Picture yourself in the middle of a dark and crowded room. The band stands in a circle around you. Feral men, wild eyes, long hair and beards. They chant shamanic hymns or sing lost words in broken sentences. They seem to have a secret communication. Through telepathic signalling they orchestrate their singular music. Completely in synch, they wander, not knowing where to go but feeling it together as one. As you start to feel it too, you close your eyes. This is what improvisation can be, and it is awe inspiring. When Sunburned Hand Of The Man do it on a good day, it is the best thing in the world.
Headdressis not a new album. It is a session from 2001, set in the early post 9/11 era of chaos and darkness. You can feel the apocalypse hanging in the air in these jams, perhaps even picture these chants the rituals of human civilisations that will outlive us after we have nuked ourselves to oblivion. There is a dark madness in the air that translates really well into the mostly instrumental music.
Clearly inspired by German improvisation legends Can, Sunburned Hand Of The Man has made this intuitional way of playing their own and added a certain wildness to it, a dangerous “anything could happen” vibe that I personally dig extremely well. Open minds are obligatory with this kind of music of course, but hey, if you came this far on this internet page and this review, I am quite sure you are already through that habit hole…so enjoy!
It took some hardcore stamina and some professional tree shaking to get Sunburned Hand Of The Man to respond to my emails, it is the reason this article was published over four months after the album’s official release date. But hey, when you finally get to reach out to American improv legend John Moloney you do not complain. I felt gratetful with his honest and thorough answers to my questions below…
Hi guys, how is Sunburned Hand Of The Man these days?
Sunburned is doing great, we’re settling into our usual winter playing and recording routine. Plus, Michael Josef K just moved to town and returned to the fold after about a 15 year hiatus. We’re psyched. Phil Franklin is here visiting from Australia too. We just did a few shows with him and that was fun. We’re getting ready to record our next LP for Three Lobed and we’re finishing up artwork for our new album Hypnotape which is coming out on VHF this spring in the first of many CD, etc, focused releases.
We’re all happily married to each other and bamboozled that we still foam at the mouth to be able to do this after so many years, phases and music scene crazes.
What have you guys been doing since your last release?
Breathing, working, making art, reading, listening to records, looking at phones, raising kids, stressing, guzzling, playing and recording more music on the regular.
Personally, I tour manage and play second drums on occasion with Dinosaur Jr as my “real job.” I love it and we just finished up a very busy year of touring with Ryley Walker, Pink Mountaintops, GBV and Garcia Peoples on the various tours. So it’s nice to be home with my family and getting busy with Sunburned again. I could do without the New England winter though…
Tell me what kind of band Sunburned Hand Of The Man is these days?
We’re a country-western massachusetts mental ghetto ensemble and psychedelic trap house. There’s no way out.
Who decides what and when? Do you see each other frequently, etc…
Sunburned itself makes all the decisions, I act as the conduit but most usually we decide things as a group. We see each other all the time. 2 guys share an apartment and 5 of us live within a mile radius of each other, the rest are just minutes away.
What can you tell me about this new re-release of “Headdress”?
We were asked to reissue the record by Cory Rayborn at Three Lobed. We needed to remaster it first and none of us could find an original cd master. It was all recorded on cassette tape. I have 99% of our archive semi-organized here at the HQ and it still took me over a year to track down all of the original tapes and one is still missing. It drove me insane having to listen to all that headdress era music and eventually Ron tracked down the master.
All of the original art is here. This was pre-easy computer so we rebuilt it from the parts and expanded on the art.
Marc Orleans who passed in 2020 was a HUGE part of this record so its great to have his spirit still burning hot on this record. He made it the record it is with his amazing playing and I’m glad Cory really pushed to put this back in circulation. Carl Saff made it sound even better than the original too.
We were going to maybe do an expanded version with other material from the era but that didn’t happen.
Can you take me back twenty years to when you made it?
A lot of the music on Headdress was made the day after 9/11/2001 and the following weeks. Those times were crazy and we were 20 years younger and wilder with most of us living together in a loft space in Charlestown, MA. We were also doing a weekly residency at the Burren in Davis Square Somerville which is still a killer traditional Irish music pub. I tended bar there for a while. They had a back room where non-Irish music played once in a while and we were given the Wednesday night slots. 20 years ago we the project was based in Boston and Somerville, and now we’ve all drifted out to Western Mass which is odd and amazing to me.
Do you still recall what it was like to be in the band at that time? What is the biggest difference to the present in your mind?
At that time being in Sunburned was essential to the mental health and survival of everyone involved. We weren’t thinking about being a “band’ in the traditional sense. We were bonded in our need for group therapy and the fun that surrounded it.
Is the Manhand label still alive?
Yes, Manhand is still very much alive.
What is your relationship with 3Lobed like?
Very good. Cory is a friend and brother to all of us and we’re so happy and looking forward to the future together. We just put together a loose schedule of releases with Bill at VHF too and I’m personally beyond excited to have Sunburned working with my two favorite labels.
Where should a Sunburned Hand newbie start in your rather extensive discography?
Start withHeaddress, then check out Jaybird, No Magic Man, Rare Wood, Anatomy, Get Wet With The Animal, My Accident, Fire Escape, A, Earth Do Eagles Do, The Spacial Crime Symbol, Double Puberty, Vugarisms, Pick A Day to DieandHeaddless. That’ll give you the broadest potpourri of vibes.
What are your proudest pieces of recording as a band?
All of the above. Is an honor and pleasure to be In this crew.
What kind of music are you listening to today? Which contemporary bands do you dig?
I’m listening hard to Bardo Pond’s reissues on Fire and Three Lobed this week. Right now I have Bitchin’ Bajas’ Rebajason the cd player.
Can you tell me some of the most memorable stories of being in this band? The weirdest, most outrageous, or just beautiful parts of it?
There’s way too many to write out here but I will shamelessly plug the 8 part Sunburned Podcast, which is still in production that’s coming out worldwide later this year which will be full of the best and most colorful stories.
If you’d go back to the 90s when you started the band, what would you do differently?
If I could go back to the 90s I would have bought a lot more music gear at Cambridge Music and a couple of triple deckers in Boston with my bartending money instead of spending a lot of it on partying, fine dining and up to a dozen plane tickets at a time for Sunburned tours instead back then. I don’t regret any of it.
Do you have any wisdom to share with the Weirdo Shrine readers reading this interview?
Experiences rule. Take yourself places physically and mentally.
It’s the most depressing time of the year. Next week it will be blue Monday, the day the most people in this world feel down and out. It is the perfect setting for Morrison Graves‘ gloomy doom rock. On their debut Division Rising they perfectly channel early dark post punk like Echo and the Bunnymen, modern psychedelic rock like The Black Angels, and early psychedelica like The Doors (what’s in a name?). The album is a concept studio effort challenging the topic of gentrification and the woes of modern capitalism. That may all sound heavy and without any fun, but luckily these guys write some killer songs.
The best example is probably Demolition Man, a subdued rocker that rings a bit like The Black Angels’ Currency but bleaker and with a delightful gothic undertone that would also appeal to fans of Woven Hand or Roadburn darlings Grave Pleasures. Another favorite is the atmospheric A Puppet Dance, with a chorus that will haunt you in your sleep for many nights…
It is quite unbelievable that Morrison Graves was conceived as a studio only project, with no intentions of hitting the stage any time soon because the album is a living, breathing thing. An album that projects images of smokey basement stages and shoegazed dancing by black clad audiences. It is definitely a perfect album for these unjoyous times after the holidays, but I am delighted that they released it so the feeling becomes a shared experience, and one with a perfect soundtrack.
I wrote this Portland, Oregon threesome without any expectations or premeditation. I just liked their music. To my surprise they insisted to all collaborate on the interview, and it became a cool joint effort, shedding some light on all three their perspectives. So without further ado, here’s Gary Jimmerson, Ryan Brown, and Rob Bartleson about their studio project Morrison Graves…
How are you? How has the past year(s) been for you as musicians?
Gary: I’m good, thanks for asking. The past couple of years have been rewarding, despite the isolation. I’ve been learning to play guitar (historically I’m a drummer), and focusing on songwriting. I’ve always wanted to release music on vinyl, so I was fortunate enough to rope Rob and Ryan into this project to make that happen. It’s a milestone for me to say the least.
Rob: Unfortunately, working in music every day does not allow me to do my own creative things as often as I’d like. Doing Morrison Graves with Gary has been a very welcome break from the day to day, and I’m very proud of how it turned out.
Ryan: I’m doing really well. Currently, I’m working with a couple of different musicians on an industrial project (on top of working hard with Gary and Rob putting this album together), so this year has been incredibly fruitful musically. I know that the pandemic period was very hard for many, but for me they were the most productive musical years I have experienced. I lost my job 3 different times, so I spent all of that time making music holed up in my house.
Can you introduce yourselves?
Gary (multi-instrumentalist): I’m the founder of the project. I’ve been entrenched in the sounds of “psych rock” for the past several years, and decided I needed to make a similarly-themed album. I now live about 90 miles outside of Portland, Oregon, which is home to an incredible music scene, and most of my friends. Inspired by small-town boredom, I started demoing songs in my home, while shamelessly soliciting help to make the songs better. Rob is a close friend of about 20 years now, and is an incredible studio engineer and bass player. I knew right away that he would be an integral part of the project. Ryan is my best friend from high school, and has a powerful voice that I knew would be perfect for these songs. Miraculously, they both agreed to help out.
Rob (bass + engineer): I’ve been the owner of Haywire recording for over 2 decades now and have worked in music my entire life. I’ve also toured extensively as a bass player, and that is how I met Gary, at a show in Montana in March of 2000.
Ryan (vocals): I have been involved in music most of my life as well, in many different veins. I recently moved back to Portland after a six year hiatus with the intent of actualizing my dream of being in a band. The last place that I lived was amazingly beautiful, but the music scene there was lacking in many respects.
What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?
Gary: I am a self-taught musician. I started playing drums in middle school, jamming to The Cure and Nirvana. In high school, I played mostly in Dischord-influenced punk bands. In the early 2000s, I played drums in an instrumental post-rock band from Missoula, MT called This is a Process of a Still Life. In the mid-2000s, I played drums/vibes/keys in an electronic influenced indie band from Portland, OR called Small Sails. Those years were all about jumping in a van with your pals and criss-crossing the US. I then took a hiatus from music through most of the 2010s to establish a career as an ER veterinarian. It was really hard to play drums in apartments, and I didn’t really have the mental time/strength to play. But once I graduated from school, it wasn’t long until I was back at it.
Rob: I started off in 3rd grade as a jazz musician playing alto saxophone. When I was 16, one of my best friends (David Devery) needed a bass player so I talked my mom into buying me a bass. David & I went on to form Slackjaw, along with Joey Prude & Eric Schopmeyer, who are both guests on the Morrison Graves album. Slackjaw went on to record 6 albums, and extensively tour the United States, playing over 400 shows. I also have toured and recorded with the bands The Exhale and Southerly.
Ryan: I started studying classical piano in the 4th grade, and started singing in choirs in middle school. My high school choir teacher was one of the most influential people in my life, so I decided to get my undergraduate degree in music education — so I could follow in her footsteps. That pushed me to continue studying classical piano and classical singing throughout university, and I taught myself to play guitar and bass over those years, too. Not having any musicians to really work with over the pandemic, I sat down in front of a drum kit for the first time and taught myself some elementary drums, to have something to record and write on top of. Playing drums feels amazing… even when you suck at it!! I also spent those isolated years deep diving into production by watching mastering engineers divulge their depth of knowledge in Youtube videos. It’s amazing how much one can progress by themselves, both in playing and knowledge, by studying online.
What does a regular day in your life look like?
Gary: My life is fucking great right now. I walk our dog for about 1.5hr while listening to music on my headphones. Eventually, I’ll cook up some bad-ass food with a beer in hand, and watch the day fold into night with my wonderful partner. Often we listen to the rain on our Oregon rooftop, or spin a record, as the day comes to a close. There are many dog belly rubs involved! I feel very fortunate to have that roof over my head, warm food on the table, and the bandwidth to have a luxury like music in my life. I work as an ER veterinarian which requires long shifts and a lot of weekends/nights, so most of my creative time is done on days off when my partner is at work. I don’t envy anyone who lives with a drummer/blossoming guitarist! I get a lot of days off, which is rad. Oregon is rad.
Rob: Although I have my misgivings in life, I’m proud to say that most days in my life I do not have to get up before noon! I work in rock & roll, so that’s the goal right? Days off don’t exist for me because there is so much crazy shit going on in my life. At some point, I’d like to work on that and simplify it, but for now that is my reality.
Ryan: I work as few days a week as I can (as a server), making just enough money to squeeze by so that I can make as much music as I can on my days off.
What is the best thing about Division Rising?
Gary: I particularly love the subject matter of the album. Division Rising is a concept album about homelessness, gentrification, displacement, and socio-economic gaps. All very timely problems. Even the band and album names are based on this subject matter. Division Street (PDX) keeps going skyward, while class divisions rise. Morrison/Belmont (and other streets) are turning into condo graves. Our cities are on fire.
Rob: I’m going to completely agree with Gary on the subject matter. The album didn’t start out with that as a goal, but I’m glad it went in that direction. Also as an engineer, I’m very happy with how experimental we were able to be with all of the sounds, especially the drum sounds. Gary: oh my, the Studer tape compression on Bent Beyond the Break is so good!
Ryan: Finally finishing something. Anything!! Lol! My computer is filled with unfinished tracks….tons of them! AND working with your best friend. Gary was my closest person in high school, and we’ve worked on music together in many different configurations over the years. So getting to come back together once again, after a long time away from one another, to create something of this scope was incredibly special.
Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?
Gary: Rob and Ryan will have better responses for you. I live in Corvallis, OR – a small university town with a pretty vacant music scene. Thankfully, there is a small punk collective here, but not much outside that. A few dad bands, some singer-songwriters, cover bands, etc, typical small town stuff. Portland, Oregon speaks for itself.
Rob: Portland, OR. Where else is there in the US? We have this locked down in Portland. The average artist’s grip on P-town may be experiencing some hardships, but right now, we’re still doing amazingly well compared to the rest of the US. The rest of the world? Well, we can have a different conversation about that.
Ryan: Like I mentioned before I just moved back to Portland, OR. I moved back specifically for the music scene here. It does not disappoint in that respect. This city is brimming with artistic creativity of all types. It feels raw here. Unhinged. Feral.
What is your main aim with your music, is it complete artistic expression, or an escape from the every day world? (or something else ;))
Gary: Morrison Graves was started as an avenue to make studio albums with friends, with a focus on sound design and studio techniques. Rob is a wizard at that stuff. Then release it on vinyl! I’ve learned over the last few years that music is an integral fabric of my existence, so it appears that I will always need an outlet.
Rob: I definitely like the sound of complete artistic expression. Gary has pushed me creatively into an area that was new, and I feel like the result of it was pretty damn cool.
Ryan: For me, music making is about personal exploration and growth. Having grown up submerged in classical training, I have such an incredible foundation of technique, which has served me in so many different ways. But it also was my biggest hindrance — in that it’s so structured and formulaic. The first time I started genuinely loving music was when I started writing my own songs, but I ran into many barriers with it because of all of that training. It really got in the way of having my own voice and expression. That’s what happens when you spend so much time learning the “proper” and “correct” way to do this and that. I have spent much of the past years breaking down those structures to find myself musically. It’s been incredibly rewarding, and also very challenging, finding myself in it all. It’s a continual work in progress.
Who are your influences, all time and contemporary?
Gary: I absolutely love the garage/psych/fuzz rock from the late 60s. Some classic favorites are: The Seeds, The Eyes, Les Problemes, The Litter, The Blues Magoos, Electric Banana (Pretty Things secret project), Syd Barrett, and Billy Nicholls. Some contemporary influences are: Temples, Black Angels, Night Beats, Babe Rainbow, The Mystery Lights, Levitation Room, The Lazy Eyes, Wine Lips, etc. Radiohead and Blonde Redhead are all-time favorites for me. We recently had a vinyl release party where Joey Prude spun some pretty awesome wax. That list is below if you’re interested.
Rob: Lately I’ve been getting into bands like Black Angels, and Crumb. Always been into old school psych like Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd. Some of my all time favorite bands are The Cure, Blonde Redhead, Afghan Whigs & the Replacements. I’ve always had somewhat of an obsession with Icelandic bands like Kaelan Mikla, Sigur Ros, & Bjork. I’ll also give a shout out to my favorite (and the best) Portland band ever, (as an influence for my distorted bass sounds): Thirty Ought Six.
Ryan: I grew up listening to my dad’s records. The Beatles were the first band I fell in love with, along with Led Zeppelin and Cat Stevens. The Beatles always blew my mind because of the scope of their writing abilities and their exploration and evolution as musicians over the years. Radiohead was also a band that blew my mind for a very same reason. I also feel such a pull towards The Beatles and Radiohead because their music is so rich sonically. One of my favorite composers to play growing up was Debussy – I loved his concept of tone painting where tone was like paint on a canvas that conveyed meaning and emotion through the imagery that it evoked. Those two bands really excel at that, which is very difficult to do.
What are your immediate and long term future plans?
Gary: I have about 8 demos started for the second record. Ryan is coming down soon to start messing around with vocal ideas. I have a lot of drum parts to write! Hopefully we can start recording those songs sometime later this year. We are also in discussions about whether or not to try this thing out as a live show. I have no idea what we will settle on for that. I also want to start a garage rock recording project.
Rob: We have many requests coming in to make this a live band too, and I’d be up for it, but we’d have to figure out one other person to make it happen of course.
Ryan: Be in a rock’n’roll band. Stay in that band!
What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?
Gary: Go walk your dog, scratch your cat’s ears, and/or cook someone dinner. And listen to some of those late 60’s songs/bands you are unfamiliar with. Obviously The Doors, PinkFloyd, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin were smashing out worthwhile classics, but that era is deep with incredible music.
Rob: Let’s all try to do the best we can to help solve the issues brought up by the lyrical material in this album. It won’t be easy, but change is always anything but that.
Ryan: Pursue your dreams. Enjoy your life. Because it seems to pass by quicker and quicker as the time goes on.
I am quite late with this write up about the latest album by US psych rock heroes Dead Meadow. To be honest, I was waiting for a response to my interview questions. However I decided that we as listeners perhaps did not need too many words from the band, as they themselves also mostly let their instruments speak for them on Force Form Free.
On their debut album for Blues Funeral Records Dead Meadow dive into their own riffs so incredibly and completely that it seems like guitarist Jason Simon just forgets to start singing entirely, fully immersed as he is in letting that riff wash over himself again, and again. At least that’s the impression on opener The Left Hand Path.
The Lure Of The Next Peak shows Dead Meadow’s wacky side, in a beautiful pastoral jam with a dancing wah wah pedal. On the third song Valmont’s Pad the heavy distortion returns on another quite merry tune that feels like a stroll in the countryside. Still no vocals though.
The vocals and lyrics only show up on To Let The Time Go By, a mostly acoustic affair with Simon’s characteristic lazy just out of bed vocal delivery dreamily accompanying the soothing tunes. Only he can sing it like The Black Keys just fell head first in a huge tub of jello, it’s quite magnanimous and heady.
And then it’s on to some more heavy jamming with revved up amplifiers and a ton of fuzz. Title track Force Form Free hits it off with a nice long build up that pretty much keeps on building and layering until the very end, leaving you with one more jam left. It’s the mighty Binah, that brings everything that makes this record awesome together and even adds some vocals.
But I’ll leave the comments for it to the legendary producer Steve Albini, who says it better than anyone here:
“Dead Meadow have laid down god’s own riffs over the years but the guitar solo that blankets the last four minutes of “Binah” from the new piece is a psychedelic chemical so pure I would drop it into my eyes from a pipette and stare at the stars.”
Put that in your pipe and smoke it Dead Meadow. You done did it again.
If there is a staircase somewhere to measure epicness in music, Elder is definitely quite high up there. Their brand of psychedelic prog rock is towering high above their peers, each song taking its time to build up carefully only to crash down on the listener with mighty waves afterwards.
Innate Passage, a passage from within (beautifully illustrated on the album cover), is Elder’s latest display of power. On it, in my mind, they hark back to the crushing heaviness of their masterpiece Lore, without losing any of their subtle progression on the albums that came after. Your head will need a little time to fully wrap itself around this “inner passage”, but when you do you will be thoroughly hooked to what probably is the highlight of heavy psychedelic prog rock this year.
The band builds a cathedral, rather than a rock album. The base is of course drums, bass, and Nick DiSalvo‘s ever impressive guitar work, but a cathedral needs more than just a solid foundation to impress. With carefully added layers of acoustic guitars, mellotron, and for the very first time some vocal help from German stoner powerhouse Samavayo‘s Behrang Alavi Elder has also added the outer and inner arches, gargoyles, and ornamental features.
Innate Passage feels like a cathedral when you enter it too, in such a way that you can wander in it for quite a while and still be amazed when you look up and scale the ceiling paintings, or when you discover new patterns in the stained glass windows. Elder awaits you at the entrance time after time, and each time seems to give you a more extensive tour.
The Weirdo Shrine travel agency of psychedelic prog tripping cannot recommend it enough…
Before reading this review, please take some time to check out the interview I recently did with Twin Lakes Records, More Klementines members and 50% of Spiral Wave Nomads drummer/keyboard player Michael Kieffer. It will help placing these very active psychedelic musicians into certain perspective, and hopefully also draw your attention to the plethora of other musical projects they are involved in. They are worth your time.
Together with Eric Hardiman (Sky Furrows) who pays guitars, bass, and electronics on this album, as Spiral Wave Nomads Kieffer has fully immersed himself into full blown instrumental jams. They absolutely go with every flow on this one, letting the conjured spirits of their own creativity take them wherever they may go.
The repetitive nature of the music is quite hypnotizing. A song like Carrier Signals for instance flutters upwards in spiraling motions, taking the listener on a levitational trip. The drums are more jazzy and supportive to the trip than machine-like motorik in nature, making Magnetic Sky a very natural flowing album, always wandering and seeking, kindly, without pressure, but with wonder and an always open mind. It’s like they warmly ask you: “hey, wanna go on a trip with us? Let’s go, man”, and if not that’s ok too. No hassle dude, better luck next time.
I have said this before, but I’ll say it again because it is extremely important to notice. It is mentally liberating to be able to trip on music like this. To completely be free in the moment. Especially when you do not have a mindset like Spiral Wave Nomads and your life is fleeting and stressful it is important to know that it is possible to take this trip with them and synch in this rhythm for just this album. They have invited you man, let’s go…
To me these days, there are few things as satisfactory as a bunch of free form musical artists finding each other and jamming like there is no tomorrow. To me they are like mind readers almost, or cosmic weavers of sonic threads. The band Can were based on this principle, and they spend many months perfecting their jams, often culminating into what they called “Godzillas”; slowly built up eruptions of sonic energy.
More Klementines definitely bear fruit from that can, and they definitely share four of their most successful Godzillas on their new album Who Remembers Light. There is in fact little about it that I do not like. Whether they wax instrumentally like on opener Hot Peace, or add lyrical poetry like on the much shorter Key Of Caesar, they do it in a way that is ephemeral in nature, here one moment, gone the next. Like ideas, and thoughts, More Klementines’ improvisational music comes and goes, back and forth, sometimes steady rockin’, sometimes more fragile, but ever flowing.
Who Remembers Light is a photograph of this ephemeral power of More Klementines, a recorded moment in time where they rocked, and flowed freely amongst newly discovered sounds. Freshly picked klementines for your listening pleasure…
So I discovered about More Klementines rather late, more than a month after the release of Who Remembers Light. The more I found out about them the more I liked them though, because aside from cool musicians im multiple bands they are also proud record label owners…let’s quickly dive deeper into that with the trio that makes up More Klementines!
Hi guys, can you please introduce yourselves to the Weirdo Shrine audience?
Kiefer: Hey Jasper, thanks so much for taking an interest in More Klementines. Michael Kiefer here, and I play drums in the band.
J: This is Jon – I’m the only person in the band not named Mike or Steubs. I play guitar, banjo and lap steel.
Steubs: Esteemed congregants of the Weirdo Shrine, I greet you heartily! I am Steubs, and I play strings, keys, delay, and bells.
How have you been the past pandemic years? How did you see it affect your musical careers?
J: The pandemic required stepping back and putting things on hold for a bit – in a way it was nice to pull out of the game for a bit and spend time listening and going for walks in the woods. Fortunately, we were able to share ideas and work through new material. One highlight of the pandemic was recording our “sk8 @ yr own rsk” record where we regrouped for an afternoon outside and got to play in my backyard in the fresh air.
Steubs: All that time to play with no real agenda but to try to entertain myself, led to some new ways to hold the instruments, and make happy noise with less of a focus on plucked notes or stacked harmonies. Something about that time led me to seek out lighter ways to make the instrument move the air. Something about melody, harmony or even traditional dissonance seemed to bring the dark quarantine times into unwanted high relief, and finding ways to make the instrument hum, hiss, wobble, and take up new sonic spaces made it seem like I was moving through the time better.
Kiefer: It definitely afforded me some more time to get back to practicing the rudiments of drumming, while also exploring ways to create new textures around the kit.
Can you tell me about your band(s)? I have just been listening to the last More Klementines a lot! It’s awesome! But there is more, right?
Kiefer: Thanks so much! Yeah, I also play in a psych duo called Spiral Wave Nomads with Albany, NY’s Eric Hardiman. We’re just about to put out our 3rd LP, Magnetic Sky in November–another co-release with Feeding Tube Records. And Jon and I also play in another outfit called Drifting North. It’s kind of a fresh take on the Cosmic Americana that’s been bubbling up from the American underground the past several years…psychedelic folk tunes and garage rockers that can morph into motorik train beat jammers or freeform meditative folk ragas.
J: Yes. As Mike mentioned, he and I play in another project called Drifting North that includes some heavy hitters from New Haven – we’re moving into recording mode with a batch of songs and jams and hope to put out songs in the coming year and a full record to follow.
Steubs: My recent side project joy has been to play drums with my kid’s band, and to work on some solo sound compositions and try to teach myself about synths.
What can you tell me about the Twin Lakes record label?
Kiefer: Well, Steubs and I started the label back in 2007, I think when we were still working as a duo called Myty Konkeror…
Steubs: Ah yes, I remember it well! We had a lot of friends at the time with tape labels, or self-recorded labels, and it seemed more logical to pursue the music and the distribution on our own terms. The surprising bit, was that as soon as we released anything by ourselves, we were overwhelmed by amazing musicians seeking help to release their music. We’ve always sought to do limited runs, records if possible, and with the band bringing a unique or handmade art design to the table. It feels like, and felt like, even way back then, that to put a physical object into the world, it had to have some love baked in as well as some aesthetic merit.
Where are you guys from, and how does it affect your music?
Kiefer: Jon and I live just outside of New Haven, CT in Branford/N.Branford, while Steubs lives in Brooklyn. I’m not sure how it affects our music. There’s certainly a lot of great music around the New Haven area, like our friends in the Mountain Movers, Headroom, the C/Site label run by Stefan Christensen, Henry Birdsey, Mercy Choir, Lys Guillorn and many others. Plus other CT artists like Michael Slyne and Fatal Film in New London. Seeing them all continue to keep working and push their creativity in new ways pushes us to keep going and exploring new sounds.
J: Living in the woods of Connecticut near the shore gives the opportunity to listen to the trees, lapping of the water, and drive winding roads while listening back to recordings and mixes. Something about these surroundings permeates the music – it’s kind of a state of mind- the ebb and flow of the tides that pulls on things and has profound influence in subtle ways.
Steubs: The music scene in and around New Haven, CT is very special, and one of the most underrated deep beds of weirdo-music talent in the U.S. People are caring and real and involved the rest of the community at large. I’m so lucky to know Mike and Jon and to be able to get up there to bang around with these guys, skate with these guys, ride down mountains with these guys and surf with these guys.
I am a NYC native, from the boroughs, and I’ve always had an affinity for the music NYC has produced that has aligned itself with sounding out the uncomfortable and harder parts of NY life in a DIY-way: New York Hardcore (CroMags, LifesBlood), Crust and Squatter Punk (Nausea, Missing Foundation – Germans who were nevertheless in Tompkins Square Park), No-Wave (8-eyed-spy —- first time I got to read a Byron Coley cassette insert!), that whole scene that Sonic Youth eventually presided over, metal and crossover (Leeway rocks!), etc, etc… there are so many kinds of heavy music bands and players and composers who have been from here, and it’s so humbling …. so much jazz, noise, beats…John Zorn!, Velvet Underground, SWANS, RUN DMC, KRS-One, Eric B and Rakim, Wu-Tang… it’s made me want to open up to hear so many things, and feel like I always have beginner’s mind when I try to write and perform.
There is a strong kraut vibe in your music, where did that come from? And who are your kraut rock heroes?
Kiefer:CAN tops the list for me. Amon Duul II and Neu! are right up there as well. I’ve always loved the repetition and motorik beats that you’d often hear in those bands. I really liked how propulsive and groovy the rhythms could be while also leaving so much room for the songs to open up with interesting, weird textures and sounds. That coupled with the free approach you hear in a lot of that music…to me it represents the joy of discovery in new sounds that I love experiencing with my friends and collaborators.
J: What Kiefer said is exactly what I’d say on this subject.
Steubs: All of that for sure ++ I also spent a lot of time with 90s kraut-rock influenced bands like Th’ Faith Healers uk (still a rhythm/lead guitar north star for me— the opening riff on Imaginary Friend is just so definitive. Not to mention, I took that whole mark chime thing into song into our own last album.) Thank you, Th’ Faith Healers uk. Incidentally, this has been and remains an album I put on during larger gatherings, and people always start clamoring: “What is this record?!? It’s so great!”
I think we try to be respectful about celebrating our love of these bands that take heavy repetition and building freakouts, but we are trying to move to an entirely new place. I think that one of the things we’ve started to explore more and more, is how you can create the effect of repetition without actually doing it, but instead taking the listener into new places while they think they are hearing repetition. This is almost the opposite of a lot of older psych and krautrock, which would use the repetition to make the same sound unfamiliar. I think we are using heavy music, and playing with dynamics, to make the listener follow us to places that are different and radical, but leaving aspects in place that cushion the giant steps so suddenly what sounded like repetition is doing something totally different.
Who are your favorite contemporary musicians?
Kiefer: Oh man, there are just so many, so I guess I’ll focus on the ones I’ve been listening to most the last couple years. We recently played a gig with Michael Beach at Tubby’s in Kingston, NY, and he just released an EP that confirmed he’s one of the best singer-songrockers out there. The new Elkhorn LP is amazing, and the new Bill Callahan album has been on repeat for me since it came out. I also keep going back to the Myriam Gendron record that came out earlier this year. Oh, and Steubs turned me on to a Curtis Harding record that came out last year that I also revisit a lot. Pretty much anyone on Three Lobed Records…that new Eli Winter record is so good, and I’m always excited when a new Gunn-Truscinski Duo record comes out. Our New Haven buds The Mountain Movers continue to inspire us with each release. Another New Haven artist that blew us away recently is Henry Birdsey’s Old Saw project, specifically his 2021 album Country Tropics.
J: I’ve really enjoyed all the music that Rose City Band has been putting out the past few years – very inspirational stuff right there. I’m a huge Steve Gunn fan as well. I’m continually discovering musicians that are long gone such as Amanaz that just blow me away – I seem to have them on continuous play even though I discovered their record from 1975 a few years back. I’m still discovering decades old records by King Tubby and Lee Scratch Perry that pull me in more than anything.
Steubs:Wille Nelson. Bill Frisell. Mitsky. Jim White. Pete Kerlin.
What is the coolest thing you have done so far? And what is still on the bucket list?
Kiefer: Hmm…I’m not sure there’s one coolest thing. We’re just super grateful to have joined bills with some of our favorite artists. We’ve had such a blast sharing bills with bands like Oneida, Howlin Rain and our buds Garcia Peoples. Playing some shows in Europe is definitely on the bucket list.
J: Probably the coolest thing may have to be our first improv gig at Cafe 9 in New Haven – I can’t remember all the details (year, who else was on the bill, etc) but I recall that Steubs played a gamelan and the three of us managed to levitate a few feet off the ground during our 30 minute set. It was one of the most profound musical experiences I’ve had…
Kiefer: Oh yeah, that gig was amazing. And the fact that we improvised that night was borne more out of necessity than anything else. I remember a couple days before the show Steubs let us know he couldn’t make it, so Jon and I practiced the day before as a two-piece with some rough ideas. But then the day of the show Steubs let us know that he could make it and would just jump in and improvise. I think Jon and I started out the set with whatever approach we had prepared for, but then the set just sort of took on a weird, beautiful life of its own. That show definitely gave us the confidence to keep improvising, and I’m not sure if we’ve written any structured songs since, with the exception of “Key of Caesar.”
Steubs: Getting older and having these two buddies to bang around with is the coolest thing. It’s like that lyric from ‘boogie chillen’: “Let that boy boogie-woogie/cause it’s in him, and it got to come out.” That’s music for me- I don’t have a choice. It’s weird stuff, not universally appealing, and if I could have chosen, I’d probably have chosen to play more popular and profitable sounds. But these dudes and I find some peace and release in playing this noise out of ourselves together—wherever it might originate from. Having a handful of people that seem interested in listening to the noise we make is just gravy.
Kiefer: Yeah…that’s definitely the coolest thing for sure.
What are your immediate future plans?
Kiefer: We do have one gig on the horizon that we’re excited about. We’ll be playing the I Heart Noise Festival on December 10 in Williamsburg at Pete’s Candy Store with some other artists we love, like Wet Tuna, Jim White & Marisa Anderson, Solilians, Skyjelly, and I Feel Tractor. We can’t wait!
Aside from that, we just wanna continue getting together when time allows and jam. We’re all great friends and we feel really lucky that our bonds go beyond the personal connections we have. We have this deep musical connection that allows us to converse in our own language not studied, but fluently spoken and all our own. So we’re looking forward to more of that!
J: I’m about to eat some fresh from the oven apple crisp made from hand-picked macouns. One of the best things about autumn in New England. Don’t forget the scoop of vanilla ice-cream to cool it off!
Steubs: I’ve gotta catch up on a few late parking tickets, and we’re almost out of dog food at home, so I’ll probably head out to the store in a few minutes.
What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after this interview?
With the re-release of Farflung’s 1995 classic 25.000 Feet Per Second only last year it seems like Farflung has not been off our collective radars for a while, but in fact their last outing This Capsule was released over four years ago! Four years in which a lot can happen, like a freaking pandemic! Luckily our four spacemen can travel space and time, and will not be held back by distance or time. Even with lyricist and guitarist Michael Esther living on another continent (Europe) and the rest of the band in Los Angeles, USA Farflung kept on writing and recording. The result is no joke! Like Drones In Honey feels in everything like a full band operating with all engines running full speed. There is Hawkwind worshipping space rock madness, there is postpunk tripping, there are full blown weirdo experiments fueled by nightly escapades in the Californian desert…in other words, not much has changed.
But hey! Why take my word for it when you can have the full band explaining what is going on in your ears when you are listening to the new album? Tommy Grenas, Michael Esther, Paul Hischier, and Chris Nakata were kind enough to spend some time describing their thoughts on the writing process, and ultimately on taking a full blown walk through the album. So buckle up, it’s going to be a spacey ride…
Hi guys! First of all: how are you and how have you been since last time we spoke? (at the re-release of 25.000 ft per second LP in January this year).
Paul: Hi there. Things have calmed down after turbulent times; the pandemic, the death of my father, collapsing relationships, but those struggles have passed. Now it’s mellow vibes on the West Side. We did an interview the other day and it wasn’t until I saw the other guy’s faces that I realized how much I miss seeing my Farflung brothers. We were so happy to see each other! I’m pleased that Like Drones in Honey has officially released. Stoked to be on Sulatron!!! Dave rules!!
Michael: Things are ok here. Not much has changed…working on the music and art… hoping for more positivity in the world…
Tommy: Things have been good. I ‘we’ve’ been very happy working with Dave at Sulatron, and the releases that have come out so far. I was glad to do it, and with all the guys to come up with the concept and artwork for the new lp , and the groups overall construction on the mixes and vibe of it all. There’s new things on the back burner and ideas are already starting to formulate. There were also a couple of interesting sessions out at Saturn Moon (Nakata’s studio in Yukka valley] and I’ve been working on ideas out here in Woodstock, NY. I hope to get out to the desert to see Chris and Paul soon to continue with things. Out here in the Catskills, NY, things slow way down in winter, so I’ve been taking Jobs here and there to prep for it. This is quite a contrast to the Covid shutdown of the recent past. I’ve also been working with a local cinema, and record store, putting on events that are live music to film, or visual to music also. We’ve had some great artists involved and it’s been a great experience. I also built a small print shop and have been making posters and shirts, sleeves, for the event, and other things. Yes, been a quite busy year so far.
The new album has been finished for quite a while, right? Can you tell me about the writing and recording process
Paul: From my angle the process was, and the product is, pure ecstasy in the Greek meaning: “entrancement, astonishment, insanity; any displacement or removal from the proper place”. The time of recording this LP is the most free that I have ever felt making a record. 100% the process for me was to disassociate from the pandemic and it’s ripple effects. To me (us?) it’s sculpture and collage, improv avant-freedom-rock, no boundaries. We create & capture everything; the deeply psychedelic and confrontational, the perfect and the sublime, the incorrect and the wrong. Add in existential void screaming, found sound, field recordings, then exploit our limitations, then add in a dash of kosmische moon howling. Reverse everything and start over.
Michael: It’s different than it was years ago…seeing that we are spread across the globe… from my side… the difficult thing is and the thing I miss most is all of us being in the studio at the same time…. we trade track ideas and overdubs back and forth via the internet and Chris does his magic…
Tommy: Well this will be a long answer, but ~Most of it started at Tarantula Ranch [my wife Abby Travis’s old studio in Los Angeles]. It was an interesting time. We ‘were already prepping to pull up anchor and leave that city. Abby was on tour and the studio was basically 3/4 gutted of stuff for the move. All that remained was faulty equipment, pieces of drum kits, stuff too sell, low grade amps and dodgy synth gear. Chris had a mobile pro tools unit he would slung around to jam sessions, and brought it over and set it up. We had no planning, just, let’s try to use what’s here and if it’s crappy sounding well so be it. It turned out to be quite the challenge and totally rewarding. Chris basically duct taped and bolted a kit together using what was around into a rather strange set. He also just set up things to hit that would give off sound. Me and Paul chained our gear together and experimented with the tweaky ramshackle amps to get tones. Between what was glitchy and operating, and with the rather bizarre keyboard selection Chris had at Saturn Moon, I created the synth pad arena. Last but not least, Skott Rusch, old time Farflung, when science fails guitar psych-scaper, showed up with the wired out troglodonic noisemaker, and generators amongst everything else. Mean while in Italy Michael was conjuring strange worlds and patterns at his mobile unit, that would be transmitted to our radar station of sorts. I think this all started around may of 2019. It certainly was not an album session as many of Farflung’s were, but just another field of experimentation. Sessions were whoosey, and magical. It seemed like we’re we’re on another off charts adventure with the band. Sonically, it was an experimentation on a new level for me. I’d like to think Farflung has never been a slave to a genre, even though sometimes we’ve been pigeonholed to it by certain folk, but that’s ok. Whatever there pleasure is. We have never been interested in trends or tags, and this compendium of tracks is clear of that on this lp. Coincidentally, Chris was living in Los Angeles, and that is where the original Saturn Moon was. I’ve spoken about that wonderful lab before, but Chris also pulled up anchor, and found a place to set up studio in Yucca valley . It was a bit later, but we got together and started to flesh out the tracks more into song there. I did not bring any gear really, Just used what Chris had there. We were also joined by Bobby Lee [moso groto] who had played a bit on the original sessions. He put down some great low and driving stuff on a couple of the tracks, and he’s an all all round swell guy. After some long walks in the desert and “stimulation” later, we were laying down the vocals and finishing touches to the tracks from Mike’s emu3 in Italy, and the Los Angeles, and Yucca sessions . We Mixed remotely, but had a good idea of what it should be like. Chris doing most of the honors on that end.
Can you both tell me your favorite thing about the album and why?
Tommy: To me it’s a natural continuation of This Capsule, the previous LP. It felt like it should be. It does go off in its own tangent here and there but they still seem related. The same is reflected in the look and artwork continued in a more sparse and forward visual. We have also become tighter with friends and family. Everyone put a lot into it and I can feel it. I sure the next one will be quite different, but for now this is still the focus. My favorite tracks are King Fright and Tiny Cities [best section is the end of side one, where it really levitates to me.] it’s in the sound on there very clear. I don’t think anyone who has followed what we do will not see that’s but essentially, we [I] also do it for ourselves own goal.
Paul: My favorite thing about the album is the journey. I prefer to listen to the whole LP in a sitting with headphones. Like when I was a kid listening to LPs, hyper focused on every detail. It’s a love letter to decay and collapse from wizened survivors.
What can you tell me about the title Like Drones To Honey?
Michael: We were tossing ideas around and this one worked… I like the open reading possibility of the word drone…(a bee, a sound, a flying device). I think about recording in terms of layers of sound… of ideas that come together and arrive at a song, then a group of songs, then album artwork that solidifies into an object.. sonic and physical…Bees carrying pollen flower to flower…Honey as residue… similar to the way in which ideas float person to person…thought as a productive function of the body…a type of secretion……all these types of things I’ve been fascinated with for years…. it just worked for this album
Tommy: I think Michael came up with it. There was a photo of a woman laughing in a garden by photographer Peter Graham we were going to use, but I don’t think it was in a place were the label were too excited about it. I ended up making collages around the title. It was a lot of fun and I like doing things by hand and not on a computer. I liked the triple meaning of the LP title, a kind of calvertesque sci fi vibe to it. Drunken workers floating in the mead, mind bombs gliding without fuel, the sound of open chords together, something like that.
Paul: We started it in May 2019 without a hint of what would happen 6 months later. At that point we were personally undergoing a ton of changes; Chris moving out of LA to the desert, Tommy moving to Woodstock after living in LA for so many years, and I had just moved back here after living overseas for a long time. Mikey had a lot going on in Italy. A lot of major changes with us were already underway. A good portion of the music was recorded during the height of the pandemic, so there was a lot of strange feelings happening all around us, which the music captures. A lot of fear/uncertainty/doubt permeating the atmosphere. The music and the rituals around the music making were a bright spot during that period, but it was very dark and isolating time for everyone. Like Drones in Honey was a coping mechanism for me (us?).
On to the walkthrough: let’s go through all the songs of the album and their meaning:
Tommy: Lyrically, someone I knew had passed away from dementia, and did not receive much needed help. She left a great sweetness behind her in her past, so both things colliding there a bit. Musically, a little nod to Can, but definitely also one of my favorite movies, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, all those ominous melodies creating a weird score. That was the first track recoded We believe. Paul’s Pro One making fuzzy bass freak outs on the chorus, and lots of vocal mayhem.
Perfect start “klingggg”
3 tix to CS
Tremmmy guitars and pings, such a swirl happening
Gut punches and screams
A rich tapestry of tones, zones zones zones zones zones zones zones
Chris: Yes, this was the first track we recorded. I remember familiarizing myself with the drums, and liking them. Tommy was excited by the sound from the start. That was a great way to begin, and pretty much set the tone for much of the album. I can still see Paul, peering at me through the small opening of the hood of his hoodie, zipped up to the top because it was cold in the garage, his wide eyes growing even larger from the massive sound of his synth.
Earthmen Look Alike To Me
Chris: This one seemed to go down quickly. Just a lot of fun. Tommy could often be seen shaking his butt to this one during playback.
Tommy: Moving to the Catskills forests in autumn was mystical and surreal being in a big city for so long. There was a big male red bull cardinal who would fly into the windows dawn till dusk relentlessly waking us to explore things early, very early. The silence, and sounds of trees and animals that has become normal now. We had discovered weird rock formations on the property that were were told to be paleo Indian. It was magical an foreboding. The title was a working title, and the lyrics came much later, so it just stuck with a quote from and old analog, pulp novel. The musical session was a big jam. I was channeling RCA period Hawkwind a little I think. Then it just goes into Farflung, it reminds me a lot of what a session from us in the 90s would of sounded like.
Sick Casio beat into Uncontrollable Urge acoustic
Super sick turnaround
50 tracks of guitars, or 50,000?
Chrome-esque Helios-y ‘Destroyed My Brain” turnaround is incredible
Tommy: Mike’s original track, overdubbed by the rest of us, then mike back on it again. Lyrically the main thread is Michael. I interpreted it as having an almost Nick Cave vibe to it, but the retort that I vocalized came off rather PIL in a weird way. Political PIL meets Crass ha ha. The sound in the beginning is an old printing rack slamming and creaking with me being, well drunk, blabbering . Chris was percussively playing his whole kitchen on that track.
Another fooking amazing Mikey Surprise
Turns into a face puncher
Then the bells, so many bells, bells and swirls
GREEN HAS LEFT THE BORDER
Chris: Basically, a back-and-forth between Michael and Tommy. A great juxtaposition, and very gratifying to lay down tracks on this.
Tiny Cities Made Of Broken Teeth
Tommy: I was sitting in an old art warehouse in Woodstock, in the middle of winter looking out into a dead frozen woods surrounded by water. It truly looked like an alien planetscape. I thought about how life almost dies but is dormant, in a dream state we can’t imagine. I was listening to a lot of old dub at the time, and there was a cinematic vibe to the jam. We were a little confused what to do with it, but one night a layering session in the desert just blossomed and we’re were all lying around just spacing on it. It just came to be like that. Two worlds collide, and end with someone standing on a flyover in Los Angeles in the rain. Past future present.
Chris: A very soothing trip. Such a groovy bass from Bobby. In the last section, Tommy hummed the bassline for me to play, and I really liked the orchestral sound of the bass part. Then, Michael sent his parts with such an orchestral approach, fermenting the gentle crescendo that allows for the exhale to end the side.
From where do these seeds sprout?
I’ve hitched my space-steed to the goddamn ring mod on this one
Early Pink Floyd chord progressions
Michael’s slide, perfect as always
The tremolo guitar has so much sustain
The ending is straight off of a LA ’68 Love re-issue
Chris: Honestly, I wasn’t sure where this one was going, but somehow Tommy’s other-worldly mind managed to bring it all together. Originally, a working title (again, from Tommy’s mind) that I insisted on keeping. Resistant at first, Tommy relented after he saw how particular I was about the original spelling and pronunciation.
Tommy: 3 sessions fused into one, but strangely , also recorded in that order. I really love Manuel Göttsching‘s inventions for electric guitar, and it’s funny that, well, I always thought Steve Hillage’s, Rainbow Dome Music LP is also related musically. I got this new guitar pedal thing in the mail, that just happened to sound like that and went for it. Old Farflung luminary Skott Rusch [hunting lodge] just happed to be around and added his trogotronic transmission device to the whole track, levitating it out of orbit. Part two, a little Rudimentary Peni vibe on it. Just a great fun punk moment for us that’s always there. Paul phrased “self cleaning oven” as a way that nature gets rid of an irritating presence on its skin, the rest of the lyrics just ran in. Title ? No idea.
Infinite pings and unceasing pongs
glissando guide master Michael
Chirps, tweets, and sweeps
Jaki Liebezeit beat to the T
Delay 68 Can meets Heldon
With INSANE turnaround after “OKAYYYYY!!!!”
The teeth on that guitar and the drummer, Jesus what a drummer . . .
Sneaky fucker on bass, the balls on that kid performing those sick runs
A SELF CLEANING OVEN – a lack of empathy will destroy us
Baile an Doire
Tommy: I always thought some surf music sounded kinda Celtic, or euro ethnic. Or maybe it had an influence on it in the 60s, probably the latter, anyhow always loved the rousing element to it. We laid down the track and thought it was also kinda goth sounding. My grandparents some aunts uncles spoke a little Gaelic, and I remembered the pigeon English that would happen after a few drinks behind the piano or even transistor in the kitchen. I was burnt out that day and could not come up with any theme or idea, so I started to run off in that banter. Paul and Chris both loved it, but also we’re amused by it. I decided, why not. the rousing tribal drums almost sound like a battle call and I was reminded of an area where I grew up, where the river crossed into the Lough Neagh through an oak wood. I used to go fishing there. But I was told a site of great turmoil. If you’re up for some history, look it up, Baile an Doire, Ballinderry. Just probably channeling spirits, of sorts.
Chris: My main memory is the night we recorded vocals. As soon as Tommy started singing in this style, we knew it was right. Or was it? Who knows. All I know is that Paul and I couldn’t stop laughing.
Why don’t you try the lyrics in Gælic?”
Turns into a Killing Joke song
Who did the haunting lead?
All of a sudden it is an Echo & The Bunnymen song
Absurdddd-uuu ringgggg-uuuu moddd–uu klannnnggzzz
The forever-ending is too beautiful
Touch of the Lemmings Kiss
Tommy: Mikes lyrics. Sounded ominous and soothing. Felt like I was lying down in a meadow somewhere, waiting for it to end.
Mikey flying in from a deep and beautiful place to give us his blessings
Dolce piano pianissimo
Goddamn always with the bombers, love it!
Chris: Michael’s tracks were trippy and didn’t need much, really. We just added a few instruments here and there.
A Year In Japan
Chris: A late-night video-call led to making the background for Tommy’s whispers.
Tommy: Talking birds in the forest one night. I just recorded me speaking back to them after enjoying things I found to eat there. These birds fly to japan in winter. Hope they took my message. I miss Japan a bit. Would like to go there again. Very different.
Beefheart gone wild
Right into a later Wire song
What are your immediate future plans? (hoping for some tours!!!)
Paul: The immediate plan that I want to happen is for all of us to hang out in person again. It’s been far too long. A tour will happen at some point after all the uncertainty dissipates. Until then I’m good to stay in the studio and work on the next batch of songs.
Michael: It would be great to tour. We have to see how things shake out ….
Tommy: Oh boy I don’t know. I’d do it with Sula Bassana or a Dave Sulatron thing. Cosmic minds, for like minds. Good vibes, no neg stuff. We play better when it’s connected. I’m kinda over the random stoner rock night out, and we’re the lemon band not riffing off 3 bars to hard shit. I’m not that into getting sick on the road either. We’ll see. I’d love to travel with my friends, no pressure no worries. We’re a bit older, just don’t want to be away from home and sick. That may not sound very rock n roll, but fuck that shit. I don’t care. Recording stuff can be way too much fun sometimes. Especially with the guys in Yucca valley, and Milan.
What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do immediately after reading this interview?
Michael: It’s difficult times these days in the world…I’d say, produce some joy. Think of joy as a transformational act…
Tommy: Do whatever is possible to support the true people to end this global tyranny wherever you are, and also support those who do it. It’s a frightening world, and I’m very concerned for the next generations. There’s no way you can’t be concerned about that. Things have to be better than this.
Paul: Give Like Drones in Honey a spin and ride the cosmic tides. Then head out into nature.
Immersive, all encapsulating, and inescapable. Like jumping in a big silo of smoke and free falling into a seemingly bottomless pit, weightless, no sense of gravity or time or any of the other Earthly constants. This state of being absolutely in the moment, that is what IO Audio Recordings is soundtracking for, or perhaps not just tracking the sound, but conjuring the feeling, like a sonic shaman of this modern age.
Both of the EPs on this combined vinyl release sound absolutely huge, due to the layered build up of the music. With fuzzy guitars upon fuzzy guitars, surrounded by spacey synths and pulsating bass throbs the songs are manifesting themselves as mind massages, spiraling images into your frontal cortex until you become part of the proces. Needless to say, you will not miss any lyrics, although there are mists of humanoid whispers floating through ever so slightly on occasion.
I was afraid to grow tired of space rock pretty soon, there are only so many oscillators and droney sitars you can listen to in your life time, yet bands like IO Audio Recordings prove that there is still more to explore, if only you open your third eye widely enough. It is no coincidence that over four record labels from allover this planet have jumped on this album to spread the word, because this wordless word needs spreading.
“My name is Jonas. Seriously. That’s not a Weezer joke. I play all the instruments, make all the artwork” That is the first line I get from IO Audio Recording mastermind and sole member when I asked him for this interview. I did not know he was a one man band, and it makes this effort even more impressive. I couldn’t wait to know more about this illusive Californian space rocker…
How are you? How has the pandemic period been for IO Audio Recordings?
I’m doing well. These last couple of years, in terms of COVID and all that it has wrought, has actually had very little effect on me. I didn’t get sick with COVID nor did anyone close to me and as far as quarantine is concerned, I can go a pretty long time without ever leaving the house as most everything I do is here. I record here, draw here, build things here, etc… Hell, I currently don’t even have to leave the house for my day job as I can do that here too. I really can’t say the pandemic has really changed what I do all that much.
What can you tell me about your musical background?
Oh man… that’s a really big question. I don’t really have much in the way of musical training to be honest. I played the trumpet for a number of years in elementary school but I don’t really consider those years particularly influential in my musical development. Really I think there are three main things that really make up the core of my musical drive…
First, I’ve always been an avid and studious musical listener. Music has been my go to for creative expression for a long time. I have no idea why that is, I was just born that way it seems. I’ve always been particularly attracted to it and my pursuit of it led me through all sorts of things that have had a profound influence on what I do. At first it was my parent’s record collection, but that was never fully satisfying. It just wasn’t wild or “out there” enough (more on that in a minute). So I then gravitated to hard rock which is what first introduced me to my favorite sound in the world: the distorted guitar. Then I discovered punk. More distorted guitars, but also coupled with the DIY ethos and the whole “who cares what others think? Create what you want” mentality. So my whole musical journey was this constant searching for something that was just a little bit more than the last thing. Then at some point you reach Nurse With Wound, listen to a guy whose credits himself on a record as playing a squeaky chair and you realize that you are now on the outer fringes of music, your mind has been opened up to just a ton of stuff, and then you just start putting that all together in a way that makes sense to you.
Second, I’ve always gravitated to music/art that was more “out there”. For instance, I discovered Salvador Dali at a very young age and his paintings naturally spoke to me. So as I was gathering up and listening to music, I was always looking for stuff that was kind of the equivalent of that.
Third, I spent an awful lot of time recording. As a kid my parents had a reel to reel tape recorder that I would experiment with constantly. Then when I was older I purchased a four track cassette recorder, then an 8 track, then digital…. So even when I started playing in bands as a teen and learning all the things that being in a band and playing shows can teach, I was still just doing a lot of recording on my own. Since all that recording had much less to do with things like “proper mic placement for a kick drum” and much more to do with “what kind of weird sounds can I make today?”, I think that was much more influential on what it is that I do.
What does a regular day in your life look like?
A regular day really just consists of working the day job, household chores, art/music, time with the wife, more art/music and then sleep. It’s pretty routine but it works for me.
What is the story about the band name?
There really isn’t much of a story behind the name to be honest. Initially it just started out as “io” and didn’t really have any particular meaning to it. It’s just something that came to me and the more I looked at it, the more I liked it. There was just a lot of different symbols and meanings to it that I found attractive. It’s a line and a circle. Besides being these really fundamental geometric concepts, I’d read at some point how the line and the circle were used to symbolize the lingham and yoni in tantric yoga. I’d see I and O used to symbolize “On” and “Off” on power switches. Then of course there is the fact that it’s the name of one of the moons orbiting Jupiter. All of those were things that I thought was cool and so I started using that as a moniker. At some point I came to feel that for various reasons I needed more and so I tacked on the “audio recordings”, which was partially inspired by the name of the group The Tower Recordings. I’d never actually ever listened to The Tower Recordings mind you. I was just aware of the name and liked how it felt. Plus, it’s kind of ambiguous. Is it a label? Is it a band? Is it hardware? I like that sort of thing.
Orange, California somehow does not immediately say: “space rock” to me, what can you tell me about you surroundings in relationship to the music you make?
I like Orange, CA quite a bit but it is definitely not very space rock. I don’t think I’d ever say that living here influences my music very much at all. In fact I’d say the music I create is less influenced by external factors than it is internal ones. My music has been influenced much more by drives I’ve had ever since I was a young child than anything else.
What can you tell me about the artwork, I have heard it is an important piece of your work, right?
I think the artwork is an important piece of what I do. On a basic level it’s like music in that I have this vision of a thing that sort of bubbles up to the surface of my conscious mind at which point I am driven to make it manifest. In the context of io audio recordings I think it speaks to the fact that as Fuzzed Up/Astromoon puts it, it “keeps music physical”. I’m a collector and I’m not totally satisfied with just digital files. I like having something I can hold, witness, and display. I’m also really inspired by the idea that packaging can be something more than just a thing that contains an LP, CD, or whatever. That it can be something that stands on its own as a piece of art. That’s something that Zoviet France really opened up my mind to.
Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs?
I don’t really have a set way of going about composing and recording songs. If I do have a guideline, it’s to just follow my feelings or intuition. At the beginning I might have a particular pull in a certain direction. Maybe I feel writing a song start to finish on the guitar/bass/whatever and then just pursue that. Maybe I just want to experiment with instrument/effects and that leads to something interesting that I can build around. Whatever the case may be, it all begins with just being inspired to create something in a certain way and then I just listen continue to follow my gut. It’s pretty common for a song I’m working on to take a direction that I didn’t initially intend to pursue. It’s such a floaty, intuitive process. It’s pretty much the opposite of having a plan.
As you are a one man band; what makes you decide what the domain of your sound making is? It seems like anything is possible ;)))
Yes, that is pretty much how I see it. Anything is possible. But no matter how much I tend to lean towards the experimental side of things, I always remain very fond of the riffs, and rhythms of rock music. It was ultimately my first real musical starting point and so there’s a deep fondness for it. As such I’ve always really balanced these two things in my musical life, experimental music and rock music. What really helped shape the direction I took io audio recordings was my day job oddly enough. I work as a sound designer for a video game company where I create sounds for fantastical creatures, magic spells, etc… and so in a manner of speaking, I make my living creating my most experimental music. So when it came to creating music for io audio recordings, it was pretty natural to want to express my more rock oriented leanings, while still bringing a heavy dose of experimentation into the mix. So that’s always been the guiding principle behind io audio recordings, to start with the core of rock music and then experiment with it to find different directions to take it. I’ve often joked around with friends by saying that I’m trying to create space rock Zoviet France and while that’s ultimately an over simplification, it does symbolize the aesthetic I’m shooting for pretty well.
What is “the dream” when it comes to being an artist?
Honestly I think that at its root, being an artist has less to do with dreams or goals and more to do with the fact that I’m just driven to create these things that come into my head. It’s what I’m naturally motivated to do and that creativity, in and of itself, is its own reward. So I guess in that way, I’m already living the dream. However as an artist that shares his art, I suppose the “dream” is that anyone who might like what I do has the chance to experience it and ideally it will prod them to discover their own creative path, whatever that may be.
What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?
They should do whatever bring them the maximum amount of happiness.
Space; is has always attracted and fascinated heavy psychedelic musicians. Ever since Hawkwind coined the term space rock, you could easily visualize why this type of music would associate with the deep dark outer limits. It represent weightlessness, endless travel, and a sense of being infinitely small in the gigantic body of the galaxy. And yet space poses a strange paradox to heavy psychedelic rock as well. For in space there can be only silence, and that is what these bands are anything but.
Take Nashville, USA’s trio ElonMusk for example. They are the opener on this Worst Bassist Records International Space Station compilation. With their instrumental psych rock jam Gods Of The Swamp Planet they paint pictures of serenely floating in space, regarding the Earth from great heights, and feeling completely and blissfully insignificant. The twenty-something minute track is a great opener of this album as it takes its good time slowly unfolding into a full blast before dying out again like a falling star…
Germany’s renowned space rock power house Electric Moon is next, with a recording that still features the since departed Sula Bassana on guitar. They don’t spend any time lingering around the bush on Duality, but in stead kick off full fuzz force and deeply heavy. You can almost see the planets grinding into another while the bass relentlessly circles and the guitars flicker and howl. Tribal drums appear from the deep, and push the cacophony to even greater heights, ever pushing and pushing until a great crescendo and big comedown halfway. What is next is a piece of sheer beauty, as if all the previously unleashed violence has lead to some sort of thoughtful realization. It is pure peace, a revelation of the beauty of outer and inner space.
And then it’s time for Swedish instrumental magicians Kungens Män, who offer the brooding Keeper Of The One Key. In its whopping 23 minutes the track shows all the beauty that can be found in the power of repetition. Carefully and meticulously like craftsmen bricklayers Kungens Män adds variation upon variation while they build their gigantic space ship on which they sail us through the sonic boom and far beyond. It feels just great to be in the presence of these master jammers for such a great stretch and be taken on their journey as they completely let go of time and space and just are in the moment for as long as a vinyl record side can last. Wonderful stuff.
Finally there is the grand finale from Norway’s Kanaan. Their contribution is aptly named Beyond, and it takes its time to fully display what this powerful instrumental trio has on offer. The digital version was even extended to a mind blowing twenty-seven minutes (!), but of course a vinyl side can only hold so much music so the physical track is a bit shorter. All of this seems to say that Kanaan thinks you cannot really capture outer space within normal Earth time at all. First you have to free yourself from linear time, and only then you can understand what exploring the firmament on your instruments should really be about. Kanaan are builders. They are builders of beautiful atmosphere and spacious repetition. Only after very careful contemplation and very slow building do they unleash more and more of their might upon the listener, adding momentum with every repetitive swing. Finally when they have found their time, they add jazzy rhythmics and crazy distorted fuzz wails to shoot their rocket far up into space leaving us completely exhausted but still wanting more.
In its almost 90 minutes Elonmusk, Electric Moon, Kungens Män, and Kanaan have been given plenty of room to display their take on space travel. Together they have forged a memorable first volume of this International Space Station, of which I hope there will be plenty more to come. After all, space continues to inspire instrumental jam bands from all over this planet, and it will continue to do so until the end of time and beyond…
The Black Angels return once again with a strong new display of their mesmerizing psychedelic power. The Wilderness Of Mirrors is the follow up of 2017’s Death Song, a direct nod to their personal heroes The Velvet Underground and a pretty dark and aggressive album for them. Now, five years later and a period of lots of inactiveness and being in lockdown behind them they sound more melancholic, more subdued, and at times downright distressed with the state of the world.
The album lifts off with heavy fuzz thrusters in Without A Trace, a sturdy, sun glasses wearing leather jacket rocker that these Texans are so damn good at. From the get go it is clear that The Black Angels are here to convey a message in the strongest way they possibly can. A big stylistic change would only divert from that message, and so they focus on their main strength: writing killer psychedelic rock songs that pay hommage to the 60s psych icons (Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors), while maintaining a firm footing in the now with killer hooks and production value.
And so they bring out their specter of doom and show us the Empires Falling:
Empires Falling, It’s history on repeat//Our nation’s bleeding, from street to bloody street…
All in a chorus so catchy you will sing along while dancing your feet bloody like there is no tomorrow. Which there won’t be, if we take the message of The Black Angels to heart. One we go then, with El Jardin, a song about the earth burning pleading with our current generation;
Oh leave a garden for our kids to play
Yet even when they let go of the weight of the world The Black Angels sound devastatingly heavy, take a love song like the mesmerizing Firefly, which features a breathtaking cinematic duet with drummer Stephanie Bailey. Or The River, which stylishly name checks Syd Barret, Roky Erickson, and Arthur Lee. Again proving that these guys know their history, and more importantly; that they know themselves.
For all its eloquence and beauty, it is desperation that wins the mood most of the time on The Wilderness Of Mirrors, on the title track Alex Maas seems to channel his inner Dark Star-era David Bowie, with a similar terminal urgency. Album closer Suffocation does not need to be explained either. The paradox of The Black Angels is that sound strong and invigorated in all of their sincere desperation. Of course there is no art without suffering, but it seems even more true for this artist and for this album at this time. And it is not their suffering alone, we also suffered this pandemic, we also see the looming specter of climate change and a capitalist world running towards an inevitable halt. The Wilderness Of Mirrors feels like a premature eulogy for that world, the madness and despair of a civilization in decline.