An Interview With Rob Norris of Blue Paradox

By Buffy Aakaash

For over 10 years, Blue Paradox has been coming together for events at the Blue Deer Center and for Sacred Fire Community. Invariably, less than five minutes into their playing, which always takes place at or near a sacred fire, nearly everyone is up and dancing, or at the very least dancing in their seats. I took a moment to chat with Rob Norris, the band’s bass player, to ask him about the community musical phenomenon so many of us have come to love and appreciate.

Buffy Aakaash: What is “Blue Paradox” and how did it come into being?

Rob Norris: I first met Eliot Cowan and Scott Sheerin around this time in 2003. They did a public appearance near my town here in the Catskills, and later that summer Scott invited me to come to Fireball. It wasn’t “Blue Paradox” at the time, it didn’t even have a name; it was more of a gentle kirtan kind of band, you know, it was chanting, and very sedate, everyone was sitting around, very quiet… They invited me to play some bass. And pretty much within a couple minutes people were dancing; and everyone’s going “Hmmmnnn… this is a good idea…” I’m also in a band with Tilman Reitzle, which was very active at the time, called OmU. We had been down to Cuba a couple of times. That band was something like Blue Paradox, but a more aggressive… kind of like Blue Paradox with teeth or something. So, when I came out to that Fireball, I just did the same thing I did with OmU. And I remember Eliot saying, ”Hey… ya got any more of those slinky bass lines?” It was my first time at the Blue Deer Center, and the first time I met everybody, which was 2003…

So we’re approaching the 10 year anniversary of Blue Paradox…

Yeah! So, then… there was going to be a Healing Camp and an SFC benefit in Santa Monica. And I said to Scott, you know, I know a really good guitar player, Tilman Reitzle, who would add a lot to this, and a really good drummer, which is Steve Kemble, who I’d only ever heard playing his djembe in drum circles at natural building colloquiums at the Lama Foundation in New Mexico… So, Eliot said, “Okay… well, let’s bring them out.” And suddenly, there was me, and Tilman, and Steve, the two of whom had never met. All of these people who had never met were out in Santa Monica at Healing Camp. And we started playing, and it really just worked; everybody was dancing. We played a benefit after that. Myra Melford, who is a total honor to play with, was already on board, as was a very young Omar Velasco, who has grown up to be quite an amazing musician.. He’s out touring internationally and living the rock and roll lifestyle--Omar is definitely our chick-magnet! [laughs]… So, for a couple years there we started doing the dance thing for the community. And we were throwing around all these names. They wanted to call it the “Cigar Band”, but being a nonsmoker myself…

So, you arrived at “Blue Paradox”…

Yes. Actually Grandfather Fire did. The first time I had an audience with Him, He talked about music, and about “letting the music play us”… and kind of implied that He had basically assembled us, drew together the parts that were needed, the right people. So, I asked Him point blank at a fire, “Does the band have a name?” And He said, “The Hideous Noisemakers!” and I said, “Oh, God no…” and He said, “See… he’ll believe anything! No, I will tell Mr. Cowan later…” And then next morning at breakfast, Eliot excitedly said, “Hey, we’re called ‘Blue Paradox’!” And really it kind of fit.

It really does…

So, by that time it was all pretty well established. And Eliot also made Scott Sheerin the band leader, much to Scott’s great dismay and resistance [laughs]. So, the band has been in the background all this time. And I think the show at “Reunion” in England was probably the best we ever did. They goofed and got us this big stage with lights and a giant sound system. And it was really amazing. And of course it was the only time we didn’t record ourselves!

And that was in 2010?

Yeah… So basically, we get to play together twice a year.

You’re all so spread out, I was wondering how you all rehearse…

We don’t…[laughs] We don’t. What happens is there’s sort of a tradition in place where we come to the Blue Deer Center a couple days early for the Fireball and actually spend time together, which is something I look forward to all year. This year, before Fireball we’ll all be in the yurt together, bonding and jamming. It’s an unusual set-up…

For people who may be coming to REunion for the first time, how would you describe the music of Blue Paradox… We’ll have a link here for people to listen to… but…

Really it’s dance music… based in world music… world rhythms… rock n’ roll… and improv… and jazz. There’s a little of everything. There’s fusion… blues sometimes… full-on drum breakdowns… even sacred chant… But the thing that’s unique about Blue Paradox--because I’ve kind of been in bands for 40 years now--is there’s no leader. Typically in a rock band there’s somebody whose vision it is… somebody who’s in charge… who’s kind of the strength of the thing, the reason it’s all happening, but is often also its biggest problem… Ego stuff, you know? But in this band, there’s none of that. It’s Grandfather’s band and… We just show up… and kind of open ourselves to what wants to come through, which is his guidance to us--to be open to the Divine flow of the moment and let the Gods have their way. In a lot of the bands I’ve been in over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of good press, but my all time favorite review is from Grandfather Fire. In Asheville, in October 2010, He said, and I quote, “Blue Paradox is a great fucking band!” [laughter] What more could any musician ever ask for?!

Really!! [Laughter]

Having two shamans in the band… and a lot of people on their own spiritual paths is a huge component of the band… Scott holds a really great space for us, but beyond that, having Eliot in the band… it’s hard to describe it… I get emotional just thinking about it. The space he quietly holds for us to be in is very sacred. He encourages a lot of humor and divine flow in the moment and letting the music guide us instead of us trying to steer it. So, the band just shows up… and it happens… I think because of the way our energies all work together, there’s a unity that doesn’t have an ego behind it. You can’t really think of Grandfather as an ego, but he’s really the force behind it. We’re just kind of along for the ride and having fun… and raising the level of joy… and that’s really our job.

Well, I can say from my own experience of Blue Paradox that you definitely bring a load of fun with you…

Definitely… And you never know who’s going to be a special guest, who’s going to be there, or what the gods put into the flow of things…

Does Blue Paradox have any plans outside of BDC and Sacred Fire events?

No. Can you imagine trying to schedule…?

I know about the scheduling!!

It’s just insane… it’s not in the cards… and that’s the beauty of it! Eliot and I were talking… We’re of similar vintage, and we both saw firsthand the psychedelic music explosion in San Francisco in the late 60’s. Eliot doesn’t like to talk about it, but he had friends who were in those bands… with all of that acid and things getting blown open… and these bands, all of them--Big Brother and the Holding Company, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, Country Joe and the Fish--they were all community bands… they played for their community… in the ballrooms… and that was it… everybody was tripping their brains out and going into other dimensions… unknowingly breaking open the entire culture… but they were playing for their community. Eliot and I were talking about how this is sort of the same thing. We’re like the Grateful Dead for the Fire community… [laughter] And the beauty of it is it won’t go past that. Because that’s what killed the joy for all those bands… going outside the community, becoming commoditized, becoming famous, playing in huge arenas. None of them turned out the better for that. This is sort of the same thing, except instead of acid there’s the Fire and Tatewari [laughter]… and it’s kind of amazing… it’s such an honor really…

I feel privileged to be around when you guys are playing…

I thank the Gods everyday for it… and that the Blue Deer Center showed up in my back yard! Of all the places on the face of the earth? And you know… the other interesting thing about Blue Paradox is… we’ve put out a few CDs, but we’re pretty much a live and in-the-moment group. And this year marks a shift for the band, we are entering a period where we are receiving a little more recognition for the role we have played in the fire community.

Well I look forward to dancing with you guys at REunion, Rob… I really do!

Looking forward to it…

And readers… listen to the Blue Paradox audio links here. It’s a treat!

Blue Paradox is: Scott Sheerin - Flute, sax, keyboards and vocals; Eliot Cowan - Percussion and vocals; Myra Melford - Keyboards, harmonium, melodica, percussion and vocals; Omar Velasco - Guitar, keyboards, percussion and vocals; Rob Norris - Bass, percussion and vocals; Tilman Reitzle - Guitar, percussion and vocals; and Steve Kemble - Drums, percussion and vocals (and whoever else the Gods decree in the moment).

Audio Links:

http://soundcloud.com/robbassman-1/blue-paradox-ven-danse

http://soundcloud.com/robbassman-1/blue-paradox-steves-soul-stew