An Interview with the legendary Psych DJ, Steve Liesch

January 17, 2012

An Interview with the legendary Psych DJ, Steve Liesch

Jenell [Caught with a mouth full of onion rings]: Finally, good to sit down with you.  Man those things are great, try one.

Steve: Yeah, Lord knows I’m far too busy to sit for an interview, but I heard you’re the best! [and dips into the basket of onion rings while while checking out a waitress]
Jenell: Well thank you … I think [regaining his attention].  You seem in good spirits, and you do realize you ordered just about the whole lefthand side of the menue. Let’s jump all over the boards, if that’s alright with you.  First, you’re not quite a product of the 60’s, so what was it about Psychedelic music that grabbed your coattails?
Steve: I’ve always been a fan of just about anything the mainstream avoids. Early on, I discovered that there was a vast, relatively untapped expanse of music that few were exposed to, simply because the music wasn’t a hit, which in turn  is why the mainstream radio outlets didn’t play it, which is yet another reason why it wasn’t a hit, etc. etc …. just a vicious circle.  I found almost overwhelmingly that this music was far and away much better than the crap that did become hits and this led me to realize the mainstream just didn’t know squat about what was really good. Psychedelic music so easily fits into the realm of what the mainstream tended to shun, and it was clearly the most interesting and progressive genre to hit rock and roll up to that point.
Jenell: What was the first Psychedelic album you bought?  And did you contextually understand it?
Steve: Well, of course that immediately brings us to that all-important question: “what is psychedelic?” My personal opinion would be to call The Beatles’ – “Rubber Soul” a psych influenced album, and I would go with that, but that was a gift. [the waitress arrives with our iced teas] The first one I actually bought was Tommy James and The Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover”. Since I was barely a teenager when it came out, I probably didn’t contextually understand anything, much less that album. I just thought it was great music – everyone my age did.
Jenell: Is there an album that has profoundly effected you more than others?
Steve: Naturally there are some that I like way more than others. But of the albums I actually bought in the 60’s, not many were particularly heavy, and I didn’t even realize they were psychedelic at the time. They just seemed like what music sounded like at that time. Looking back though, I’d have to say that The Doors’ first album is what really opened my eyes as to what was going on out there. That’s when I became aware of the psychedelic genre.
Jenell: What makes a song Psychedelic?
Steve: As you might imagine, that’s a question I get asked quite often. It seems everyone wants the definitive answer. Unfortunately, it’s perhaps one of the most subjective questions in all of rock music, and one I’ve personally been grappling with myself for a long time! In all of my years collecting music from this genre, I don’t believe I have ever heard the question answered similarly by any two people. I’ve come to realize that it means many different things to different people. I even looked the word up in several different dictionaries, in an effort to find some sort of consensus on the topic. Webster’s defines psychedelic as “of or causing extreme changes in the conscious mind, such as hallucinations, delusions, intensification of awareness and sensory perception”, most likely referring to drugs here. But additionally, they add “simulating the auditory or visual effects of the psychedelic state”, referring to the peripheral trappings such as the arts. Personally, I’ve given up trying to ‘define’ the term, and more or less just go with judging whether or not the music in question compares with other known psychedelic music, in terms of sound, style of play, lyrics, etc. Of course, the more overtly psychedelic music is comparatively easy to spot. This often has many wild effects added at the production stage of the recording, such as echo, backwards tape loops, treated vocals, and the like. And sometimes it’s just the instrumentation, such as the ever popular fuzz-tone guitar and Voxx organ, to name but a few, that create a strong psychedelic ambience. But it’s the more subtle psychedelic music that new comers typically have the most trouble identifying. This is an area where acid eaters have a distinct edge. Believe it or not, the most subtle of psych rock can often be even more satisfying than that which bashes you over the head with effects.
[Our burgers arrive, so does Steve’s milkshake, cheesy spicy french fries, another order of onion rings, a dish of chile, and slaw, which Steve is heaping onto his already over-crowed burger]

Jenell [watching and trying not to laugh]: I know that you don’t do drugs, but you have to admit that the genesis of Psychedelic music is drugs, have you ever felt that you’ve missed an aspect of the music but not indulging?  Seriously, it was members of the Beat Generation writers of the 50’s and 60’s  [Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, and Leary] who were proponents of consciousness expansion through the use of LSD, and musicians were quick to pick up on this, using music to both try and recreate a trip, and to describe one.
Steve: Well, don’t think that I’m totally innocent in those regards. I had my day back in those crazy times. But you are correct. Acid’s one particular substance I have never indulged in … surprisingly. It’s surprising because it kind of reflects back to your previous question about what makes music psychedelic. I don’t think that anyone who hasn’t ever been ‘experienced’, as Mr. Hendrix put it, will ever understand certain aspects of just what the term psychedelic really means. Sure, I wish I had tried it at the time, but at this point in my life, it would be rather irresponsible, I think.
Jenell: Would you mind spending a bit of time and tell me if you see categories within the genre of Psych? Say Morgan vs. Hendrix vs. Hawkwind … and Folk vs. Metal vs. Rock.
Steve: Surely, in much the same way you can shade an entire picture in a certain type of lighting; you can also shade virtually any genre of music to be psychedelic. This is why there are so many sub-genres of psychedelic music. The most commonly known are examples such as pop/psych, folk/psych, garage/psych, punk/psych, prog/psych, blues/psych, and psychedelic hard rock. Or simply replace the word ‘psych’ with ‘acid’ in these names, and move it to the front of the couplet to arrive at a different name for the same thing, e.g. acid/folk, etc. These are the styles of music that blend most seamlessly with psychedelic aspects, but there have been attempts at psychedelicizing many other genres as well, with more mixed results. These might include classical, symphonic, and jazz.
Jenell: People get themselves wrapped up in the artists, forgetting the labels, which labels have been most dedicated to the genre?
Steve: One of my favorites is the Mainstream label. Though most commonly known for their jazz releases, they also delved into psych with somewhere between 12 and 20 issues, almost all in or near the top tier of collectible releases. Oddly, there are comparatively few examples of major label psych albums, and because of this, they also command a disproportionately high amount of respect among collectors. But of the majors, Uni probably had the largest roster of known psych albums.
Jenell: What are you thoughts on the technology of sound that psychedelic music has been responsible for?

[At this point someone recognizes Steve, well not Steve so much as his voice … he signs a napkin, and looks a bit red in the face saying, “She’s the one who’s autograph you want, she’s the Night Nurse, but they just grin, nod, and walk off looking at the napkin.]
Steve: With today’s technology, virtually anything’s possible in sound. But back in the 60’s, so much of what they did was comparatively prehistoric. I’ve read countless stories of how a band member accidentally created some noise with a common object, perhaps banging into it in the studio, liked the sound  that it made, and decided to use it on the record. The term analogue took on a whole different meaning, as many effects were literally man-made. Nowadays, everything’s created electronically, often on computers. But try as they may to reproduce those old sound effects, very few successfully pull it off. You can always tell when it was recorded.
Jenell: Though I never owned one, it was always rumored that there was a double or triple grooved album, so that when you dropped the needle, you never knew where you were going to be taken.  Please tell me that you have one!
Steve: Unfortunately, I don’t. I have only come across one such record in my travels, and it just wasn’t my style of music … some kind of avant-garde jazz or something. But the concept is quite intriguing.
Jenell: Let’s jump to radio for a moment.  How’d you find yourself in the captain’s chair?
Steve: With the demise of the progressive rock  format, I totally lost interest in listening to commercial radio. I’d started listening to college radio in the early-mid 70’s, and was quite interested in the freedom the DJ’s had to play whatever they liked. Of course they didn’t always play what I liked, but because of the absence of commercials, it was still much easier to just leave on whatever was being played. One such local station originated from Rutgers Univ. Over the summer, there would often be shifts at all hours of the day and night where they would be off the air, simply for lack of anyone to come and do a show. I thought “What the hell, man. I can do that!” Even though I wasn’t a student, they were happy that I was willing to help out, and ushered me through the process of getting qualified. I had to start out playing college rock, until I thought the upper management wasn’t listening anymore. Then I gradually started blending in my old geezer psych rock from the 60’s. The kids loved it, and I got calls constantly.  Hey … what’s that blue drink?  Do you think I could get one of those?
Jenell: Anything for you. [I flag down the waitress who rolls her eyes and asks how old Steve is.  I tell here and she says, “He’s not gonna like it,” without even looking at him, and wonders off.] Was there a moment that you realized you were a disembodied voice channeling in beams of sound?  In other words, that people were tuning in just to hear you?
Steve: Come on, no one tuned in to hear me. It was the cool music I played. I’ve never had any delusions of grandeur. The music is the star. I’m nothing more than a necessary evil, something to be tolerated until the music starts again.
Jenell: How important is it for you to create meaningful sets of music?  And have there ever been moments where you just astounded yourself?
Steve: For most DJ’s, creating that magical segue, or perhaps even a whole set, is what they live for. I had a very good friend, my buddy, DJ. Dr. Tom, who was particularly adept at it. He was able to not only make one song flow freely right into another, but often make many of the songs in the set actually sound better than they would all by themselves. I learned at his feet, but it was never that easy for me. I usually couldn’t tell until after the fact, after I’d listened to the play back of the show. Later, if I found yourself automatically going from one song right into the next when I was humming it to myself, I knew you had a good segue. I have a few personal favs that I’ve saved on tape. Occasionally I would resurrect one for a new set.
Jenell: I’ve been around long enough to know that qualifications for DJ’s have come and gone.  Were you a ham radio guy?  And did you need to know Morse Code when you first hit the ether?
Steve: [Laughs] Jenell, when I tell you I walked right in off the street, I’m not exaggerating. The only thing we were required to know, was how to perform a particular function with the transmitter, should anyone from the FCC ever show up at the station unannounced. I seriously doubt if any one on the entire staff, save for the engineers, knew how to perform that function. But we always kept the door locked anyway, and the studio monitors cranked up, so no one from the FCC was going to get in there unannounced.
Jenell: What was the first station you held down the mike for?  Did you prefer a daytime to dark of night lost in the stars time-slot?

[Steve’s mysterious blue drink arrives]
Steve: The call letters for that Rutgers’ station was WRSU (I always imagined RSU stood for Rutgers [the] State University). I started by doing fill-ins for regularly scheduled DJ’s whenever their shift occurred. Naturally, these were at all different times, but I finally got my own regularly scheduled show on the Saturday overnight, which I called the Saturday Night 60’s Show. The kids would listen to me while partying, or on their way home after a night of revelry. It was actually a decent slot.
[Steve takes a big swig of the blue and makes a sugary sour face just as the waitress walks by and says, “I told you so. No one older than 6 can stand the stuff.]

Jenell: I’ve been told that you have a rather extensive collection of Psychedelic Music.  And that it’s all boxed up!?
Steve: Yeah. When my twins came along, space in the house became scarce. We needed the room, so I had to pack the entire collection up in boxes and stick it in a Dr. Tom’s garage. It takes up three fully cubed pallets, plus another half for the singles.
Jenell: As to rarity, what are your 5 rarest records?
Steve: Let’s see –  1) The Golden Dragon –  S/T   2) Honeybus –  “Recital”    3) Steve Kascarowski –  “What Time Are You”    4) The Blues Spectrum –  “We Are the Blues Spectrum”    and 5) Poor Heart –  S/T; as far as LP’s go. I do have some singles that are way rarer, and consequently worth far more even than these LP’s.
Jenell: And your most expensive 5?
Steve: Well, my wife may read this, so let’s just say I have a number that are worth four figures, but none worth five.
Jenell: Lots of folks know nothing of records, and find themselves at a record show, or purchasing one of the new 180 gram pieces of wax at a concert, and are wondering about caring for them … any tips?
Steve: If you crack the original seal, leave the shrink wrap on it, even if it’s a gatefold. This attribute will make it hold far more value than almost anything else you can do. Make sure you keep any/all inserts with the record. Example: the original issue of The Stones’ first album came with a small poster. Finding a copy with that poster still in there is like finding one with a hundred dollar bill in there nowadays. Never handle the playing surface … hold it between your hands by the edges only. Get an aftermarket vinyl brush to wipe dust off with. Playing the record full of dust will only mash it into the grooves, necessitating cleaning it. Store the whole album, cover and disc, inside a poly outer sleeve for wear free storage. If you happen to come across one of your old albums with split seams, do not use cellophane tape on the outside of the cover. Freezer tape works best, on the inside of the cover only, though you can get away with just about any tape if you put it on the inside.
Jenell: How about gracing us with a trip down memory lane, and describing a day of record shopping back in the late 60’s and 70’s.
Steve: I used to have insomnia as a young man. I worked two full time jobs in order to take advantage of the time windfall. Living at my parent’s home left me with very few financial concerns, and an awful lot of discretionary cash. Every Friday, I would drive to the local record store and leave only after I had an armful of vinyl, never less than $50 worth, which equaled a lot of records back then. New, they seldom were priced at more than $5 a piece, often $3 to $4. They had row after row of bins with albums listed alphabetically by artist, with the more well known artists getting their own bin. The walls were usually covered in posters and various other artifacts relating to the subject. Sometimes there would be special editions of LP’s up there too. The more underground shops usually had drug paraphernalia available as well. But you could also buy records literally everywhere. Even the local supermarket might have a rack. I bought Deep Purple’s first LP at the Grand Union, along with my box of Cocoa Puffs.
Jenell: What do you think about the new crop of Neo-Psychedelic and Dream Pop artist? Artists such as Black Angels, Spacemen 3, Spectrum, War On Drugs, Luna, Dream Syndicate and the Church, or are you pretty much of a purist?
Steve: Some of these artists are simply amazing! I confess I haven’t paid them as much attention as they deserve, simply because I prefer to focus my now more limited funds on the original era artists I’m still searching for. As you can imagine, those that are left on my want list are now quite hard to find, and typically go for more money than I care to admit. But good music is good music, regardless of when it was recorded. I do have a few albums by the newer crop of artists, and they hold places of honor amongst the rest of collection.

Jenell: Are there 10, what you might call “Essential Albums” to own?
Steve: My only presence on the web is a page on a site known as Rate Your Music (rateyourmusic.com , user name – tymeshifter). There I have two lists, among others. The first is titled: “My all-time list of U.S. psychedelic ‘must-haves’”. There are probably close to 50 entries on that list, and any of ten of them could easily be selected as answers to your question. It would be difficult for me to select only ten that stand out more than the others on that list. And of course, that list is narrowed to only U.S. artists. There are many from around the world equally as worthy. The other list is still under construction. It is titled: “My all-time list of U.S. psychedelic ‘should-haves’”. This is a much more subjective list; filled with albums I personally like, but that haven’t gained the same level of consensus the ‘must-haves’ list entries have. If I had to pick ten, some of the albums from this second list might garner a slot as well.

Jenell: The artwork was a huge part of any Psychedelic album, and is sadly missed on CD’s … over all, do you find a difference in the musical experience with vinyl vs. disc, both in quality of sound and artwork?
Steve: Contrary to popular opinion, I feel there can be, and often is, a distinct difference in sound between vinyl LP’s and CD’s. Because of this, I will only buy a CD if there’s no vinyl issue available, or if that vinyl issue is ostensibly unavailable due to its rarity. With the passage of time, and the concurrent technological advances, the sound of CD issues has improved dramatically, to the point where there’s little discernible difference in sound. But this brings us to the other part of your question: the packaging. Though the actual cover image can be duplicated on the CD insert, it’s inherently smaller size severely limits its impact on the overall experience. Being able to hold a 12” x 12” album jacket in your hands while listening to a vinyl LP playing on the old hi-fi can be a very satisfying thing, adding up to more than the sum of its parts. This is not duplicated to the same degree with the comparatively much smaller 5” x 5” CD cover. True, there often is a dramatic increase in the amount of liner notes (as they would be called on an album jacket) that can be included in a CD booklet. I would be a liar if I said I never purchased (and even kept) a CD for these reference notes alone. But this is a separate issue, and doesn’t contribute to the listening experience in nearly the same way. As for acquiring music purely by downloading it from the web as is so popular nowadays, if this were my only means of getting music, I surely wouldn’t be as big a fan of it as I am.
Jenell: Along with the record art, there were often blow-in’s, stickers, decals, pictures housed within the jacket, any treasures there that still bring a smile to your face?
Steve: As a collector, I long ago realized the value of these items in terms of an album’s completeness to other collectors. But at the time the albums were originally released, they didn’t seem all that special to me. Indeed, throughout the 70’s, most albums contained at least something in the form of an insert, to the extent that you felt short changed if there wasn’t. The one that seems to stick out the most in terms of the listening experience would probably be from Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. But who could forget the clip-able items from the insert in “Sergeant Pepper’s”. I often snicker at the thought of anyone actually wearing that paper mustache hanging from the bridge of their nose!
Jenell: Liner Notes used to be a real treat, I recall those of The Chocolate Watch Band, about the secret box filled with hash, and other substances of delight that the band was waiting on, while they recorded late into the night, have you got any other gems stashed away that folks might want to read?  Or be required to read?
Steve: None in particular that comes to mind, [reader note: Steve has just sucked dry the mysterious blue drink and pushed it aside as he leans in to finish his though] though there certainly are some that would literally astound you. Readers often tend to take anything they read as gospel, but particularly liner notes. I have read some that express their points with extreme clarity, and yet are completely bogus. Tales about the individual band members, or the circumstances surrounding the recording of the album are sometimes total fabrications, it was later determined. So reader beware.
Jenell: How about books, any written material on the genre you might suggest as a good read?
Steve: In terms of collecting psychedelic records, I strongly recommend any/all written reference material as possible. Knowing what you are looking for will greatly enhance your ability to seek out and locate precisely what you are looking for. The British author Vernon Joynson has written a number of   areleases on the topic, starting with probably the first and certainly most well-known book on the subject: “The Flashback”. He’s gone on to write several other titles on similar topics, and he tends to get better with each subsequent book. Their only negative is they are filled with errors in information, but seldom of a critical nature. Other authors have written similar books, such as Dag Erik Asbjornsen’s “Cosmic Dreams at Play”, and “The Crack in the Cosmic Egg”, by Steve and Alan Freeman. Other books about particular artists, and the times and circumstances surrounding their recording careers abound. These are often truly mesmerizing as well.
Jenell:  Rare treasures please … tell me about your coloured vinyl?
Steve: Personally, I’m not a huge fan of colored vinyl, and will almost always seek out a black vinyl version if one’s available. This stems from colored vinyl’s inherent weakness in sound reproduction quality, as compared to most standard black vinyl. Of course, black vinyl’s quality is certainly not a given either. But there are almost always noticeable differences between the colored and black vinyl versions of the same albums. But if a colored one is all there is, well then you have little choice. Some of these can be quite elaborate, such as the hot-rod compilation titled “Chrome, Smoke and Fire”, which duplicates the cartoon cover art. Others are more subtle, but can enhance the psychedelic experience with designs that seem to ‘move’ as the disc spins.
Jenell:  Now if albums weren’t rare enough today, tell me about your 45 rpm collection, and the importances of 45’s as lead-ins to an album.
Steve: As an adolescent of the 60’s, naturally, I owned singles even before I owned LP’s. But I’m almost ashamed to admit that as a collector of psychedelic music, I neglected the format for far too long, before embracing it with full fervor. Perhaps it was a psychological thing. Why buy something with only two songs, and usually with no cover, when you could buy something with eight or twelve songs, cover, and inserts for about the same amount of money, or even less in many cases,? And besides, singles kind of smacked of the old ‘best of’ mindset, where a label would select the songs they felt were best (or that they could sell the most of) for release as a single. It was mostly after exposure to some of the early garage and psychedelic singles compilations that I discovered what a wealth of truly fabulous music was released only as singles, because the artists were far too obscure to obtain financing or contracts to record albums. Only after I started collecting them, did I discover that even the cheapest collectible singles typically sell for more than many collectible LP’s.
Jenell: You’ve been riding shotgun with Dr. Tom for awhile now, dig down, give us the dirt?  I hear he can be quite the perfectionist.
Steve: Dr. Tom is a true enigma. Though he would probably bristle at the notion, he is eccentric to the core. A confirmed bachelor (though he insists he would take the leap if the right gal came along), he leads a somewhat hermitic lifestyle, sequestered in a home he does his best to make look like it is uninhabited at all hours of the day and night. He used to be a chemist with AT&T throughout a long career, and even took part in the research for creation of fiber optics, something we now use everyday. But with so few distractions at home (such as a nagging wife), he was able to indulge himself as only a bachelor can. He is a true member of the ‘acid generation’, and fondly remembers all of those times. This fondness extends to the music of those times too, and he had assembled quite an extensive collection by the time I first met him. He had gravitated to another local (at the time) college station, WFMU FM. This was one of the stations in my rotation around the late 80’s, and I happened to catch one of his shows. To say my mind was blown barely begins to describe it. Remember, the psychedelic resurgence hadn’t really begun yet. Us psych heads were pretty much in a small and close-knit world of our own then. Here’s this guy playing an entire program of nothing but music the likes of which haven’t seen airplay for over 20 years at that time! I phoned him immediately, and a friendship ensued thereafter. His ability to assemble musical segues, and entire sets for that matter, are rivaled by few. He can create a mood and mind-surf a listener through a complete trip with ease, or so it seems. Actually assembling these ‘trips’ is a painstaking process for him that starts with the search for ‘couplets’ (two songs that segue well), and progresses to larger couplets (two couplets that segue well), and on to a complete set. He will then record this rough set, and scrutinize it through repeated listenings; editing and replacing songs with others until he is totally satisfied he can do no better with it. These are the sets he brings with him to his program. So popular was he on that station, he eventually had to pre-record the sets on CD, so that he would be free to talk to the many callers who would constantly ring him during the show. On rare occasions, he would get that special call from a former band member of an artist he was currently playing, thanking him for finally giving them the airplay they had been denied at the time.
Jenell: You’ve got to tell me, with a collection like yours, there just have to be some albums that are Psychedelic disasters, things that should be shelved and never played?
Steve: You’d be surprised how many so-called disasters I actually like, if only because of their psychedelic content. To me, the genre is so cool almost anything relating to it has at least something to offer. I learned long ago to take a reviewer’s pan with a grain of salt, after discovering some albums that are almost universally reviled were, in reality, quite enjoyable. But on the flip side, there are also some records that do have considerable cache among the collector circuit, which I simply cannot stand. I will seldom get rid of them though, preferring to retain them for future reference. I have gotten requests on my radio program for some of these artists, and it is neat to be able to satisfy those requests. But there are two that I simply could not afford to have so much money invested in to not sell, and just keep a dub for myself. They are the albums by Don Bradshaw and Leather, and Robt. Marcus. Too expensive, and simply awful.
Jenell: While poking though your collection I saw what I can only describe as Psychedelic Christian music … isn’t that sort of an oxymoron?
Steve: You’d think, wouldn’t you? I can only guess that getting their message out was more important than the means with which they accomplished it. But just playing psychedelic music isn’t necessarily endorsing the taking of psychedelic drugs though. And believe me, psychedelic Christian music can be a very hot sub-genre. The Lord can be very inspirational.
Jenell:  I can only imagine the concerts you’ve been to.  Anyone stand out in your mind?
Steve: Well, as you already know, I am just a couple of years too young to have attended concerts of the era I’m most interested in. But my very first was a doozy … Pink Floyd at the Trenton State Fairgrounds in New Jersey, 1970. While you were over in Vietnam getting shot at, I was whooping it up to some very psychedelic music, back when the Floyd was still psychedelic. I went on to many more concerts after that, up until some time in the late70’s, when I finally stopped going. The majority was by headlining commercial rock acts of the time. But not all. I was practically known by name at a smaller local venue called the Capital Theatre, in Passaic, NJ. Lots of great shows there. A perennial favorite of mine was Hot f*#@in’ Tuna, whose shows would last well into the wee hours of the morning. I took a girl to one of their shows once and caught hell from her father for getting her home so late!
Jenell: And since were bouncing all over the boards, what’s your take on Psychedelic Art to grace the walls of one’s home?
Steve: I love it! Know any good artists?
Jenell: Why is it that Psychedelic music is so underrated?
Steve: Probably because it’s taken seriously only by the underground. Mainstream music fans never gave it any respect, in much the same way everybody feels about disco nowadays. But the difference, of course, is that disco really does suck. Your head really needs to be in a certain place to enjoy psych rock to its fullest. I guess the mainstream, not having been ‘experienced’, just never really got where psych music was coming from. All of the effects and what have you, they just seemed weird to the casual music fan. And that was back when such music was much more common place. Today’s young listeners are apt to express utter bewilderment at some of the more overtly psychedelic music, even that which was recorded much more recently. It’s not until they cross over to the dark side of underground music that their eyes are opened to the vast expanse of unexplored music that remains available to them.
Jenell: Are you inferring that Psychedelic music is more of an inward or private experience?
Steve: To some, certainly. But that could be true of almost any art form, depending on the individual.
Jenell: Why do you think some albums have stood up better, stood the test of time, while others are lost to the winds?
Steve: As with any art form, some music appeals to a wider audience than others. And who can accurately describe why? Some psych music is truly excellent, even despite its being psychedelic, and it is probably these examples that are still beloved to this day. The more ostentatious examples were seen as simply pandering to a narrow-minded crowd, and are often viewed as being ‘dated’ nowadays.
Jenell: Can music be psychedelic because of the lyrics only?  And vise versa, can music be psychedelic because of the music only, or does there need to be a intertwined conscious mixing of the two?
Steve: There were bands that literally played in the next town over. The Myddle Class was from Berkley Heights, NJ, within walking distance from my home. Dr. Tom went to school with them. Yet they might as well have been from the moon as far as I was concerned at the time. It was already the 70’s by the time I graduated from high school. And though I was familiar with many of the local performing acts, none that I knew ever made it to vinyl.
I don’t think there’d be much dissent with the idea that it’s the music that creates the overwhelming majority of the psychedelic aspect of the art, with the lyrics more or less just a contributing factor. I have heard some music described as psychedelic due to lyrical content alone. But I must confess that that seems like an unnatural stretch to me. Conversely, the genre is chock-full of heavily psychedelic instrumentals, every bit the equal to the best vocal examples out there.
Jenell: You come from an area of the United States with a rich Garage Psych experience, with great songs like “Thirteen O’Clock to Psychedelphia” [Philadelphia], have you become aquatinted with any of the local artist?
Steve: There were bands that literally played in the next town over. The Myddle Class was from Berkley Heights, NJ, within walking distance from my home. Dr. Tom went to school with them. Yet they might as well have been from the moon as far as I was concerned at the time. It was already the 70’s by the time I graduated from high school. And though I was familiar with many of the local performing acts, none that I knew ever made it to vinyl.
Jenell: You’ve got a page on RYM [Rate Your Music], where you’ve been endlessly entering one unknown album after another, how’s the response been?
Steve: I get contacted by everyone from other users just looking for burns of rare records, to actual band members who recorded albums I’ve reviewed. Few things make my day like that does. But of course, I can’t forget the very first user to ever contact me. It was none other than the world famous streetmouse, the grand matriarch of the site. Go check and see how many friends she has connected with her page!
Jenell: Are we gonna hear you doing any flashback DJing anytime in the furture?
Steve: I do have a more or less standing invitation to program a show on the Princeton University station any time I would like. And I certainly left my last station on the best of terms as well. But with my collection in storage, it makes it all but impossible to put together a decent show, especially on a regular basis. Besides, I’m too busy working to invest that kind of time. Perhaps some time in the distant future, maybe. But for the near term, I would have to say not likely.
Jenell: Thanks babe … I’ve really enjoyed this, anything you want to say that I’ve missed?
Steve: Well, I sure hope this was either enlightening or entertaining to anyone reading it, but especially the psychedelically uninitiated. Psychedelic music is so overlooked that it seems almost from a parallel universe of music. Don’t expect to ever be exposed to it without actively seeking it out on your own. But also don’t be afraid to investigate. Leave all your preconceived notions about what this music might be like behind. Today, it’s so ridiculously easy to listen to all forms of music via downloads from the internet, that you’d be doing a huge disservice to yourself by not giving it a chance. Start with any of the better known releases such as Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow”, or The Doors’ “Strange Days”. These are easier to digest than some of the more obscure and hard core psych albums. But once bitten, be prepared to have your mind blown. One of your best sources for more info on the vast genre of psychedelia is rateyourmusic.com There’s a wealth of information there at your fingertips. Thanks for your time.
[As I was paying the tab Steve railed] I don’t know what that waitress was talking about, I thought that blue drink was great.
Interview made by Jenell Kesler / 2012
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/ 2012
  1. Mara Bunta

    Good work, as always. ;)

  2. Geoff CARTER

    Great i/v Jennell - I always check out Steve’s reviews and lists for buying and listening guides. Of course we may differ on some opinions but in the main we are aligned as the planets in our tastes. Thanks (and what was in that blue drink?).

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