Interview with SONA
By Cernowain Greenman
This interview was conducted on Saturday morning at the Quality Inn in Columbia, MO, at the annual Magickal Hibernation 2007 hosted by Ozark Avalon. Cern was lucky enough to speak to all three of SONA’s members. The setting not far from the poolside , at tables with SONA's guitars and mandolins laying on them in their cases. Also present were Anaan (Cern’s wife), Mac (SONA’s soundman), Kittin and a few other SONA friends and fans.
Participants: C= Cern, JC3=Joe (the younger), PJ=Papa Joe, B=Beltana.
C: We are so glad SONA is back! Can I ask, what brought you back together after 3 years? What was the main thrust or impetus behind the reunion?
JC3: We’re glad to be back together too.
PJ: It was time. Time for SONA again—
B: After a lot of professional and personal changes.
PJ: The main “thrust” was Beltana. She called us and asked if we were ready.
C: Is the reunited SONA any different from the SONA of three years ago? How so?
PJ: Older! We’re all older-- and more developed both personally and musically.
B: We’re musically more mature and our sound has grown.
PJ: And matured.
JC3: I’ve been doing more playing all over-- grungy world music-- and street playing in Springfield, MO.
PJ: I’ve entered into the teaching field, and I’m now working on getting my certification to teach Math.
C: Papa Joe, you’re not teaching Music?
PJ: Nope. I’m not into the school band kind of thing. I’m into folk music. And I always did well in Math, so that’s what I am going to teach.
B: And we’ve got some new songs. Our SONA repertoire now consists of 30 songs.
C: That gets us to my next question: Do you have any new songs? And, is a new CD in the works?
PJ: Joe’s (JC3) got a new song called "Avocado" that we’re proud of.
JC3: I’ve also got a new song called "Sure Thing Myth".
PJ: We’ll be playing them both tonight.
C: And, Bel, you’ve got some new material, too, right? "Sonorus Sanctum" did very well on the internet radio charts.
B: (smiles) Yes! It’s on the solo Beltana CD. And I’ve got some other songs I’m working on, too.
PJ: But SONA hasn’t recorded a new CD yet.
JC3: I’m not sure when we are going to get to record…
PJ: You have to understand, we have an issue with “cold weather” recording.
JC3: It doesn’t work well for us.
PJ: “All Naked Women” was recorded in sub-zero temperatures.
JC3: Makes me go “burrrr”
B: We really haven’t talked about that yet.
JC3: That’s next on the agenda.
The three of you reportedly met at the Starwood festival in New York state in 2000. Can you tell us more about how that meeting happened? What was your first impression of each other? Do you remember the song or songs you first sang together?
PJ: It was Bel who brought us together. She had a dream about a mandolin player that night, and the next morning she came up to Joe (JC3) at the campfire and told him about it. Then the three of us got together and began singing, and it sounded really good. I was really impressed by Bernie (Beltana).
B: I remember meeting both of the Joes earlier under Griffin’s tent. We were all talking about music and something about them sparked my interest, but I didn’t know at that t
ime that they were musicians. Joe (JC3) and I had a long talk about religion and music that evening, and he told me he was a mandolin player! I thought it was quite obviously a good sign. The next day, we all hooked up in the field and started playing, and never really stopped.
PJ: The first song we did together was her song “Land of the Sidhe" on stage in front of 500 people at the talent show at Starwood.
C: The name SONA comes from a Buddhist parable (The Mahâvagga, Fifth Khandhaka 1.15-17). Are you much into Buddhism? And does it have much of an influence on your music?
JC3: The name "Sona" is from a sutra about peace through inner harmony and music. And yes, there’s definitely Buddhist influence in the songs I’ve written.
PJ: Not so much me.
C: And you, Bel?
B: Not me. I’m a Pagan. And a Witch— but not a Wiccan. I’m far too much of a hedonist to be a Buddhist, though I completely respect Buddhism. It has had slight influences, though.
C: What was it like being a part of the Druid Four Winds rock opera?
JC3: A whirlwind! We were doing the rock opera and recording the Spoonwalk CD at the same time.
PJ: And Trickster would come in and ask me to lay a guitar track down for this or that song. Then Bel flew in.
B: Yes. I got there and Trickster threw a big party for the Renaissance Fair song. It was a lot of fun. A blast. I remember Joe (JC3) egging on the inebriated “Renny Choir” by telling them all over the mic that it was required that they all had a drink in hand: “I said, REQUIRED!!!” It was a hoot.
PJ: And Trickster was the best host in the world.
B: A great guy.
C: What are the future plans/dreams for SONA?
PJ: Play at more gatherings, especially this summer. We’ll be at Tara the third week of August. And at Heartland over Memorial weekend. Then at WytcheHaven in October. We won’t be at PSG, but we’re hoping to go back there in the future.
JC3: And record the CD this summer.
PJ: Maybe, hopefully.
B: Right. And we hope to keep doing what we’re doing. We love being together.
Qs for Beltana:
C: Bel, how is motherhood? How has becoming a mother affected your life?
B: I’ve had to learn to be responsible. I just can’t pick up and go anymore. I have to think of my family. But the neat thing about it is seeing everything new again through Bela’s eyes. And learning to PLAY again! I relive everything with her-- learning how to swim, learning to sign—she learned to sign before she could talk. It’s been fun (big grin).
C: Bel, were you really once a “Killer Tomato”? Do you miss being in a rock band and how do you let your “Rocker” side out?
B: Yes, I really was a Killer Tomato. And an RKO girl. A Doc Rocker. And a Flapper. And a Dixie Chickster girl. I’ve been in a lot of different groups.
PJ: So have Joe and I. I was once the banjo player for the Dixieland “Little Big Band”.
B: I still get to rock at different gigs, like at Venus Envy in St. Louis. I absolutely love Led Zeppelin.
How did Wolvenwold come into being? What makes Wolvenwold special for you?
B: It started out with my mom wanting to buy some land, and she and my sister found this 166 acres in the Ozarks. We immediately realized it was a special place, a magickal place. For the first eight years we lived in the house that was there on the land already—we called it the barn, since it was a barn that we made livable, and added on to it. When it burned down, we built a new house that Johnny, Bela and I live in, and we’re still working on it. We’re planning on building other houses. We plan to build one for Kittin & Joe (JC3). We are also doing composting on the land, and living as greenwise and Nature-friendly as possible. It is the most special place on earth to me.
C: And you have opened a store?
B: Yes, Beltana's Wellness Center. The store is new. It’s not on the land, but down the road. I do massage therapy, (my husband) Johnny teaches Tai Chi, and we have a guy who is from India who does yoga. And we also offer Pilates and Gung Fu and other classes.
C: Will your new lullaby song “Light Glow” be on a future CD (or on your website)?
B: Yes! Sonorous Sanctum will likely also be on the new album. And I’ve got songs such as "Sacred No More", "Ballad of Bogtane", "The Chalice"…
C: Many of your songs have a mystical/ethereal feel to them. What inspires you to write your songs?
B: I’m really into music from India now. I like the sound and feel of it. We play it in the shop a lot. Musically, what inspires me: Love, relationships, the Fey, Pain, the mystical, this world, and Other Worlds.
Q’s for Papa Joe:
C: You are a gifted songwriter. Your writing skills are proficient in so many styles of music: blues, rock, blue grass, folk, Caribbean, even Western Swing. How did you get exposed to all these styles? How did you learn to play and write in so many genres of music?
PJ: I’ve done a lot of traveling, and I try to play with as many other musicians as possible.
C: Many of your songs have humor in them: “All Naked Women”, “Burn in Hell”, “Fairy Dew Mead”, etc. How did you come to have such a wacky, fanciful and jovial perspective on life?
PJ: My family loves telling stories and cracking jokes. I grew up with lots of laughter. I’d always go for a laugh whenever I could. Whenever my family gets together, even if it’s for a funeral, my brothers and I end up sitting around the kitchen table telling jokes and laughing. That’s just the way we are.
C: Can I ask you what your family’s national origins are?
PJ: Yes. They were originally from Lebanon. Sometimes it’s a worry for us because a few folks mistake us for Arabs, since we look somewhat similar.
C: Your songs have excellent hook-lines in them. They also often tell a story, too. Both of these things are so refreshing, as many songs today lack these characteristics. Do you include them intentionally? Do you think other Pagan songwriters should use hook-lines and storytelling?
PJ: I don’t believe Pagan music has ever lacked these qualities. There’s a lot of good music out there. Green Crown, Emerald Rose, Loke E. Coyote…
JC3: S.J. Tucker.
PJ: Gaia Consort, Sede. We would love to play with Gaia Consort someday.
B: Sede, yes, I like him. I’m very much looking forward to performing with Sede in Minnesota for St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Then of course, you’ve got Dreamtrybe, The Druids, The Raft, Spoonfed Tribe, Gretchen McMahon, Dana Davis, Michelle Mays, Burning Sage… man… I could go on and on! Lately, all I have on my MP3 player are my pagan friends' bands. But I have had an interesting recent conversation with Mike Nichols here at Magickal Hibernation about Pagan music before there was pagan music. There is really a lot of incredible influence out there… from the 60’s and even earlier.
C: How does it feel to be the “Papa” of the group for Sona? Do you feel you have to be more responsible?
PJ: Responsible? Me? (group laughter) No, not me.
B: We do look up to him, though. He does help ground us in reality.
JC3: My dad taught me music, and how to play. He is my dad… and the dad of the group.
C: How did the song “Valkyrie” come about? Are you or have you ever been an Asatru?
PJ: (laughter) That’s like if you’ve ever been…
JC3: …a member of the communist party?
PJ: Right. Well, no, I’ve never been Asatru. Actually, I wrote that song as a love song or tribute to a Minnesota woman. You know, she’s very Scandinavian looking, with long blonde hair. She inspired the song.
C: Do you think Paganism and Pagan music is going in the right direction?
PJ: We need more.
PJ: More music. We need more Pagan music.
B: And more Pagan musicians.
PJ: I think Pagan music is going in the right direction, or whatever direction or directions it needs to go. Like I said, there’s a lot of good groups out there. But I’d like to see many more Pagans start coming out and using their musical talents for the good of the community.
Q’s for Joe (JC3):
C: How does it feel to be known as the “Mandolin Holy Man”? You’ve written songs about others: now what’s it like for Sooj (S.J. Tucker) to write a song about you?
JC3: It threw me into a trip, man. Well, the song started out as we went out to bless the landscape and the different monuments around DC-- which inspired lyrics for Sooj, like the “giant chalice” (the Reflecting Pool) and the “national phallus” (the Washington obelisk). She’s walking behind me, writing lines, leaning over my shoulder, asking me, “How does this sound?” Then we got to Farragot Square rally sponsored by Circle Sanctuary and Lady Liberty League, and it began to rain really hard so that the storm ripped up some trees. We put plastic over our drums and began drumming and chanting, and people gathered around to listen. It was a powerful experience. And, I’m very flattered to have Sooj titling this song for me-- very flattered.
C: Are you glad your guitar was stolen in 2000?
JC3: Yes! Oh, yes!
C: Did you ever get it back?
JC3: No. It was a crappy guitar anyway, still, it was the only one I had. It was the year of “Urban Pain”, the year from hell that year. I got laid off, lightning killed my TV, my car broke down. But then my mom gave me a mandolin for my birthday, and I took it to my dad and said, “Teach me how to play this!”
C: And he did?
JC3: Oh, yeah.
PJ: He’s come a long way from those days. Joe (JC3) is now an excellent, outstanding mandolin player, much better than I had ever been.
C: Do you play anything other than the mandolin these days?
JC3: Sure, but mostly mandolin. I got a new toy distortion box for my mandolin that I’ll use tonight.
C: (incredulously) Really?
C: Can you tell us a little more about the “Spoon” song? Where were you camping at? Does the spoon symbolize the Wiccan athamé or Joseph Campbell’s axis mundi?
JC3: Uh, no.
C: Seriously, though (laughter from the group), how did the idea come up to make “Spoon” into a drumming song?
JC3: The first time we played “Spoon” was on Beltane with fireworks overhead. It was so cool. The drumming jam idea started out with a mandolin jam on the bus, and just evolved from there.
C: You like to use some funky chords—or how should I put it? maybe “unresolved chord progressions”?
PJ and B: Yes, that sounds good! (JC3 blushes)
C: --ok, unresolved chords in your songs, especially compared to Papa Joe’s songs. Is it due to any jazz influence, or is it simply your style of creativity?
JC3: Yes, I like jazz, and I like playing jazz on the mandolin. It’s my style, what I like.
C: Does it make it more difficult for you all as a group to write songs together?
JC3: No, not really.
PJ: Not at all.
C: What about Beltana’s psychedelic style? Is that hard to incorporate?
JC3: No. Although some people say that they hear three different groups, depending on whose song we’re doing.
PJ: Actually, I don’t feel that way at all.
C: I would agree. You all present a variety of songs and are able to blend it together. So, what about Bel’s interest in Indian music? Would you be able to incorporate that?
B: I’d like to think so.
PJ: Hey, Bel, I know a guy who has a sitar.
B: Really? Do you think we can get together with him?
JC3: Wow. Cool.
C: JC3, you and your dad wrote the song “Blessed Be” together. What’s it like collaborating as “father and son”?
JC3: Oh, its no problem. Dad is great at listening and working with.
C: You’re the youngest member of Sona—how did it feel hitting the big 3-0 not too long ago?
PJ: Hey, its already the big 3-1! (group laughter)
JC3: It’s not all that bad. Most people think I’m younger than I am. But I am getting some grey hair, and my back hurts me sometimes. But I’m going to keep on playing wherever I can, as long as I am able.
C: I want to thank you all for granting this interview and for getting back together as a group. I grew up listening to James Taylor and Jim Croce, and I think your music is just as great. So, congratulations on your reunion!
B: Thank you, Cern. Hope you enjoy the show tonight.
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Updated: Ostara 2007 ce