Interview with Buddhist Metal band Dosa Jhana
I’m not sure how, but luckily, one day I stumbled on this incredible band, Dosa Jhana. It’s rare to find a band in the extreme metal genre that even talk about Buddhism, never mind dedicating their whole effort to the path. The only other metal band I know that has any Buddhist overtones would be The Firstborn, who are amazing themselves.
I ended up getting a copy of their demo and was blown away at the array of sounds they included in the music. It wasn’t just extreme metal, there are various elements an.d layers to the music. I knew I had to profile the guys here on PM, and below please find the interview I did with Steven form the band. I hope you enjoy it and hope you’ll give their music a listen. Here’s a YouTube video of their’s to get you started.
Dosa Jhana is a rather obscure band to most, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about the band.
Dosa Jhana is a Buddhist-metal band from the Amsterdam area in the Netherlands. We are basically a two piece band but recently we added two extra musicians (Dave Wismeijer of Isfere on bass and Melle Kramer of Obsidian on drums) to perform our music live. We have played on several art exhibitions as well as regular concert venues, most notably being the opening act for fusion-metal greats: Cynic.
Dosa Jhana was founded in 2006 in the mind of British artist Maria Pask. She was asked to participate in the Sculpture Projects ‘07 in Muster Germany, where she presented her work ‘Beautiful City’. As a part of this work there would be series of performances or lectures on religion in the modern day by different religious groups.
Maria used to be my teacher in Art school, but we have kept in touch after I graduated. She knew I was into metal music and she approached me if I would be interested in performing in Muster as a Buddhist metal band. My direct response was “Sure, that sounds like the kind of thing I would do anyway!”. I have always had a sympathy for Buddhism, but it wasn’t until that point that I read more into it. I invited my good friend and partner-in-crime David Hazeleger to join me since he is a musical genius, shares my taste in music and is one of the most zenned-out guys I know. Things have led from one thing to anthother since then I guess…
There are obvious Buddhist overtones to Dosa Jhanas music, was this the intention?
When Maria asked me to be part of her project I started reading up on the basic principles of Buddhism and trying to figure out what a Buddhist metal band would sound like. I knew I wanted it to be real heavy while also leaving space for melody and atmosphere. It were bands like Cynic, Devin Townsend, Type 0 Negative and the Ocean that mostly inspired the sound. When I talked to David about my ideas, he e-mailed me the first song that same night! It was exactly what I had in mind. Some other songs were written together in the rehearsal room. It all came together really quickly and fluently. This is the kind of music that comes natural to us.
Lyric wise I was working through some personal issues I had at the time and relating those to Buddhist views and principles. Sometimes jokingly asking myself “What would the Dalai Lama do if he were a metalhead?”. It was while trying to find a middle ground between Buddhism and the typical beer-metal-and-titties lifestyle that I found out this wasn’t something I was trying to make up. This was exactly where I stood in life. That made the whole creative process a lot easier.
Metal music is normally known for it’s violent lyrical content, inspired by serial killers, horror movies, etc. Do you think there is a place for Dharma in the metal genre and what do you hope to accomplish with the message of Dharma through metal?
Metal is a funny genre when it comes to lyrics. Everything seems to be accepted, though maybe not in every sub-genre. But basically you can go from necrophilia to love songs. Dosa Jhana much rather spreads a positive message than pretend to be all dark and evil which we are really not. I really don’t see any reason why Dharma based lyrics would be unacceptable or weird. However, I do try to leave some stuff open to interpretation. I have no intention to stuff Dharma down people’s throats. It should also be accessible for people who are not into Buddhism. Lyrics are just words after all and people are going to take from it what they want anyway.
What type of practice do you have? Do you follow any particular school or lineage?
Not really. We just tend to read and absorb whatever we come across. We tend to keep things pretty basic. When I first read into Dharma it mostly felt like just plain common sense to me.
A while ago Melle, our live drummer, showed me some Youtube video’s of readings by Sogyal Rinpoche, the leader of the Rigpa institute. Great stuff.
When we did our first few shows it was within an art performance context. It was because of this that we wore the typical orange robes and were laying the whole Buddhism thing on pretty thick. It was cool to get some attention to our music and message that way, but when we decided to turn it in to a complete live band and play regular club shows we felt that it would be too gimmicky and it might come off as being disrespectful or fake.
I’ve heard from many people about the meditative effect of playing live in front of an audience, I’ve felt that myself. Do you find this to be true when you play? (ed. note: see Melle’s article he wrote here a while back on his experiences with playing live)
Absolutely. Playing music in general can be that way for me, especially when I’m behind the drums. When David an I did the 2 piece shows in Munster and London we did a thing we called “metal meditation”. This basically comes down to us two improvising together on stage. David and I have been playing together for more than 17 years now, so we tend to pick up each other vibe pretty well. Sometimes the stuff we then play will sound completely rehearsed. This is just because we know exactly where the other is going at that point.
Are the rest of the guys in the band into Buddhism?
I think everyone is into it to some degree. I tend to delve more in to it from time to time when I’m writing lyrics. Looking for inspiration in the words of wiser men. I know Melle has been into it far longer than I have though.
How cool was it to get on the same bill with metal masters Cynic? How did the crowd react to your set?
It was completely awesome. I live near P60, the club where the gig took place, so it was pretty easy for me to make a few phone calls to arrange Dosa Jhana to be the opening act. After all, Cynic was one of our main influences so it was a pretty solid match. I believe the crowd responded quite well, though it was hard to tell at first. Technical metal tends to attract a lot of musicians in the audience and those people don’t scream, mosh or headbang. It was after the show that people came up us to tell us they really enjoyed it. And more importantly: So did the guys from Cynic. They even invited us to open for them again the next time they played in the neighborhood. I couldn’t think of a bigger compliment!
Besides the band and practice I understand you are an illustrator?
That is correct. Through my website www.steven-art.com I do illustrations for everything from magazines, CD artwork to concept sketches and murals. Just like music this is just another form of creative expression. To me all feels like “art” in some form and is basically part of the same thing. That is why I also believe that good artwork is essential to a band’s success.
David is also like that. Besides being a guitarist a bassist and a great producer, he is also a movie maker, director, video editor. He works at one of the Netherlands better public networks, making leaders for their shows and such.
It is this diversity of creative skill that we try to fully use and combine for projects like Dosa Jhana.
If you were able to accomplish one thing with Dosa Jhana what would that be?
To me one of the biggest thrills about being in a band is when people come up to me and tell me that one of the songs I wrote or the lyrics I wrote really touched them. I’ve had people telling me how my lyrics really helped them through heartache and depression. It is the most awesome thing that something I wrote touched their lives in a positive way. So I would just like to keep doing that really. And the more people get to know our music the better we get to spread the message.
Oh, and of course we also really like to play a show in Tibet, in front of a huge red/orange circlepit of moshing monks. But I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen, hahaha!
Thanks for the time Steven, I really enjoy what you are doing with Dosa Jhana. Any plans, writing, recording, in the future? Any parting words?
We are slowly working on a full length album, but there is no timetable for that…. Or anything. David and I are both really busy people and we are always working on 5 or 6 projects at the same time. The cool thing about Dosa Jhana is that we have no deadlines or obligations to anyone. We just take it slow and see whatever comes across our path. So far this has worked out pretty well. Good things just keep finding their way to our doorstep. So I have a feeling there is still plenty in store for Dosa Jhana!