The Black Angels' Alex Maas Doesn't Know What Psych Music Is, But He Knows What it Isn't.
On a recent allergen-filled spring day in Austin, Black Angels lead singer Alex Maas chuckled as he struggled through a sinus infection before this Saturday's show at Granada Theater. Speaking over the phone, Maas tried his best to give an answer as to whether the organ was more psychedelic than the guitar or not.
"Well, they're equally psychedelic, I guess, but that's not the answer you probably want, is it?"
While the question itself, indeed, is a bit silly, it only takes a couple of listens to the reigning psych kings' new album, Indigo Meadow, produced by local indie guru John Congleton, to hear why the seemingly dumb question actually has a bit of merit. It's not as though past Angels albums have ignored the keys, but Indigo Meadow displays a greater dependence on the organ's mind-bending powers than ever before.
"We really did utilize the organ more for this record," Maas says. "When things weren't working on guitar or bass, we would go to the organ. We actually brought a bunch of organs with us to Tornillo [the Sonic Ranch Recording Studio], so it was fun to experiment with weird instruments we haven't taken on the road before. The organ-heavy nature of this album is probably the key difference between this album and our others."
It's not as if the band needed to improve, given their constantly building fan base and increasingly high profile, thanks to events such as Austin PsychFest, which is the band's annual party. But there is a cleaner sound to many of the tunes on the new album such as "Holland," and while it's still very much a rock album, the band is seemingly letting the game come to them, instead of chasing it with as much swirling sound as possible. "It's more focused when it comes to having more space in the songs," Maas says. "In the past, we might put a drone in a small spot somewhere, but here, we let the songs breathe a bit more. We would see what worked and what didn't with each song. We experimented with sonic alchemy on this record."
It would be understandable if Maas and crew felt hindered or restricted by the psychedelic tag that, fairly, more or less, they are slapped with so often. But thanks to the elastic nature of psychedelic music, Maas is anything but musically encumbered. "I feel like I can still do anything I want to," he says. "I don't feel confined by it because the psychedelic umbrella covers so many other genres, so for me, there aren't any restrictions. I mean, how do you define Radiohead these days? What are they now? They're a rock band, but they've very psychedelic, too. There are so many sides to them; it's hard to classify them in too small of a category."
When further discussing the boundaries of what is and isn't psychedelic, it becomes clear to Maas that such a discussion goes against what psychedelic music is and should be. "The idea of psychedelia suggests a lack of guidelines of any kind," he explains. "No parameters should be in place, because when you're creating, it's impossible to know how a song is going to sound in the end, when you're done creating it. You can try to create something that sounds psychedelic, but that doesn't mean it will sound the way you meant for it to be, either."
Whether it's with guitars, organs, beats, the production, the genre or the vocals, Maas identifies a key element that is prevalent in any song that drifts into the swirling psychedelic universe.
"A groove has to be there. But there are different kinds of grooves, too. There are the destructive, volcanic grooves and more mellow, low-key grooves that represent the other end of the spectrum. No matter what, there has to be a groove that drives the song forward."
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