Satsang is a Sanskrit word that means “in the company of truth.” It is also the name of a Montana-based “conscious music” trio founded by Drew McManus, its guitarist and lead vocalist.
Never yielding to alluring offers from large record companies, Satsang has persisted true to its roots and independently toured its three albums nationally for the past five years. Tapping into concepts as broad as political commentary and as intimate as relationships with family, Satsang’s latest album, Kulture, is a diverse and timely collection of songs inspired by Motown, 90s hip-hop, and 70s rock.
Using his past struggles with addiction to propel his music and personal life in a healthy and fulfilling direction, McManus has built a life for himself of which he can be proud. Join Face the Current as we chat with Drew about his journey, his musical process, and his belief that art is a conduit for constant learning as we all must embrace the human experience.
This Face the Current Music Feature is published in Issue 24 / July-August 2019 Edition. Order PRINT here, SUBSCRIBE to digital membership for unlimited access to our content, or continue reading this article below.
Sasha Frate: Music can be such a powerful medium for inspiring people to make changes in their lives and in the world. How did you decide that this was a path with purpose that you wanted to pursue?
Drew McManus: I have been writing songs since I was fourteen. It wasn’t until my mid- twenties that I began taking it seriously. As I worked through my trauma and issues, this creative flow just kind of started pouring out of me, and still does. It kind of revealed itself to me as the path rather than the other way around and by the time we were recording “The Story of You”, I just adopted a crazy work ethic and ethos to get the music to as many people as possible. And that hard work would be the thing that got me where I wanted to go.
SF: Do you write all your lyrics? What is your process for composing song lyrics and where do you source your inspiration for the messages you want to share through your music?
DM: Yes; I write all of the lyrics. This process is a weird one for me. I could always freestyle, even when I was a kid. If I can get in the head and heart space, I just get out of the way and it comes. Most of my favorite writers are MCs, so I just always thought that was the way to write. You take a subject or idea, swirl it around, get out of the way, and let it flow. My inspiration comes from everywhere—my kids, my wife, history, the news, travel, and getting stuck in traffic. Karl (Satsang’s bassist) has more stories than he should about me writing verses while driving or stuck in traffic. For me, the music comes second about 90% of the time.
We are on the side of love and love wins every single time. People have to talk to each other! That’s my goal for the movement; to bridge all the cultures in which I get to exist. It’s a bridge you can dance to.
SF: Through your music you speak to a lot of big concepts that are part of a global movement of transformation such as “be the change,” “awake and arise,” “one love,” and “one race.” What is your take on how this “movement” has evolved and how do you envision the transformation in the future?
DM: I think the thick of the movement is just coming from an open heart. I think there have always been sages since the dawn of time that carry the knowing of equality. And as more and more people latch onto this basic idea that all people have worth, deserve to be here, and deserve to live a life without fear of being messed with, it will keep growing. As more people wake up to this non-partial and non-political idea of human rights and teach their kids, it will stomp out the xenophobic remainder. That is fear. We are on the side of love and love wins every single time. People have to talk to each other! That’s my goal for the movement; to bridge all the cultures in which I get to exist. It’s a bridge you can dance to.
SF: What is “conscious music” to you?
DM: The “conscious music” thing is a trip to me as we are starting to see a lot of artists doing what seems like pandering. When I first heard the term “Conscious Music”, the only people I ever heard drop it in conversation were Franti and all these hip-hop cats (Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and Common) and “conscious” punk bands (Clash, Bad Brains, US Bombs, Anti Flag, Op Ivy). I think the whole new-age conscious “scene” is a good thing, and I feel blessed to be a part of it. What it seems to be is people from all walks of life that want to do what I touched on above: live in love, make the world better, be healthy, and be better humans. I think we fit in it because my main topic of writing is trying to be better, and that individuality and expression are good things. Seeing it grow and seeing whole festivals built around this fills me with more hope than I can express.
If you know what you are struggling with, you must make hustle meet prayer. Find things that are hard (exercise is a good one) and do them. The growth that comes from conquest that transcends ego has been the key for me.
SF: You recently released your third full-length studio album, Kulture. How would you describe this new album?
DM: This record is all over the place and I am beyond proud of it. I started writing it in 2016 before Pyramid(s) was even fully released. The (presidential)election messed me up for a bit and I felt there was a need to speak on it from my perspective as an artist and traveler. I get to talk and mingle with people all over the country and I felt a responsibility to show that there is an army of people against everything the presidential campaign was built on. So, a chunk of the songs are about that. I attempted to not fit into any boxes when I selected which songs would be on Kulture. There are touches of every genre of music in it. I settled on the name based on feeling like everything, all we take in, all we do, is built on culture. The “K” and intentional misspelling was a nod to the ignorance that still exists. I love the human experience: food, music, fashion, language, spirituality—these are the pillars of culture, the things that feed my soul, and the elements that tie us together.
SF: In the song “Right Now”, you mention the desire to return to our ancient ways. What are you referring to with this?
DM: I live in Southwest Montana. People hunt, fish, and grow food there. There is a rugged self-reliance at home that I don’t see other places. It is primal. We as humans have over-complicated a lot of the world, becoming very far removed from the natural world. We must reclaim our relationship to plants and animals because it is the relationship that got us here. When I wrote “Right Now”, I was climbing all the time and worked with and tended to a variety of plants. I was neck-deep in my connection to the physical earth. (Google beartooth pass—that’s my back yard!) I guess I was just pointing to the importance of our ancient ways and our connection to earth.
Knowing that the work is never done, because life and martial arts are not a task, they are a road—it is my medicine. Fighting looks like chaos, but it’s not; it’s a dance, it’s an art, it is life.
SF: In the song “I AM” it says, “I no longer fear the unknown; cause I know what I am here for.” What do you see as the best way for people to identify and align with their own sense of purpose and how can this enable people to transcend limiting fears and beliefs?
DM: Discipline. I am a huge believer in discipline and work. If you know what you are struggling with, you must make hustle meet prayer. Find things that are hard (exercise is a good one) and do them. The growth that comes from conquest that transcends ego has been the key for me. Submission-grappling and boxing were the key to that lock for me. The harder you push yourself, the more power you reveal to yourself and life begins to simplify as you realize your potential for incremental progress is infinite.
SF: Painting is another medium and creative expression you’ve beautifully embraced! Can you share the story behind one of the most meaningful paintings you’ve created?
DM: Thank you for saying that!! I love to paint—it was my first love as far as public expression is concerned. Kulture’s cover was probably my favorite. What was under it was a painting I was supposed to do for a charity about ten years ago, but I was an addict and didn’t finish it. I kept the canvas forever. I used gesso (a white stiffening agent to prepare canvases) to go over the old painting and then, in pretty much one night, I did what became Kulture on top of it. To go over an ugly piece of my past with a piece of the future was magic. I loved the whole last series and I can’t wait to do another this winter.
SF: You’ve featured pyramids in your art and as your second album. What do the pyramids symbolize to you?
DM: The pyramid has a strong foundation. What makes the pyramid is a gradual build with the most emphasis on the foundation. The intro to the album Pyramids is a recording of my Uncle Jo summing that up for me at a crucial time in my life.
SF: In “Face It” you say, “The Power is in facing it. Not shutting down. Not tapping out. Even though it looks chaotic…it’s pretty beautiful.” How has this rung true for you and what was the most helpful resource or tool that helped you face the “chaos” to “rise into your power”?
DM: That is my whole ethos. I used to use a lot of substances to hide from my past, my thoughts, my feelings, my whole story. Now I face it and own it with so much pride. I am a humble student at the feet of the human experience. Mixed martial arts and the whole community around the sport has done more for me than I can say. Grindhouse MMA in Billings, Montana changed my life. It’s a magical thing because you can’t master it. It never fails that as I continue to train, I think I am making headway, and then I get tapped and have to reexamine another weakness. Knowing that the work is never done, because life and martial arts are not a task, they are a road—it is my medicine. Fighting looks like chaos, but it’s not; it’s a dance, it’s an art, it is life.
SF: Do you have any mentors, particular collaborations, or major influences that have had a positive impact on your music?
DM: All the bands I named above have been huge for me musically and artistically. As far as actual mentors: My wife. She is a Buddha. She teaches me so much about myself. My kids are a major influence as are the people who teach me at the Grindhouse. They don’t even fully know what I take from that gym into the world. Franti is someone who is always there and always answers. Collaborations with people like Nahko, Trevor Hall, and Tubby Love are beyond special to me as well. It solidifies us as community when we sit together.
SF: In the song “Between” you sing about how “the work is never done” and “if you want it you can have it, pay your dues with this magic, wrap it up in the package, give it back to the masses”. How would you describe what this “work” is that we should constantly be doing and what is this package—or gift—that we can be giving back to the masses?
DM: The work part is that self-work is never done. It’s a forever process and not a finite task. Nahko wrote the other part of those lyrics. My take on it is that if we put in the work, we can hone a craft and use it to give back.