The origin story of Denton darkwave duo Psychic Killers begins in childhood, when Leigh Violet and Nick Tidmore met and bonded over their similar tastes in music and art. After some years apart, they reunited to find that their tastes haven’t changed much.
Violet became interested in the drum and bass loops Tidmore was creating. “A lot of these early drone, ambient, experimental recordings inspired me to get involved, and not long after that, I had bought a guitar and began feverishly learning how to play so that we could work together,” Violet says.
They began getting together once a week to improvise and over the course of a year discovered a pattern in the sound they tended to produce. “We’d play for ages, over drum and bass loops we’d create,” Violet says. “We started noticing one theme would always prevail during these sessions, and that was that our improv sessions, through no intention of our own, always took on this fiercely bleak, hopeless sound.”
In the project’s infancy, there was little concern for whether the music would ever be performed live. “When we first began writing songs, it was all to make bedroom recordings basically. We had no regard for live playability; we’d just use any amount of layered beats, synth, bass, multiple guitar — we’d just record whatever sounded good.”
By 2014 they’d released a single and put a few songs up on SoundCloud, but that year their process changed entirely when they were asked to play a live show. Suddenly the live performances came to dictate what they wrote.
“We scrapped our whole idea of how we wrote before then and have for the last two and a half years been writing exclusively live material,” Violet says. “We have used the live setting to experiment and rework our sound, our approach and our style many times over, trying to make each show different and find out what worked and what didn’t.”
Psychic Killers have veered into a number of different genres during their live sets, Violet says, including space rock, instrumental drone and noise, but ultimately they’ve arrived at “neo-psych, darkwave.” Now they’re taking that neo-psych, darkwave sound into the studio and hope to release an album this year.
They've also been found playing regularly in Dallas, whether at house shows or at Deep Ellum clubs such as RBC, where they participated in the “Smothered in Gravy” show put together by talent buyer Jeffrey Brown, aka King Camel, during Thanksgiving week. Brown has booked them several times over the last few years, in both Dallas and Denton.
“I'm always on the search for anything that is really good, especially locally, when it comes to psych,” Brown says. “I remember running across their Bandcamp a couple years back and l listened to it and thought, 'Holy crap. I have to see what this is like live.'
“They grab you and pull you in and they just immerse you in what they're doing,” he continues. “I think that has to do with the quality and care they put into it, but they have a really good performance factor as well. They aren't afraid to express themselves and there's also a little bit of a glam edge to it, which I think is wonderful.”
Even now that Psychic Killers are becoming more well known for their live performances, improvisation is still part of their creative process. Tidmore says if they played the songs they same way every time, they would be bored.
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“Rarely is anything written down or formulated on paper. It all comes from playing through the same ideas and sounds over and over exhaustively until a structure begins to form," he says. “We may play the same setlist live three times but it will never be played in quite the same way in any given space.”
He adds that developing this ability to work together was a skill long in the making. Now he and Violet are able to work independently and quickly merge their creations.
“We will both create various elements using various equipment and present them to one another at which point we'll improvise until something compelling happens,” he says. “We'll often write entire, fully realized pieces in only a night or two. We know how the other thinks and it's very intuitive now.”
The results of this method are unique microcosms that only exist for as long as Psychic Killers' sets; tiny worlds they create and then destroy.