By: Michael D. McClellan
“Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light.” — Oscar Wilde
Terence Trent D’Arby is dead.
The ‘80s enigmatic supernova who, at the height of his popularity, sold more than a million albums in three days, is dead and gone, his ashes scattered over a fickle music landscape, his descent as curious as that of the mythical Icarus himself. Ironic then that his passing seemed to go unnoticed, given that Terence Trent D’Arby arrived on the music scene with the fury of a young Mike Tyson, landing haymakers and talking shit and seducing the hell out of industry execs willing to sell their firstborns to discover an artist with his magnetism. There were no dues paid. D’Arby just happened. He kicked open the door to the VIP club occupied by music’s Holy Trinity – Michael, Prince, and Madonna – his bravado knocking them on their collective asses and serving notice that he was not simply of their ilk but something more, an amalgam of their talent with the best of Sam Cooke and James Brown thrown in to boot.
And he wasn’t shy to talk about it: D’Arby famously sat down with Rolling Stone and brashly put all of the motherfuckers out there on notice, screaming at them in print and then reinforcing his dominance with a string of hits, giving the metaphorical middle finger to established stars and one-hit wonders alike, all while usurping them at the top of the charts.
And then he was gone.
It was a slow decay rather than the jolt with which he shook us on the way up, a steady erosion – of record sales, of fan base, of clout – that left him diminished, his legacy in doubt, his promise unfulfilled. He was Icarus, flying too close to the sun, his wax wings melting away, his upward trajectory cut short by his refusal to follow the rules, his return to earth premature if not inevitable.
But this is how every Terence Trent D’Arby interview starts, isn’t it? A formulaic lead-in with D’Arby’s F5 persona cutting a mile-wide path of destruction across the wide-open spaces of 1980s soul-rock-pop-funk, and then a segue to the slow, laborious cleanup in its aftermath. Can’t go wrong there, right? And the comparisons to those all-time greats, aren’t those simply a journalist’s safety net – if Rolling Stone compared D’Arby to Prince and Jimi Hendrix then it must be so, so why not name drop in your own piece, hoping that it somehow legitimizes what you’ve written.
But this isn’t a Terence Trent D’Arby interview. Not in the traditional sense. Certainly, there’s no escaping the facts, that D’Arby walked amongst us in a bloated, hubris-fueled rage while his debut album, Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby, breathed fire and backed up his outsized braggadocio, prompting D’Arby to tout the work as superior to the Beatles’ historic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. There’s also no dodging the loaded self-proclamations – that D’Arby was a genius, that Hardline was the most brilliant debut of the decade, that it would be a travesty if the album didn’t debut at Number 1 – and the solipsistic swagger with which he carried himself; laying down ground rules for interviews that he may or may not attend, and then, for a brief time at least, refusing to speak with the press altogether. Entering D’Arby’s world was an elucidation in the inner workings of a creative process that was at once OCD and bipolar, his desire for perfection matched only by his quest to discover something new – no easy task, given that pop music spends the vast majority of its time regurgitating variations of the same tired themes.
The truth is, D’Arby was more complex than we ever gave him credit for, which is exactly why he had to kill himself. We wanted to pigeonhole him, to make him conform to our expectations of someone so gifted, but it was never going to work out that way. He rebelled against convention, refusing to limit himself, recoiling at the thought of going down a worn commercial path just to placate external noise. Why should he? He’d stood up and beat his chest and screamed at the top of his lungs just to get his fucking album noticed, and then found himself vilified by the very people who’d made such a big damned deal out of it in the first place. Today, D’Arby would be celebrated for his outsized ego – Kanye rips the microphone out of Taylor Swift’s hands, and the cash register rings – but in 1987, D’Arby found himself under siege, the press seizing on his puffed up genius rhetoric and then skewering him for it.
The answer then – the only real recourse for an artist staying true to his art – was to recognize Hardline for what it was; a brushstroke on a broader canvas, a stop on a journey filled with interesting twists and turns, a gateway to undiscovered frontier. Forget how filthy a debut this LP was, or what it registered on the Richter Scale; D’Arby soaked it in ever so briefly, and then moved on. He also weighed his superstar status and immediately turned his back on it, releasing Neither Fish Nor Flesh two years later, in 1989, a cyanide capsule under the tongue, a move that would hasten the departure of an artist who seemed both starved for our attention and pained by it.
Brave and nuanced, Neither Fish Nor Flesh sold a paltry 300,000 copies, a cliff dive compared to the nine million copies that Hardline had generated. And where Hardline had been perfectly set up for a string of hit singles, Neither Fish Nor Flesh was pure jolie laide – unconventionally attractive in its own unique way, a work that more closely resembled Gérard Depardieu than Tom Cruise, which spoke highly of D’Arby’s creative output but spelled disaster for the Columbia execs who banked on it padding the bottom line.
The album, birthed on October 23, 1989, was the beginning of the end of Terence Trent D’Arby. That it tanked caused him no consternation. He was happy to be rid of the expectations, an artist liberated, freed to simply create whatever the hell it was he wanted to create.
Symphony or Damn, also under the D’Arby name, arrived in ’93 and produced 4 Top Ten hits in the UK, but caused barely a ripple in the U.S. American tastes were slowly changing – hip hop was beginning to emerge as the genre du jour, taking root in a post-N.W.A, pre-Eminem world, and Hardline had been largely forgotten by the same fans who’d orgasmed over it a few years before. That was fine with D’Arby. He had other plans, and they didn’t involve being a slave to a machine so heavily rigged in favor of a select few.
D’Arby’s uncoupling from this world, at least in name, was still a few years away. He fulfilled his contractual obligations with Sony in 1995, with the release of Vibrator, which had one European hit, Holding Onto You, the single landing at Number 20 in the UK. By then the fall of Icarus was complete; wingless, D’Arby plunged metaphorically into the sea and disappeared from view forever, not that anyone cared, least of all D’Arby himself. He’d won the 1988 Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male. Wishing Well had delivered a U.S. Number 1 hit. Hardline had landed squarely in the Top 5 on the album charts. So he’d been there, done that.
It was time to get on with the business of getting on with it.
~ ~ ~
Sananda Maitreya entered this world in ’95, roughly at the same time that Prince was doing war with Warner Bros., and it would be easy to lump D’Arby’s name change into the same bucket. But drawing the parallel between The Artist Formerly Known as Prince and Sananda Maitreya would be a meathead move, because timing is all the two really have in common. Prince was unhappy with his contract, and TAFKAP was born. Terence Trent D’Arby slipped away from us way back in ’89, his soul finally laid to rest following the release of Vibrator, a new soul emerging to take its place. It was a different kind of liberation for Maitreya, his rising up to the sun like a flower at the age of thirty-three. He was finally able to create, unencumbered, his past splashed with color, his future sprinkled with promise, the possibilities limitless and void of the bureaucracy that had stifled him before.
“As almost always, the best part of the creative process is the part that gets you to commit to the idea,” Maitreya says. “The initial burst of excitement and recognition that moves your ass and makes you take the idea to the next level. By the time it is done being translated through a primary instrument, whatever it be, it then takes on a more automatic process, experience takes over. But the first spark that inspires motion, that is the best part.”
“As almost always, the best part of the creative process is the part that gets you to commit to the idea. The initial burst of excitement and recognition that moves your ass and makes you take the idea to the next level. By the time it is done being translated through a primary instrument, whatever it be, it then takes on a more automatic process, experience takes over. But the first spark that inspires motion, that is the best part.” – Sananda Maitreya
Maitreya is willing to speak about his other life, but it isn’t easy for him. There is pain. He acknowledges Terence Trent D’Arby but doesn’t like to dwell on the past. And he sees Hardline for what it is; the megahit that made D’Arby an international megastar.
“It entered the world mainly through a small flat in Frankfurt, Germany, on Raimundstrasse,” he says, recounting the album’s genesis. “I was living there at the time, after having gotten out of the U.S Army. I had been working with a band called The Touch, until getting thrown out of the band in a mutiny led by the manager. Before that, I wrote with other members of the band. Well, after getting kicked out, I said, ‘To hell with writing with other bitches,’ or similar words to that effect. It was a short time later that the songs for that project began to come, all written, if memory serves, on a small Casio keyboard and a Roland 808 Rhythm machine. Which proves that you do not need a lot of money to make good music. However, you need a lot of money to make people think you’ve made good music.”
He is also aware that, as D’Arby, he was an international sex symbol, athletic as an adolescent, a Golden Gloves boxing champion as a teenager, his body lean and fluid, his facial features a cauldron of androgynous beauty. Women threw themselves at D’Arby. Men, too. D’Arby didn’t traffic in self-modesty, and his overt confidence amplified his magnetic persona. Clearly, there was no dumpster diving with D’Arby when it came to charisma, and he wasn’t loathe to put it on full display, whether appearing nude on the cover of Q Magazine, or performing live at the 1988 Grammy Awards, or making the rounds on shows like Saturday Night Live and The David Letterman Show.
“Let us not speak too much of the dead, for they have earned their sleep!” he says quickly, when the conversation’s orbit comes perilously close to Planet D’Arby’s atmosphere. “The attention paid to him was great, but his time has passed.”
“Let us not speak too much of the dead, for they have earned their sleep! The attention paid to Terence Trent D’Arby was great, but his time has passed.” – Sananda Maitreya
Maitreya has a point. Life today is infinitely more interesting, even if name recognition remains elusive. Mention the name Sananda Maitreya to the average music fan, especially in the States, and blank stares usually follow. Part of it has to do with the six year hiatus between albums, with Wildcard! being released in 2001 under the dual names Terence Trent D’Arby / Sananda Maitreya, and Wildcard! (Joker’s Edition) re-released a year later under Maitreya’s name only. Regardless, Wildcard! more than made up for the unfinished business that D’Arby had left behind, with many critics hailing it as the best R&B album of the year.
By then he’d taken the step of officially changing his name and promptly moved to Munich, Germany, where he set up his own independent label, of which Wildcard! was the maiden release. It wasn’t his first stint in Germany; as D’Arby, he had been stationed in Frankfurt with Elvis Presley’s old regiment, and had fronted the aforementioned German funk band The Touch. Insatiably inquisitive, D’Arby, circa 1986, packed up and moved to London, following in the footsteps of Hendrix, hell bent on shaking up the music world – and craving, in his words, ‘fast cars and fast women’.
What he found in London was the perfect breeding ground for his art, a Petri dish teeming with strains of rock, R&B, soul, techno and indie music. In the U.S., it was almost unthinkable to have a black crossover star doing anything other than pop music, or occupying monolithic space at the top of anything other than traditionally black genres – R&B and soul among them. Rock was off limits, a door closed, a glass ceiling that couldn’t be busted. D’Arby wanted none of it. He wanted to be a star, and he wanted to do it his way, and if you weren’t down with him harnessing his inner Mick Jagger…well, then you could kiss his ass.
“Maybe it’s easier to hear how Sam Cooke has influenced me because of the way I sing,” he was quoted as saying in that Rolling Stone interview back in ‘88. “But it’s also true that I am aping Pete Townshend at certain moments in my show, and I get slightly paranoid when people ignore that just to concentrate on one aspect of my musical character. I also wonder why it is that we constantly invent terms to keep black artists from being considered rock & roll artists.”
No one seemed to get that back then. But the truth is, D’Arby, for all of the ‘manufactured superstar’ rhetoric written over the years, never received his just due for paving the way – and not just for black artists looking to cross over into rock. Look at who is singing country today – Taylor Swift and Luke Bryan are two that leap from a crowded page, pop-drippy singers raking in vast fortunes by tapping into the younger, cheerier, post-millennium country music scene. Funny how times change: Back in ’88, D’Arby was bum-rushed for being a ‘shameless, self-absorbed self-promoter’, and yet today Bryan prances around the stage every bit as concerned about his image as D’Arby had been back then – his hair perfectly coiffed, teeth glistening, just enough shadow on his face to complete the look. Look at me, it screams, and we eat it up, knowing full well that Luke Bryan is shamelessly pimping Luke Bryan.
In London, D’Arby hooked up with producer Martyn Ware – a founding member of Heaven 17 and the Human League – and worked with him on forming Hardline and it’s hit songs If You Let Me Stay and Wishing Well, the latter which charted for 17 weeks before landing at Number 1. The LP was lightning in a bottle, its singles both a curse and a Godsend. What emerged was genuine conflict – on the part of the critics who alternately hailed and assailed his live performances, on the part of a media that fanned the hype and punked his ego-tripping, and on the part of record company executives threatened by D’Arby’s impulsiveness but seduced by the promise of his bankability. Maitreya has long since grown weary of talking about it, but he circles back to D’Arby’s Hardline period for one last glance.
“The LP checked into the timeline as had been preordained, shifted the situation, and having done so moved on,” he says. “It lived and breathed, and it served its purpose.”
It also set the bar incredibly high. How could he possibly live up to that?
“There was simply no point in repeating what had been done,” Maitreya says now. “Nor was the structure available to us at that time for us to have gone any deeper into the well, since we had already caused quite a political stir and raised quite a few eyebrows at very high levels of society, where whispers become decisions. Once I became seen as a potential political threat, that pretty much put an end to my exciting ride. Understand that, to the system, what you are singing about is nowhere nearly as important as the people you bring together from across the lines created to keep people apart.”
Maitreya’s contempt for music as a business remains as strong as ever. And while it’s easy for us to sit and judge, we weren’t on the inside with him, riding the wave. And we’ve never had to sit in a boardroom with lawyers and record company executives, trying to coalesce our art with a suit’s vision of how to ring a cash register.
“His [Darby’s] music at the time blended people back together who had been stitched up and kept fearful of the other, and because of this, he could as well have been singing about oatmeal and they would have come after him,” Maitreya continues, cryptically. “He spoke to people beyond politics, so, naturally, he was regarded as a politician by some rather nervous and diligent people.
“His [Darby’s] music at the time blended people back together who had been stitched up and kept fearful of the other, and because of this, he could as well have been singing about oatmeal and they would have come after him. He spoke to people beyond politics, so, naturally, he was regarded as a politician by some rather nervous and diligent people.” – Sananda Maitreya
“More power to him! He believed in the power of music to bring people together, and he did, and he paid for it with his life. But that is how he would have wanted to die, and so he did. They killed him, and this hurt like the hell that it was, but he didn’t mind!”
After all these years, the death of Terence Trent D’Arby still resonates.
“He took his death as if it were his job,” Maitreya says. “After all, this is what we do with our idols, is it not? We kill them. First, we fatten them up like turkeys or pigs, and then, when they least expect it, BAM! We slaughter them!
“It’s what we do. And he wasn’t caught by surprise. He knew that, just as his idols had been worthy sacrifices before him, more than likely he too was going to get his. And he did. And now, he is like his heroes who got their asses roasted over the spit – a bit more tanned, perhaps, but none the worse for the wear.”
~ ~ ~
Sananda Maitreya ultimately moved from Munich to Milan, settling there in 2002. The following year, he married the Italian architect and television host Francesca Francone. And he kept creating; Angels & Vampires – Volume 1 was released under his own label, in 2005; Angels & Vampires – Volume 2 a year later; Nigor Mortis in 2009; The Sphinx in 2011; Return to Zooathalon in 2013; and The Rise of the Zugebrian Time Lords in 2015. The albums adhere to no formula, and are unconstrained by rules. Rather, they represent pure artistic freedom.
Picasso followed a similar path, and the world is better off for it. Picasso was cocky. A rock star with a paintbrush. A womanizer. Friendly with a drink. He operated on a level inhabited by a select few – only Matisse rivaled Picasso’s innovation. Had he continued painting life as we saw it, Picasso would still have been damned good, but there would have been no Cubism. There would have been no Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, arguably one of the most important paintings ever created. Picasso challenged convention, daring to go where others couldn’t, and he opened our minds to a whole new way of thinking. Does Maitreya see his work in a similar vein? Ahead of its time? Does he feel that it is fully appreciated, or does he think that true appreciation will come at some point down the road? And does it matter to him how history will ultimately judge his work?
“I am not sure that I am ahead of my time,” Maitreya says after careful consideration. “I am certain that I am exactly where I need to be. I expect my work to be judged fairly for the amount of time and effort put into it. I have very high standards, which I have gotten from my overall musical education over the years, and I apply to myself whatever level I can raise myself to, in order to achieve the music. I trust that time will honor the work I put into it. I gave it my best, kept my intentions as pure as possible and always felt grateful to be able to make music that others were interested in listening to. I know that time will judge me according to my works, while history will judge me according to my karma. We will see if they wind up close enough to be cousins!”
“I am not sure that I am ahead of my time. I am certain that I am exactly where I need to be. I expect my work to be judged fairly for the amount of time and effort put into it. I have very high standards, which I have gotten from my overall musical education over the years, and I apply to myself whatever level I can raise myself to, in order to achieve the music. I trust that time will honor the work I put into it.” – Sananda Maitreya
To date, Maitreya’s albums have been called everything from choppy to brilliant, from messy to soaring, from inconsistent to incomparable. The material is a result of wherever his imagination takes him. Has living in Milan, and being so close to other forms of timeless art, had an influence on his work in the studio?
“The main ways that painting and sculpting differ from what I do is that painters and sculptors do not get their balls busted for doing their work alone,” he says. “I am always questioned as to my motives for not collaborating as much, yet no one asked Rembrandt why he kicked bitches out of the studio when he wanted to paint. In any event, it is all about the same. Seeing a vision, being inspired by a sound, an idea, a look, a feel, and then translating that into reality. All artists are the same, just using different mediums for their presentations. One person uses wood, another paint, another sound, others use words. At the end of the day the purpose is still the same, to arouse the union between nature and human consciousness.
“It is certainly true that living in Italy has great advantages as far as being able to draw from such a rich inheritance of world class culture. Master Leonardo Da Vinci lived in Milano for many years and had a huge hand in its design and evolution. I live amidst great cathedrals, art galleries, universities, music academies, gardens where poets have walked and great works of architecture. I also live among people who love music and culture and treat artists with great professional respect, much as other societies treat doctors. It does me a great deal of good as an artist to be immersed in a culture where art has value. It benefits anyone to be in a friendly environment as it pertains to their living.”
~ ~ ~
One last thought on Terence Trent D’Arby and the music royalty to which he’s been compared; whether true or not, or warranted or not, the comparisons provided the rocket fuel for the spacecraft that D’Arby had built in that Raimundstrasse flat. Never mind that the LP was dope; the buzz generated by all of the incongruous name-dropping was more than enough to propel D’Arby skyward, while a string of hit singles, including the amped-up Dance Little Sister, provided the extra thrust needed to escape the atmosphere and make him a star. Ironically, the comparisons worked against D’Arby in the beginning, as he struggled with rejection.
“They [British record companies] couldn’t see past the obvious,” he said during a 1988 interview. “They looked at me and said, ‘Oh, here is another Michael Jackson or Prince. Who needs that?’ They couldn’t get past the surface similarities and see that there was something else there.”
“They [British record companies] couldn’t see past the obvious. They looked at me and said, ‘Oh, here is another Michael Jackson or Prince. Who needs that?’ They couldn’t get past the surface similarities and see that there was something else there.”
The comparisons only escalated after he broke through. It was almost as if D’Arby had been concocted in a lab, the result of careful market research: He was black – but not too black; he was easy on the eyes; he was built like Michael and could move like Prince; and he had trace amounts of Hendrix, James Brown, and Sam Cooke coursing through his veins.
Being linked to black musical icons was flattering, but what people didn’t get then – and perhaps still don’t get today – is that D’Arby was just as hip to white artists such as David Bowie and Mick Jagger as he was to their black superstar counterparts. Music, in his estimation, was colorblind. He grew up hooked on the Beatles, and as Maitreya, honored them on the first track of the expansive, 27-song LP The Rise of the Zugebrian Time Lords.
“You’re Going To Lose That Girl was not only an early favorite of mine as a very young Beatles fan,” he says, “but many years later, during a great and debilitating depression, I can recall spending a weekend listening to this song being played over and over as many as 30 times a day, as if hearing it was the only thing keeping me alive. It has a certain magic that inspires life, at least mine, and I wanted to give that feeling back to the world in my own way.”
D’Arby cultivated A-List relationships – black and white – back in the day, bending Bruce Springsteen’s ear and chatting up Prince on a regular basis. Springsteen, it turns out, was a fan from the get-go, seeking out D’Arby during his first tour in the U.S., and the two became fast friends. He was one of the few who were there for D’Arby when Neither Fish Nor Flesh hit the market stillborn.
“Springsteen took a complicated man under his wing and helped him through a dark time,” Maitreya says. “And then he was off to tackle the things going on in his own life.”
D’Arby and Springsteen make for an odd pairing, at least on the surface – the blue-collar, Born in the U.S.A. singer and the slightly androgynous singer who skipped out on the army, going AWOL to pursue his music career – but the Manhattan-born, illegitimately-born D’Arby was far grittier than most would ever give him credit. To say that he entered this world swinging wouldn’t be far from the truth; D’Arby’s childhood was a series of fistfights, which later made his transition to boxing such a natural act. By then his family had moved to Florida, where his Golden Glove championship caught the attention of Orlando-area army recruiters. D’Arby tried college but ultimately chose the military, motivated by a chance to see the world and broaden his own understanding of it. And although he never boxed again, the parallels between pugilism and music still resonate today.
“The parallels are even more appropriate between boxing and the music business,” Maitreya says, “although all sciences apply themselves in other applications. From the military I got the necessity of discipline and organization, commitment to goals. From boxing I got the ability to get smacked in the head real hard by other bitches and still be able to retain the image of who I thought I was, which was very valuable when I got caught up in the corporate network of the business. Boxing was warrior training, and to be an artist, it really helps to be a warrior.”
D’Arby was tight with Pete Townshend. Leonard Cohen, too. Not bad for a dude that seemingly rose up from nowhere to lord over the music world, if ever so briefly, like a lyrical Vito Corleone. But all of this had to start somewhere. Does Maitreya’s memory bank still store any clues? Was there anything in his childhood that suggested stardom?
“I recall walking back to my seat after singing a song in a church in Newark New Jersey at the age of 4 perhaps,” he says, “and then being instantly mobbed by this very excited lady with what seemed to me like breasts the size of clouds! Those heavenly pillows of love smothered me in their bosom until I felt like I needed a snorkel to survive. But what a death – I was hooked. Oh yes, I knew right then that this would be my life!
“I recall walking back to my seat after singing a song in a church in Newark New Jersey at the age of 4 perhaps, and then being instantly mobbed by this very excited lady with what seemed to me like breasts the size of clouds! Those heavenly pillows of love smothered me in their bosom until I felt like I needed a snorkel to survive. But what a death – I was hooked. Oh yes, I knew right then that this would be my life!” – Sananda Maitreya
“I have mostly fond memories of my childhood. I can remember the times I used to spend with my favorite babysitter as a child, a lovely Scottish lady in East Orange, New Jersey, who lived across the street from our home. Her name was Mrs. MacIntyre, and she and I would have saltine crackers and tomato soup each day for lunch. I loved her very much. I was about two or three years old at the time.”
D’Arby and Maitreya share the same DNA, so it should come as no surprise that Maitreya restlessly innovates, at times taking great care and precision in his work, at other times throwing paint on canvas and watching the patterns emerge. And therein lies the beauty of a Sananda Maitreya LP: While you know what you’re getting with certain artists – Michael Bublé, for all his talent, only has one gear – Maitreya has the requisite chops to go where his imagination takes him. The result may yield a head scratcher, but it won’t be the yawn-fest that comes with releasing the same mindless dribble. Case in point: The Rise of the Zugebrian Time Lords is classic Maitreya, a 27-track journey from the artist’s heart to his head and back again, an unpredictable tome that Maitreya refers to as ‘Post Millennium Rock’. The album is anything but boring. Allergic is a hypnotizing soul ballad that damn near steals the show, while Les Paul Man (Love is Love) needs context to be fully appreciated, as not everyone knows (or cares) that Les Paul was a guitarist and inventor of the solid body electric guitar – blunting the effect of the carefully crafted line ‘…it will never work because you are a lesbian and I am a Les Paul man’.
As far as Maitreya is concerned, form your own opinions about the album. Just don’t make the mistake of calling it experimental.
“Experimental, while a compliment, and a welcome one, also implies that one is taking directions in the dark as were one unaware of where they were going,” Maitreya says. “And while sometimes this is exactly where artists need to go, it is nevertheless true that most of the time, I am not ‘experimenting’, I am fulfilling a vision. Experimental might indicate that luck is involved more than hard work and forethought. My mind, as twisted as it is, is like this. It is like when politicians admit that they ‘experimented’ with drugs. It sounds more forgiving than saying that they just ‘took’ them.
“In any event, this is admittedly a sore spot because earlier in my career spoke of my records were spoken of by the record label as ‘experimental’ as a way of getting out of spending the money promoting them. Once they label it ‘experimental’ it simply sends a message to the industry machine that they shouldn’t expect too much merchandise from the product, because there won’t be much.”
~ ~ ~
“I think I’m a genius. Point fucking blank.”
Terence Trent D’Arby made that outlandish proclamation back in ’88, to Rolling Stone, at the zenith of his popularity. The thing is, the media fixated on the cockiness, creating a distorted caricature of D’Arby that didn’t exactly jive with the public persona that he was trying to create. The incessant boasting drowned out the fact that he was articulate, well-read, thoughtful, and above all, sensitive. The backlash followed him to the grave. It bothers Maitreya today. And it angers him, because he knows that scores of writers took the easy way out, stereotyping his former self instead of doing their homework, fixating on the veneer instead of doing a deeper dive into the inner workings of Terence Trent D’Arby. It irks him that they took him way too seriously, breezing past the lighter side of D’Arby to instead print massive amounts of copy about his arrogance.
“Dude, could I possibly answer these questions and not have a sense of humor?” he asks playfully. “Could I have married an Italian woman over 12 years ago and not have survived the culture shock without a sense of humor? Though more important may be a sense of irony, especially in our business. After all, seen through the appropriate lens, how can this all not be funny?”
“Dude, could I possibly answer these questions and not have a sense of humor? Could I have married an Italian woman over 12 years ago and not have survived the culture shock without a sense of humor? Though more important may be a sense of irony, especially in our business. After all, seen through the appropriate lens, how can this all not be funny?” – Sananda Maitreya
Life is good. Maitreya is blessed with a beautiful wife and two sons, and he’s been able to fill his days doing what he loves most – making music. The Rise of the Zugebrian Time Lords is 100% Maitreya on all 27 tracks…every instrument, every lyric, everything. No record company executive in her right mind would greenlight a project like this, but that’s the beauty of Maitreya being able to do his own thing. It’s his label, his studio, and his dollars backing each project he puts out. Maitreya answers to Maitreya. Does the thrill being on his own boss help fuel the passion for what comes next?
“I am never looking for ‘what’s next’,” he says, “because I do not really care about what is next, I only care about ‘what does this song or piece of music require?’ I live in a world where, as a creator, a producer, I can simply stay in the moment and listen to what the song is evolving as, with no limitations imposed other than to make the coolest record possible with the idea that came to you, and not have to superimpose restrictions based on marketing demographics and quarterly market trends. What is next is never a consideration, only ‘what is now’, ‘what is right’, and what is timeless? Even more importantly, ‘what works’?”
What about the ambitiousness of it all?
“As far as ambition, as an independent artist, there can be no viable excuse to not forever be reaching for the stars! I think it was master Oscar Wilde who may have said, ‘All of us are lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’ The Rise of the Zugebrian Time Lords is me lying in the gutter and dreaming of a life beyond it, like dreamers do. All of Post Millennium Rock so far is me living out this great opportunity to express myself as an artist and not just as a demographic.”
It boggles the mind to think of the work involved in laying down 27 tracks and being involved in every nook and cranny. Others have done it – Prince, perhaps most famously, with his 1978 debut For You, in which he produced, arranged, composed and played all 27 instruments on the recording. What is Maitreya most proud of when it comes to The Rise of the Zugebrian Time Lords?
“To be honest, I am always most proud of finishing and of having survived the ambition of the project,” he says. “We all learn as creators that we must each be willing to be responsible for what we create. And each of my projects is its own little world, and to be able to go from conception to birth with them is always its own peculiar journey. With the Zugebrian project, I conjured up a world that I would have to answer to and come to see how very real it was, no matter what name I gave it.
“And because of the Time Lords subject matter, concerning time travel, subjugation, mind theft, history manipulation, oppression and the like, I had to live with the dark subject matter for a while and bear it, to better feel and understand what it was that I was explaining. Needless to say, 27 songs worth of this can be exhilarating and at the same time take a tremendous toll on the psyche. It is like an actor taking on a role and getting lost in it. To have survived it is the greatest achievement. I do not know how well this bodes for the next project in planning, Prometheus & Pandora, since it will also be fiery subject matter. But it is also a love story, so it should be a much easier time period to bear. I should hope.”
Post Millennium Rock, is, at its essence, pure Sananda Maitreya – anything goes, and be sure to enjoy the ride. It’s a path mainstream artists are reluctant to take, the risk not worth the reward. For Maitreya, it is another brushstroke on the broader canvas.
“Most artists are limited by the restrictions imposed upon them by their record labels,” he says quickly. “The result of all of the executive meetings and decisions, the latest trends, the corporate boardroom competitions, the rivalries, inept management and perhaps the artists not being mature enough yet to project and protect themselves. Being a successful artist is like being an actor, you have to project from a role you have created for yourself that you can believe in. If others reject that, it can have a negative effect on your psyche, from the place from where you project your persona as an artist. And most artists do not have the power to resist doing and being what they are told, by a committee of revolving door executives with each their own agenda. To wit: If you do not know who you are and are determined to be that, then you are fucked. Just turn in your boat, your oars, your helmet, the keys to the locker and move on. Because the next time you see your sanity will be the last time, again.”
Terence Trent D’Arby was notoriously genre averse. Does Sananda Maitreya feel the same way?
“I am less a fan of genres per se, than of great artists and pieces of inspiration wherever I find it,” he says. “As an artist, I am always curious about other designs that bring attention to form and function, as well as things that prove the validity of existing just for its own sake. The point is, if I say that I love Bob Marley, then, especially in these digital times, I risk to get spammed to hell with nothing but reggae, when in fact, I said nothing about reggae, only about Master Marley. Same with Mozart. Say you love Mozart and Beethoven and it is naturally assumed that you love all classical music. But most classical music sucks, just like much of most music sucks. I love Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, and Duke Ellington for example, but most ‘jazz’ music puts me to sleep well before I am ready to go. I can also name quite a few country artists that I love, though not because they are country, but because they for me are simply great and angels of the music. Not everyone is Hank Williams or Merle Haggard. But just give me anything that I can square dance to, and I am as happy as an ant in a maze!”
Today, the top artists frequently collaborate with one another. Rihanna makes her own music, but she’s also appeared on umpteen songs starring other artists, collaborating with everyone from Eminem to Maroon 5. That just didn’t happen when D’Arby was alive and kicking.
“I would have loved to have written songs with Beethoven,” Maitreya says. “I would have loved to have taken out an acoustic guitar and written songs with John Lennon, though I understand that he might have been preoccupied at the time, with other priorities. As for the living, I cannot say which artists I would want to collaborate with. Most of them are still angry at me for leaving and for getting off the train before it wrecked.”
“I would have loved to have written songs with Beethoven. I would have loved to have taken out an acoustic guitar and written songs with John Lennon, though I understand that he might have been preoccupied at the time, with other priorities. As for the living, I cannot say which artists I would want to collaborate with. Most of them are still angry at me for leaving and for getting off the train before it wrecked.” – Sananda Maitreya
One artist who would want to collaborate with Maitreya is jazz legend Al Jarreau. The seven-time Grammy-winner raves about Maitreya and his work, notably Wildcard! (The Jokers’ Edition) and its opening track, O Divina. It’s proof positive that, while the public has largely moved on, there are still heavy hitters out there that believe in Maitreya and support his journey.
“Dude – please return the compliment to Master Jarreau because he influenced everybody’s sensibility one way or another when I was coming through. His sensibility was a gap filler between what was being sold as jazz and what was being sold as pop. Either way, he was a huge influence on so many people navigating their own way through, a guiding light, which as we know, is no easy gig! There is also the point that Master Al’s style and choice of music allows him to experience it for much longer because his music is not based on trends but on timeless values, which is where every true artist’s roots should be. As important, if not more than his music, was the elegance, grace & class he exuded. His karma is why he is able to still perform at master levels at this mature stage of his great career. And people love him, which inspires and creates further good karma for him to work with.
“Quite frankly, I aspire to work for as long as I am still inspired and do not shit myself onstage. If I can get through a show without turning people off, then I am still good! And it helps that I remain limber enough to dodge any items that might be thrown at my head or general facial area. When I lose the mobility required in avoiding projectile objects, then we will know that it is time to retire to golf, if not the wonderful Italian gentlemen’s game of bocce.”
And what does Sananda Maitreya want his legacy to be?
“You mean besides the fact that I answered all of these questions in my favorite orange socks & yellow underpants?” he says with a hearty laugh. “I want my legacy to somehow contain the understanding that what was done to my former life by the powers that be, did neither of us any favors. Other than that, I showed up and took my turn on the cross before handing it over to the next young idealistic fool. Is there anything else? I fulfilled that life as a blood sacrifice, and now I aim to fulfill this life as an artist. Not the smartest thing to be for sure but the only thing they would allow me to learn where I do not have to shoot at anyone. I was determined not to be defined by the limits of other people’s imagination and I trusted my own, since it was the one closest to me. My greatest achievement is simply that I SURVIVED MY OWN LIFE!”