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Outer Minds interview with Zach Medearis

There aren’t many bands that I can put on that genuinely interest both me and my father, as far as contemporary bands go at least.  Most of them are either far to derivative or “newfangled” for his liking, despite his open mind when it comes to music.  The first time I put on Outer Minds though, his face lit up like a Christmas tree!  He couldn’t get enough of Behind The Mirror, which I happen to agree is an awe inspiringly amazing album.  A perfect distillation of West Coast psych teamed with a perfectly fuzzy cloaked hard edge, a knack for ridiculously catchy riffs and great keys Outer Minds appear to be far from out of their minds.  Releasing two full-length albums last year (2012), I was extremely curious to find out what these always hard working musicians had in store besides their usual gamut of writing, touring and recording.  With nary a release this year, I am chomping at the bit for a follow-up and finally managed to corral one of the founding members Zach Medearis into taking part in another of my meticulously in-depth explorations I call interviews.  If you haven’t had the distinct pleasure of listening to the distorted, bubbly, poppish, droning, sonic hypnotization that is Outer Minds I strongly suggest you take the opportunity to do so.  Click on the link below and read on below to find out the answers to all the questions that the music will leave swirling in your mind like a dope haze…

Listen while you read:

What is Outer Mind’s lineup?  Have you always had the same lineup or have there been changes made over time?

Zach Medearis - Vocal & Guitar
Mary McKane - Vocal & Organ
A-Ron Orlowski - Bass
Gina Lira - Vocal & Tambourine
Brian Costello - Drums
Outer Minds has always been this lineup.

Are any of you in any other bands at this point?  Have you released any material with any other groups?  If so can you tell us about it?

Mary is in a rad band called The Runnies and I'm writing a record for my side project called Human Organ.  A-ron, Brian and I have played in tons of other bands over the years, Baseball Furies, Functional Blackouts, Lover!, Black Beautie and The Bold Ones.

Where are you originally from?


Was your home musical growing up?  Were either of your parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely involved/interested in music?  What was your first real exposure to music?

My mom had a classical guitar in her closet I used to bang on until I broke all the strings and didn't want to tell her.  My grandma had this huge ass organ at her place I always used to sneak up on, turn on and bang on as long as I could before she would whack me in the head with a shoe or some shit.  My mom always wanted to play music so when she noticed I was learning simple melodies on organ and guitar at like four years old, she went out and found an ad for a church giving away a piano and they got that shit for the house.  I started taking classical piano lessons at about four or five years old.  Eventually a couple years later I started taking flamenco/classical guitar lessons.  My dad had a bunch of cool records that eventually became mine.  King Crimson, The Kinks, Mother of Invention, Jefferson Airplane, Shocking Blue, Hawkwind, Stones...  Shit like that

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music?  What brought that about?

I guess I always wrote my own shit in some capacity.  I remember when I performed "Chopin Nocturne – No. 11 in G Minor" when I was like eleven or something, I kind of got inspired to try to write my own stuff.  For some reason that achievement of playing that piece properly gave me a little extra confidence.  I was a weird, lonely music kid.  I didn't have friends or anything but I never really cared, I just spent time playing guitar and piano and skating.

When and how did you all meet?

The Chicago Scene is big, but not so big you won't most likely meet most of the people eventually.  We just met at punk shows and bars and shit like that.

When did you decide to start Outer Minds and why was that?

A-Ron and I used to fuck around with songs and we were in a band with some other dudes.  When they quit, we re-tooled and asked Mary, Brian, and Gina to join in a new thing that became Outer Minds.

What does the name Outer Minds mean or refer to?  How did you go about choosing the name?

We used to be called Other Minds but some World Music Organization had that name already and they sent a cease and desist letter.  Outer Minds made sense to us.  I like it better.  Outer Minds in my mind just refers to the way you, me, and everyone, has the ability to perceive things in a wholly different way.  The notion that we can all see, hear, or conceptualize an idea, or sound, or vision in a different way interests me and the idea of being able to see through other eyes, hear through other ears and comprehend through other brains is a cool thought.  That idea helps me to understand why we’re all different entities in the world, yet we are all the same in a way, just a bunch of upright mammals whose ancestors learned how to crawl from the ooze and sprout forward new lives.

Where’s the band currently located?

Chicago, Illinois.

How would you describe the local music scene there?

It’s pretty diverse.  Rock, punk, garage, psych, shoe gazy, kraut shit all thrown together in the muck.

Are you very involved with the local music scene? 

We all are.  All of our friends are in other bands.  It's a big incest family tree.

Has it played a large role in the sound, history or evolution of Outer Minds?

I/We would like to think we are trying to write songs with the purpose of sounding as little like anything we've heard as possible.  Being that we all have very differing tastes, it helps to accomplish that goal; I hope at least.  Who knows how other people hear our songs.

While we are talking about the history of Outer Minds let’s talk a little bit about your influences.  You all have an extremely interesting sound that’s so diverse it’s hard to slap a quick label on and move on.  I’m curious who some of your major musical influences are?  What about the band as a whole rather than individually?

I can really only speak for myself.  Everyone has similar interests, but I feel like we have more dissimilar tastes than similar.  We've never really talked about it.  I've never really thought about it.  Being that Mary and I come from classical piano backgrounds, we use a lot of classical and baroque harmonic progressions.  We all like big hooks and big finales.

Like I was saying it’s hard to slap a quick label on your music and move on.  It doesn’t help that I suck at it to begin with.  Rather than me making some awkward stab at describing you to our readers, how would you describe your sound to our readers who might not have heard you yet in your own words?

On tour with Chain and the Gang, Ian Svenonius described us as being Orchestral Psych.  Is that a thing?  Let’s go with that one.

What’s the songwriting process with Outer Minds like?  Is there someone who comes to the rest of the band with a finished riff or idea to work out and compose with the rest of you or is there a lot of jamming and exchange of idea that goes on when you all practice that leads to something down the line with everyone working together?

Generally I'll come to the band with riffs and lyrical content.  We work together from there to form a structure we all agree on and we will sometimes add additional lyrics together.  It's a pretty collective process that’s sparked by riffs and lyric ideas.  We rarely jam without purpose.  When we do it's cool, but nothing ever comes of it.

Do you all enjoy recording?  I know there’s not a whole lot in the world that beats holding an album in your hands, knowing it’s yours and you made it.  Getting into the studio to make that album though, it can be hellish to say the least.  Some bands seem to have a much worse go of it than others, how is it in the studio for you all?

Up to this point I’ve recorded all of our stuff.  I really enjoy the recording process and experimenting with different instruments and mic placements, but from this point on we are going to start recording at another studio with more space.  I'll still mix and produce, it's just time for us to pay someone else to hit the record button on the tape machine.  I'm over doing it all.  I want to experiment with larger spaces to create a more live sound and bigger drum sound.  My recording area has limited space to open up the drum sound; it's very flat and dry.

Do you all do a lot of preparatory work before you go into the studio to record or is it a more organic and off the cuff experience with room for change and variation?

We learn all of our songs before recording.  Sometimes during the recording process I'll record a first take of a riff we'll jam on and just write something on the spot.  That's what I did with the title track “Look Behind the Mirror”.  Our harmonies are what take the longest to learn.  It's tough to choose a vocal part that won’t destroy your voice after touring for a month or two.  You're first instinct is to go for the hardest , heaviest, loudest, most bombastic vocal part, but then you discover it's totally unsustainable to sing that every day without throwing out your voice.

Let’s take some time and talk about your back catalog a little bit.  The first thing I know of is your Bloodshot Eyes 7” on Hozac Records in 2010.  Can you tell us about the recording of the material for that first single?  Where was that material recorded at and who recorded it?  When was that?  What kind of material was used during the recording?

I recorded that on my 8-track tape machine.  We recorded it in an afternoon in the winter of 2009 early 2010 I guess.

You followed up the Bloodshot Eyes single with the first in a series of releases in 2011, the first of which being the Always In My Head single.  Now the Always In My Head 7” was limited to three hundred copies, one hundred by Goodbye Boozy, one hundred by Turn It Down! Records and one hundred by Black Kat Records.  Why a three-way split with record companies?

I didn't know that happened with the 3-way split.  Goodbye Boozy wanted to do a single and we recorded a couple songs and went for it.

Was the recording of the Always In My Head material similar to your earlier Hozac single?  When and where was it recorded?  Who recorded it and what kind of equipment did they use?

Same exact equipment, different day.

Next, in 2011 you had the Give Me A Reason 7” this time on Push My Buttons Records.  Can you talk about the recording of the material for that single?  What kind of equipment did you use?  When was that material recorded and who recorded it?  Who recorded the material for that single?

I recorded all of our stuff on my 8-track machine.

Last but not least in 2011 you had the Self-Titled cassette tape limited to two hundred pro-dubbed copies by Plus Tapes.  What about the material for this Self-Titled tape?  Where and when was it recorded?  Who recorded it and what kind of equipment did they use?

Same old 8-track.

You started off 2012 strong and came out of the gate with your first full-length album the also Self-Titled Outer Minds 12”.  Although it might share a title in common with the earlier cassette release there’s not a single track that overlaps between the two releases and the 12” was released by Southpaw Records.  Did you approach the writing or recording of that album differently knowing that it was going to be your first 12” release?  Did you even know that it was going to be released as a 12” when you were working on it?

Rob from Southpaw asked us to do a LP so we did it.  This was our first batch of songs in this band, so it's much different than the stuff I'm writing now.

What are your memories of recording that first Self-Titled album?  Was it a pleasant, enjoyable experience for you?  Where and when was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

I recorded this in winter 2011/2012 I think.  Maybe even earlier, I really can't recall.

Being the fastidious and prolific people that you are you released a second full-length in 2012, Behind The Mirror which was a joint release by FDH, Resurrection and Red Lounge Records.  Is that album limited?  If so how many copies was it limited to?  For some reason I seem to remember reading somewhere that the pressing was limited, but I could be making thing up again ha-ha! 

I think all of our vinyl is limited edition.  Maybe a thousand copies, maybe not.  I don't have a single copy of any of my own records.  I'm really bad about that.

What was the recording of Behind The Mirror like, was it very similar to recording your earlier album and singles?  When was that material recorded?  Who recorded it and where was that at?  What kind of equipment was used?

Up to this record they were all recorded by me on an 8-track.

Does Outer Minds have any music that we haven’t talked about yet?  You all had an extremely busy year last year, do you have any releases planned or in the works at this point?

We're writing our third LP right now, hopefully recording in early winter with Sanford Parker. That's the plan.  This album I'm trying something nerdy.  I'm trying to write a concept record loosely titled Conquered by the Sun.  When I say concept, I just mean the whole record is songs about the same ideas and thoughts.  Every day I realize that the sun could get rid of us whenever it would like.  Humans on the surface of this earth are as equal to fleas on the body of a dog.  I'm writing a lot of lyrics about our evolution from mindless creatures into active thinking parasites.  We have been given everything we need and we destroyed it all.  We like to think we are more than we are, but in the life of the sun, we are as important as a common cold or any other disease that was created to destroy.  So that's what I'm trying to go for.  Who knows if it will be anything.

Where’s the best place for our U.S. readers to purchase your music?

Buying straight from the Label is the way to go if you want vinyl or tapes.  iTunes and Bandcamp for digital.

What about our poor international and overseas readers with these completely insane international postage rate hikes?

Red Lounge Records in Germany should have some.  Otherwise digital is always there if you like that shit.  Or Push my buttons is in Sweden.

Where’s the best place for our readers to keep up with the latest news like upcoming shows and album releases at?

Outer Minds Facebook, Outer Minds Bandcamp, or tour info on Panache booking website.

Are there any goals that Outer Minds are looking to accomplish 2014?

Two more LPs in 2014 hopefully, along with a single or more.  Touring and shit obviously.

What do you have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year?  I know you all just got done with a tour recently.  What about next year?

SXSW and a few festivals so far.  We're concentrating on this record really.

You have played with some severely killer bands!  Who are some of your favorites that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with?

Love King Kahn, Mark Sultan, Bare Mutants, Radar Eyes, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segal, The Blind Shake, Weeknight, TV Ghost, Chain and the Gang, the Black Lips, Heavy times and our little brothers Peoples Temple.  A lot more I’m forgetting.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories that you’d like to share with our readers here?

I was wondering around Missoula Montana and was flagged down by a bunch of travelling gypsies and smoked some weed under a bridge around a fire.  These weren't street hippies or punks, these were straight up gypsies; the one dude said he was from Romania.  They liked my vest I was wearing at the time.  It was pretty fun.  My band had no idea where I was.  The bridge gypsies gave me some pill that took me down pretty hard later that night when I met back up with the band.  We rolled a joint with paper from a hotel bible.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

I'd like to tour with King Kahn and the Shrines or really pretty much anyone out there that we get along with musically and personally.

With all of the various methods available to musicians today I’m always curious to hear why artists choose and prefer the various methods that they do.  Do you have any preferences when it comes to the medium on which you release your own music?  If so why?  What about when you are listening to and or buying music?

I prefer vinyl, but I understand mp3s and wav files because they’re easier.  I don't buy as much vinyl as I used to, but whatever your ears like.  I really don't care as long as what you listen to is good.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so can you tell us about it?

I’ve got a lot of records, tons of different shit.  I listen to shit from bubblegum to death metal.

I am in love with physically released music.  There’s something magical about having an album to hold in my hands, artwork to look at, liner notes to read.  They all serve for a glimpse inside the mind of the artists behind creating it and make for a more complete listening experience, at least for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

I remember those long ass tape cases that came out in the 80’s.  My wall was covered with those things.  Then when CDs came out they tried the same thing.  Yeah, having a physical object is more connecting between the artist and listener.  Free music on your computer takes away that connection and makes you take it all for granted.  I'm not against free downloads at all, it’s just listening to a compressed shitty sounding mp3 is dumb.

I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can.  I spend a lot of time pouring over the bins at the local record shop, talking to employees and musicians such as yourself and a lot of the best tips that I get are from musicians such as yourself.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of that I should be listening to?

Bare Mutants, Radar Eyes, Bloodiest, Plastic Crimewave, Uh bones, Negative Scanner and a ton more I'm forgetting about.

What about nationally and internationally?

There are too many to list without forgetting the rest.

Well we’re done.  That’s it.  I swear.  Sorry to put you through that and thanks for making it this far, it’s like my father always said, “anything worth doing is worth doing right”.  Is there anything that I missed or that you’d just like to talk about?

Looks like you got us pegged properly.

(2010)  Outer Minds – Bloodshot Eyes – 7” – Hozac Records
(2011)  Outer Minds – Always In My Head – 7” – Goodbye Boozy Records, Eye Records, Brain Records (Limited to 300 copies)
(2011)  Outer Minds – Give Me A Reason – 7” – Push My Button Records
(2011)  Outer Minds – Outer Minds – Cassette Tape – Plus Tapes (Limited to 200 copies)
(2012)  Outer Minds – Outer Minds – digital, 12” – Southpaw Records
(2012)  Outer Minds – Behind The Mirror – digital, 12” – FDH Records, Resurrection Records, Red Lounge Records

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
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