman hidden in the Baghdad Museum? Who knows? But now look at them. They’re each falling from grace, one by one. And snarling all the way down. Like power-mad, corrupt Hollywood cartoon characters. Can we get some young good-looking politicians in the house again? I like Barack Obama. I realize he has to play along and not stand out too much for awhile. I think it’s historically cosmic that his middle name is Hussein. The world and history are a script that we are writing, right now, in this moment.
The war is going to end. I think kids who have the revolutionary spirit should be looking at protecting rainforests, raising awareness of the effects of the toxic and poisonous American diet, working toward a less bipolar, argumentative system of government and more toward a council of peers, globally. The nation-state era is coming to an end. Just in time for 2012.
What is the meaning behind the name: The Seeded Planet?
Oh man, I have to leave that up to the listener! Google it, you’ll find some wild stuff. The name just came to me one day. I didn’t realize the depth of the concept at the time.
Out of curiosity, did you listen to music while on patrol in Iraq? What did you listen to?
I did. Not so much on patrol, but while riding in the LMTV or maybe catching some rack time. I was listening to “Hold On” from Pearl Jam (borrowed from one of the 18-year olds in my platoon) when a car bomb went off behind me. It was meant for the truck I was riding in but got a Humvee instead. That was a bad day. I always had rock music to listen to, and I picked up on what some of the other guys had. I have to say I listened to a lot of Steve Roach. He is an ambient composer out of Tucson, and I’ve been listening to his music for almost 15 years. It’s haunting, tribal, rhythmic, spacey. It’s the kind of music that can take you out of your material surroundings. It gave me a lot of peace during a hard year.