meta-scriptMaría José Llergo On Her Debut Album 'Ultrabelleza,' Her Upcoming US Tour & Flamenco As A Cultural Bridge | GRAMMY.com
María José Llergo performs at Teatro Cervantes on December 20, 2023 in Malaga, Spain
María José Llergo

Photo: Pablo Gallardo/Redferns

interview

María José Llergo On Her Debut Album 'Ultrabelleza,' Her Upcoming US Tour & Flamenco As A Cultural Bridge

Maria José Llergo is taking her unique brand of flamenco to the U.S. for the first time. In an interview, the Spanish artist explains how she combines modern electro touches with traditional techniques to share the story of flamenco with the world.

GRAMMYs/Feb 29, 2024 - 03:58 pm

María José Llergo knows the key to her future is ingrained in the past. Demonstrating her fierce connection to her Andalusian roots, Llergo’s debut album Ultrabelleza, explores themes of home, tradition and family.

Her music is distinctly personal, interweaving the classic flamenco she was raised with alongside contemporary electronic flourishes. Following her album release in October 2023, Llergo is gearing up for a seven-date U.S. tour in March, including stops in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia.

Hailing from Pozoblanco, a small town in Andalusia's agricultural heartlands, Llergo's musical foundation is as authentic as it gets. The southern Spanish region, known as the cradle of traditional flamenco, profoundly influences her sound. Her grandfather, a vegetable farmer, taught her how to sing while they worked the fields. This connection to the earth deeply permeates her music with a feeling of grit, persistence and self-respect. 

On the album’s title track, she sings in Spanish a reassuring ode to a questioning child, "God himself/ With the water and the wind made you like this/ There is nothing wrong with you." In ‘Aprendiendo a Volar’ (Learning how to fly), she reflects on a view: "I see all the peaks, the summits, from my window/ So far from me that I have not dreamed of reaching them." 

Llergo's journey to success mirrors the lofty peaks she sings about. Following her training at the prestigious Catalonia School of Music, she released her debut EP Sanción in 2020. A year later, she made her mark on the European live music platform COLORS, when she performed a viral YouTube session which has amassed over 1.5 million views.

Ultrabelleza took Llergo’s budding stardom to the next level. She gained critical acclaim and a substantial fanbase in the U.S., which led to her highly anticipated American tour. Splitting her time between Pozoblanco, Barcelona, and Madrid, Llergo continues to pursue her musical career with passion and dedication. 

GRAMMY.com spoke with Llergo over Zoom about her unique brand of flamenco, her debut U.S. tour, and why her roots define her music. 

This interview, originally conducted in Spanish, has been translated into English and edited for clarity and length.

Your music is very much tied to place; you are a trained flamenco singer, a genre from Andalusia, where you grew up. How would you describe the region to someone who has not been?

Andalusia is the word "andar", walk, and "luz", light. Our people are called Andaluces; the lights that walk. It is a rich place: intellectually, it’s the home of Federico Garcia Lorca, Vicente Aleixandre, Antonio Machado, and Picasso. 

We have our very own way of living, very different to the rest of Spain. For centuries it was Arab, strategically located between Africa, Europa, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It has always been a cultural bridge, which is why there is so much art here. 

Andalusia is the cradle of flamenco and has a very deep-rooted musical culture that I identify with my style of music. Even though I combine soul, hip-hop, and R&B, flamenco will always be in my voice. 

Everyone should experience Andalusia, it’s so beautiful. What I like about doing interviews, and being able to travel to the United States, is to show Andalusians for what we really are, not stereotypes. 

Andalusia has weathered tough times. It’s one of Spain’s poorest regions, and, as you say, often gets reduced to stereotypes by fellow Spaniards.

They make fun of it. So, art is a way to dignify ourselves and reflect who we are: a people of culture. I think any Andalusian who has had to leave their region has to prove their worth because we are undervalued.

You talk a lot about family in your songs, like "Mi Nombre," which is an ode to your grandparents. Why is family so important to you?

I learned to sing thanks to my grandfather, Pepe. I was with him when he worked the land. I played with the stones while he watered, and dug furrows in the ground to let the water pass. He explained to me how the fruits grew, and he sang through my childhood and adolescence. 

I accompanied my grandfather in the field and learned what it means to work the land and eat what you farm yourself. I think that was the best school to learn about effort and never giving up. 

He always sang and art was present in everything he did. For example, if one day he had a problem with a neighbor, he would compose a lyric and sing about it in the traditional flamenco style. I would listen to him and imitate him. We sang the songs together. 

When I knew the songs well, my grandfather encouraged me to play with my voice and add my personal touch. And so I opened other avenues to create my vocal play, just like how water plays with stones when it tries to make a new path.

You seem very proud to be from Pozoblanco, where you grew up. What’s it like being from such a rural place?

Everyone works in farming. My family [lives] off agriculture, and that’s why I have an innate way of being with nature. I’ve always cared for nature, just like my grandparents. 

I observe the changes and feel a connection. For example, looking at the sky at night, the animal tracks left in the earth, or the changing of the seasons. That soft, beautiful darkness of the plowed field, or when the grass dries, it turns an intense blonde color that sometimes seems, when you see it from afar, like the sand of a beach that never ends. 

Everything I do has an impact, just like how I am affected by everything that happens around me.

You speak with such beautiful imagery; I’m thinking of how challenging it will be to do your words justice when I translate our conversation into English.

How beautiful! I guarantee that it’ll be easy. The meaning is the same, it’s just the path that changes.

That brings me to your lyrics, which are deeply poetic and highly visual. How are you inspired?

I’m a very sensitive person. I just get inspired by feeling, creating art is my way of venting all the emotions. I love writing poetry, and I think that has helped my songwriting. I always have a little book with me to write thoughts down, but I record voice notes on my smartwatch.

I live next to a river. Sometimes I walk alongside it and sing, recording myself. I’ve thought of many songs that way. 

Flamenco is a traditional style of Spanish music, but is it something still important to the younger generation in Andalusia today?

Flamenco is our DNA. We’re fortunate to have grown up listening to flamenco. The story of our grandparents, great-grandparents and ancestors is in every word. Flamenco is our classical music. 

That being said, flamenco is very broad and is present in all of [southern] Spain. Andalusia has a difficult history with many changes and invasions. It has welcomed so many different cultures that the region has formed a unique personality.

The lyrics of flamenco tell our story. For example, during the Franco dictatorship, there was a time when music was prohibited. It was a tool of liberation, where people talked of their "duquela," their sorrows, in the language of Caló, which is the language of the Spanish and Portuguese Romani. 

Andalusia has the largest Iberian Romaní population in Spain, for which we are fortunate because they have the merit of making flamenco what it is today, without a doubt.  

So, of course, it is a very diverse region — not always understood, often despised —  but so rich on a musical level. It transcends generations. It has a truth so deep that it never, ever expires. 

It reminds us where we come from, so it teaches us where we should go. It connects us with the past, but also provides clues to the future. Flamenco is eternal.

NPR and Pitchfork have written about your own Romani heritage…

They wrote that but didn’t ask me specifically about it. I define myself as an Andalusian. My ancestry is part of my private life and I don’t think I have to justify my actions through lineage. 

Thanks for clarifying that! We’ve spoken at length about the flamenco elements of your music, but you also have a very contemporary feel. You’ve worked with producers like Knox Brown (who has collaborated with artists including Beyoncé, Stormzy, and H.E.R.), for example.

What you hear in terms of my accent, or those flamenco elements of my music — that’s my roots. What you hear in terms of production, experimentation, and electro — that’s my wings. We can say that my music is the connection of my roots and my wings.

I look to musically express what I see in the natural world. For example, how a bird’s wing cuts through the air. Sometimes I can’t recreate that organically, so I find it synthetically. That's when I turn to electronica. 

I am using the musical resources that I have at my disposal in the time in which I live to translate my vision of the world into something tangible, which are my songs.

What contemporary music do you listen to?

Well, I’m in love with Fred Again.. I think Kendrick Lamar’s Element is sublime … I’m listening to a lot of Afrobeats at the moment: Rema, Simi, Ayra Starr, Burna Boy

I also like artists like Aaron Taylor, he blows my mind, or Erika de Casier.

I have a very varied music taste, I need diversity, not just emotionally but also in what stimulates me. 

Your U.S. tour starts on March 3rd. How does it feel to tour the U.S. for the very first time?

It's an honor to share my songs so far across the pond! It’s a country I want to know more in-depth and connect with. It feels like a gift, and I'm nervous and impatient because I can't wait. I already have everything ready and prepared.

Do you feel nervous to be taking flamenco to a place that’s so culturally different to where you’re from?

Sure, but I also trust a lot in the power of music. It’s a bridge between people and we’re not all that different when we have music between us. 

Music is like a smile, if you see someone smiling, you smile back. 

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Collage image featuring photos of (from left) Maka, La Plazuela, Mëstiza, María José Llergo, C. Tangana, Queralt Lahoz
(From left): Maka, La Plazuela, Mëstiza, María José Llergo, C. Tangana, Queralt Lahoz

Photos: Atilano Garcia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images; Ricardo Rubio/Europa Press via Getty Images; Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images; PABLO GALLARDO/REDFERNS; Aldara Zarraoa/WireImage; Mario Wurzburger/WireImage

list

6 Artists Reimagining Flamenco For A New Generation: María José Llergo, C. Tangana, Mëstiza & More

Contemporary artists like La Plazuela, Queralt Lahoz, and Maka are transforming flamenco by blending traditional roots with innovative sounds and global influences.

GRAMMYs/Apr 22, 2024 - 03:24 pm

Flamenco is undergoing a sweeping transformation. Propelled not by a single artist, but by a wave of creative talents, a new generation of artists are injecting fresh life into this storied genre. 

Six years after Rosalía's 2018 release, El Mal Querer, catalyzed a wider renaissance in the flamenco world with an approach inspired by the legendary Romani flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla a new wave of artists are rushing in to redefine the landmark Latin sound.  

A new generation of Spanish musicians draw deep inspiration from flamenco's rich traditions while redefining its contemporary form. Rooted in the flamenco traditions cherished by their ancestors, today's artists are innovating this heritage with a new set of sensibilities. Flamenco itself, with its diverse array of styles or palos, offers a unique medium of expression, characterized by distinctive rhythmic patterns, melody and emotional intensity. 

Discover the vibrant future of flamenco through the innovative works of trailblazers like La Plazuela, Queralt Lahoz, Mëstiza, C. Tangana, Maka, and María José Llergo. From Maka's trap-fueled infusions of reggaeton to Lahoz's innovations on traditional guitar-playing techniques, each of these artists, with their unique contemporary take on traditional styles, is reimagining flamenco and captivating audiences around the world. 

La Plazuela

La Plazuela duo Manuel Hidalgo and Luis Abril are both from Albaicín in the Andalusian city of Granada. It's a district infused with rich cultural history, where steep, winding streets are bursting with art and the sounds of flamenco. 

La Plazuela soaks the rhythms of flamenco in a distinctively sunny sound, forgoing the woeful connotations of the genre to explore new, optimistic possibilities. On their new song "Alegrías De La Ragua" the pair teamed up with flamenco singer David de Jacoba and electro producer Texture. The track is an ode to the sugar cane fields of Andalusia, highlighting the region’s agricultural importance and intrinsic relationship with the land — distinctly Granada both in sound and story.

Queralt Lahoz

Born in Barcelona to an Anducian family, Queralt Lahoz was raised on the sounds of flamenco at home where her Granada-born grandmother immersed her in the musical traditions of southern Spain. 

While her soulful, urban style deeply resonates with flamenco, Lahoz has stressed that she is not a purist of the genre and enjoys experimenting with different styles. Stripped back, brutally honest and direct, tracks like "De La Cueva a Los Olivos" is a multifaceted track that opens with rasgueado (percussive guitar technique integral to flamenco) that evolves into a brassy, jazzy chorus, and even includes a rap verse. She cites late flamenco great La Niña de los Peines alongside Wu-Tang Clan among her influences — a testament to her love of musical diversity. 

Mëstiza

Mëstiza envisioned flamenco for the nightclub: The DJ duo Pitty Bernad and Belah were already hot names in the Spanish club scene before they combined forces.  

Pitty hails from the southern region Castilla-La Mancha, and Belah from neighboring Andalucia. The two met in the Madrid DJ scene and shared a love for electronic music steeped in folkloric tradition. They are behind legendary Spanish club night Sacro, an immersive audiovisual experience rooted in ritualistic Spanish folklore. The duo has plans to bring their unique Sacro sound across the globe soon with to-be-announced performances planned for Europe, Asia, and the United States. 

C. Tangana

C. Tangana (full name Antón Álvarez) co-wrote eight songs on former flame Rosalía's El Mal Querer and demonstrates his dexterity and vision in the sounds of flamenco on his 2020 release, El Madrileño. The album explores regional sounds from across Spain and Latin America, employing the finest artists from these genres as collaborators. 

The album's first single, "Tú Me Dejaste De Querer" features flamenco stars Niño de Elche and La Húngara singing in the chorus between Álvarez’s rapped verses. Alvaréz’s tour of the album was based on a typical Spanish sobremesa (post-dinner conversation), with bottles of wine placed on a long table set with tapas, elbow-to-elbow with fellow musicians who clap palmas flamencas, play guitar, and provide backing vocals. El Madrileño earned three Latin GRAMMYs in 2021 and The Tiny Desk performance of the album is among the series’ most-watched concerts

Maka

Granada-born Maka has been a pioneer in viewing flamenco through an urban lens. A versatile artist, he is both a skilled rapper and prolific singer/songwriter. In his 2014 release, Pna, Maka combined flamenco singing (canté) over hip-hop beats ("La Dirty Flamenca") and reversed the formula to rap over flamenco rhythms ("Vividor").  

Maka returned to flex his mastery in flamenco in his 2021 album, Detrás de Esta Pinta Hay un Flamenco, which pays homage to the melodic pop-flamenco bands of the 1980s and 1990s with a throwback feel. His latest 2024 single "Amor Ciego'' combines a reggaeton beat with flamenco vocal embellishments, calling back to many of his early reggaeton and trap-fueled releases. 

María José Llergo 

María José Llergo released her debut album Ultrabelleza last October to critical acclaim, sparking an upcoming U.S. tour. As a trained flamenco vocalist, she graduated from the prestigious Escuela Superior de Música de Cataluña (Rosalía is a fellow alum.)

Llergo grew up in the small town of Pozoblanco, on the outskirts of the Andalusian city, Cordoba. Her grandfather, a vegetable farmer, taught Llergo flamenco from a young age, singing with her as he worked the land. 

Llergo’s music combines flamenco with the sounds of nature, reimagined synthetically through electronic experimentation that results in lush, immersive soundscapes. "I turn like the moon in the sky... If I stop moving, I’ll die", she sings in Spanish on the track "Rueda, Rueda," contemplating the rhythm of life. Her lyrics are deeply poetic and metaphorical, tying place to emotion, and nature to feeling. 

María José Llergo On Her Debut Album 'Ultrabelleza,' Her Upcoming US Tour & Flamenco As A Cultural Bridge

Maria Jose Llergo Global Spin Hero
María José Llergo

Photo: Alejandro Madrid

video

Global Spin: María José Llergo Performs "Aprendiendo A Volar" Live In Switzerland

Straight from the stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival Winter Residency in Switzerland, Spanish songstress María José Llergo performs a thrilling onstage rendition of "Aprendiendo a Volar," the second track from her debut album, 'Ultrabelleza.'

GRAMMYs/Mar 7, 2024 - 06:30 pm

On the B-side of her debut album, Ultrabelleza, Spanish singer María José Llergo is "learning how to fly." Troubled by love, she has grown frustrated with her earthly circumstances, wishing, instead, to fly away — even if it's only for a brief moment.

"I see all the peaks, the summits, from my windows/ So far from me that I have no dreamed of reaching them," she sings in Spanish in the opening verse of "Aprendiendo a Volar," which translates to "Learning To Fly" in English. "Nailed flag, nailed flag/ On my back/ If every time I win I lose/ What kind of poison do I deserve?"

In this episode of Global Spin, revisit Llergo's performance from the Montreux Jazz Festival Winter Residency, which took place at Switzerland's Villars-sur-ollons in February.

"Aprendiendo a Volar'' is the second track from Ultrabelleza, which was released on October 27, 2023, via Sony Music Entertainment España. The project is largely about Llergo's manifesto to "live without cracks, barriers, or prejudices as a source of power," as detailed in a press statement. 

On March 3, Llergo launched her first-ever U.S. tour — aptly titled the Ultrabelleza Tour — in Chicago. The singer will stop by Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston before wrapping at New York City's Le Poisson Rouge on March 15.

Press play on the video above to watch María José Llergo's live performance of "Aprendiendo a Volar," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Global Spin.

10 Women Artists Leading A Latin Pop Revolution: Kenia Os, Belinda & More

news

New Music Friday: Listen To New Music From Norah Jones & Dave Grohl, Mr. Eazi, RIIXE and more

As we hurtle into spooky season, listen to these spooky tracks from Mr. Eazi, RIIZE, Norah Jones & Dave Grohol and more.

GRAMMYs/Oct 27, 2023 - 02:35 pm

As Halloween approaches, this New Music Friday offers a potion of nostalgia, emotions,  and fresh sounds.

From RIIZE — K-pop's rising stars, who are mesmerizing listeners with their pop hit “Talk Saxy” — to Norah Jones & Dave Grohl uniting for an unexpected collaboration with “Razor,” many different genres are being represented today.

Keeping old times alive, Taylor Swift released her highly-anticipated Taylor’s Version of 1989, and Duck Sauce is bringing back their 2011 “Barbra Streisand” sound with their new dance single, “LALALA.”

Listen to these seven new tracks that will gear you up for spooky season 2023.

RIIZE - “Talk Saxy”

Kpop’s rising stars, RIIZE, are making a vibrant musical return with their new single, “Talk Saxy,” a hypnotic dance track that adds a level of depth to their sound even including a catchy saxophone riff. The lyrics focus on attraction to a stranger, and wanting to get their attention. 

“Talk to me exactly what you feel / Hide nothing, show me all and everything / It’s okay, let your heart do what it wants / Get it straight to the point / Talk Saxy,” RIIZE croons on the chorus. 

This track follows their debut single “Get a Guitar,” which launched their announcement to signing with RCA Records. RIIZE is the first boy band group to hail from SM Entertainment since Kpop group NCT. RIIZE members, Shotaro and Sungchan, are notably from NCT, and departed from the K-pop group this year.

Norah Jones & Dave Grohl, "Razor"

Dave Grohl, the frontman of Foo Fighters, graced jazz-pop singer Norah Jones’ podcast with special musical performances, including a cover of “Razor,” a rare gem from the Foo Fighters 2005 In Your Honor album.

The track features a calm beat with a tranquil melody and guitar strings and piano, blending their strengths seamlessly. This track follows their collaboration on the In Your Honor track “'Virginia Moon.”

During this podcast, Jones announced the release of a Black Friday Exclusive LP Record dropping on Nov. 24. Featuring a collection of podcast episodes with fellow musicians, this looks to be a real treat for fans of Jones and/or her estimable guests.

Jacob Collier feat. Michael McDonald and Lawrence - "Wherever I Go"

Jazz musician Jacob Collier has dropped the song “Wherever I Go,” a look into his forthcoming album, Djesse Vol. 4. A track inspired by idols from his childhood including the Doobie Brothers, Stevie Wonder and more, he’s made a standout collaboration with Michael McDonald and Lawrence to craft a memorable record. 

The two-minute track, which includes a strong bassline and soulful vocals, paints an illustration of loneliness from their lover. 

**The four-part journey of Djesse has gained him five GRAMMY awards and 11 nominations. With Djesse Vol. 4, collaborations such as “Little Blue” with Brandi Carlile to Ty Dolla $ign and Kirk Franklin are showcasing Collier’s versatility and knack for genre syntheses.. He also announced a 2024 North American tour with musicians Kemba and Emily King, celebrating the release of this album.** 

Mr Eazi's - The Evil Genius

Afrobeat sensation Mr. Eazi has unveiled his debut album The Evil Genius. The 16-track record shows Eazi’s ability to blend his rhythms from his hometown Nigeria, with hypnotic grooves from Ghana where he spent most of his years.

The Evil Genius takes listeners through his roots, family, love and loneliness in three acts. His skill in blending different styles of music like Gospel and Ghanian styles, makes him the global phenomenon he is. Eazi chose 13 African artists from eight countries to collaborate on this album, bringing together different parts of Africa.

Enhancing the music album, he has introduced a global art exhibition in Ghana, which features work from young artists across Africa.

Tiësto with Tears for Fears, NIIKO X SWAE, GUDFELLA - "Rule The World (Everybody)"

Mickey Hart - Dead & Company
Mickey Hart

Photo: Nick Spanos

interview

Living Legends: How Dead & Company Drummer Mickey Hart Makes Visual Art From Vibrations — And Brought It To Las Vegas' Sphere

Dead & Company are currently embarking a residency at Las Vegas' sphere, which features drummer Mickey Hart's eye-popping, unconventional art. Hart spoke to GRAMMY.com about how it came to be, and how the Grateful Dead's legacy continues to ripple forth.

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2024 - 09:06 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music who are still going strong today. This week, we interviewed Mickey Hart, one of two drummers — along with Bill Kreutzmann — of the Grateful Dead and its contemporary offshoot, Dead & Company.

His first-ever solo art exhibition, Art at the Edge of Magic, will run through July 13 at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, as part of the Dead Forever Experience. His work is also incorporated into their current residency at Las Vegas' Sphere.

After decades behind a drum kit with the Grateful Dead, and now in the same role in Dead & Company, Mickey Hart has learned a truly cosmic lesson: "The basis of all of creation is vibratory." 

For years, in parallel with his legacy as a music maker, he's made visual art using a sui generis method, which has plenty in common with his techniques as a drummer. Check out his visual art, which he's been creating for years in parallel with his music making; some of it may look like paintings, but that doesn't quite describe what it is.

Rather, Hart employs vibrations — much like he's done behind the kit for decades — to bring out hitherto-invisible dimensions in paint. The results are captivating to the eye — at times, otherworldly.

The strength of Hart's visual art has added another layer to the Grateful Dead cosmos. If you're in or near Las Vegas, you can check out these works as part of the Dead Forever Experience, in an exhibition at the Venetian running until mid-July.

Additionally, if you catch Dead & Company during their Sphere residency (which runs through July 13), you can immerse yourself in it during the famous "Drums/Space" portion of the set — a percussive, celestial section stretching way back in Dead setlist history.

"I just love to do it. Sometimes, your hobbies overtake you and become a necessary ingredient in your life," Hart cheerily tells GRAMMY.com. "And that's what happened with this visual medium, that it kind of grew on me and made me want to go back over and over and over again to learn the craft."

Whether or not you'll be heading to Vegas, read on for an interview with Hart about how he makes these sumptuous textures and hues truly pop — as well as his gratitude for the potency and longevity of the Dead's afterlife. (No pun intended.)

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Your visual work is beautiful. What can you tell readers about how you make it — the brass tacks?

Well, I wouldn't say I paint. I don't use brushes — sometimes, once in a while — but really it's more of a pouring medium, and a spinning medium, and so forth. But I use vibrations in the painting process, and I think that's why people call it vibrational expressionism.

I use a subwoofer and the Pythagorean monochord — a stringed instrument — drives the subwoofer. Pythagoras, of course, invented it, and it goes down very low to 15 cycles, sometimes 10 cycles. And that vibrates the paint. I mix multiple colors, and the colors come up within each other, and it reveals these details that you cannot get in any other way.

And I just kind of fell on it. In the beginning, I was drumming them — beating underneath them and so forth. But now, I've progressed to using a Meyer subwoofer, and it works just fine. And that's how the paintings are born. They're vibrated into existence.

Once I apply my mumbo jumbo to it, and using additives that create unique features — shapes, people, animals, mountain ranges, glaciers — you see all kinds of things within the paintings if you look at them, and let yourself go, and become part of the paintings.

Everybody has their own interpretation of [what they reveal], which is really important. These are not, like, a rose, or a vase, or a car. It's not that kind of art form. So, it raises your consciousness. And if you can connect with it, you get high. And that's what these things are all about. That's what art's all about. No matter what it is, audio or visual, it's consciousness raising at its best.

I take it you've been developing this ability in parallel with your work in the Dead universe for some time.

Well, of course. I work with vibrations. The vibratory world is where I live, and I make my art there. It's always been like that. I'm a lover of low end; low frequencies are my specialty. And because I'm a percussionist and many of my drums are very large and they speak to the range, the frequency, which is not normally accessed.

So, I create these works using these low-frequency creations. And that was something that I fell on years ago, but as a hobby; this was nothing more than an escape to another virtual headspace. Now, I share it with others.

I feel like this sound-based approach to visual art is a fairly unexplored space.

For sure. I mean, you can look it up. I've looked it up. And when you look up vibrational expressionism, I'm the only one that's there. Someone coined that term years ago, and it's kind of fitting.

I might be unique in that particular way, but that's the only way I know how to bring the colors up within themselves and reveal the super details.

Mickey Hart - Visual Art

Photo: Emily Frost

And I'm sure this process is fluid and mutable; you don't apply the same technique for every piece.

Yes, I apply different frequencies and different rhythms to different paintings. They're not the same. Every time I approach it — whether it be a canvas, or wood, or plexiglass, or glass, or whatever the surface is — it's always different. I never repeat. Every one of them is unique. 

It's about the mixing of the paints, and the ingredients I put in the paint. And then you have to let it go and you jam. That's what these works are — they're jams. Sometimes, I have a thought on how I want it to be, and then sometimes it'll completely change once I put paint to canvas.

You learn over years. I've been doing this for about 25 years as a hobby, so I've got hundreds of these. And some of them never see the light of day. That's the luck of the draw, but luck favors the prepared mind, and I prepare that before I go in. I focus and concentrate on not concentrating. I just try to be there now and let the flow happen.

I improvise. That's my love. That's the only thing I really know how to do. Memorizing things and repeating is not who I am. I don't paint by the numbers. You don't need me for that.

Much like what you do on stage!

The Grateful Dead never did memorize many things. It was mostly a seat-of-the-pants kind of art form, but you learn how to become a seat-of-the-pants artist, if you will. There's adventure, there's failure, there's success, there's luck, there's chaos, there's order, and back and forth. 

The duality of all of that reflects life. It gets you high too. You can look at it and all of a sudden you're in a different, virtual space. That's what art does — good art, anyway. It puts you in a place of great wonder and awe.

Mickey Hart

Photo: Emily Frost

Can you talk about using the Sphere as a canvas for your work?

That's how I look at it — as a blank canvas. When I hit the stage, I'm not thinking of anything. I prepared, I have my skill, I'm ready to go, but I'm not really thinking in the normal sense of the word. I throw that away and I just feel muscle memory, you might call it.

When you're playing music in a band, you become a groupist. You learn to be able to interrelate between six people each having their own consciousness, making something larger than the parts. Music is great at that. But in painting, it's a singular thing.

Music is just the moving of air. That's the delivery system. It's the movement of air. And in this case, it's light. It's what the light does to you. The eye is more powerful than the ear as an organ. So people really react to the visual. Hopefully in the Sphere, there's a combination of both that come together and form something much larger.

I appreciate that you view a drum as far more than simply a drum.

It's not something that just played to keep time. It's something that is an integral part of the orchestra, right up there with melody and harmony. The primacy of rhythm is something that has come into music in this century. If you listen to the radio, it's rhythmic-driven, mostly. Of course, there's the melodies, but the basis of it all is rhythmic.

Visual art is the same thing. It's all about rhythm and flow. If you don't have that, you don't really have anything. You have to have a groove.

The basis of all of creation is vibratory. These arts are just miniatures of what's happening in the cosmos. I mean, we are in the wash of these vibrations that were created 13.8 billion years ago from the singularity, the big bang, and that's still washing over us. And that's where art comes in. It connects you to the infinite universe at its best.

You guys seemed to realize early on that you could transcend simply playing rock songs in a band.

When we were younger, we were all ingesting psychoactive drugs. They certainly freed our perspective, and created a different kind of perspective when we all played together. Some of it was drug-related, you might say. We took what we could from those experiences and created a new kind of music.

That was an important part of our exploratory nature as we were falling on Grateful Dead music. We were exploring realms of consciousness that were not accessible to us normally in a normal waking state. These chemicals certainly helped in that respect, used correctly and professionally. They were an enormous, enormous help.

And now we're finding out that LSD is being used in therapeutic and medicinal and diagnostics and all of that. These are very helpful in many ways.

Mickey Hart

Photo: Emily Frost

How has it felt watching the Grateful Dead turn into a franchise, a universe? This visual element at the Sphere adds a whole new layer to it.

Well, it's very interesting to see all the corners and of the universe that the Grateful Dead spirit has reached and all the people and all the bands that copy our music. It's very rewarding and complimentary, I think.

We knew it was special. First time I ever heard it, I knew it was special. How special? You never know, but you have to keep at it being special. And eventually, it skips generations, which is what we've done — generation, after generation, after generation. The parents share with their kids, their kids, their kids.

It's something that's very friendly — hanging out with your parents at a concert like that, and having a great time together, and sharing something that they shared when they were younger.

It's fantastic. It's unbelievable that it has that power. I was just talking to someone the other night and they asked me to explain it. You can't explain it in words. You have to hear it. You have to be there. You have to feel it. You have to feel the community that it spawns, and this feeling that you get in the music. It's very seductive, if you allow yourself that moment.

I was just reading this morning that Diplo — the electronic musician, a very good musician — just became a Deadhead the other night.

Really!

Oh, yeah. It transformed him completely. You never can tell who gets touched by our music. It's something that's not explainable, but it keeps going on. The people will not let it go.

As long as people are interested in our kind of music and our kind of scene, we'll keep playing. There's no end to it until we don't have the facility to play, or the rhythm stops. I plan to do this till the day I die. There's no question about it. I've always thought that. There's no secret.

I think Bob and I both agree on that, and all of the Grateful Dead, Bill, Phil, certainly Jerry, we're all in the same boat when it comes to Grateful Dead music, the passion that we bring to it. And it's very rewarding that people enjoy it as deeply as they do.

I tell you, I can't express the gratitude that I have just being part of it. We all feel that same way. It's very humbling, to be honest with you, that it's grown to be this. It was just a little cub. Now it's a roaring lion. It's just a gigantic monster that is always meant for the good, and that's very rewarding. It's a good life to lead. We work very hard at it.

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