Noah C. Lekas: Saturday Night Sage

“I rode hard through all superficial phenomena and experience.”

“I rode hard through all superficial phenomena and experience.”

It’s a great line, ripped from mystical blue-collar screed of Noah C. Lekas on “Saturday Night Sage.” Amidst a cacophony of searing guitars and hellfire rhythms from psych-troubadours Howlin’ Rain Lekas waxes poetic with prose like, “I rode in from Maya on the wings of the Holy Ghost to the front door of the Bone House” and “I swung like Bolero into the apparition of appropriation.” But it’s that thought about riding hard through superficial phenomena and experience that’s grabbed my guts. Why?

I’m not sure yet, but I know I need more of that poetic riffage. Thankfully “Saturday Night Sage” is just the first well shot of gritty mysticism from Lekas, the lead single and opening track for his recently released album Sounds from the Shadow Factory on San Diego’s Blind Owl. Lekas is a poet, writer and music journalist who has written for Aquarium Drunkard and Fretboard Journal. The album is his first proper music release and takes select cuts from the writer’s 2019 poetry collection Saturday Night Sage.

Sounds from the Shadow Factory: Noah C. Lekas

With the sonic support of friends in bands like Howlin’ Rain and Mrs. Henry, Lekas reinvents his poems as rock and roll musings on devotion, menial labor and purpose. The inherent chemistry between Lekas’ barfly eloquences and his compadres’ bar room boogie burns nicely like a whiskey and cig, going together well like Ginsberg and The Grateful Dead might have for an earlier generation. It is spoken word pysch-rock for Steve Earle fans.

Lekas and crew have built a world that feels heavy with the world and light on pretense. Menial labor is a grind, devotion to religion is a grind, finding yourself at the bar every Saturday night is a grind. Yet we still find ourselves finding a way to get through it. How? Why?

That seems to be what Lekas and Sounds from the Shadow Factory is looking to explore in all its detail. There might not be definitive answers to some of these questions but Lekas does provide some insight.

“I rode hard through all superficial phenomena and experience.”

There might not necessarily be a specific purpose or big payoff for things to which we find ourselves devoted. Devotion is not something you have, it’s an approach on how to live your life. The life that lives in everything you do, from the menial to the mystic. It’s heavy stuff but if you pay attention and engage with everything you do, especially the small stuff from day to day, you are sure to find magic there. You just gotta ride hard right into it.

Noah C. Lekas

The following is a conversation with Noah C. Lekas. It has been edited for clarity and length.

You’ve said you like musicians who have a “writerly” way of building their worlds. What about world building do you find attractive and interesting on a granular level?

The willingness to project a perspective, to put it out there and see if it holds up. When I say “writerly” I don’t mean literary. I mean someone that is creating something you can step inside of. That’s what I think people gravitate towards and “writerly” is just the word I use to describe it. Creating art is about going into unknown spaces and trying to decipher what you find, to create some kind of order out of that chaos. That’s the thing I’m talking about and I think a lot of people do that, Steve Earle, Kendrick Lamar, a lot of people do that.

I don’t totally understand why that approach interests me but I do know that the through line seems to be that the things I’m interested in are not about the performance as much as they’re about the music, writing and the conversation happening within it.

When did that writing process for Saturday Night Sage hit a groove for you? When did it come into place and sit well with you?

As soon as I put pen to paper, I was in it. I hit my stride quickly because it’s based on an idea I’ve been kicking around for a long time. I heard a preacher give a sermon once about how Christ died on Friday and rose on Sunday and that we needed to not get lost in the middle, on Saturday night. Growing up in the Midwest in the minimum-wage working world, Saturday was the only night we had (laughs). It was the only night you didn’t have the dread of going to work in the morning and you felt free for a night.

So that became a question, what if you were the prophet of Saturday night? All that stuff comes clear after you start writing, it wasn’t that planned. I just sat down and wrote, “I rode in from Maya able to roll a cigarette with one hand.” I wrote the next line and the next line. I tend to write in order.

As far as the track goes it was really the work of Dan Cervantes, who runs Blind Owl Records and plays in Howlin’ Rain. He recorded some of their practices and jams and had some tracks he thought could make for good collaborations. He called Ethan up and they picked something they thought could work and then I recorded the read. Dan really produced it and added the layers to make it all happen.

Noah C. Lekas featuring Howlin’ Rain: Saturday Night Sage

Had you ever floated an idea like that to them?

I worked with a few friends Chad Lee and Ben Ambrosini to record “Midwestern,” “The Word,” and “We Got A Problem With Groundwater” right after the book was done. We recorded them for a couple filmmaker friends as a way to collaborate and have fun with the poems. “The Word” went to my wife Elizabeth, “Midwestern” to Kevin and Rebecca Joelson, “We Got A Problem With Groundwater” to Shelby Baldock.

The videos did alright, “Midwestern” premiered at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival and “We Got A Problem With Groundwater “ played at the L.A. Shorts International Film Festival and the Memphis Film Festival. Scott D. Rosenbaum did a video for “Out of the Storm Drains” and that one was recorded with Dan’s band, Mrs. Henry.

In the age of social media, the day you post a book cover it’s done. Everything is instant and over before it starts. So, this was originally just a fun way to create some spinoff projects with friends and hopefully get a few more eyes on the book in the process. After six or seven recordings Dan brought up doing the record.

From essays to interviews to poetry you write in so many different forms. Where do you think you’ve been able to apply rules or perspective from one form to change-up or evolve another when you are writing?

I think that happens all the time but most of that learning wasn’t self-discovery as much
as having the wherewithal to listen to good advice when I got it. Last year I interviewed
Sylvie Simmons for Aquarium Drunkard and she gave me some advice about putting
yourself in every piece. If you interview someone, you are part of that conversation, so
you have to be in the piece too. That balance applies across the board.

Writing different mediums teaches you how much of yourself to put on the page. It’s a constant learning curve and something I’m always trying to get better at because the right amount is the
right amount (laughs). Maybe for music journalism it is 80% them and 20% you, and
poetry is the 80% you and 20% complete fiction. Everything is a little different. Saturday
Night Sage
is not autobiographical in a journalistic sense, it’s mystically biographical in
a certain dreamscape of life (laughs), so the ratio is less consistent.

What about the book do you think resonates the most with you?

The mirror of menial labor in religious devotion, since doing something religiously is by definition repetitious. The idea of finding great revelation in a basic activity has always captivated me – in every spiritual practice.

Writing poetry, for me, is about the mystic mind. I don’t write poetry to write limericks, that’s not the function it serves in my life. In my life it’s a mystic experience and it’s about airing it out and seeing where it lands. If it has no value to anyone else, well I’ve made my peace with that (laughs). I don’t have any pretense about that. The practice of doing it is valuable in the same way meditation or prayer is valuable. It’s done selfishly and then presented in a way that hopefully someone can find some value
in.

I’ve been asked a lot of about writing different style of work. When I interviewed Dave Alvin I asked him a question about moving from folk and blues music to X and playing in all these different bands. I asked him if he ever found it difficult to move through different genres and, to paraphrase, he said he was always looking for the connections that made those genres the same, not what made them different. So when he was playing in X he was playing Lightning Hopkins licks, he was just playing them really loud. When I heard that a lightbulb went off for me.

I was never one to sit down to write a poem and say ok here are the rules. I always just sat down to write. It all kid of starts the same way, then after a few lines, the work defines itself, like ok that’s an essay not a poem, so I’ll lean into writing an essay. The approach that works for me is to just let the thing be what they want to be.

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