Joshua Chuquimia Crampton discusses The Heart’s Wash

Joshua Chuquimia Crampton

The cover of Joshua Chuquimia Crampton’s The Heart’s Wash looks oppressively minimal at first, like the cover of an unreadable document: just the name of the artist and the album on a white font against black, with “solo guitar works” added almost as a disclaimer. It’s an appropriately forbidding cover for more than an hour and a half of solo guitar compositions, especially when packaged in the squat double-CD case whose mere shape and weight inspire a promise of adventure to a certain generation of music listeners. But look closely at the lettering. Notice the faint light shining out from the letters, like a candle flickering in a dark room, or a light at the end of a tunnel. It seems to beckon to us, promising closure and peace.

The LA-based Aymara composer dedicated The Heart’s Wash to “all the lights in my life” — presumably including his sister Elysia Crampton, whose formidable body of electronic music often features Joshua’s guitarwork. Joshua describes The Heart’s Wash as a “light in the darkness” of 2020, a work for prayer and meditation in a time of near-constant stress, fear, and anger. Though his tough, crunchy, almost heavy-metal guitar tone might come off as jarring at first, especially on a solo guitar album, it becomes comforting after a few listens. Once you’re familiar with the terrain, the album’s 96-minute sprawl becomes less of an arduous journey than an endlessly explorable place away from this one.

I first heard of Crampton through his playing on Elysia’s “Fired Fortress” (a stunning demo of which is available on her Bandcamp-exclusive 3 Demos as Chuquimamani-Condori) and then found The Heart’s Wash, with which I quickly became enamored. I contacted him through Kika Sandoval, the managing staff member of his multimedia studio Puro Fantasía, which put out The Heart’s Wash and Chuquimamani-Condori’s book Amarupachankiri. Crampton does not generally do interviews and only through email when he does; these are the responses I received from him.

DANIEL BROMFIELD: You’ve wanted to make this album for nearly a decade: what kept you from releasing one until now?

JOSHUA CHUQUIMIA CRAMPTON: Sometime around 2011, there was a collection of guitar pieces (not The Heart’s Wash) that I had planned to release under my own name. Other projects I was involved in back then took my focus off of it. Since that time, I’ve done work as a writer, collaborator, and sometimes solo artist, but didn’t always use my real name.

Trying to find light in the darkness of this year as well as working on projects such as the Amarupachankiri book showed me the spirit of these pieces, and that’s how The Heart’s Wash came together. It was a natural healing process for me and the perfect instance to revisit releasing an album under my own name. As recorded work, I hope it has the same healing effect on others.

BROMFIELD: Tell me about your system of notation.

CRAMPTON: There’s a way of writing and playing that I’ve developed over time, which in its most stripped-down form demonstrates the notation heard on The Heart’s Wash. It involves bringing out as much as possible from seemingly very little and is often notated by hand-drawn images or a sequence of “events” rather than musical notes. Sometimes, an “event” is created for the sole purpose of being strayed from, which is where improvisation takes place. This ensures that every note is derived from feeling and spirit rather than strict written cadences.

BROMFIELD: Tell me about the tunings you use.

CRAMPTON: Many of the HW pieces were played on electric and acoustic guitars tuned down to A#. That tuning holds a lot of power and fits well for live compositions where a bass guitar won’t be involved.

I’ve grown to enjoy regular D tuning (and its variations) as a default while writing, so that style of tuning is also present in a few places for both electric and acoustic guitars. The rest I choose to keep to myself.

BROMFIELD: I haven’t heard such a tone used on a solo guitar album before.

CRAMPTON: I keep things relatively bare so that the raw character (including flaws) of the guitars all have their moment to speak through the way that I play. This is enhanced by my spare use of effects pedals and a combination of switching between using fingers and a pick for strumming. Several of the arrangements ended up being very physical, which also served a function as prayer while I performed them. It’s easy to connect that aspect of sound to my study of martial arts. Even spots that seem like they’re meant to be abrasive serve the purpose of healing/changing whenever possible.

Space/silence is also an important and definite part of the music, which is why I chose to record these pieces on tape; so that you can hear/feel that silence.

BROMFIELD: You describe The Heart’s Wash as a solo guitar album, yet some of the pieces are for multiple guitars, and others incorporate what sound like brief samples and soundbites. What limitations did you place on yourself in making this album, and how did you break them?

CRAMPTON: The pieces with multiple guitars were made early on in the process, and there are only a few of them on the album. Those particular pieces are where my disciplines were both formed and broken, which is important to their purpose in the sequence. I chose not to have any of those pieces open or close the album for that reason.

One of the disciplines I was able to follow for the majority of the tracks was that they were recorded as a single performance with little to no editing. Another discipline I followed pretty strictly was that any elements that caused me to overthink my approach aesthetically were quickly eliminated.

The “samples” are a natural product of the tapes I recorded on, but also serve their purpose in the world of this music.

BROMFIELD: What do your own prayer and meditation habits look like?

CRAMPTON: Prayer takes many forms for me, and I associate it with giving spiritually. Meditation in my life is associated with receiving spiritually through the process of temporarily shedding all comforts and attachments in exchange for balance, healing, and strength.

Prayer and meditation (in their various forms) can also be collaborative, which is what the pieces with multiple guitars on The Heart’s Wash represent and why I chose to include them.

BROMFIELD: You describe The Heart’s Wash as “nocturnal.” Why is the evening the best time to enjoy this music?

CRAMPTON: All of the pieces on The Heart’s Wash were written and recorded in the middle of the night, so they have a definite nocturnal energy attached to them. I felt it was important to reflect this in the cover and album design as well. As recordings though, they’re meant to be enjoyed at any time, not only por la noche.

BROMFIELD: I’m interested in the significance of the animals referenced in the second half of the album. Why these animals? 

CRAMPTON: There were many nocturnal animals present in the atmosphere of creating these pieces. Since they lent their presence/spirits, their names were included. The Axolotl was chosen because of her association with duality and transformation. The Carnotaurus, a sacred South American creature from the Cretaceous period, serves a similar purpose as the other nocturnal animals in name but lent its presence through images as well as its remains. Symbolically, I chose to tie it to the idea of ancestral strength and fierce power.