A dancefloor general, prince of the piano, soundtrack to the squish, and conductor around the campfire, producer/multi-instrumentalist, David Block, leader of The Human Experience, wears myriad musical and intellectual hats.
He’s been a celebrated artist across various media for over a dozen years, with considerable contributions to the West Coast festival/Burning Man/live music communities. Block’s international future-folk quartet Gone Gone Beyond recently released its stunning third full-length LP, 2030, to rave reviews from rabid fans and a chorus of critical acclaim.
When David checks in for a chat via Zoom from Topanga Canyon in SoCal, we immediately dig into Gone Gone Beyond’s astounding new record in all its glistening glory. From the humble beginnings of the group five years ago, to this song cycle springing to life on tour in 2019, to a multi-hued masterpiece that arrived in June 2021. David Block explains the band’s roots and DNA, and how he connects Danny Musengo, Kat Factor and Mel Semé in a spiritual coalescing of musical souls.
Block unpacks the magic of 2030, and their collective artistic ascent. No longer just a side-piece for The Human Experience, David discusses the ego death in removing his nom de plume from Gone Gone Beyond, the passion project leaving the proverbial nest, and the Soul Visions seeds to the whole sonic evolution.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The complete hour-plus conversation from June 2021 can be heard in full on Episode 047 of The Upful LIFE Podcast.
The Upful LIFE Podcast – Ep. 47 – The Human Experience / Gone Gone Beyond
Live For Live Music: The album, it’s really stunning… and such an evolution for you as an artist, and speaks to what everyone else brings to the table. For those aren’t familiar, can we give a quick synopsis of the origin story with each collaborator in Gone Gone Beyond.
David Block: I guess you could technically start with me. My music’s called The Human Experience. I collaborate with a lot of different people. I have put out 13 albums and on each of those albums, there’s been six to nine different collaborators, featured collaborators, and then tons of musicians scattered throughout. But it’s always been me finding them… That’s how I found each member of Gone Gone Beyond, through individual collaborations. That’s how this band got put together.
The Human Experience albums and the shows that I play are like a smorgasbord of different stuff. There’s no genre on any of the records, other than it went through the David filter. For better or for worse, maybe there’s a sound to it, but that’s kind of what I’ve done.
Live For Live Music: You are the common denominator.
David Block: I had the solo stuff with Mel, solo with Danny, solo with Kat. Each one of them though is really [a] virtuoso, as an independent. Danny was the first other member. Danny is the raspy-voiced guy on the record. He’s really stepped up and he’s doing a lot of the songwriting. 80% of the lyrics, I’d say, are really informed or written by Danny. He really fleshes out a lot of my progressions, all of our progressions, and adds a lot of really, really strong hooks. There’s a very mystical quality obviously to the lyrics. That’s Danny, more traditional Americana folk background, rock background from Iowa. He was in New York City, in (rock band) Ludlow Thieves.
Live For Live Music: Danny’s voice laid the blueprint. Then you just added from there.
David Block: Then you’ve got Mel. Mel was from Cuba. He’s lived in Barcelona the last 15 years. He’s a drummer, a Cuban jazz drummer. The reason he was able to leave is because he was so incredibly amazing, and got permission from the government to travel to Europe and to become a professional musician outside of Cuba, but literally plays everything. He plays about 80% of the instruments on the record. He plays everything better than everyone by far, by far.
Live For Live Music: The instrumentation sounds amazing. It’s really lush, but also bare bones and delicate.
David Block: That would be yours truly, probably, influence on production. I would say that because these songs have so many directions they could have gone, like “Riptide” for example, or “Lost in America”, both of those songs. The bass takes that we had were very colorful. There’s a lot going on, and I was like, “Let’s really hone in on the groove, make these things a little bit tighter,” which is not better or worse, but a stylistic choice.
But in terms of executing them perfectly, that would often be like, “Yo, Mel.” [laughs]. He’s really just the most experienced at playing in different ensembles and working in a very, very high level of musicianship, which has been great for me, who’s been playing bass in our live shows on a bunch of these songs and I’m like, “Dear God, I am not a bass player.” Mel, he’s so great. He’s phenomenal.
Gone Gone Beyond – “Canyons” – Live From Hotel El Ganzo
[Video: Gone Gone Beyond]
Live For Live Music: Let’s talk about Kat Factor. Incredible performance on 2030.
David Block: Then, there’s Kat. That’s Kat. Kat’s Kat, obviously. I think she just really sticks out vocally. When Kat brought “Riptide”… that’s completely her song. That’s her main song that she wrote, writing everything. It’s amazing. She comes from a more jazz background, jazz folk.
Live For Live Music: On that musical Venn diagram, there you are in the middle, always connecting, always collaborating. I dig the chemistry between these four disparate creatives.
David Block: We all have our common ground on our spiritual practices, and the fact that we like (maybe) psychedelics and meditation and our spirituality. There’s a lot of common ground, but musically, it’s definitely interesting how we’ve made it all work. I’m surprised sometimes.
Live For Live Music: The last time I saw you, you were playing a show here in the Bay Area with Gone Gone Beyond. For the encore, you came out and you said, “We are so excited about this new song. We have to play it. We can’t wait. We just wrote it.” It was “Little Moon”. It floored the whole room. Then came the pandemic, and now you’re back with 2030. What transpired for you between that time, that tour, and what we’re hearing now?
David Block: This album has been an interesting adventure because it spans about three years of songwriting, over 50 songs written and about 30 of them recorded, about 20 of them mastered, even, to get to these 12. So it spans a pretty wide journey and it’s definitely been piecemealed [sic] together in a totally different way, like so many cities and so many players from all over the place. It’s just very different from what usually I would feel like doing, as far as making an album.
But I think what’s changed, the biggest change, like from A to B, is what Gone Gone Beyond was, specifically. There’s a lot there… we’re really now just transitioning from Gone Gone Beyond being The Human Experience’s band to just Gone Gone Beyond, the band being its own thing.
It’s like Captain Planet, or like the X-Men. It’s its own thing. It’s not just like Cyclops from the X-Men… and Cyclops has a bunch of powers, and so it’s Cyclops’ X-Men, or Professor Xavier’s X-Men, whatever. Now, this band is really like its own thing. X-Men. It’s had enough time to gestate as an actual band and become an actual band. Instead of like… me putting some things together, which I think that was the genesis—that I put this band together.
Live For Live Music: Let’s break down the genesis of the music.
David Block: The genesis, at least of this music, was [based from] songs that were mine and Mel’s [Mel Semé, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist], songs that are mine and Danny’s [Danny Musengo, co-founder of GGB, vocals, guitar], songs that are mine and Kat’s [Kat Factor, vocalist], and now it’s a collection of our songs. And truly, it’s a new chapter of my career, I can say, after 10, 11 years now of being a solo touring artist, having worked with tons of people, tons… like 60 different artists from Rising Appalachia to Android Jones, so some amazing artists.
This is the first time I’ve had to step back and acknowledge, “This music is not my music. It’s our music,” and I’ve never had that, not really. I’ve kinda had that in my collaborations, but at the end of the day, it’s really been my final say.
Gone Gone Beyond – “Gravity” (Live)
[Video: Gone Gone Beyond]
Live For Live Music: How does that feel, as someone who’s been conditioned to be a solo artist, with final artistic say?
David Block: Part of the ego death of Gone Gone Beyond for me is that it’s not my music anymore. It was. It was a lot more me-centered and I [still] play a very big role in it, obviously, but at the same time, this record is so far beyond that now. Because of how many filters it had to go through to get to 12 songs with four band members and then the fifth Beatle, Sean Rodman of Moontricks. He played on seven of the songs on the record. It had to go through all those filters for us to get to where… when I would think a song was done, they would make me dig deeper. I’m like, “This is done.” They’re like, “It’s not done.” I’m like, “I hate you [laughs].”
Live For Live Music: So, being in this band dynamic and having layers and filters—not only the band members, but other players, producers, making an album in the traditional sense—did you find that process advantageous or emboldening to the final product, or maybe did it inhibit you because of so many cooks in the kitchen?
David Block: Ultimately, at the end, the final thing that we’ve ended up with, in my humble opinion, is really good. You know what I mean? I feel like I’m such a big critic. I love the music I make. I love it because it’s medicine for me. It feels good for me to make it. I’ve always been the one that enjoys my own music. I’m not the self-deprecating one that’s like, “Oh, I’m shit.” I love music. Music makes you feel good, that’s why I make it. You know what I mean?
Live For Live Music: Definitely. But this certainly is a departure for you, compared to what people have come to know and love from The Human Experience, and even earlier Gone Gone Beyond efforts. 2030 really leans into the folky, delicate side of things. Less and less electronic, compared to the “Back Swing”, “Under Siege”, the sound of 2016.
David Block: This record, if you break it down, is 50/50. “Little Moon” has 808s and really beautiful stuff. That’s lush electronic, but the album as a whole does lean more acoustic. … This record is a whole other dimension for me. It’s a whole other dimension because I think it did push my boundaries way past my comfort zone. In multiple ways, in so many steps, I’ve been stretching and stretching… stretching creatively to be able to allow the space for a song like” Marigold” or “Canyons”.
The song before “Marigold” is “A Better Way to Love”, the most electronic song on the album sits next to the most acoustic song on the album, and it plays. I don’t even know how we did it really. I can’t even… I can’t believe that works. I could have never done that without them.
Live For Live Music: The Soul Visions EP with Rising Appalachia is still one of my favorite records of all time, and I am not alone. It was a revolutionary release, and I don’t say that to be hyperbolic. Do you draw any kind of line or trace a sonic lineage, an evolution from there to here? Stylistically, intention, execution?
David Block: Absolutely, yeah. It feels like a pretty straight line, honestly. That record was really the introduction to that folky, Americana electronic music, and marrying those two together, which really, at that time, as far as I know, it just really hadn’t been done very much. It was like… Beats Antique, kind of? But it wasn’t singer, song-driven..
[At that point], I hadn’t even done that many songs that were quite that lyric-driven. I’d say that record is just an integral part of the genesis of this project. I love what Rising Appalachia has done, and where they’ve taken their stuff. I love that we’ve got to make a couple of songs over the years. I do truly wish that we get to make more.
Live For Live Music: Trust, we all do, David.
David Block: Actually, I see a Gone Gone Beyond/Rising Appalachia collaboration in the future. That just sounds like a no-brainer to me.
As told to B.Getz
Listen to 2030 by Gone Gone Beyond on the platform of your choice here.