Welcome to Energy
Free-spirited Little Wings tunesmith Kaisle Feeled’s coastal introspection experience.
Text and photos by Erik R. Bluhm. Art direction by W. T. Nelson.
Originally published in Arthur Magazine. No. 13.
Malibu, California June 2004—I stumbled into their camp by following a small trail up from the beach. Rows of rocks were laid out in some places like arrows pointing the way. On top of a small bluff it sat, a geometrically-shaped brown paper structure about the size of a delivery van. As I walked up, the paper door was pushed aside and a deeply-tanned young man emerged. I immediately recognized him as Kaisle from the record jackets. He wore sandals, a fringed vest made of the same paper as the tent and no shirt.
“Grow,” he greeted. “Welcome to Energy.”
The two of us sat on a Navajo blanket that was set out on the grass to observe the ocean below. We were joined by two others who Kaisle introduced as Arrak, tall and bearded, and Nice Chichen, an attractive young woman in braids and a mini-poncho.
“I met these two at a folk club north of Morro Bay,” explained Kaisle, slowly tracing an arc in the air between Arrak sitting Indian-style at his side and Nice Chichen who was offering a platter of cold lentils and kelp salad. “They began an intricate interpretive dance as I was performing. Very expressive. We decided to move south together.”
Little Wings is more than a rock group. “It’s a diverse musical palette,” says singer Kaisle Feeled, who, along with an ever-changing congregate of musicians and artists, has produced six albums and, by his own admittance, “changed countless lives.” On stage Little Wings may be a full band, with pickup members singing along and playing diverse instruments such as tamboura and autoharp. At other times it’s just Kaisle on a borrowed 12-string, like last week in Santa Barbara. While a half dozen young people, dressed all in brown with green branches attached to their arms and legs, waved their limbs to the music, Kaisle introduced the audience to his romantic visions of coastal introspection, of pine needles and inner communication. Despite the spectacle of the tree dancers, it was Kaisle’s voice that demanded attention. Never afraid to veer outside of his vocal range, the free-spirited tunesmith warbled his way into ever intertwining arcs of melody. The songs seemed old, almost traditional, hopeful and organic. Folkies like Dino Valente and Bob Lind came to mind. Or a more optimistic Robinson Jeffers.
After spending several years in Oregon, Kaisle and his followers recently migrated southward to the California coastline which, he admits, is his true home.
“The Northwest is largely about moss and darkness in many ways. It can be emotionally difficult to withstand the influence upon a soft light music such as ours,” Kaisle told me, drawing a triangle in the dirt with his big toe.
Little Wings’ newest record, Magic Wand, was recorded in Olympia, Washington by K Records maven Calvin Johnson. The cold weather revisitation proved difficult for Kaisle who had grown more comfortable with “funneling his wood grain/crystal shards through the latest wave of Big Sur revivalism” than with donning coat and braving elements.
“We are so accustomed to the environment here in California that we had to make a conscious effort to try to make a California record in Washington state, so it seems conceptual in that way: a California summer record made in Washington’s winter.”
Kaisle took along his friend Lee Baggett whose split CD with Little Wings called Harvest Joy/Octember Sketches came out this year on Invisible City.
“Lee is an endless well of light,” admitted Kaisle. “The sessions came out beautifully.”
Now safely ensconced in his new home in Malibu, Kaisle is clearly enjoying his current situation. Lying in the sunshine he recalled the winter isolation of the recording studio and his decision to live amongst the warmth of others.
It had one day occurred to him: “In order to have a group existence you need to have a group. You can’t have a commune by yourself.”
“The tree has a cousin in paper” -Kaisle Feeled
“We built a kind of a wigwam,” explained Kaisle, gesturing to the tent. “It was supposed to be like Gary Snyder’s house but we couldn’t remember exactly what it looked like. We don’t think anyone else was reminded of his house.” The poet Gary Snyder, who, after living in a cabin in Marin County and experimenting with peyote in the 1950s, moved to Japan, studied Zen and returned to California to build his dream house in the Sierra foothills. He called it Kitkitdizze, which is the Indian name for a shrub that grows in the area.
“Gary’s house was built out of wood and based on Japanese style,” described Arrak. “Ours is made out of paper, which is related to wood but thinner and more flexible. The shapes we used are rhomboids, hexagons, and other many-sided shapes that we’re not sure what they’re called.” The Little Wings house doesn’t have a name.
The brown paper, it turns out, was left over from a project which was a collaboration between Little Wings and noted New York minimalist Ferg Dewitt. “Ferg is known for his geometric shape objects and wall drawings. He wanted to adapt that to a maritime Pacific setting, a perfect challenge for the New Energy. We have been here now in Malibu for nearly a month, transforming a privately-owned polymorphic rock outcropping into an exercise in spatial symmetry,” described Kaisle. “All in just primary colors.” The paper, used for masking off the individual colors, has been refashioned into clothing and shelter.
“My friend Lee Baggett sings ‘I was a tree/I gave you oxygen free,’” he added. “We’re giving the tree a chance to keep on living in spirit, in our beautiful costumes.”
Surfing is an important part of the day for New Energy.
“We zoned in on a secret spot known only to a few locals,” beamed Kaisle. “Our friend Memory Man guided us to a place where a symmetrical peak peeled off of a rock reef and onto a clean sandy beach. Purple jellyfish swam around. They welcomed us in.” Before their noontime session the trio clambered down the rocks to the shore where they crept into a small cave and emerged with their surfboards; faded colors and single fins. As we paddled out towards the kelp bed the black human-like head of a seal appeared nearby spying on us. “Sea grig,” he pointed out, explaining that sailors considered seals as manifestations of fellow sailors that had drowned. “The grigs would come right up to us. We saw them in the water. They wanted to communicate with us. But we are on different levels. So they just watched us a lot.” Within seconds Kaisle caught a wave and disappeared toward the shore, only his sunbleached hair visible above the hump of green water.
Up and down the coast there are similar groups living similar existences. There are creative communities joined through music, art, and free living. There are singers like Sensations, Lee Baggett, the Whale Folk, Tim’s Involvement, and the West Coast Encounter Group to entertain and inspire them.
“Groups don’t have to be large to make a difference,” explained Arrak. “Mimi and Richard Farina and Bob Dylan and Joan Baez lived in a cabin in Carmel and wrote important verse and songs. Joan started a progressive school with dance and coloring classes.”
Utopian colonies in California are and have been numerous since the state’s inception. The region’s sunshiny climate and open-minded attitudes were the beacon that guided in seekers from all over. Albert Shaw, historian of Icaria, an Eden that blossomed in Sonoma County in the late 1800s wrote, “If the writer were seeking the realization of a Utopia, . . . of all places on earth he would choose as most consonant with the theories and purposes of communis—California.”
And what other place emits the essence of the California vibe more than the Malibu peninsula where the chaparral mountains jut out into the sea? It is here that Little Wings have chosen to throw off and do what they can to instill pastoral elements back into the modern world. “I mean we can’t set up a yurt in the Malibu Colony,” admited Kaisle. “But we can sleep in our paper fort nearby and be kind of colonial ourselves.”
* * *
“My association with Kaisle has been on the vibrational level,” Arrak told me after dinner as the two of us walk down the beach. “And I think that’s the level that the world will meet him on too.” We talked of the way Kaisle’s lyrics seem to go in overlapping circles, and how the music’s repetition can be seen as mediational. I asked him the about the significance of Magic Wand. He stopped and looked me straight in the eyes. The wand, he told me, is both the pen and the sword.
Later Kaisle attempted to explain Magic Wand. “It is a rather positive record in my mind. That seems to be the theme in some way. Acknowledging the struggle while attaining victory, battle to battle, through bending and acceptance, and focused understanding.”
“It’s the same sort of thing going on here,” added Arrak. “There are always problems in life, but we just look past that.”
“Like Arrak tore his vest when he was putting it on,” said Nice Chichen. “But we just taped it back together.”
That evening we climb up to Wizard’s Rest, a high point of sandstone rocks with an immense view of the coastline. To the north the flat top of Point Dume is silhouetted against the setting sun. To the south the lights of Santa Monica flicker in the twilight. Directly below us the Pacific is patterns of blue and grey.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” admits Kaisle. “To me New Energy is about harmony and being close with things that inspire you. It’s about making things with your hands and eating mostly nuts and fruit.”
Overhead a cadre of owls swoops down from the canyon above, barely skimming just above our heads. I start to duck but Kaisle stands tall.
“Owls have a lot of energy,” he says. “But mostly at night.”