.:.MIST ON THE MOUNTAINTOP.:.
An Interview with Anilah
by Ryan Rock
Anilah is the solo project of composer and vocalist Dréa Drury. This project takes root in utilizing the power of voice as the focal conduit for enacting the experience of deep internal healing and transformation. Through years of studying various concepts that stretch from the indigenous and ancestral to the esoteric and modern—while retaining a distinct connection with who she is and where she comes from—Drury has explored far and wide to bring inner-wisdom back for us all to share in. After issuing her debut self-released album, Warrior, in January of 2014, Anilah has taken on quite a devoted following. Today we look to catch a word of advice from this inspiring mystical individual.
Heathen Harvest: What is your impression of the reactions that you have received about Anilah in the short time that you have been releasing music with this project?
Dréa Drury: So far I have had great feedback from listeners; the support has been overwhelmingly positive. Many people often express to me that they had been waiting to hear something like this, and the impression that I get is that some people also felt that they needed this kind of music their lives. I have had several emails of a very personal nature, expressing to me how the music has helped them, and even aided in giving people the courage needed to change aspects of their lives. To me, this is the greatest feedback that one could receive.
HH: Other than Nature, which of the spiritual, shamanic, or esoteric resources do you find most inspires your music and way of life?
DD: Honestly, these days the greatest inspirations stem from simple encounters I have with people, hearing their personal struggles and evolutions—or just simply observing the paradox of life. I am often struck with how profound beauty and absolute horror can occupy the same space, the existence of light and darkness within a single moment.
At this time I have chosen to remain fairly private about my personal practices, but I will say that they involve a combination of meditation (Vipassana), yoga, alchemy, and fire ritual. Practices which are non-dogmatic, experiential, and directly tangible interest me. I choose not to participate in doctrine or that which is hierarchical or absolute; I continuously question my beliefs which lead to rigidity of any kind. I was originally drawn to Druidry and the shamanic traditions from a very young age, which often confirmed experiences which I was already having.
Some of the other resources which I have drawn inspiration from are the teachings of Kundalini Tantra Yoga, the I Ching, certain aspects of Buddhism, and entheogenic ritual.
And lastly, spending prolonged periods in isolated silence has been one of my greatest inspirations.
HH: In an interview with Femetalism you had mentioned that you have studied under Ali Akbar Khan. With all due respect to a departed classical Indian master, could you please elaborate on what your relationship with Khan was like as a student and person? Did he have a significant influence on your studying of Indian Classic Raga and did you learn anything about performing traditional Indian instruments during your time spent with him?
DD: Yes, Ali Akbar Khan has been one of my greatest influences and teachers. My experiences with him completely changed my view and understanding of music. As a descendent of a long lineage of classical masters, Khan embodied music in a way that I have never seen before. During my time with him I mainly studied voice, as well as applied his sitar and sarod instructions to my guitar playing. The traditional way of teaching in this lineage is mainly call and response, so the teachings were all through the sound, with very little talking about music—or notation. There is a strong emphasis on listening also, having to be aware of not only scale structures, but microtones as well. This is the area which fascinated me the most: the intentional use of intervals and microtones to produce a desired effect (emotional or otherwise). Each Raga has a specific purpose, even a time of day which it is to be played. This understanding of music is far more complex than the Western model, it goes beyond music as entertainment, and enters into the world of science and medicine. For those interested in this, I highly recommend the work of Hazrat Inayat Khan.
There was a time, after I had been studying with Khan for many months, that he invited me to a private session with him. This was, by far, one of the most profound and altering experiences in my life. I entered the room, sat down in front of him and his harmonium, and without saying anything else he played one note and told me to sing it. I sang this one note for about half an hour, over and over again, and he just listened. After this, he stopped me and proceeded to tell me things about myself that were impossible for him to know, down to specific health ailments. After that, he ‘prescribed’ a daily musical practice which included scales and Ragas, but also, the slow deliberate practice of purifying the voice. Like I mentioned before, this understanding of music goes way beyond what we are usually taught.
HH: When you describe your music as being an act of reciprocity, what do you mean by that exactly, and what do you intend to give back with your art?
DD: By reciprocity I mean that my expression of music and art is a direct result of my relationship with nature, and there is a mutual benefit. When I interact with nature, with my surroundings, I often hear melodies and full compositions in my head. There is some kind of exchange that happens, some kind of mutual benefit which is realized through its expression. I don’t understand it fully—this is only my impression. What I intend to give back through my art is an expression of gratitude, and of acknowledgement to a system which is far larger than I can comprehend.
HH: What else do you intend for your artwork to provide by way of the visionary experience?
DD: I simply would like the music to do what it needs to do, it seems to have its own agenda which I can’t control, and is unique with each listener. But I will say that when I sing, it is coming from a very particular place within my consciousness, which some would call transpersonal. Because of this, I find that people also respond in that way—like the music speaks to a part of them which they hadn’t listened to in a long time.
HH: Could you please describe the evolution of your creative process, from the introspective ritualistic workings on “Invoking the Numinous” up through your currently unreleased endeavors?
DD: The evolution of my creativity has largely been an alchemical process. Meaning, I have used my creativity to explore and transform things within myself which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. The act of composing a song is entirely conversational at this point; there is both a call and an answer to that call. The result is a combination of these two dynamics. These days, I find that the music allows me to explore questions, usually of a painful paradoxical nature, in ways which offer some kind of resolution or ease. Exploring the shadow nature through the creative process is also something that interests me, and most of the new material explores this concept. Invoking the Numinous was an experiment in using music to create altered states of consciousness within myself.
HH: What sorts of music do you enjoy or find influential?
DD: My influences include everything from the sacred classical chants of Hildegard Von Bingen to black metal. I tend to take in influence from all kinds of music. Notable bands that I am currently listening to: Dead Can Dance, Blut Aus Nord, Benjy Wertheimer, Sorne, Opeth, Tool, Clint Mansell, Gojira, Niyaz, and Katatonia.
HH: From other art forms such as literature and film, do you have any influences that you would care to speak of?
DD: There are many, but some of the main influences include Alan Watts, Hazrat Inayat Khan, Carl Jung, Terrence McKenna, David Whyte, Mary Oliver, Martin Prechtel, John O’Donahue, Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, and Blavatsky to name a few.
HH: Could you please describe the landscape from which you find such creative inspiration and how it speaks to you?
DD: The landscape where I live is very diverse, from lush forest valleys and lakes to alpine peaks and glaciers. Where I grew up in the interior of British Columbia, it is very remote and quite isolated from noise and the chaos of city life. If I want to, I can go days barely seeing another person, there is a vast amount of space which is unpopulated. For me, it is very important to spend time in nature which is wild, untouched. In these places, my nervous system seems to rest in a way which allows my creative capacity to expand. All of the songs which will be on the next album were written in these places.
HH: As someone that has himself experienced a more solitary coming of age by overcoming trauma, I wonder if you would like to share any such events that were pivotal in shaping who you are now. If this question isn’t too personal, could you please?
DD: I would say that some of the main events which shaped who I am now have involved going through periods where I was very sick for a prolonged period of time. When I was forced to go inward, I found resources that I never knew existed. The other event which affected me deeply was the death of my father, and the stages of coming to terms with my relationship with loss and death throughout the whole process. And thirdly, my experiences with entheogens—within a ceremonial context—have permanently altered who I am. Any flowery notions or concepts of spirituality were immediately silenced afterward.
HH: Do you have any advice for fellow soul-searchers that are looking to use shamanic practice and esoteric magic in their artwork or day-to-day life?
DD: I would say that anyone interested in doing this should first and foremost get honest with themselves about why one would even want to do this in the first place. If humility or reverence isn’t part of this process, then it’s worth questioning. Secondly, any practice which helps to quiet the mind is highly beneficial to creativity. I recommend pranayama for this, specifically ones that help to slow down and balance the nervous system. I also find that learning how to enter shamanic states, through breath work, drumming, or chanting, can also be helpful. As McKenna often said, as artists we continually need to give ourselves permission to explore the irrational. For me, my rational mind has little place in my creative process these days. Practices which allow me to occupy that part of my mind, or silence it altogether, I find most helpful. When I am creating, I don’t want any of my ‘selves’ to get in the way, I want to get out of my own way so that something else can come through. This is where some of these practices are helpful.
HH: Of your recent collaboration with Wardruna, would you like to share anything about your relationship with Einar Selvik? What was it like working with him and are there any future endeavors that the two of you might pursue?
DD: The musical collaboration with Selvik has been very special for me, mostly because he is one of the only people that I know of whom I have complete trust in, artistically speaking. In that, I trusted him enough to do something amazing with Warrior, because I heard uniqueness in the music that he creates with Wardruna. It seems as though he has a high standard of creative and musical integrity but also, and more importantly, a kind of humility which is rare to find. My respect for him has only increased after working with him. My dream is to produce an entire album with his influence one day, but whether or not there will be mutual time for this I can’t say at this time.
HH: After the buzz that was stirred up by the pre-release exclusive premiere for “Warrior (Revisited)” we were left with a fair amount of clamoring for a physical release. Do you plan on issuing any of your current or future works in a physical format?
DD: Yes, I plan to re-release Warrior in a physical format this summer, which will also include the new version of ‘Warrior’ featuring Selvik.
HH: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Do you have any plans for live performances or touring? Is there any other information that you would like to share at this time?
DD: I have plans for performing this material yes, but only after I finish the full-length.