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'I'm Ready Now': Sananda Maitreya on Making His UK Live Return After 22 Years Away

Monday, 01 July 2024 Written by Jeremy Blackmore

Photo: Manuel Scrima

Sananda Maitreya’s journey through music has been a Promethean odyssey for an artist focused on following his own direction and sense of integrity even when others failed to support or recognise his vision. Now, after 22 years away, he is ready to make a triumphant live return to the UK when he steps on stage at Love Supreme Jazz Festival, which runs from July 5 to 7 at Glynde Place in East Sussex.

Proudly refusing to be pigeonholed, his unique, exciting, confident brand of rock, infused with soul, funk, R&B and jazz, was evident even on his debut album ‘Introducing The Hardline According To…’, which was released under his original name Terence Trent D’Arby in 1987, and on a run of major singles chart hits too, including Sign Your Name and the US number one Wishing Well.

But after follow-up ‘Neither Fish nor Flesh’ and subsequent albums failed to reach the same commercial heights, he walked away from his former identity altogether, tired of the bitterness and disappointment he felt about the music industry. Changing his name to Sananda Maitreya in 2001, he took control of his career and settled in Milan, where he has built a new life with his wife Francesca Francone, an Italian architect, journalist and television host, and their two sons.

From his Italian base, Maitreya embarked on a prolific run of genre-hopping albums he’s dubbed ‘post Millennium’ rock, which call to mind the White Album by Maitreya’s beloved Beatles in their scale, range and ambition. Built around mythological themes and set in an expanded universe, the projects showcase the magical, mystical, freewheeling adventures he now has in music, with ‘The Pegasus Project: Pegasus & The Swan’ the latest to arrive.

Originally conceived as a collection of 13 raw, stripped-down songs, the LP n was intended as his take on power-pop largely built around guitar, bass and drums, before the concept grew to an epic 41 tracks, encompassing a string quartet and full orchestra and guest vocalists – and even the odd joke. It completes the arc started with ‘Prometheus & Pandora’  in 2017 (53 tracks) and continued on 2021’s beautiful ‘Pandora’s PlayHouse’ (28).

“It's been a copious harvest, for sure,” he says. “I don't look the gift horse in the mouth too much, because at my age, I don't know when the well is going to dry up. So, in the meantime, I just mine the shit out of it. I don't want to leave the Earth with a whole bunch of unreleased stuff and then people are either fighting over it or fucking with it or fucking it up.”

Losing David Bowie, George Michael, Prince, and Tom Petty during recording 2017’s ‘Prometheus and Pandora’ underlined the need not to sit on material. “Every one of those guys meant a whole lot to me,” he says. “With three of them in particular, I was very close. But all four were musical icons for me. Even if we don't believe in death, there was just so much of it going on.

“The paradigm has changed; I'll never be able to speak physically to that person's physical life again. The way I dealt with it was I just self-medicated with Jack Daniel’s and weed and stayed in the studio. When it's that many in a close period of time, and they’re so iconic, it was like, 'What the fuck is going on here? Is this a harbinger?'

“So, another reason why I tend to record the things I’m really inspired by and don't worry about how many songs there are, is you just never know. All I can say is I’m at the point, fortunately, where if I never recorded another song, I'm confident I've left behind a very copious and full definition of what post-Millennium rock was.”

The scope of ‘Pegasus & The Swan’ broadened from its original intentions as a tight 13-track set, marking his 13th project of studio material, when conductor Diego Basso, a close friend and admirer, eventually wore him down after years of asking to collaborate together on something.

“Covid gave us a long time to think about a lot of things,” he recalls. “I realised I have always wanted to record with an orchestra, and I've always wanted to do some stuff with a string quartet. It was time saying, then why do you keep running away from it? Because my rebuttal was, I've got this plan for these 13 songs. It became obvious time was suggesting I just mash these potatoes into one thing, pour the gravy on top of it and go for it like that.”

To generalise, the original guitar-based genesis is on the ‘Pegasus…’ side, featuring the rolling funk of Ben Downs, the multi-layered psych-pop of Life Will Go On, Nice Things’ raucous energy, the hypnotic carnival of Camden Town and opening with the riotous fun of The Birthday Song. Meanwhile, the gracious ‘Swan…’ ushers us into a realm featuring The Archimia String Quartet from Milan, The Budapest National Art Orchestra conducted by Basso, and returning Italian singers Beatrice Baldaccini and Luisa Corna.

It has resulted in what Maitreya believes is the most mature work and the next logical step for his development: “There's also nothing like the privilege of having your songs interpreted by a 50-piece orchestra. Now that's rock and roll!”

“So, this is why it became this unwieldy beast I had to bring back into port safely and on time,” he continues. “But I'm really glad it happened the way it did, because you can only dictate so much to the inspiration that comes to you. You take the inspiration as the invitation to proceed. But the seed with which you begin, it always knows what tree it is. You're trying to figure out what tree it is, and by faith, you’re watering it, you're doing what's necessary, you're trying to plant it in the right environment. But the tree knows.

“This is also why it's not always incumbent upon an artist to put too much stock in how quickly an album succeeds. Because, stay on the tree analogy, like with my project, ‘Neither Fish Nor Flesh’, if you're growing an oak tree, or Redwood, it just takes a lot longer for everyone to see what it is.

“You have to take your assignments and go, ‘Okay, I'm just grateful to have seeds in my hand, let's see how they turn out.’ Some trees turn out right away. Some take their time. But again, like with ‘Neither Fish Nor Flesh’, they become perennials. Once they establish themselves, they don't go away.”

All his musical influences are at play on the new record, but there are also a diverse range of lyrical themes. Ancient mythology, Tolkien, Wagner (“except for the antisemitism”), and Marvel may seem unlikely influences, but throughout his post-Millennium rock era, Maitreya has sought to build a world where he can place his songs and their characters. One where he can set the rules and follow the story.

As a newly independent artist in the early 2000s, he quickly realised coming up with 13 or 14 songs was not a great challenge because he had always been prolific. “For me, the only criteria is just whether or not the piece of music excites me to wish to collaborate with the idea,” he says. “So, I made a condition that every project had to be its own separate entity.

“But it also had to fit into a larger thing, like The Ring of the Nibelungen by Wagner, where every separate opera is its own creation, its own multimedia/theatre piece, but still lends itself to a larger story.”

A life-long enthusiast of Greek, Roman, Sumerian, and Egyptian mythology, he talks about tribes with oral traditions, passing on the essentials from generation to generation adding their own embellishments over time. “Before we began writing things down, we call it mythology, I do believe in my heart we descend from beings who initiated our tribes,” he says. “Obviously, we would have great, great reverence for those beings. So, it's hardwired into our consciousness who Prometheus is; even if we don't remember consciously, our ancestry remembers it. So, it still has resonance when you tell these stories about these so-called mythological creatures who represent our ancestor worship.

“This is why I use these characters, because they're basically universal beings. Everybody kind of understands Pandora, even if it's just something you've heard. This is why I adopted this language, because it's such a cultural unifier. Not to mention the other aspect of the mythological beings is they represent psychological archetypes. They are important enough that every generation reiterates them in some form. For example, the Marvel Universe, or DC, these are still the same mythological beings updated for where we are now.”

He draws parallels between Prometheus and his experience in the music industry after his late ‘80s breakthrough. “Prometheus rebelled against the gods, because of his love for humanity as well as his need to live his integrity,” he says. “This is why I've used him as my alter ego because I very much identify with what he went through, because it mirrored and mimicked what I had gone through.

“Getting to the top of the mountain and seeing a lot of confusing puzzles and disgruntled people who weren't really sure how true my integrity was. And who if they cannot subvert your wizardry towards the promotion of their society as they feel comfortable ordering their society, you're not of help to them at all. In fact, you will be constituted as a threat. So, I have lived this Promethean tale.”

Expanding upon this period, he says: “I wasn't psychologically prepared to go from being treated as a non-entity for most of my life, to being a cultural phenomenon, to the rug being ripped out from under you, just as kind of for sport as much as for all of the other political things I didn't anticipate or couldn't have anticipated running into. I was harassed and mocked, and I was like, ‘Fuck you guys — if it's like this, I don't need this. It was really, really painful.

“The reason I stayed away [from the UK] for a long time was because I had a tremendous amount of bitterness to transform into something much more useful. I also figured while everyone was catching up with what my reality was, and the fact I wasn't going to capitulate and go in any other direction, it'll take the time it takes.”

He is pleased Sony recently agreed to relabel his early albums such as ‘Introducing The Hardline According to…’ under the name Sananda Maitreya. He concludes: “Finally, all those things came together where I've sufficiently turned around a lot of my bitterness and disappointment and I'm ready now to face that dragon that basically snatched my life and told me to piss off. I’ve forgiven the dragon now.”

His life even before music was eventful. Born in Manhattan, “proudly Native American with Spanish, Scots-Irish and West Indian blood”, he grew up in Florida and trained as a boxer in Orlando where he won a lightweight title before enlisting in the US Army.

His journey surely lends itself to a theatrical treatment so it’s no surprise that Maitreya has been approached about staging a musical of his life at the National Theatre in Italy as well as several offers to make a film of his life.

He believes ‘Prometheus and Pandora’ could allow him to tell his life story through those characters, with an idea that the main gods would be shapeshifters, allowing Prometheus to be played by actors of different ethnicities. In the meantime, though, he is playing a short European tour culminating in his appearance at Love Supreme, with a more extensive UK trip to follow.

Love Supreme Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri July 05 2024 - LEWES Glynde Place
Sat July 06 2024 - LEWES Glynde Place
Sun July 07 2024 - LEWES Glynde Place

Compare & Buy Love Supreme Tickets at Stereoboard.com.


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