Still hot off the vinyl press after a September 23rd release date, San Diegan band Psicomagia’s debut record is phenomenal. If you’re reading this and have yet to give it a listen, I really urge you to. Need more convincing? I shall try my best: Paul Marrone, San Diego’s most wanted drummer – check. Trevor Mast on bass, backbone of much-revered heavy psych outfit Joy – check. Brian Ellis, seasoned and much-respected San Diegan multi-instrumentalist of highly-acclaimed prog band Astra – he’s on board too. Did I not mention Tyler Daughn? Well, just wait until you hear him on keys and it’ll soon be a name you won’t be forgetting any time soon.
Out on El Paraiso records in pretty much any format your heart desires, the album is as much a labour of love as it is a beautiful example of unfettered musical collaboration. This stuff is fresh. It’s worked at and refined over many hours and months of jamming. It’s taking ideas when they came and moulding them, reshaping them into an end product that, upon listening, gives you a feeling akin to that satisfaction one gets at fitting that last jigsaw piece into the puzzle. At times heavy, most times Zeuhl-y and definitely prog-y from start to finish, lose yourself in the mesmerising poetry courtesy of Bernardo Núñez and an unnamed second poet, revel in that oh-so-tasty groove in “El Congreso Pt. 2”, marvel at those masterfully executed transitions and you’re guaranteed to end up a happier person the other end. Psicomagia, anyone?
It was with great honour and giddy excitement that I accepted an offer by It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine to interview one of San Diego’s hottest acts! The interview below is with the four instrumentalists on the album: Paul, Tyler, Trevor and Brian. During my lengthy text chat with the band members – which seemed to last 15 minutes, as these things always do – the band went into great detail and shared some juicy facts which I’m sure will delight all those fans out there. On top of that, they’re just a great bunch of guys and such a laugh. I can’t wait to share what went down so, without further ado, here goes.
It all started at what is appropriately called the ‘Space House’ in the Golden Hill neighbourhood of San Diego – a musical hub of sorts, where artists, musicians, lovers of art, lovers of music can meet up, hang out, jam, crash and just have a good time.
Paul, you mentioned in the Cosmic Wheels interview [link below] that the band started out with just you jamming with Tyler. Was that in the basement at the Space House in Golden Hill?
Paul: Yeah, in the basement at the Space House Tyler and I were jamming keys and drums. We had a mutual love for stuff like E.L.P., Soft Machine, that sort of thing. It was a lot of fun. I’m pretty sure we played one show as that lineup! Then Trevor showed an interest in playing with us; he’s an amazing bass player so of course we were excited for him to join! He made the sound a lot fuller and we then started writing compositions and structuring songs while keeping it loose and still incorporating jams.
Trevor: Actually, I played guitar at first; that was terrible! There were a lot of bands that came out of that house: Space Nature, Roach Spit, Joy, Psicomagia,… Most of us lived there but we had friends like Paul who came over to jam and became part of the family.
Tyler: Trevor lived in the basement and played in Joy.
Tyler, were you living at the Space House too and were you in any bands before Psicomagia?
Tyler: Yes, I was [living at the Space House]. I played guitar in a band called Space Nature for a few years.
What kind of band were Space Nature and how many members did it consist of?
Tyler: More like heavy blues. There were 5 members in all.
Paul, you weren’t living at the Space House, were you?
Paul: No, I never lived at the Space House. I was just there a lot jamming and hanging out. It was a great place – like a family. We had some great times and jams in that basement.
Tyler: Paul was playing in Red Octopus when we met and we became friends. We used to just play as fast as we could for hours.
Trevor: Yeah, Joy and Red Octopus played together; we met Paul and he came over the next day to jam.
Paul, were you in any other bands at that time too? Shaking Pyramid? Radio Moscow?
Paul: No, Shaking Pyramid came later and I had just left Radio Moscow when I met them.
Trevor: I was playing with Joy when Tyler and Paul started doing Psicomagia. I’d been into prog and fusion since I was just out of high school and really wanted to be a part of the band. As I said, we jammed a couple of times with me on guitar but it didn’t feel right; guitar didn’t really fit in well with what they were doing.
How long were you a two-piece for before Trevor joining?
Paul: I think it was just a few months
Tyler: A few months. We played a few improvised shows.
Trevor: Didn’t you guys play that poetry session with Unnamed Poet and Bernardo before I started playing bass?
Tyler: Actually, yeah. We did some experimental poetry stuff with Unnamed Poet and Bernardo before we were a full band.
Trevor: Bernardo and Unnamed Poet were with us at our first few shows. They were just jams at first so they would come up whenever it got quiet. It gave us a chance to get quiet and helped the jams feel more dynamic. There’s an awesome video from our second show in Tijuana that shows how that worked.
Paul: I think Unnamed Poet and Bernardo joined right before Trevor; they’re both really talented writers and poets so it was a great asset to Psicomagia.
So, Paul, Tyler and Trevor, you started jamming a lot in the basement at the Space House and getting some ideas together?
Tyler: Yeah, we used to just improvise but we were slowly building up a set which eventually became “El Congreso”.
Trevor: Right. We were really just jamming for our first few shows. I think we had one part that Tyler wrote that eventually became “El Congreso”. Actually, our show with Corima [Zeuhl band from Los Angeles] influenced us tremendously in organizing an actual song around the jamming. We kept adding parts and “El Congreso” came together.
Paul: Yeah. We’d kind of have an idea of what we wanted to do for the show and the rest was just pure improvisation. It was exciting because we’d never know where our improvising would take us.
Tyler: Yeah. Then Brian started jamming with us.
Brian: I met them when Psicomagia shared a bill with Brian Ellis Group at a small local festival. I had never heard of them and they completely blew me away. I really loved the whole Soft Machine vibe going on and booked them to play another show with Brian Ellis Group, which was also with Corima (who is playing our record release show). We all started talking after the show and I ended up hanging out at the Space House sometimes after that, but that was towards the tail end of that.
Could you tell us more about the Brian Ellis Group, Brian?
Brian: I put out a few solo albums back in 2007 on a Scottish label called Benbecula Records. I played all the instruments and they were kind of an electronic/jazz/fusion mix. I always wanted to do a band in that style live but didn’t really know any musicians to start with. Eventually, after a few years, I knew enough people to put together an improvisation group. Astra ended up having to cancel a big show and I decided to put together the Brian Ellis Group for that night. We had a great crowd response so I decided to keep doing it.
Paul: Yeah, I was blown away by the Brian Ellis Group. I was at that show at the Casbah, I believe. It was awesome.
Tyler: I remember listening to Astra and Brian Ellis in high school.
There’s a video online of Brian playing with Psicomagia at the Tin Can; was that your first show with him on sax?
Paul: Yeah, I believe so. If not the first, at least one of the first shows.
Trevor: Haha, he’d never played with us before. We essentially just asked him to jam with us that night for fun. Somehow he got some of the riffs right without practicing at all.
Brian: Yeah, that Tin Can show was my first. Earlier that day me, Trevor, Paul and Zach Oakley from Joy all jammed at the Space House. We had been talking about starting a different band where I was going to play guitar. I had brought my sax with me too but I don’t think I even got it out during that jam. I had to leave for Astra practice but was going to go see Psicomagia at the Tin Can afterwards; I’m pretty sure they were playing at a hamburger eating contest, haha. When I got to the Tin Can, I think Trevor asked me if I wanted to jam with them that night. All I had was my sax – and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t actually played it in at least a year – but I figured, “Why not?”. I had filmed a set of theirs at the Til Two Club and had done some editing on it so “El Congreso” was pretty ingrained into my head. Luckily, it was in a key that was easier for me to play on sax so I was able to follow along pretty well during the set.
I then steered the conversation towards the band’s moniker and how it came about. Paul recalls:
Paul: I believe Unnamed Poet came up with the band name “Psicomagia”. Him, Tyler and myself were on the back porch of the Space House smoking a joint and Unnamed Poet had mentioned Jodorowsky and Psicomagia. We started to kind of bond and he thought it would be a great name for the project Tyler and I were doing.
Trevor: It’s about Jodorowsky’s brand of psychotherapy. What interests me about it is how he considers breaking habits to be the first step in the ‘healing process’. I think we tried to write songs that broke the habitual 4/4 timing that most songs deliver.
Tyler: I was living in Mexico and learning a lot about Latin American writers and hanging out with Unnamed Poet and it just sounded perfect.
Trevor: We were all reading Latin American writers too – Borges, Bolaño, García Márquez,…
Tyler: Especially Bolaño for myself.
Brian: The name was also part of what attracted me to the band from the first time I saw them since I’m a big Jodorowksy fan.
Paul: I’m pretty sure the first show Tyler and I played was just listed as “Tyler and Paul” on the bill, haha.
Brian: Damn, we should’ve stuck with that name.
And after a few laughs thinking up band names that could have been, the subject shifted to the recording of the album.
Trevor: Brian offered to record us after a Psicomagia/Brian Ellis Group show (the Til-Two show). We drove up to his studio and recorded “El Congreso” and were amazed at how great it sounded. Brian then overdubbed the sax parts that became integral to the song. Soon after, Brian got in contact with El Paraiso and they were excited to put a record out.
Paul: It all worked out fantastic; he did an amazing job.
Brian: Yeah, I had been wanting to record them for a while; before I joined they were my favourite band in town. The recording process is where I felt like I really found my place in the band. I had recorded the bass, drums and keyboards all live and tracked my sax afterwards. I spent about 4 nights in a row recording sax until 6 a.m. to finish my parts on “El Congreso” [According to Tyler, “The bulk of the album was recorded in one or two nights.”]. Incidentally, I became a much better sax player that week out of pushing myself to compete with the rest of the music.
Tyler: Brian recorded us better than really anyone else could have.
Could each of you tell our readers what gear/equipment you used during the recording?
Trevor: I played my Fender Jazz Bass which, as an active bass, tends to add a lot of gain. I really hated that at first but I think it sounds appropriate in “El Congreso”. After that recording, I put together a mute (made from a mousepad) that made my bass sound more percussive. I always wanted Hugh Hopper’s tone and the mute helped get that kind of sound. I don’t know what kind of amp I used…
Brian: You used my Carvin X100 tube amp, Trevor. It’s the same head Frank Zappa used on a lot of stuff. I used a Yamaha tenor sax – nothin’ special really.
Paul: I used my ’69 Ludwig kit and for most of the recording I used my Paiste Giant Beat ride and Zildjian Turkish crash. I believe on “El Memorioso” I was using a broken ride cymbal; hopefully it’s not too noticeable!
Tyler: I used a Juno synthesizer through a wah pedal, some distortion and some echo effects. I also played one of Brian’s organs; I can’t remember the make but I believe it’s the same one Dave Stewart played with Egg.
Brian [directed at Tyler]: It’s a Hammond L-122 organ. Yeah, it was the same one Dave Stewart used. I’ve also read that’s the model Deep Purple used on “Child In Time” but I’m not 100% on that.
Tyler: I’d never really played with synthesizers before but the combo of one with an organ really let me do things I had always wanted to do but couldn’t on guitar.
I’d just like a quick word on how the drums were mic-ed up.
Paul: I think Brian mic-ed the drums and I’d just adjust them a little when he wasn’t looking haha [he says, jokingly] but mostly Brian knew what he was doing. He got a great jazz sound out of them, which is what I wanted; I didn’t want a rock drum sound at all. I didn’t have to tell him anything really; he knew exactly what I wanted.
Brian: The drums mic-ing was really simple. Paul’s Ludwigs are so loud that mic-ing up every drum isn’t really necessary. I just used 2 Oktava overheads angled to pick up all the cymbals and toms; that gives you pretty much a good sound of the whole kit. Besides that, just an AKG D112 on the kick and a Shure SM57 on the top and bottom of the snare.
We then covered each track on the record, the members sharing any favourite moments, fun facts and anything else! In the order that they were recorded…
Trevor: We wanted “El Congreso” to cover one side and do another long suite on side B but the physics of recording to vinyl made that difficult.
Interesting! Could you elaborate, if possible?
Trevor: Once you record more than 22-24 minutes on one side of an LP, the quality begins to deteriorate. There are tons of records that are longer than that on each side but we wanted to put out a really high quality record; there were a lot of ideas going on in that song and we wanted everything to be clear and distinguishable.
Paul: “El Congreso” was shaped and formed and reformed till it became what it is on vinyl.
Tyler: It was just experimentation that turned into something which, for me, represents a time of violent discovery.
Trevor: Paul wrote the bass for the krautrock part at the end!
Brian: I love when you can hear Paul laugh during the first drum break.
On “El Congreso Pt. 2”, the ending reminds me of E.L.P.’s “Rondo”.
Paul: That idea just came naturally, probably because Tyler and I were listening to E.L.P. a lot but it wasn’t like, “Hey, let’s do “Rondo”!”.
Trevor: That’s the only interesting thing E.L.P. ever did!
Tyler: I love E.L.P.; Trevor hates them, haha. Also, it’s an old jazz song – “Blue Rondo à La Turk”. Keith Emerson’s early work has always made me feel good. My biggest influence for keyboards is Duane Allman – can’t forget that. Not Greg – Duane. The novel The Savage Detectives by Bolaño influenced me at the time of recording too.
Brian: The middle section of “Simplón” is one of my favourite moments of the album.
Tyler: Yeah, mine too.
Paul: We knew we had to have two shorter songs for the album and we all had parts and we would just piece them together. For instance, Trevor had that great jazz for the middle of “Simplón” and we pieced it together with a bass line I had come up with, which is the beginning of the track. It sounded great; everything we all came up with seemed to always fit like a puzzle piece.
Trevor: We wrote “Simplón” and then we struggled to write another song until Tyler came up with the beginning of “El Memorioso” and it went well with a bass line I had been messing with. We stitched the two together and had a perfect introductory track.
What about that mystical intro?
Trevor: Brian and I got together at the studio one day after we had recorded the track and wanted to make an intro for it. I picked up Brian’s kalimba and we recorded a riff with tons of delay. Then I picked up my bass and got a drone going by rubbing a lighter against one of the strings. Brian had been entertaining us with his pan flute every time we got together so we tracked that too. The McDonald’s™ jingle always found a way into our rehearsals.
Brian: It’s my favourite thing to play on pan flute!
Trevor: [After that intro] the beginning was influenced by Magma’s K.A. – the bass line at least. There’s some Zao and Eskaton influence on the record too – both Zeuhl bands.
Then after that intro – BAAM!
Paul: Baam! We originally were just going to go straight into the riff after that [intro] but Trevor and I were toying with the idea of coming in for a quick fill and then breaking and then baam! I think it came out sounding great.
Trevor: We thought it would be interesting to continue modifying that later fusion bass line until it worked in a different time signature; it starts out as 9/8 and gradually turns into 6/8 and Paul plays 4/4 over it.
I love the ending of the track, where there are those breaks and Tyler does those great keyboard runs.
Paul: Yeah, the ending was definitely inspired by Magma.
Could you tell us a bit about the track titles?
Tyler: They’re titles from some Borges stories – except “Simplón”. “El Congreso” really fits for me and in my opinion, they [the track titles] really add something to the album; they evoke proper imagery. It’s like this wandering guy remembering how the world was, then this big planetary congress dissolves into a world of simplóns [A simplón refers to someone who is easily fooled; a naive individual; a simpleton. The song titles “El Congreso” and “El Memorioso” can be roughly translated as “The Congress” and “The One Who Remembers”, respectively.].
And on that note, the four of them professed their love for Magma and it was decided unanimously that their 1975 live album was the body of work from which Psicomagia drew most inspiration. Brian then went into more detail on how the Danish label El Paraiso came on board and the subject of artwork was then addressed.
Brian: The solo albums I put out in 2007 were on Benbecula Records, who also released Jonas Munk’s project Syntaks. We had contacted each other back then through mutual respect of each other’s music. The first time Astra went to Europe was at the Guadalest festival in Alicante, Spain and Causa Sui happened to be playing as well, so Jonas and I ended up hanging out. We kept in contact after that and when I saw his label come out I was really impressed. We had been talking about having them release something of mine but when the Psicomagia record started coming together I knew it would be something they’d probably be interested in. Once I sent El Paraiso the rough mix they were on board to put out the album. Jakob Skøtt did the artwork layout for the album which turned out perfect in my opinion.
Tyler: Trevor drew the logo a long time ago. Before the name, I believe.
Do you want to tell us about it, Trevor?
Trevor: I drew out the symbol that we later used for the album cover when Tyler, Paul and I worked for a bicycle rental company. We sat around a lot there so we drew on the back of the maps we were supposed to give out to the customers.
Paul: We thought it would be kind of cool to have our own symbol – you know like Magma or something.
And behind the symbol, there seems to be a liquid light show effect going on. Is that right?
Paul: Yeah, Jakob Skøtt did a great job on the cover, adding the stained glass-like effect and everything.
Tyler: Yeah, that effect was taken from an Operation Mindblow [liquid light show company] show.
The last name on the album credits is xxxx-ed out, with the word “Anonymous” just visible underneath. Was that intentional?
Trevor: It was intentional; Unnamed Poet didn’t want his name on it for some mysterious reason.
Paul: It was Unnamed Poet’s wish to be anonymous.
And on the back cover, is that a photo of you during one of the recording sessions?
Tyler: Yeah. There’s a Magma poster visible in the background!
Paul: One of Brian’s friends was running around the studio taking pics of us while we were practicing, haha.
The interview drawing to a close, I quizzed them on a rumour I’d heard of Trevor’s imminent departure from San Diego and what that would mean for the band.
Trevor: Yes, I’ll be moving. My daughter was born two months ago and we want to be closer to family. We want to keep the band going and I don’t know how that would affect whether or not we can tour.
Paul: Trevor will always play for Psicomagia.
Tyler: We’re hoping to get a tour together.
Paul: Yeah, we’re going to try and get a tour together to promote our album. We’re going to try and talk to some booking agents.
Trevor: We really want to play Roadburn, especially now that Magma is playing.
Paul, you’re going to be playing drums with Astra at the same time, is that right? Radio Moscow too, I’m guessing?
Paul: Yeah, I’m a full-time member of Astra now [and another “Yes” for Radio Moscow].
Brian: Yeah! Paul’s first show with us is next month opening for Nik Turner!
And Tyler, you’ll be playing for Psicomagia and waiting for a tour, hopefully. Have you got anything else going on?
Brian [replying on Tyler’s behalf]: Tyler’s been playing with Brian Ellis Group lately. I’m hoping to start recording an album soon.
Finally Brian, you’ve got a lot of things going on, I believe. Don’t you have something called Birdzilla too or am I mistaken?
Brian: Haha, yeah. I’ve got all sorts of stuff going on. Birdzilla is a joke club music project. It’s really fun to do live, especially on unsuspecting crowds that have no idea who I am. I wear a blonde wig and ridiculous outfits; I’m hardly recognizable.
Tyler: Brian’s been recording a ton of San Diego bands such as Harsh Toke, Sacri Monti and Joy.
Well, thank you so much guys! I think we can wrap this up now. Does anyone have any closing remarks looking back at the whole Psicomagia experience so far?
Tyler: For me, it captures a beautiful period of collaboration. I think we take this music for granted, now that we’ve all heard it for a while. At the time, though, none of us had experienced anything like it before; it wasn’t just psych blues but truly raw experimentation.
Brian: Joining Psicomagia was kind of a bummer, only in that I couldn’t go watch them play as an audience member anymore! I loved going to see them! I really love playing with Psicomagia, though. I write a lot of the Astra material whereas in Psicomagia, I only wrote my sax parts. It’s really refreshing to play someone else’s compositions that I really enjoy so much; I get lost in the music every time.
Trevor: I would like to say that I am really proud of this album and the people that were a part of it. We wrote these songs for ourselves but I hope they translate well into the public space.
Paul: I’m very proud of this album and everyone involved with it! I’m very blessed to have been able to collaborate with such amazing people with endless talent! A big thank you to El Paraiso Records and my beautiful wife Liliana, Psicomagia’s biggest fan!
– Sébastien Métens
Cosmic Wheels interview
Photo of the Space House taken from: http://www.sdcitybeat.com/sandiego/article-9529-at-space-house-musicians-subsist-on-good-vibes.html