Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
year, Jeremy Toback '88 founded Ajna Music.
Jeremy Toback '88 makes
music for yoga
Jeremy D. Toback '88 knows the grind of a performing musician.
Since playing with a rock band he formed with Princeton classmates
during college, Noise Petals, he's made a living as a singer-songwriter
and bass player touring and recording with Brad, a group
put together by Pearl Jam's guitarist Stone Gossard. He later signed
with RCA Records and cut two solo CDs, Perfect Flux Thing (1997)
and Another True Fiction (1999).
While never becoming a household name, Toback, an English major
at Princeton, has had a good run as a professional musician. He
characterizes his own songs as "mystical and romantic
a little like Neil Young, a little like Van Morrison, a little like
Peter Gabriel." His songs are poetically opaque: "The
cause of this start/an arc finds its falling/at last sign of heat/blue
rose ring morning" ("Perfect Flux Thing").
But Perfect Flux Thing, the CD, was not the success he, or RCA,
had hoped. The 1997 Flux tour "pushed me into an emotional
and physical breakdown. I was physically fit, but I was chronically
fatigued. You know, Western medicine is not so great with some subtle
illnesses." At the suggestion of his wife, Fabienne, he went
to a yoga class to help him feel better, and that was the beginning
of his commitment to the practice of Kundalini yoga, which he finds
"both vigorous and meditative. If you want to clean out junk
from your past," he says, "Kundalini is a superhighway."
Five years later, he has found a way to combine his dedication
to yoga and his musical background. He is a record producer, whose
new company, Ajna Music, based in Los Angeles is dedicated, he says,
"to releasing records that expand the definition of spiritual
music to an international yoga community, a progressive yoga market."
He describes a moment of insight when he realized that he no longer
felt the "high" of performing rock and wanted a career
that would allow him to stay home, and closer to his wife and son.
"I was in Australia," on the 2001-02 Brad tour, Toback
says. "I realized this was pretty good being on the
road, having fans, having the audience know the words of the songs.
Lots of people would give anything for that. But for me, with a
family, I had to figure out a way to be home and still make music."
Ajna, he hopes, is the answer. "There are 18 million people
doing yoga in the U.S., and of course, lots more around the world,"
he says. "Not all of them are interested in music, but a large
number do use music in their practice." He also hopes to appeal
to those he calls "the cultural creatives," a population
"not defined by age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status,
but by their values."
Ajna's first release was Angels' Waltz (2003), chants performed
by Sada Sat Kaur. The chants are traditional except for the title
cut, written by Sada Sat Kaur, Sada Sat Singh, and Toback, who also
provides backup bass, piano, and vocals on the CD. Angels' Waltz
offers "a new mix of Indian sound, a little bluegrass, a little
pop, a little rock," says Toback. The cuts on Angels' Waltz
are designed for seven or 11-minute meditations; the jacket includes
directions on mudras (hand positions) appropriate to each chant.
Ajna Music's latest release is Laurel (2003), "an album of
chill electronica. It defies categorization. You could use it in
yoga relaxation, you could use it for massage, or you could listen
to it around the house." Also in the works is a CD by Donna
De Lory, formerly one of Madonna's backup singers, who now does
mantras, "mostly in the more mainstream Hatha Yoga tradition,"
Music for yoga practitioners is not new. "There are musicians,
and companies, who have been doing this for years," says Toback,
who each morning at 4 a.m. leads a group who does a half hour of
yoga and an hour of chanting. "We don't want to imitate other
records. We're not going to do New Age music clichés
that was originally cool but it's been done a lot you know,
bell sounds, synthesizers. Or, people have done documentary chant
recordings. I want to bring a certain sophistication to the product,
that will reflect my experience in the recording industry."
So far, says Toback, Angels' Waltz has, without marketing, sold
more copies than his first RCA record. "The energy of the yoga
community inspired me to start this label," he says. "My
mission hasn't changed, but has become more and more refined. I
want to make something, bring something elevating into people's
lives with music.
"Right now, Ajna feels like a great thing to do."
Angels' Waltz is available at yoga centers, some bookstores, and
at Amazon.com, which also has Toback's earlier discs.
By Caroline Moseley
Caroline Moseley is a frequent contributor to PAW.