“Music is the universal language, literally rewiring the brain, resonating way past intellect into the chambers of the heart; and it’s my way of connecting with and giving love to the world.” –Lili Haydn
Called “the Jimi Hendrix of the violin” by George Clinton, Lili Haydn has performed with, collaborated with, played with, and/or opened for artists such as Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Roger Waters, Herbie Hancock, Sting, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Josh Groban, to name but a few. Yet to profile her solely as a performer would be a gargantuan understatement. Expanding that description to add composer, humanitarian, activist, thinker, radio host, philosopher, and spiritual seeker would begin to offer a more accurate picture of Lili Haydn.
Lili Haydn on Music and Humanity
Can you talk about your album I Am A Man? It’s a unique title.
I was asked to perform for the Civil Rights Museum where I came across that iconic image of the sanitation workers wearing the placards that said, “I am a Man,” when they marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. They weren’t asking for higher wages or better working conditions; they were simply affirming their humanity. It just devastated me. This really is the essence of every movement. “I am a human being and I matter.” This is what they are saying in places like Turkey and Brazil, and Syria.
That is what matters most to me: human dignity and treating each other with respect. Every issue on the planet, every crisis, could be solved if people really saw each other’s humanity and looked out for each other. That’s what “I am a Man” means and is what my music is about. The more we can see the outer world as a macrocosm of our inner world, the more we can change the world.
Music and Message
Perhaps it will inspire people to dig a little deeper and find your message.
That’s what I hope. Although I think the more intense things get, the more there is a separation of people who gravitate toward substance. Then there is the other part of the world that wants to tune out and is not interested in looking deeper. I think most media caters to that portion of the world. So it becomes harder and harder to find one’s place.
You also compose music for films.
I got my film start by being part of Hans Zimmer’s team of musicians. He would have me improvise on violin and perform to the movie he was scoring. It came very naturally. Then people started asking me to score their films. I was the solo violin for both Pirates of the Caribbean and The Town.
Music, Spirituality, and Yoga
Could you talk about your connection with Yoga?
Because playing the violin is so rough on the body, I have no choice but to practice yoga every day. Every 20 minutes when I’m playing, I’ll break to do a pose or exercise. It’s part of my survival. My ability to play depends on how mindfully I stretch to counterbalance the ridiculous rigors of holding a piece of wood with your neck for 30 years.
I think of yoga in the same way that I think of spirituality and God in general. God doesn’t exist in one house for me, but has been thoroughly integrated into every moment. Yoga, in that same way, is about mindfulness, paying attention, and slowing down. Those are the same tools that apply to my playing, my composing, and the way I try to relate to the world.
How did you come to Yoga?
My mom, Lotus Weinstock, was a standup comedian. Lotus is a name that she was given in the Brotherhood of the Source. The guru of that spiritual organization was friendly with Yogi Bhajan, and he brought Kundalini yoga to this community, so I was kind of raised with Kundalini yoga as the backbone of my spiritual life. I bonded with Yogi Bhajan a little bit before he died and I gravitated toward Gurmukh because there was a resonance. I wrote a piece based on a mantra we used to sing in yoga class. It was called “Seek” and it was on my second record which I did with Bill Laswell [Light Blue Sun]. The record was number one on the New Age charts for a while.
Collaborations, Genres, and Music
Musically, you don’t really fit in any one genre.
I grew up only really playing and listening to classical music, so I hear all music now just as an extension of that, and don’t really relate to normal boundaries. I like to use genres as a touchstone to tickle the ears in a way. There are certain intervals I enjoy that are found in India rock or alternative. I like the playfulness in a Gotye, Kate Bush, or Bjork, the harmonic and sonic richness in Radiohead, the groove and soulfulness of Stevie Wonder, and the expansiveness of Pink Floyd. I’ve been lucky to be able to collaborate with many artists, which has come very organically because I wasn’t a prisoner of genre. I ended up bringing a fluidity and freedom to their music, I think, from not being limited by genre.
I’ve never fit neatly into a category, musically or otherwise. I think this may also be because both of my parents (who were introduced to each other by Mama Cass) experimented with psychedelics. In particular, my father was infamously called The Acid King. He was the first person to mass produce LSD. He did some 10,000 hits and survived – at least for the time being. I don’t get high but I think I got some of the benefits of psychedelia epigenetically (the behavior that affects your genes).
Lili Haydn and her Approach to Music
Fascinating. How does this inform your approach to music?
I am in a constant state of aspiring. I aspire to the complexity of richness that I’ve been describing. That is what I aspire for my music. I want to be clear that the time that I’ve spent traversing this musical terrain has humbled me greatly. I feel my smallness and participation in the larger picture. While I think bigger and bigger, at the same time it’s with an increasing, hopefully, dose of humility.
Perhaps some closing thoughts on how you describe yourself?
I know this sounds vague or airy-fairy, but I would say I am made of heart and earth and wood and clouds and tears. My mission is that I try to tune into the human experience and turn it into song. I am equal parts grit and beauty. And I try to love both parts equally. I love so many types of music and I think that it’s important to embrace levity with gravity. So I will play my heart out and then I will play something to tickle you. I will write a bass line to make your toes buzz and your ass shake.
Images by David Young Wolff: Davidyoung-wolff.com
Joe Kara enjoys a double life working in music and teaching Yoga in Hollywood and the Valley. He plays a little bass, too. @JoeKaraYoga