Interview with Aaron White
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The award winning Burning Sky features songwriter Aaron
White on guitar and Native flutes and flutist Kelvin Bizahaloni. They
recently released their latest album, "A Simple Man" (Canyon Records) which
continues their lush, rich sound of complex guitar fingering with flute in
the lead. The duo has built a world-wide following and their music has been
heard everywhere from "The Tonight Show" and film soundtracks, including
"Doe Boy" and "Skychasers", to the Presidential Inaugural Ball.
"I listen to a lot of Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges, Pat Metheny, Al
DiMeola, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, Chet Atkins; I listen to a lot of
finger style," White told Indian Country Today. "I had been playing solo as
a guitar player and songwriter. I had been writing songs and I thought it
would be nice to put the Native flute with it, but the hard part was
finding a flute that would be in the right key. I finally found Kelvin and
his flute wasn't exactly tuned to key, so I tuned my guitar to the tone of
the flute and we went from there. I had this ragged old station wagon with
a really bad window tinting job, and for our first show we were driving to
the east and the sun was going down in the west, and when I looked through
the rearview mirror it looked like the whole sky was on fire; Burning Sky."
White has been musical his whole life; he started singing and playing when
he was 5 years-old in school plays. He has plenty of musical influence to
draw from, not only from his Native tradition but also from growing up in
the Bay Area at the end of the psychedelic movement. "I moved from the
Northern Ute reservation to Oakland when my parents got divorced, when I
was 8 years-old. It exploded from there, being right off the rez and there
was a lot happening there at the time, the late-1960s and early-1970s. As a
child I just opened my eyes and ears, we had everything happening, we had
the Friendship House out there, which was the gathering for a lot of
Natives, a lot of Lakota people were there, Dennis Banks, Russell Means, a
lot of those AIM people were hanging out in the Bay Area.
"After I graduated from high school in 1980, I joined the military and
ended up stationed in Hawaii. I was in a heavy metal band out there,
Excalibur, from 1980 - 1982. I had grown up on and off the reservation, and
after the military I stayed on the island for a couple of years and did
acoustic stuff, then I moved back to the Ute Reservation. I started writing
original material and started playing coffeehouses in Salt Lake City,
around the University of Utah. I started playing downtown for tips and
found out I could make money at it."
Burning Sky's trademark sound has more musical thought going through it
than most new age albums, but the complexity of their laid-back style may
be lost on some listeners. When asked if people still see them as new age,
White said, "When people do that we'll whip out a Led Zeppelin tune and
play it on Native flute; it totally blows them away. In the way I like to
direct the music the flute takes on a lead rock element, like the flute
becomes the lead guitar. The sound just sort of happened because of the way
we play. We like to use a lot of open tunings. I listen to anything from
Megadeth to Pantera to Alicia Keys; we've always kept a very open mind on
what we performed. With most flute albums you listen to the first track and
it's very melodic, you listen to the second track and it's melodic, and by
the time you listen to the whole album every song sounds like the last
track, they begin to fall into that same old formula. With flute albums you
have to be really careful. The flute is a cool sound, but after a while it
can all sound the same."
Burning Sky is hard at work on their next album, which will show both
White's Native and Bay Area influence, and the guitarist is also working on
a solo vocal album. "We're going to do a live album with the Flagstaff
Symphony in March, and we're also working with John Densmore of The Doors.
As Native people we're discovering that with the indigenous sound we have
we are beginning to create more and more and more. We're all paving the way
and opening the doors."
For more information on Burning Sky, visit www.canyonrecords.com.