Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

Last year, Jeremy Toback '88 founded Ajna Music.

October 22, 2003:

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," says Toback.

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.