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A few weeks ago, Woody McBride read somewhere that if you practice chewing food on the opposite side of your mouth than you normally chew on, it fosters creativity and balance. He's been doing it ever since, though nothing's happened yet. At the same time, he raises his eyebrows and tilts his head to the right--his current chewing side--suggesting that maybe it's happening as we speak.
We're drinking fresh-squeezed carrot and apple juice, Woody and I, in the living room of the "dome home" in Lindstrom, outside of North Branch, that he shares with his wife Amanda. This is farm country, where cattle, horses, and pole barns dot the countryside, and it feels far away from the rave and underground club scene that made McBride (a.k.a. DJ ESP) an international pioneer of electronic music in the '90s.
On the kitchen table rests his portable recording studio, which consists solely of a laptop and a keyboard. A Buddha statue competes with two dogs and a cat for space in the living room, which softly throbs with the tones of music made by a California neurotherapist and audioneurologist whom McBride will study with this spring. At the moment, he's taking the day off from working in the Aveda Concept salon and organic café that he and Amanda operate in St. Croix Falls, on the Wisconsin side of the river.
"The advent of early electronic instruments was able to articulate those universal tones and textures which equated to our archetypal feelings of oneness with the universe and ourselves, and they worked on a kind of subatomic level," he says. "Pink Floyd, being a backbone of the whole self-discovery psychedelic generation, learned how to go there with these instruments. Then came disco, which was hated by a lot of rock 'n' roll people. But for the benefit of humanity, I think people getting together and feeling good and dancing is beneficial."
In the early '90s, McBride picked up the tribal-techno torch from his DJ mentors Tom Spiegel and Kevin Cole, who were playing electronic soundscapes primarily at art openings. All of a sudden, as McBride knowingly puts it, "it exploded." He spent the next decade playing festivals and raves and creating euphoric, transcendent sounds. He and his comrades in the electronic music milieu were seeking, and often finding, ecstasy in music and drugs and a scene that was not about escapism, but about planting the soul firmly in the moment. They were "people feeling their bodies," he says, "aligning their own chakras, whether they knew it or not."
There is no Big But here--no turning point or life change to the story. McBride did not renounce his foolish youth or have an epiphany that sent him away from his ecstatic beginnings. There is simply growth. The rave scene may have died out to some degree, but McBride has continued his quest for the word he uses most these days: harmony.
"I find myself with a huge investment in the immaterial world, that doesn't always make sense in the real world," McBride says. To that end, he and Amanda have organized three small festivals in St. Croix Falls with poets, musicians, and writers, called the Amateur Psychologists' Convention.
"I thought the name went straight to the core of every music lover and every arts lover," he says. "Maybe more than other people, we seem to be more interested and sensitive to the human condition. So I thought it was the perfect filter, firstly, to scare away people who wouldn't enjoy it, and a really good inside joke for people who would pick up on it. And it worked."
McBride grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota. His parents didn't believe in God, but they believed in nature as church--not exactly the path his conservative churchgoing classmates were on. Having to explain his family's beliefs in the sky, water, and woods taught McBride the value of individualism and it may have hard-wired him for a destination similar to his parents'.
"I come from a long line of educators, and in a real way my parents were disappointed I didn't become that," he says. "I'd ask myself at five in the morning at a club somewhere, 'What am I supposed to do with my life? Am I supposed to play music? Am I supposed to provide the soundtrack for people's self-discovery? Am I supposed to provide soundtracks for the best times of people's lives with their friends? Am I supposed to breathe secondhand smoke? Am I supposed to get up onstage and try to rock like some of my heroes have done?' And I'd say, 'Well, maybe.' But more, I'm coming to the idea I should be a teacher."
As he speaks, he stands in his studio/storage space, amid hundreds of CDs and records that could be fossils from an archeological dig. The two turntables that launched his spirit into the world are dormant for the moment. T-shirts and posters from shows he's played are draped over bins of records. Tacked up on a wall next to an Iffy/DJ ESP flyer is a postcard from his father that reads, "No one ever has it 'all together.' That's like trying to eat 'once and for all.' --Marilyn Grey."