by Dave Cantor
Tashi Dorji talks a lot about community — in terms of both Asheville’s punk scene and his interest in radical politics. Nonetheless, he’s releasing an album’s worth of eccentric solo guitar music.
In 2000, Dorji, a native of Bhutan, received a scholarship to Warren Wilson College, where he studied philosophy and political science. Forays into Asheville, though, exposed the guitarist to a wealth of unique and aggressive sounds, and eventually, the exposure to new political, social and musical worlds led him to ditch proper higher education and immerse himself in a newly discovered cadre of culture makers.
“The move to Asheville was generated by the DIY community and the punk community. It was so vibrant,” says Dorji. “There was this amazing community center and all these good shows happening. Punk kids were cool. I was like, ‘Whoa, this is another aspect of culture here that I’m attracted to.’”
For Dorji, who grew up in Thimphu (Bhutan’s capital), the United States was an abstract concept, shaded by images gleaned from films, magazines and the hair metal bands he admired in his childhood. “Maybe I had some naïve ideas about the South,” he says. “I’d be able to see blues players just sitting on the porch or something.”
Since Dorji’s recordings mostly feature acoustic guitar, assuming a connection between his work and those bucolic pickers would be easy. But it’s the unwieldy confluence of acoustic music, free improvisation, noise and punk ideology that prompted Ben Chasny of the guitarcentric musical project Six Organs of Admittance to make Dorji’s first LP the initial offering from Chasny’s Hermit Hut Records.
“I hear different things for sure, but he puts them together in such an interesting way,” says Chasny, who also performed in Sub Pop Records’ heavy psych act Comets on Fire. “What interests me about it is … I don’t know where he’s gonna go in the song, which is kind of new for me. Generally, you can kind of feel where a song’s moving; a lot of times you can almost feel changes coming up. But not with Tashi.”
The six extended instrumental tracks on Dorji’s self-titled album are drawn from tapes the guitarist produced for himself and friends. Some of them wound up being posted online, where Chasny discovered him. And though these works were culled from various periods dating back to 2009, a distinctive style emerges. Each track includes several disparate sections, sometimes soldered together by stubbornly difficult transitional passages. But it works.
“Still III” opens with a stumbling, syncopated stretch interspersed with pauses, to punctuate Dorji’s sparse plucking. The piece doesn’t seem to follow any sort of Western conception of melody or scale, and it briefly moves into a nimbly picked, faster bit before settling into an idiosyncratic rhythm. It’s almost otherworldly, and certainly distinct from anything the Blue Ridge Mountains have fostered in the past. “There are definitely references to [Bhutan], but nothing specific to anything where I come from,” says Dorji. “It’s hard to describe. I play with intuition; it’s very spontaneous. So sometimes scales and notes might be reminiscent of my home.”
About halfway through “Still III,” Dorji mutes his guitar’s strings to approximate the percussive sounds he finds so soothing. In the context of acoustic guitar, that sort of manipulation could come off as dilettantism, but it isn’t. “A lot of my friends from the punk community haven’t heard my solo stuff,” Dorji says. “It’s weird, but music like [mine], nonidiomatic music, it’s just the nature of it.”
Asheville, he continues, has “a strong experimental scene, and I get to play shows with people I love.”
Although the new album is a solo affair, Dorji will perform with Shane Parish (formerly Perlowin) of Ahleuchatistas at the Aug. 24 record-release show at The Mothlight. “I think it’s a sort of exercise in techniques, patience and, most importantly, listening,” Dorji says about stepping outside the solo context.
But it’s precisely that sort of curious decision-making that keeps listeners from guessing what’s going to happen next in Dorji’s music or where the guitarist’s continued evolution might take him.
WHO: Tashi Dorji and Shane Parish duo,Frank Meadows, Ryan Oslance and Roamer X
WHERE: The Mothlight, themothlight.com
WHEN: Sunday, Aug. 24, 9 p.m. $5