Words & Photos | Chelsea Erin Wright
“As a musical collective, our mission is to be the motivation and inspiration for all that have become members of our Tribe. Within our global community, we have access to the tools needed to make changes, take action and spread awareness of how to live in harmony with Mother Gaia herself. We are honored to be a force of attraction for positive and creative minds during these often-corrupt times. With your trust and support, we humbly accept this role and speak our prayers of intention to take direct action… “Hoka Hey” means, “today is a good day to die”, but perhaps with your help, it could transform into a better day to live. Thank you again for your love and support. Tribe members, let us come together today to be the change that we wish to see tomorrow.”
Respect and love,
Nahko & Medicine For The People
Wanderlust 2014: Stratton Mountain, Stratton VT June 20th, 2014
Nahko Parayno Bear: Welcome to the show folks, we’re here live. It’s today, we’re in the tent-with us, and the rug, that matches the dress. It’s fantastic, we’re here live.
Chelsea Erin Wright: What a beautiful day it is!
Nahko: What a beautiful day.
Chelsea: What sound in nature speaks to you most clearly?
Nahko: Mmmm…well I would say, right off the top, the ocean. And It’s funny, cause I didn’t grow up around the ocean, I grew up more inland…the folks I grew up with weren’t much of outdoors people, and so it wasn’t until I went to Hawaii eight years ago that I actually started swimming in the ocean-like freezing in the ocean-which scared me, a lot. It’s so powerful. I started surfing, and since then the ocean has been something that I’ve returned to a lot…I have to live by the ocean, and be in the ocean as much as possible. I love the mountains, and they
have their own sort of tone to them, ya know. But yeah, the ocean is my “Menaho” – in Hawaiian that means my responsibility as a person, to be with the ocean.
Chelsea: That’s a beautiful answer. It’s funny that you say that…I was born in
Vermont and have lived here my whole life…I truly feel like anywhere I go, I always need to come back to the mountains. You said you grew up inland – where were you born?
Nahko: I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. I lived in Alaska for a few years before I went to Hawaii, and I’ve been in Hawaii since then.
Chelsea: Are there specific places, or spaces in nature that influence your songwriting in a profound way?
Nahko: Mhmm, Alaska was a big influence for me. It’s straight-up wilderness, like getting chased by a moose and seeing eagles all over the place. And deep forest, worth nothing around. And growing up in the Northwest, we have a lot of cedars and pine trees, a lot of mountains and greenery-it’s really filled me with this sort of pallet of colors, and also the feeling of nature to work off of. The Redwoods of course in southern Oregon, and northern California…I’ve been there so many times…huge influence being around those grandfather trees.
Chelsea: An arising thought, is the vibration of the ocean, the trees…and the effect it can have on you.
Nahko: Absolutely – positive ions of the ocean, ya know…being in it and surfing, creates such an amazing relationship with the ocean, to work with the ocean and sort of…ride the edge of crashing and falling, and maybe getting pummeled or drowning…or being able to gracefully and skillfully ride this wave that’s being provided to you by nature. But yeah, I’ve been to plenty of places where when I get there, I try to connect with the soil, because we’re from the soil. I just went to Israel a month ago, and got to collect some samples of the soil there…and realized to be in these different portal/vortex places around the world, to feel their different energies as well…when you can tap into that, you start feeling the connection to nature for sure. You start opening yourself up to that.
Chelsea: How do you feel about sleeping on the ground, with what you just said about the soil?
Nahko: Oh yeah, I do it all the time. Now, for me, I have to do it consistently in order for it not to hurt my back because my body re-adapts to being with the ground. We were just in Australia a couple weeks ago, and took five days to go in to the desert and we slept on the ground around the fire. That’s actually how I used to tour, I had my van and slept in that and around campfires.
Chelsea: Totally immersed in the natural world…sounds excellent.
Nahko: Yeah, it was like the hot springs and campfire tour.
Chelsea: Beautiful. So, Land of the Indian –
Nahko: Trevor’s song! (Trevor Hall)
Chelsea: It resonates very deeply with me.
Nahko: Did you get it? It was just released.
Chelsea: Yeah. I streamed the live feed the night it was released, it was great. The first time I heard Land of the Indian, was via a youtube video where Trevor had you up on stage with him and you were chanting sacred sounds – how did that song evolve between you two?
Nahko: Well he sent me the song last spring. He had come to see me play in L.A. and then he went home and stayed up all night and wrote this song, right – he tells this story really funny…he sent it to me and I didn’t say anything for like two weeks…I mean it wasn’t that long, it was like 4-5 days, but he was texting me like “hey man, did you get that song?”, and was wondering if I didn’t like it, and I finally wrote back and was like “So sorry bro, its so epic, I’ve been listening to it non-stop but I just haven’t had time to write you back”…and so when I heard it I was like wow – he channeled Grandfather, I was super impressed. It was also kind of an affirmation to see that him and I have such a deep connection, and a long road of brotherhood and music together, which is exciting. For me, I was reaching out to the brothers and the sisters to see who was going to be there to be my allies in what I was doing. I was trying certain people and they weren’t coming through, but Trevor was there. He was like boom, lets go…ya know? And that was awesome. I had looked up to him, known about him and listened to his music for so long. I was a fan, ya know? And then he became my brother. When we got back together, he was just like try doing what I was doing…and so I listened to his recording, chanted along, then sorta switched it up and did my own thing with it.
Chelsea: I had listened to his music for awhile before I heard of you or Medicine for the People, which is what led me to find your music…youtube suggestions via Trevor Hall music videos…and shortly after hearing your song Black As Night, I envisioned you two on stage together – and then it happened, and it was so moving…just such a beautiful combination of energies.
Nahko: Mmm, yeah – absolutely, it was epic.
Chelsea: When did you begin writing music, and what was your first inspiration?
Nahko: Well, I feel like for most men, or boys…and it’s for sure for girls too…generally, you write your first songs about a guy or a girl. I started playing guitar when I was fourteen, but before that I started playing piano when I was six. So I started writing songs on piano around 11 or 12…I used to have this whole book of piano songs that I wrote, and I’d type up lyrics…they were so bad. They were my first songs. I have a VHS, actually, of those-I went to my first open mic when I was like 16, and I had a camera so I was recording all of the open mics…that’s priceless footage. So my first song…my parents wouldn’t let me talk to girls, I was home-schooled too, so I didn’t really see girls…so they were always about this mythical chick that I wanted to talk to and was in love with…this girl. In fact I think this one song was called Raspberry Charm, and it was about this girl that I went on a date with…we went and had Italian sodas, then my car got towed.
Chelsea: That sounds exciting, makes for a sweet story
Nahko: Yeah, that song sucks – but it’s really funny to bring it back and go “Mmm yes, raspberry charm”
Chelsea: Sweet. (lots of laughter). Now I have a big one for you. How did Medicine for the People manifest? Did you manifest it?
Nahko: For sure, absolutely. And someone has to steer it in the right direction, ya know. The first year that I was in Hawaii, I was sitting around a fire with some homies, at this farm that I was working at and I was recording onto a Mac which was the first time i’ve ever done that before, and then my friend around the fire randomly said as I was playing, “Yeah dude, this is medicine for the people!”. So it was on the recording, and I would listen to the recording over and over again, because it was the only thing I had ever recorded of me, and I’d always hear him say that-and I thought, well that’s cool-and honestly I don’t remember when the moment was, when I was like that’s going to be the band name. The first person that was actually in the band, besides me, was a hand percussionist named Skye – really funny dude – but then I went back to Portland after Hawaii and started playing farmers markets with this horn player. He still plays with me sometimes…and I think it was at that time, that we were like “oh we should create a band name and start playing at all these open mics and gigs”. So I had a couple songs, they were kinda good…they’re actually on the first record, and I’d play those a lot, and I was still writing. But yeah, there was years of just being like I’m playing music, this is fun…making some dollars on the side, have this demo I’m giving out…but I didn’t ever think, what am I going to do if someone notices me and says “Let me help you out” or “what do you want to do with this?”, ya know? There was never a moment where I was like, I know what I’ll say…I didn’t know what I would say. To me, I was pretty much just living in Hawaii in the winters, working on the farm, and then hanging out and playing music in the summertime driving around. Then working in Humboldt, trimming weed in the fall, ya know, so that was my pattern of life. I didn’t have this big mission. In my heart, I always knew I was amazing.
Chelsea: Yeah – you knew you’d do something with it, but you didn’t know yet what it was.
Nahko: I always knew I was going to play music, but I didn’t know it was going to be in this way. So I would say the last 3 years, since 2012, the shift has gone from kind of serious to very serious.
Chelsea: It sounds like quite a journey.
Chelsea: Perceiving MFTP as a movement that envelopes spiritual, metaphysical and environment healing, how would you say that your Native American ancestry influences the music and the movement?
Nahko: I would say very deeply, to step back a moment and for my heritage – every culture I come from, which includes Native American, Filipino, and Guamaro – I step even farther back and think it’s not even really about culture necessarily. I can’t even name one Native American that’s in the mainstream music scene, and or this scene if you will – so in that regard, I find it to be super important for us to be doing what we’re doing. I would say that being able to be representative of this country as a Native American, is super important for me – and is very involved in the lyrics, and involved in the story of the music because of the teachings of our Native American elders, and spirituality. A lot of the songs certainly have come from my journey of finding family within tribe that will take me in – in lots of cultures, its such a crazy world especially being of mixed blood – you have to sort of go through these years of feeling displaced…I went through years of not feeling like I was accepted and trying to find family that recognized me, and I’ve been trying to find elders and peers that would take me seriously or would bring me in and show me the way, ya know? And that took a long time. It also took me and my own age, and confidence to realize that I don’t need anyone else’ validation, I know that I’m connected to the Great Spirit, and I know that this is the way, the Red Road – I know the struggles of others…of our past Earth and of our future. So that sort of needed to happen for me to come to terms with being okay with not needing that validation. And then when I decided that, that’s when all the elders came. That was the good lesson, you know?
Chelsea: Of course. It puts a huge smile on my face to hear that, and it’s interesting what you just said about finding home, being in America…what America is now. For me, listening to your music…I feel that, in your music, which is why I ask. I resonate with that so deeply.
Nahko: It was a good question, good job.
Chelsea: Hah, thank you. How was the song Aloha Ke Akua manifested?
Nahko: aha…well, I was tripping.
Chelsea: Oh really, okay…that makes so much sense.
Nahko: Hah, well not for the whole song obviously…it was 2011 when I wrote that song, and I was so scared about 2012, and I was letting the fear ruin me. And that was the thing, that was the whole point of the song…I was like letting all of the prophecies and all of the..sort of, darkness, take over and allow me to be freaked out. So I was sitting there tripping, and I was in Hawaii down by the waterfall, and I was like “where do I want to be at, if this whole thing goes to shit?”…I was like I want to be near my family, but I want to be on the island because I know where to get food, ya know. And then I had to surrender…again, I had to be like I don’t know…wherever I am, and so that was the release of it. I was like oh, okay, I don’t need to worry about this because wherever I’m going to be at is perfect. And then I was like, well what if I can choose? But I can’t choose, absolutely not. The only choice I could make, would be not to go anywhere – and that would’ve sucked. So yeah, that would be my answer for sure
Chelsea: Amazing, I appreciate you being straightforward and transparent about your ways of growth. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit here on this beautiful mountain and share your story with me. I look forward to seeing you guys play tonight.
Nahko: Of course, enjoy.