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Energy Gown interview with Maisie May, Reno and Eric

©David J. Hanus

Somewhere deep in the gritty urban streets of Chicago there’s a band of psychedelic holy men, honing their skills in the dark dirty underbelly of the city.  A mesmerizing combination of droning dirges with raved up spasms of jangling guitar riffing underscored by keys that lock perfectly into the drum and bass with classic 60’s pop psych sensibilities and just enough roughness to give it charm, Energy Gown couldn’t me more aptly named.  They seem to envelope the listener in their music, involving and challenging the listener in an unaggressive, uncompetitive fashion that is utterly disarming and at once entrancing.  There’s some serious thought behind this music and the more you listen to it the more you can hear it.  With the release of their new EP I Watch The Sun I took some time to discuss recording the album, pick apart the band’s history, see what it’s like living in Chicago these days and the upcoming full-length album!

What’s the band’s lineup?  Is it the original lineup?

Maisie: The band's lineup is ever-changing.  Currently there are three players but we’ve have had four.  We have had many configurations amongst ourselves, we all play many things.

How long have you known each other?  How did you meet?

Reno: We’ve all known each other for years.  Same haunts, same bars, dragging the same strip.  I met Eric back in Bloomington, IN, but we only became friends when he arrived in Chicago a couple of years ago after he left his wife in Britain.  We all met more or less through the visual art game.

Eric: I think I remember meeting Reno for the first time in like 2004.  At that time we were both doing scratchy bedroom recordings and trading CD-R's down in Bloomington, Indiana.  A couple of angry and confused young men!  I met Maisie shortly after moving to Chicago in 2011 maybe?  I think the first time we met was to go to someone's music space and do some fun jams, the three of us and some other pals; a fun, high night.  Maybe there was a party or something before that, though.  We do like our parties in Chicago, yes yes.

What led you to start Energy Gown?  How long has Energy Gown been a band? 

Reno: Energy Gown formed on the vernal equinox in 2012 a little over a year ago.  As the rituals become more frequent, you’ve got to give it a name; history ensues.

Eric: Personally I was sort of reluctant to start a new band at first because I like to focus on my stamp archiving and ritual blood sports.  But there was definitely some kind of spiritual calling this time around and I just couldn't deny it.

Are any you in other bands?  Have you had other bands that recorded or released anything?

Reno: Currently we’re all only doing Energy Gown.  I produced two records in 2008 under the moniker Two-Headed Black Eagle.  Band broke up before the records were put out.  I also spent some time with other groups that didn’t really focus on record-making.

Eric: I have put a lot of music into the ether over the years as Cologne Factory and as Eric Rivera when I was living in England; people seemed to like my Christian name there.  I also remember fondly, time spent rock and rolling with Japan Buys Our Babies, Party Boobs, The Delicates, Magic Tricks, Farm Girls a long list of dead projects!  You must change and evolve or you'll be left stagnant, predictable and boring.

It sounds like you draw on a lot of psychedelic bands from the 60’s and 70’s but you definitely aren’t slavishly tied to those influences and incorporate a fair amount of improvisation and experimentation.  Tell me a little bit about some of your influences?

Maisie: 60’s rock/pop/psych across the board; from the Mamas and the Papas to Moby Grape to the Painted Ship, also bands reaching further into brainy soundscapes like the Soft Machine.  Our own training and musical experience varies as well, including both classical training and DIY rock'n'rollin'.

Reno: Psych bands came into great form in the 60’s and we dig the shape of that sound.  Captain Beefheart and Robert Wyatt have had a large influence on my life.  I learn from poets like Aleister Crowley and I believe psilocybin should be credited here, too.

Eric: The most important music in my heart is The Velvet Underground; I love it all but that live record, Live 1969 Vol. 1, is maybe my favorite thing ever recorded.  And I'm usually pretty hot to trot on African High Life Music, reggae, and ZZ Top.

Rather than classifying or labeling your music, how would you describe Energy Gown?

Reno: Wet noodle, wax breast, belch from the sewer tickling BlackMan with electric eels. Fishnet hotdog with a hollow space for fistfuls of orange-dyed deer musk.

Maisie: Crocodile beats and squeals, lurking with eyes peeping out on top of the water.

You have two self-released cassette tapes at this point but your debut 7” (also available on cassette and digitally at www.energygown.bandcamp.com) I Watch The Sun recently came out on March 23rd, who released it?

Reno: All of our music has been self-released.

Where can our readers get a copy of your new release I Watch The Sun or the Beast Holiday and Red cassette tapes?

Reno: The tapes are out of print.  I Watch The Sun is available on the Bandcamp page or in a couple of Chicago shops, Permanent Records and Logan Hardware.

Where were the two cassettes recorded?  Was I Watch The Sun recorded in the same place? 

Reno: The first tapes were recorded on various junky tape recorders from rehearsals documenting a few inventions happening in the sound.  We also recorded the material from I Watch The Sun at The Observatory here in Chicago during a larger session of about 8 songs.

Who recorded I Watch The Sun, Beast Holiday, and Red?  Was the recording of this album different than the recordings done for the cassette tapes?  Did you enjoy the experience? Can you talk a little about the equipment that was used?  What about a little about your recording process?

Reno: We put everything straight onto 8-track 1” tape machine.  I think we did about two takes of each song and usually chose the 2nd take.  I did have a whiskey bottle in hand for ‘Toe The Line’ during the lyrical takes though, we even flipped the tape on that one to add a backward banjo lick; are we rock’n’roll yet?

You have talked about the difficulty of transferring the sound and experience of the live Energy Gown performance into the studio.  I thought I Watch The Sun sounded amazing!  How do you think it sounds compared to your live shows?  Did you succeed in capturing that lighting in a bottle moment in the studio?

Reno: I think if you go into a studio rehearsed and you are living your thing, then it can be captured there.  We don’t go in and pound the music to dust by doing 15 takes or overdubbing all day.  Keeping your rig on 8 tracks helps that philosophy along.  Our mantra is “hammer your mind out” which is a page from Roky Erikson’s ‘Bloody Hammer’.

Can you talk a little bit about the differences between what you recorded, and we hear on the record, and what Energy Gown sounds like when they perform live?

Reno: I had a question about how long a 7” record could be.  There are suggested lengths and then maximums, but I’ve never heard of a 7” record being nearly 17 minutes in length.  Yes, the quality degrades, but something physical happens that is interesting.

Are there any plans for a full length follow up to the I Watch The Sun EP?

Reno: Yes, a full-length record coming this summer.

Made by Reno

At your record release party March 23rd you were only allowed in if you wore a mask.  Why was that?  Do you give a lot of thought to the visual elements behind Energy Gown?  Do visual, or for lack of a better term, theatrical elements like that play a large part in Energy Gown?

©Jen Brubaker

Reno: It’s more about creating something new every time, not just the same old rock show all the time playing songs and people watching.  We dig themes and show-specific songwriting/programming.  It’s less about theatricality and more about engaging the audience in a meaningful way while developing an aura of unpredictability.

Maisie: We hope our music coaxes the listener into a new space, a new frame of mind.  Masks are fun and give the wearer the power to be something else, it makes the whole experience more slippery.

©Jen Brubaker

Have you thought about releasing a live album to showcase the differences between the live performance of Energy Gown and the studio works that been released thus far?

Reno: I prefer having the two remain exclusive.  ‘In the studio’ allows for whole different mindset, sleight of hand, ritualization, and pyramid building; the record is the time stamp.

I know there’s as much improvisation involved with your live shows as there is planned performance.  How does that translate when you are writing material?  Is there someone in particular who comes in with a formed idea or is it more of a team effort jamming things out and experimenting to find the song?

Maisie:  Reno is head songwriter.  Sometimes we get songs out of jams, like ‘Freedose’ but often Reno brings a sketch - singing and guitar, or singing and organ - and we work it out together from there.  The songs change a lot and sometimes we put them away for months to let them age, then bring them back out and work on them again.  Those might be the best.

Are there any plans to reissue the out of print Beast Holiday or Red cassette tape material physically or via a digital distributor like Bandcamp or iTunes at this point?

Reno: No, but we’ll likely put a track or two from those sessions on the full-length.

Your first two releases Beast Holiday and Red are on cassette and I Watch The Sun is on vinyl as well as cassette (Take note collector nuts, it’s limited to 50 hand-stamped tapes and comes with hand-printed art custom for each tape) although you can purchase a digital copy of the album for the first time at www.energygown.bandcamp.com.  Do you intentionally avoid CD and digital releases?  If so why?

Reno: We don’t avoid digital hand-me-down.  We do avoid CDs completely though.  CDs are perhaps the worst fucking thing that has entered the market.  There is no room for dirt and grime on a CD; it’s like a precious glass turd that emits a furious stench if handled.  Buy vinyl and get a big piece of art to look at.


Digital music has opened a whole new world to me, exposing me to bands I would never otherwise have the pleasure of listening to.  On the other hand though I think a physical product, something to hold on to and look at and experience is invaluable.  It’s kind of a loaded question, but how do you feel about digital music and the effect that it’s had on music distribution and consumption?

Reno: Digital is good to find out.  That’s how I find out about new music a lot of the time too.  I’m also a person who likes to do the real thing though.  I’m not going to buy something digital; that should always be free.  Put the money back into physical records.  CDs… I don’t know, it’s just too much of an 80’s attitude disposable junk culture.  Buy junk, use it, get a scratch on it, throw it away.

Chicago has been churning out some of the best bands I have ever heard.  How would you describe the Chicago scene?  What do you think about the scene there at this point?  Are you very involved/connected to the scene there? 

Reno: I’d describe the scene here as mostly manic or angry in a steady ship of stoned and heavy chill.  There are a lot of noisy experimental models using mostly electronics and I get the dig there too.  As long as there isn’t a drum machine in a live setting, get a god-damn drummer.

You’ve expressed an extreme interest in playing outside of the US.  What are your plans as far as touring this year so far?  Are you going back to Psych Fest this year?

Reno: Hmm, not extreme, just regular desire.  We’re touring the US Midwest in April and have plans for a larger Fall tour after that.  It would be most rad to join in the psych fest again.

I ask everyone I talk to this question so please feel free to give me a list or a single name but, who should our readers be listening to from your area that they might not have heard of?

Reno: I’m going to suggest Bitchin’ Bajas.

Maisie: See E.T. Habit, live.

Eric: Plastic Crimewave Syndicate.

Who should they be listening to nationally and internationally?

Reno: Mmoss, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Shockwave Riderz.

Is there anything that I missed or you would like to talk about?

Reno: I'd like to say a prayer and drink to world peace.























©Allison Taich Impose Magazine

DISCOGRAPHY
(July 1st 2012) Energy Gown – Beast Holiday – Cassette Tape – Self-Released
(December 1st 2012) Energy Gown – Red Tape – Cassette Tape – Self-Released
(March 23rd 2013) Energy Gown – I Watch The Sun EP – 7” Vinyl, Cassette Tape, Digital – Self-Released

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2013