Saint Disruption, the spirit-driven music and art collective led by renowned improvisational keyboardist John Medeski (cofounder of Medeski Martin & Wood) and musician, scientist, and folk healer Jeff Firewalker Schmitt, has created a soulful rendition of John Lennon’s classic composition “Imagine.” The single features slide guitar work by Grammy winning vocalist, songwriter, guitar legend, and Gov’t Mule front man Warren Haynes, marking the first time that Haynes has recorded with his nephew Austn Haynes, cofounder of Asheville-based hip-hop quartet Free Radio.
Out April 8, 2022 via Root Doctor Collective, the track also features impressively dynamic vocalists—Datrian Johnson and Grammy winning artist Debrissa McKinney (both of whom also work with Austn in Free Radio)—with the foundational bass parts played by Jake Wolf.
“Such a cool, inventive take on this timeless tune,” says Warren. “It highlights the amazing strength and importance of the song while taking it into the future. It's a real honor to work alongside my nephew Austn, my Asheville cohorts and my old friend John Medeski.”
Jeff Firewalker reflects, “We were inspired to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of Lennon’s classic recording ‘Imagine,’ as we feel the message is more pertinent than ever. There are no human dilemmas, no global issues, no societal imperatives that the message of ‘Imagine’ doesn’t touch. We hope that our rendition stands as a ‘call to action,’ as we ask ourselves, “Are we courageous enough to dismantle the structures that have not served us?”
For this song, Medeski provides tasteful, ominous piano work, and skilled arrangements. He also stepped behind the console to mix the highly-textured reimagined track with Chris Bittner at Applehead Studios. John remarks, “I’m very sensitive about covering songs. I don’t see the point unless you have something personal to say or want to shed a different light on the original. ‘Imagine’ is an anthem, so at first, I was tentative. It was essential that we evoke a different emotional landscape as the backdrop for the song— something all of us were feeling. I think it happened. Nothing felt forced, it all came together easily and naturally, a good sign!”
Medeski and Firewalker Schmitt had no idea they’d meet and strike up a friendship when they traveled independently to the heart of the Amazon to work with a shaman healer in 2008— but when they did, a collaborative creative relationship was born. Over a decade after that fateful meeting, in the midst of a global pandemic, the two felt an urgent need to join forces and make music as Saint Disruption. Saint Disruption brings together musicians and artists to create works that support positive change in the world, with a spotlight on the rich artistic community of Asheville, NC as the creative hub. Firewalker and Medeski are pleased to have created the foundation to bring Warren and Austn Haynes together for the first time in a recording.
Austn comments, “It's been a long-time in the making for me to collaborate with Warren, and to start by paying homage to a song of this stature was as frightening as it was fitting. Free Radio and Saint Disruption have become like a musical spirit family and bringing Warren into the mix really felt for me like one side of the family finally coming together with the other. I couldn't be more grateful that it turned out exactly how it did.“
“‘Imagine’ has long been one of my favorite songs,” says Austin of the song that was initially released in October 1971. “Although John Lennon's classic might not make most people think about hip-hop, for me, I've always wanted to remix it and rap on it. In this dark time our world is currently in, I attempted to meet Lennon on his committed frequency of love and add some poetic confidence in the spirit of hip-hop. Working with this group of musicians was humbling and encouraging because they really helped create the space for the presence and camaraderie that brought our version to life.”
American Songwriter’s Geoffrey Himes writes, “What’s surprising about this partnership between Schmitt and Medeski is how different the results are from what most people expect of ‘spiritual music.’ The two men may have met in a shaman’s kitchen in the far reaches of the Amazon jungle, but the music they created sounds much more like an American street than that rainforest or a guru’s mountaintop. The predominant flavors are hip-hop, funk, blues-rock and electronica, even if the lyrics are probing issues of systemic oppression, personal identity and barriers to spiritual development.”
Austn Haynes and the entire Free Radio collective is featured on Saint Disruption’s critically acclaimed debut album Rose in the Oblivion [Released April 8, 2021 via Root Doctor Collective.] The debut is a sweeping seven-track opus of probing and political neo-funk featuring contributions from Lyric Jones and Last Poets founder Umar Bin Hassan amongst others.
Looking forward, Saint Disruption is planning to release more music and visual art collaborations, music videos, and their soon-to-be-launched No Simple Disruption Podcast/Video-show—released in conjunction with the No Simple Road Podcast and The UBC TV Network—which aspires to provide a platform for young visionaries to share their works and engage in deep dialogue with thought-leaders of their choice.
For further updates and news about Saint Disruption, please visit: www.saintdisruption.com