Name: Ulysses Jason Newcomb
Rock-it-ology: How did you start in music?
Ulysses: My brother played guitar and I thought it was pretty cool. When I turned 15 years old, I got a strong urge to learn. So I got a very beat up and broken guitar and insisted my father teach me a few chords and then asked my brother to teach me a few more. I was obsessed with learning different guitar things. Whenever my brother would come around the house I’d hound him to learn things. I also found an old music book called “Great Songs of the Sixties”. It had chord diagrams in it and I asked some friends and we figured out how they worked. Even though I had never heard those songs before, I played them the way I thought they were supposed to go. I learned many chords this way. I didn’t understand the theory behind the chords. But I could understand the feelings they made me feel.
R: How long you been doing music?
U: For 28 years. There have a been a few sabbaticals but pretty much the whole time I played everyday.
R: What music means to you?
U: I interface with music like I do a place. Each piece of music, each moment of music is like square footage in a land that one can travel to with music. Music theory: scales, time signatures, modes etc. These are all a technique for mapping a place. But the map is not the territory. The territory is the territory. When I play music, I see places that are alive and have a story to tell. A beach on a summer day with a stormhead in the distance. Solar systems orbiting around a sun that serves as the house of a flesh monster. Deep mines where men go at night to frolic with fairies and devils. Always places. I don’t sit down to “write” these places. I make the sounds and then eventually, I see the places and the stories. Music is a means of going to these places, or perhaps music is those places. That’s what music means to me.
R: Have music helped you in any way type or form?
U: The ancient Gnostics believed this whole world was a prison and that the goal of life was to liberate one’s self. I don’t know if that is an ultimate truth but I know there are all sorts of prisons in life. And I was definitely in a figurative one for many years. Maximum security. It took many years and a lot of hardship but music in part was used for my escape. I’m grateful for this.
R: I know that I participated in your podcast, but can you tell us more about your project?
U: A few years ago my band broke up and I was heartbroken about it. It was a band that was in near-perfect alignment with my long time dream of music. We were extraordinarily innovative and bold. We just did not care about anything except just going as far as possible in music. We were working on a 3rd album and it was going very well. I had visions of all sorts of amazing places to visit. But it sadly was not to be. I knew I had to continue with music but to just return to my solo career seemed very hollow after being in a such an adventurous band. I really didn’t feel like going back to scratching on my guitar by myself. Then all my gear was stolen. Since the sound of the band was dependent on the specific members of the band (the gear being like a band member), there was no way the 3rd album was going to be made.
I found all this very difficult and it hurt. But it also highlighted I didn’t know why this was all so important to me. If it weren’t for some earthly obligations, I would have been willing to go hungry to get that third album made. But I didn’t even understand why? I decided that instead of going back to playing music that I would write a book about it instead, to try to answer these difficult questions. I do have some music personal music projects that I work on but I don’t expect to play for public consumption very much. I want to write this book as a legacy to leave behind after I’m done earth life. And as you know, part of this book writing project is the podcast where I speak to musicians and their relationship to music.
R: What touches your soul?
U: Geez, you ask all the easy question eh? Haha! I have been thinking about the soul. I don’t know what it is but I think it has something to do with the “self” that is at the very bottom of all the selves. When I close my eyes to meditate I can feel and hear all the different selves that I am. I’m the self that is hungry and wants a sandwich, the self worried about retirement, the self that is lonely, the self that is excited about a project, the self that tells me I’m good, the other that tells me I’m not and so on and so on. I listen to all these selves and acknowledge them. And if it’s a good day, slowly they become quiet from being satisfied for having been heard. Then finally after some time there is someone there that is perfect, still and quiet. Maybe that’s the soul.
I think it is stillness, quiet, tranquility and silence that touches my soul.
R: An example on how not to be an asshole?
U: Do not lie.
Check out Ulysses project at http://musicmeaningandmystery.ca/
and his channel.