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Progressive Rock Interviews

3rd Ear Experience

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with 3rd Ear Experience from 2013

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

Robbi Robb: My first band was an eight piece jazz band in South Africa. I was the only white guy in the group. At the time we lived in the locations/townships and played in places where no white people were allowed to go. Apartheid was still in effect back then. I left that band to form a rebel rock band called “the Asylum Kids.” Then after that came Tribe after Tribe. Our political message was very strong and our services to various causes drew the attention of the government, and eventually I was driven to take political asylum in America. Tribe after Tribe developed a good name in the music business, and were seen as pioneers of world rock music. We got to tour the world, opening for some awesome bands. Then there were two albums I did with a band called “3 Fish” with Jeff Ament from Pearl Jam.  Then I met Amritakripa who was very into devotional music and I produced two albums for her. We then fell in love, got married and moved to the desert. In the desert we were very influenced by the peace and quiet and the fantastic milky way and found it unbearable to play pre-arranged music. Thus began the journey into live improvisation. Out of this was born the 3rd Ear Experience.

Amritakripa: I was a little bit of a late comer to the world of playing music.  My first introduction to playing and singing was through Indian devotional music, inspired by my life teacher/spiritual mentor/guru - Amma.  After meeting Robbi, he inspired and encouraged me to explore ambience and the use of synthesizers - a bit of a departure from the harmonium I had been playing up until then.  Our partnership and an interest in exploring the mystery of the moment also opened me to the possibility of vocal jamming with the use of sounds rather than words. The journey has been a movement toward musical liberation.

Dug Pinnick: My Band Kings X was signed to Megaforce Records, as was Tribe After Tribe soon after that. Robbi and I met at a Tribe show in Houston. I was immediately taken by the depth of their grooves and the spontaneity that came off that stage. We became good friends and have recorded and toured together over the years. I have just done an album with Eric Gales and Thomas Pridgen which is doing very well.

Erik Mouness: I started playing at around nine, learning Weird Al songs - much fun. I have been lucky enough to meet and jam with some of the best of the best in rock land.

Eric Ryan: I’ve been playing in bands since high school in Nebraska and later in Denver where I cut my producing and engineering teeth. I moved to Venice, California where I met my next door neighbor, Robbi. He and I have been making music together since about 1999, and we did the Tribe After Tribe record Enchanted Entrance and toured in promotion of that with Joey Vera on bass and Richard Stuverud on drums. We also had another project, which was called “One Drop” and took on a more ethereal quality with fantastic melodies.   I also worked with Robbi on Amritakripa’s first solo record, which was recorded in my living room in Venice. I was working as an engineer in a great studio in Venice called “Ravenswork” at the time, which was just down the street from our duplex. Many hours were spent in the studio there putting together many projects, both film and music oriented. I produced, mixed, and played guitar on a few other projects at that time including Proud Mary from Manchester, England.  Even though I now have a studio in Long Beach, California and Robbi lives in Joshua Tree, we continue to create together, and currently 3rd Ear Experience happens to be the fruit of that adventure.

Alan Swanson: I've been playing in bands for 40 years! More than 60 different bands from blues, jazz, punk, metal, fusion and casino cover bands. When I met Robbie in Joshua Tree in 2009 we played at a local biker bar doing a lot of Alvin Lee covers. That year he invited me to play with Tribe After Tribe at the Herzberg Festival in Germany. . . a really big show with Gong, Mothers Finest, Eric Burden, Derek Trucks and many others - what a night! 3rd Ear came a few years later inspired by our collaboration with Dug Pinnick of Kings X. These guys rock!

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Robbi Robb: Probably something to do with quantum physics and the body mind connection. I am pretty baffled as to why matter is solid when there is no evidence of a solid particle with fixed properties. . . quite baffling, and I don’t think the Higgs particle will solve this dilemma.

Amritakripa: I consider music to be invisible soul food.  If I wasn't involved in it I likely would have withered away.

Dug Pinnick: Helping people to cross over the obstacles in life, from depression to addiction and feelings of unworthiness – not sure how – music is the best medicine.

Eric Ryan: Theoretical Physics or a fishing guide…probably both.

Erik Mouness: I have no idea what I would be doing if music wasn't my love.

Alan Swanson: I spent most of my adult life heavily involved with rock climbing (mostly in Yosemite) and have amassed a credible résumé of new and difficult ascents. I spent six years on Yosemite Search and Rescue and went on to guiding there and in Joshua Tree as a result of the skills learned in the granite crucible! I still climb and guide as my "day job.”

MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?
Robbi Robb: When one dreams of a music and then be so fortunate that that dream music becomes manifest, it is ideal to find a name that welcomes a person into that dream: a name that stores within itself the elaborate plot of the music with all its details, structures and the qualities, even if it is a dream of death that could not be shared with anyone.  3rd Ear Experience captures our dream perfectly: the way to create great jams is through truly listening to each other without preconceived ideas - pure listening.

Dug Pinnick: We have so many projects together that we decided to just put them all under one name, Third Ear was one name that stuck from a few. I liked Pocketful of Stars too.

Eric Ryan: Robbi came up with that.  I recently wanted to start a project called “Peacock Black,” and Golden Band was being thrown around when I joined up with Dug and Robbi on this project. After we did all the improvised live stuff at Bobby Furst’s everything got morphed together as 3rd Ear Experience, which is cool because a lot of things can happen under that umbrella.

MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Robbi Robb: Ali Akbar Khan and various rudra veena players, Miles Davis, and especially the left hands of Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner.

Amritakripa: Amma, Robbi, Bhagavan Das, Klaus Schultz, Pete Namlook.

Dug Pinnick: Captain Beyond,  Rare Earth; but at one time I think had the biggest CD collection of anyone I know. I love music and it often is just the little ideas that grab my attention and that can have a long-lasting influence on me.

Eric Ryan:  Floyd (especially Live at Pompeii), Eno, Zep, Purple, Hawkwind, Mogwai, Zappa, Aphrodite’s Child, Bjork.

Alan Swanson: My dad introduced me to jazz at a very young age, and it continues to influence me to this day. Lennie Tristano, John Coltrane, Don Cherry, Kenny Garret still inspire me to take chances and improvise freely. Rock and fusion players I admire include Jan Hammer, Allan Holdsworth, George Duke, Bill Connor, Billy Cobham and Robben Ford.

Erik Mouness: Everything I can get my hands on.  I like music that captivates the soul.

MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Robbi Robb: I hope to have more dazzling musical experiences with live free form jams that are filled with the weightlessness and resonances of mythological journeys.

Amritakripa:  Continued exploration into spontaneous jamming.  Finishing up the new recording for the Amritakripa band, working with the Spanglish jive band Machin.

Dug Pinnick: Busy recording an album with Eric gales again. Kings X are touring a bit, and then I have a solo record out. I am hoping Robbi will take us to South Africa soon.

Eric Ryan: Hopefully tour and tour some more as well as continuing to jam in the desert.

Erik Mouness: Playing the big shows with my friends!

Alan Swanson: Really stoked for the improvisational unit that is 3rd Ear Experience! Hope to play some of Europe’s famous prog / space rock festivals. We simply don't have these opportunities in the USA - would love to tour the world playing our unique brand of psychedelic groove.

MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Robbi Robb: Psychedelic space rock.

Amritakripa: Courageous, beautiful, weird, liberating, subtle, mysterious. . .

Dug Pinnick: Tribal space rock 

Eric Ryan:  Channeled unexpectations

Erik Mouness: Beautiful heavy jam band

Alan Swanson: In a sense it is at its heart experimental - no set arrangements. I like the term "Chongo,” referring to a metaphysical plane of shared consciousness. Call it a musical/mystical sweet spot!

MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Robbi Robb: Intangible Asset No. 82 - an elusive South Korean shaman and grandmaster musician. The great rudra veena master Ustad Asad Ali Khan, Kawabata Makoto and, of course, Scott Heller.

Dug Pinnick: I prefer musicians who, like Robbi, care deeply for the other people and for nature.  So I am open to meeting players and playing. I cannot stand to be in a room with self-centered people; and as I say I have a huge music collection from Causa Sui to Meshuggah. . . When music calls, I follow.

Eric Ryan: I have fallen in with such an ideal group of musicians at this time it would be hard to beat. But it would be fun to bring some Tuvan throat singing in to the fold like Huun Huur Tu. Maybe some North Korean musicians would be interesting.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Robbi Robb: There is a simple rule that the Buddha proposed and that was “do not take what is not freely given”; but to answer your question - I think this Ted talk makes the case pretty good:

Amritakripa: I think there are those who have learned to navigate that world and have understood how to make it work for them. I have also seen many incredibly talented musicians struggle to pay for basic necessities of life while their music is being given away or simply taken, and I think they have suffered because of illegal sharing. Perhaps it has always been a struggle for certain types of musicians - those who are artists first and business people last - although I do think it people should think twice before taking music without offering payment for it. 

Dug Pinnick: It’s all in the math, which I am not very good at but it has hurt many musical acts. If it didn’t cost anything to make music, then go ahead. . .It’s all in the math.

Eric Ryan: Both. It’s how you harness the new beast to make it work for you. Artists need to eliminate the middle man as much as possible and do it themselves or as a collective.  I think the barter system would be a great way to go for musicians. Put up your music as high resolution as you want to give to people and let them donate money or services in the form of viral marketing, video production, or just a place to stay and eat when you’re on tour. The old system is gone and a new one is in its infancy. Punishing people for trying to get music because they have no other means is not healthy for art’s sake. There’s only a handful of places left to shop for music physically, and online is only going to get more monopolized by iTunes and Amazon. 

Alan Swanson: I think it has shifted the emphasis of the music business to live shows and festivals, as opposed to selling records. A populist movement for sure. . . The days and dreams of millionaire rock stars are over.

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Robbi Robb: I love that, especially since we improvise so much. Every show is different, and each one is a collector’s item in that regard. However I would maybe prefer to have some kind of control on that process too, by recording the show and have it available for fans to buy at the show. I remember in South Africa hitchhiking to play a show and a friend picked me up in his BMW and asked me for complimentary tickets to the show. I had no car, my shoes were busted open. . . hmmm. . . makes one think, it would be nice to earn a little money from what one loves to do. If I like music, I buy it. I personally don’t like to take anything that is not freely given.

Dug Pinnick: It makes me feel proud that someone loves my music that much. 

Eric Ryan: Absolutely the most important thing that has happened for the artist in a long time. To be able to reach people through your live shows anywhere in the world is amazing. I think every show should be accessible to everyone. It won’t stop people from going to a show, if anything it will encourage them to see the next one they can. You can’t get the same feeling from a YouTube clip that you can from a live show with real sound pressure levels and the impact of a full body experience.

Erik Mouness: I think it is awesome to see a band live. It is a different experience to see and hear a band live; songs differ but the vibe still remains.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Eric Ryan: Whoever invented Autotune Live. Poseur-in-a-box.

Dug Pinnick: Dug Pinnick  (laughter) well you know sometimes I need to give myself a good talking to. . .

Erik Mouness: If I was a superhero, my nemesis would be Justin Bieber. . .

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Robbi Robb: Scott Heller of the Oresund Space Collective, Klaus Schulze, the guys behind Massive Attack, a Korean master drummer and Asad Ali Hhan on the Rudra Veena. Scott is masterful conductor of musicians just through his nature, and then Klaus can really get sequencing to feel as natural as birds flying to great heights, and then Massive Attack for a brilliant sense of groove and modern sounding ambient productions. Shaman drummers know how to follow the melody with a sense of “no rhythm.” A Rudra Veena is one of the deadliest musical instruments known to man. . . This would be an awesome band!

Dug Pinnick: I hope I would be the bass player for sure – and then Hendrix on guitar, Billy Cobham on drums, Jon Lord on keys.

Eric Ryan: Miles Davis, Brian Eno, Steve Gadd, Jeff Beck, Bootsy Collins.

MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view, who would be playing?
Robbi Robb: Causa Sui , Hawkwind,  Grateful Dead,  Acid Mothers Temple, Asad Ali Khan,  The San Francisco Philharmonic playing Lou Harrison’s pieces.  Steve Hillage. . . phew. . . I could go on. . .

Dug Pinnick:  The original Yes, Bon Iver, Tribe after Tribe,  Meshuggah. Oh, it would an incredible mish-mash of styles for sure. . .

Erik Mouness: Tribe after Tribe. . . Kings X. . . Tool. . . Gnosis. . . Machine. . .  Really there are so many good bands I would be unable to list them. . . 

Alan Swanson: In Flames, Killswitch Engage, Five Finger Death Punch, Medeski Martin and Wood, Karl Denson, Sara Bareilles, Esperanza Spalding, Plan B, Mahavishnu Orchestra.

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Robbi Robb: Agitation Free.

Amritakripa: Ozric Tentacles.

Dug Pinnick: Bon Iver - cannot explain it, but that new album really reaches into me. 

Erik Mouness: Ravi Shankar - Morning Raga/ Evening Raga.

Eric Ryan: Deftones Koi No Yokan. It’s full of super heavy smart riffs and melodies galore. Sonically it’s like a warm bath of punchy clarity.

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Robbi Robb: The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes. I love the magical realism of the Latin American writers.

Dug Pinnick: Not in a while - been hopping from recording studio to recording studio.

Eric Ryan: Under the Dome by Stephen King.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Robbi Robb: I haven’t attended lately, but I have been putting on space rock concerts in the desert, with astronomers projecting deep space images on huge screens while bands play. These have been great enjoyment and we have had some really trippy bands playing.  I would love to get some of the Scandinavian jam bands to play on these shows, so I am putting the word out to Scott Heller and some other cool acts. America is still quite behind on the space rock scene but I am finding some treasures, like Souvenirs Young America whom I would like to get out.

Amritakripa: Del Sol String Quartet at the Harrison House — outstanding music and venue! 

Dug Pinnick: Dumpstaphunk in New Orleans.

Erik Mouness: Mushuggah, wweeeeee oooooo. 

Eric Ryan: Robbi, Dug, Kripa, Erik and I just saw Dumpstaphunk down in New Orleans. Awesome!

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Eric Ryan: Silence.

Robbi: Playing sixties British rock live - like for example:  Ten Years After’s “Comin’ On” with a solo that goes on forever. (laughter) I love the sitar players’ and the veena players’ approach: start slow and end up really insanely fast! 

Dug Pinnick: I love playing loud, with three amps and three eight by ten cabinets!

Alan Swanson: Those little sexy Herbie Hancock vamps. 

Erik Mouness: African groove.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Robbi Robb: I haven’t seen that movie yet, but I have heard about drummers exploding and stuff like that. . . and I get it. I had a gig once and we were rocking it and I heard the sound change and I looked around at the band and everyone was deep into the jam – bass player looking like a rock star, when I noticed his cable was unplugged. F*** me! He didn’t even notice! (laughter)

Dug Pinnick: Having Kings X played on a headbangers Ball. We are not a heavy metal band. It just felt out of place, and I think that’s what a lot of what Spinal Tap is all about – things being out of place.

Alan Swanson: Closing Saturday night at Herzberg after Derek Trucks.  Two encores and three hours of tribal sweat later we finished with an after-party that lasted till 4 AM - flew back to US at first light!

Erik Mouness: When I let a girlfriend manage the band. . . big bad day.

Eric Ryan: I was in a band in Denver that was doing great, just got signed, had a great producer, we were recording the album and then the lead singer’s new wife thought she would just go ahead and start managing the band. We said, “no f***ing way” and she made him quit the band. We got “Jeanined.”

If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Robbi Robb: Kripa, Christopher Hitchens, Jorges Lius Borges, Isabel Allende, Marcello Motto, Tarkovsky.

Amritakripa: Amma, David Bohm, Robbi.

Dug Pinnick: The Buddha , Jimi Hendrix.

Erik Mouness: Darwin, Roman Emperor Constantine, Eric Mouness my granddaddy.

Eric Ryan:  Carl Sagan, Chief Luther Standing Bear, and Leonardo Da Vinci.


MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Eric Ryan: Whatever Thomas Keller is cooking for us.

Robbi Robb: Spicy rattlesnake appetizers and alligator balls, a gumbo soup and then Lamb Vindaloo with rice for the main course.

Amritakripa: Cream of broccoli, asparagus and celery soup, raw lasagna and salad, raw avocado/cacao mousse. 

Dug Pinnick: Whatever Eric Ryan wants to cook is perfectly fine by me!

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

 Robbi Robb: I read this cool thing today which describes something about my musical aspirations that I cannot quite put into words. Perhaps some of these words can be substituted with musical terms and it may work. . .

"Nature is a language and every new fact one learns is a new word; but it is not a language taken to pieces and dead in the dictionary, but the language put together into a most significant and universal sense. I wish to learn this language — not that I may know a new grammar, but that I may read the great book which is written in that tongue."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Amritakripa: Anything that takes us closer to a feeling of unity with our fellow beings must be a good thing.

Eric Ryan: Having been a fan of both Tribe After Tribe and King’s X, I consider myself to be one lucky dude to be able to make music with these guys.

Alan Swanson: Can't wait to tour with 3rd Ear and make Chongo.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 3 at
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