To travel space is to travel time. Modern day space rockers have always also traveled back in time a bit, specifically to the 1970s when krautrock sprouted from bands like Can, Neu!, and space rock started coming up with the legendary Hawkwind featuring a certain mr Lemmy Kilmister…Farflung is very much aware of this history, being around for quite some time themselves already. Now they are returning to the international stages through the vinyl re-release of their stellar 1995 debut album 25.000 Feet Per Second on Sulatron Records. Cause for celebration of course, and for an elaborate chat with the band’s main two members Tommy Grenas and Michael Esther. Better buckle up for this one, because it is going to be quite a trip into the past and present of this space rock institution!
Can you tell me how you have managed as a musician during the corona crisis so far? In what way(s) has it affected your ways?
it has changed everything here. We live in a small town in Italy close to the first epicenter of the pandemic. It’s been really difficult and I worry about how it will effect the independent music scene and what it will look like going forward….
In terms of my own creative practice, the current vibe has affected it in what ways I am not sure. I will need a bit of distance, a bit of of time to see in what manner it shaped things.
It did not really effect me that much for a couple of reasons. I moved away from the big city [Los Angeles] about 3 years ago to Ulster county, NY, in the Catskills, and it’s in the forest on the side of a mountain, kinda isolated. I still go back to Los Angeles to do non musical work to keep me financially afloat.
Farflung has never really earned the band much money, and I do get some small royalties from the many Lps and Eps released over the years, but I certainly don’t make any sort of living from it. The band is also spread around the globe a bit, so we don’t just get together and play a lot of shows either. This is the way it’s usually been for quite a while.
It has not ‘Artistically, ‘ affected us either. Michael works on ideas and music in Milan mostly, and I pen lyrics, flesh ideas out and write mostly play riffs, melodies on guitar and make note of them when the urge takes me. As I said I travel to LA to work, and at the end of a job, meet up at Farflung’s 2nd home now’ “Saturn moon “ studios in Yucca Valley, the high desert. I’m joined there by Chris’s Nakatta, owner, multi musican, engineer, and Farflung drummer. Also longtime guitarist and swell guy, Paul Hisher meets up to add to whatever gets created. The core drums, guitar and bass is laid down, and then we flesh it all out between Milan, NY, and Yucca to create something.
We rarely play in the States. I’m just not really into doing that here. But we do love playing in Europe. We usually play at least every couple of years there, and that’s where Corona virus effected us. Unavoidable really, but I have to say we’re not like a lot of bands that heavily rely on that. I really do feel for other musicians and our booking company IBD, who must have suffered through it. We’ll be out again when it passes I hope.
Can you tell me a little bit of where and how you guys live and how you usually go
about your day?
I usually go for a long hike with my dog into the forest, and to the bottom of the small mountain I live on. It takes me through the trees and along streams , rivers ,rock formations and shady areas where I can find mushrooms and plants to take home . After that I usually call into Los Angeles to try to set up work , check in with my friends online, family in Northern Ireland, Michael in Italy etc…
There’s a lot of maintaining and work to do at the house, it’s a constant or nature and the elements can take over fast, but it’s work outside mostly and I love that. We also have our own water now, and a backup generator cos the power is out often. We are subjected to a lot of freakish sudden weather sometimes. My wife Abby Travis is a musician also, and we’ve made a pretty good studio in the old basement dug into the side of the hill. It sounds good. She works there more than I do.
My life is mostly keeping the house alive, then sporadic hard periods of work in LA to make money. I work on music here and there, but it needs to come naturally. Farflung I think has worked this way for a long time. There’s never been an urgency to release something, and we’ve never been on a big label that’s demanding a life on the road or a lot of commercial work opportunities. I don’t think back in the day we would have turned that down, but now we’re groaning old men. It works out ok I guess ha ha.
I live in a small town in Northern Italy, on the banks of a river…
The opposite of Los Angeles, things here are slow and quiet….
A day usually consists of, in no particular order
Play with my cats….
Work on visual art
Work on music
You have been around in the psych/stoner/kraut scene in Europe and the USA for quite some time, what is or was the best time for this scene would you think and why? Can you share some memories?
That’s difficult to say, when you’re young everything is new and exciting….
I hope the psych scene will keep rebirthing itself in interesting ways….
In terms of memories there are so many. Maybe meeting people and having the chance to play shows and collaborate. Roedelius, Going fishing with Damo, shrooms with Del and Nik, Dave Catching’s and BOC’s cooking and generosity, Ian Maclagan’s guitar, Hutch’s workshop. Tom Grimley’s noise bombs, Raging Slab‘s farm, Silver Apples, Gong, Amon Duul, Ronnie Wood, weird parties in the hills……I could go on and on and on……
It’s always been my favorite genre. I grew up in the world of post punk and alternative, but as mark e smith said, know your history. Older friends and of course John peel taught us of the forefathers of it all, and this is what really interested me. I lived in the shadow of Hawkwind, Gong, and here and now, but it was upon discovering Can, and Neu I really got inspired to make the music I do. Yes, I grew up and played in garage bands in Belfast and the UK doing our version of our punk hero’s etc, but the cosmic route was the grounding rod.
After living briefly in london, I moved to Los Angeles in the mid 80s with this firm in my brain, and what surprised me was that space rock, krautrock awareness was almost non existent. I met some folk like Don Bolles of the Germs, and Damion Romero of Slug who loved the sounds of kraut especially Neu but that was it until I met Len del Rio, my partner in my first band Pressurehed, then Michael Esther of course in Farflung. Pressurehed was a cross pollination of industrial punk, and spacerock. I released about 3 Lps with that band and did many shows in the collage rock underbelly of Los Angeles. I had heard a few bands around the US spacerock scene, but apart from fi, Mars everywhere, alien planetscapes, architectural metaphors, and scattered planets, it seemed like a lot of bands were Hawkwind tributes or rather weak sounding pseudo prog cover bands. Pressurehed , Helianthus, and Farflung were always a movement combining trippy elements to take the influences and move it forward.
I also think as far as Hawkwind was concerned, people totally missed out here on the tribal, freak, political communal intent of the group of musicians I grew up listening to, and being artists trying to create a movement of radical and conceptual sound. Same goes for Amon Duul II, and Faust etc. You had people that were just not in a band for being a band, but movements including radical visual, theatrical and spoken word artists creating a movement. Later with psych I feel, things got really boring and predictable when rather square characters were basing their sound on pseudo metal concepts that I never understood. whilst I somewhat kinda loosely liked some metal, I thought it was mostly a cheesy gag . I still don’t understand the rather silly culture around it other than having a rocking when drunk like for the music, but a chuckle for the content.
Farflung I like to think, was more aligned with things cross pollinating in the early 90s with many influences. Like many folk might have quoted the Butthole Surfers with a rock vibe like Chrome or tg, Loop channeling- seminal Stooges, Spacemen 3 – vibing Suicide, I’d more think of us as a kinda Amon Duul, Ashra Temple, Cabaret Voltaire , sorta thing at the time. That’s just my opinion for what we were doing when we started. We were playing lots of free shows and collage gigs when we started, our roots were firmly planted in that atmosphere. We shared the stage with a very eclectic and diverse crowd of performers and audiences.
Can you tell me specifically about the time 25000 FT was released? What was the status of the band at that time? What was the reception? Did you tour a lot…etc!
It was a great time filled with lots of energy and musical experimentation.
Brandon and I were students at Calarts and were tied into that scene. There were three schools: Calarts, Art Center and Layola Marymount, each had it own little music scenes and they cross pollinated in the East LA music scene……
It was a somewhat unique crowd of people and performers all trying to create and melt in a mostly non rock environment in Los Angeles based around collage radio and individualism as I just described.
Europe is no stranger to themed events or outsider festivals, but it was rather non existent in Los Angeles where the band was based at the time we started. Apart from the odd event type things set up by likewise minds here and there, it was the usual hair band nightclub like venues where most bands had to run the boring gauntlet to get a gig.
We did not have any desire to be a part of that, so warehouse , art studios, loft gigs were more our thing. Most of these were themed evenings combining mixed media artists and performers. It was not necessarily a rock type thing.
When I met Michael, when his band Helianthus was playing gigs around the Calarts collage area and my band Pressurehed, around punk and loft venues. When Farflung was born, we were writing a lot and playing in this circuit when flipside magazine approached us to record our first lp 25000 ft.
We had known the work Tom Grimlry had been doing with Slug, the Haden sisters, Beck, Rod Pool, Polar Goldicats , Uphill Gardeners, etc, etc, and liked his sound. It was also important to me that there was a diversity and total individualism with each band, with the outcome being equal in productive freedom.
When we went there with our post punky, krauty alternate sounds it was a total un-challenged freedom to create that first lp. We have definitely weaved our way through different periods but the intent has never changed. We continued to play what I remembered as cool events and interesting evenings at that time.
We did a few short tours. But it was difficult in those days in the states. We did one with Raging Slab and another short East Coast thing with Nik. Nik Turner and Farflung as the Sons of Cydonia…..
Long tours really weren’t an option.
We would also jaunt up to sf at that time but that was the extent. When 25000 ft came out it was a very local underground type of deal. We had our fans and people but it was very localized.
During that period we realized demos and the cd were spreading between the collage radio stations and reaching the early networks of diehard spacerock fans. I was also keeping in contact a bit with some of the Hawkwind folk like Nik, Hawkwind guys, and Helios Creed.
Which or what influences have made you into the musician you are to today? Can you recall the moment you knew you just had to “go for it”?
Music for me while growing up, was a thing that was always present. It gave me an overwhelming joy….
Music as well as books and visual art were mysterious and transported me to other worlds.
I just naturally gravitated to towards doing those activities.
I grew up in San Francisco, the Stones were playing. Probably the 1972 tour maybe the Winterland. There was footage on the evening news of Jagger dancing around with a huge scarf. To my parents dismay, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I just wanted to dance around with scarves…I wanted to be just like him but I ended up more like a damaged Richards. Tommy and I even to this day after a few whiskies have been known to break out our Jagger dances….
As I said, early Hawkwind, Neu!, Can, Cabaret Voltaire, Amon Duul II, the Fall, This Heat, lots of post punk bands. But I also love early dub, severed heads, soundtrack music ect ect. The biggest influence though is the day to day experience and my band mates around me. I’ve always bounced ideas between me and Michael, and now Chris and Paul.
We’re a band in every sense of the word, I just tend to move rather fast on things and go off the wall here and there. As a kid, I remember the first time I had the go-for-it experience was probably hearing radio Luxembourg playing, neon lights by Kraftwerk in bed one night on a transistor radio.
I was just blown away by the simplicity and change in the rock dominated sound at that time. It really sounded to me like things had moved into modern times, and it did not mean anything to me specifically about synthesized sound or whatever, rather than I was entranced and moved by it. Not long before that, like most kids in Belfast, it was Never Mind The Bollocks. My gran was mortified when by accident she walked into my room when Johnny sung Bodies and dropped the tea tray. Also, they were all over the papers etc. I just loved them and that lp at the time. Fondness but not necessarily influence was watching Top of the pops in Ireland as a kid, Sparks, the Sweet, T-rex, Bowie, all that stuff in the mists of time.
What do you think about the psych “scene” today, is there one? Do you feel there is a lot of support for our music these days? Was it better before, and how?
Yes. I am glad that in recent years, Wooden Shjips, Electric Moon, Dead Skeletons, etc are around, but also I the recent past Loop, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, 35007, the Heads etc are making sound. I don’t care for “stoner rock” or Sabbath clone rock, it’s overdone and always has been. It’s time to get over the desert thing. Most bands out there have been over that and moved on a long time ago. As I said before I don’t listen to progressive metal or any metal stuff for the most part, but don’t have any thing to say to people do. It’s their own bag. I’m a bit of a historian, I’m still discovering new bands from the past to this day. I’m a crazy record collector and have a lot of obscure and interesting things. I’m so caught up in discovery, I don’t really pay that much attention to the current. Paul in Farflung turns me on to a lot of new things. Some of them I’m like. It’s a pity we have not toured in a while due to Covid, as it’s a great opportunity to shatter the past and the now in the van.
The psychedelic music scene has of course always had associations with drug use, or at least being inspired by the use of certain psychedelics. In what way have you experienced drugs as an inspiration for your art?
Yes of course. I live up here in the wilds of Ulster co New York. There’s a lot of things growing in our woods, not also for the mind but also the body. I’ve learned a lot. I can’t think of any Farflung lp were it might not have played a part in something. My musical contribution with FF is a form of shamanism in some form or another. What grows is a gift.
In my youth, it was about expanding my consciousness. A search for greater meaning and understanding. A type of slowed down focus….a soft world……but that’s a long time ago now. We’ve seen the upside and downside of that path……
In relation to our collective musical work. I am always searching for a kind of feeling inside the sound that we are making, that is difficult for me to locate with words. Sometimes we accomplish it and sometimes not….
Can you tell me about your current status? What about Farflung should be aware of or waiting for?
I am hoping this year will be one of lots of activity. We have lots of ideas we are kicking around….
We just finished a new lp that is in the works with Dave and Sulatron records. We are very happy to be working with our old friend. It’s basically mixed but who knows when it will come out.
(The pressing situation in general is quite dire and there’s a huge backlog dave has to deal with due to Covid,. )
It’s mixed and I just finished the artwork. I think it’s a natural progression from all the last Lps. We don’t like to repeat ourselves, but broaden the horizons. It’s a very natrual progress, and maybe this is the most cohesive recording from the most solid lineup of me, Mike, paul, and chris from the past, 10 years or so. It’s a transcendental journey that has the “Farflung flow” that is our signature, passages and journeys through the minds of the disturbed, euphoria, and unknown. I rather happy with it.
Which current artist do you like? Which artist would you like to read an interview with?
I kinda like the psych band A Place To Bury Strangers, but they seem to be getting rather popular and maybe have enough interviews already. Dave from Sula Basanna ‘s Loop Drones lp is astounding, I think maybe you just did one from him. I don’t know really.
I’ve never read an interview with Del Dettmar from Hawkwind. I know he lives alone in Kootenay Bay in British Columbia and has done so for the past 35 years. He played with the band Melodic Energy Commission in the past, but has been steadily making music on the VCS3 since he moved there. He lives alone in a cabin and used to plant trees out there . His music is very interesting and cosmic. I’d love to hear about what’s going on in his world.
In terms of new artists Tommy is much more up on that than I am….
Del sounds like a great choice to me …..
What should the Weirdo Shrine readers do directly after this interview?
Go outside and look up at he sky.
Then look down, dig a hole and plant a seed….