Standing At The Feet Of Psychedelic Wizards – interview with Derek See
Derek See is a musician who has taken his deep love and respect for psychedelic music and applies it to both his original work and his supporting work with legends such as The Chocolate Watchband, Rain Parade, and Country Joe McDonald. Derek uses period correct gear and his obsessive ears to recreate the magical sounds of the 60s in the most reverential way possible.
You worked as a road manager for The Stooges and you also did a collaboration with James Williamson.
Sure. I was actually James’ guitar tech, and that role expanded to playing keyboards onstage with the band for ‘Penetration’, and also helping make sure that Iggy got safely pulled back on to the stage when he dove into the crowd (among other duties, such as catching flying microphone stands). I first met James a little over a decade ago at the guitar shop I used to work at, and I ended up interviewing him for Fretboard Journal magazine, shortly before Ron Asheton died. When Iggy asked him if he would be willing to tour again, he invited me along, and in return I offered up the band I was playing with at the time as one he could woodshed and practice with, as he hadn’t been playing guitar for many years. It was incredible to watch one of my favorite guitarists regain his (raw) power on guitar once again; he was very tentative at first, but the fire came back in a big way in his playing. To repay the favor of practicing with the band, James suggested that we play a gig together, which was what came out as the live record. I toured with Iggy & The Stooges for all but the final year, and it was incredible to watch them stage side. Iggy is incredible; he could pace a festival show where the band is allotted 70 minutes into a 69:30 set; he’s an absolute professional and one of the greatest entertainers the world will ever see. The very first gig I worked with the Stooges was in Sao Paulo, Brazil; at the rehearsal before the show, Iggy told some great stories of seeing the likes of The Doors and Janis Joplin with Big Brother early on in Detroit, and how influential those performances were. The big smile on his face made it clear how much he still loves the music and how big of an impact the psychedelic scene made on him. Of course, he took those elements and made something completely ‘new’.
“Iggy told some great stories of seeing the likes of The Doors and Janis Joplin with Big Brother early on in Detroit, and how influential those performances were. The big smile on his face made it clear how much he still loves the music and how big of an impact the psychedelic scene made on him.”
You have also worked with Country Joe McDonald (see our interview here).
This was initially set to be a one-off gig, as the Berkeley Historical Society was planning an exhibit of Berkeley music from the 60’s, and of course Joe is one of the most important figures in that scene. Initially it was going to be a trio gig (Joe, Alec Palao (see interview here), and myself), and that quickly expanded into a full band that included Matt Piucci from Rain Parade. The focus was almost entirely on the early psychedelic Country Joe & The Fish material, and Joe was so pleased with the band that he decided he wanted to play more shows with us. We ended up playing a series of gigs where we played ‘Electric Music For The Mind And Body’ in its entirety, along with a handful of other Joe gems; several of the ‘Electric Music’ songs had never been played live before. One thing I always do when I’m playing with my heroes is to make sure that certain elements of the original recordings are recreated, as the parts and tones are so important to what has made these albums so timeless. The shows were very well received, but sadly Joe has a lot of back pain that makes travel difficult for him. Offers from Europe and Japan were coming in, but Joe simply wasn’t able to travel. The shows were all professionally recorded, so hopefully a live album will be released at some point. Joe was very reserved when we first started working together, but once we all got to know each other, he was happy to tell us great stories of the 60s, and he remembers incredible amounts of detail. When he was talking at length about Woodstock, I asked him about knowing any details of who dosed The Who with acid before they went onstage. His response was ‘ahhh, I don’t believe that! First off, they sat in their limo until it was time to take the stage; nobody even UNDERSTOOD how they got a limo in to the festival site, as everyone was being helicoptered in to the festival’!
“I’ve always been influenced by my heroes and life events, just like anyone else I suppose.”
Any favorite bands, Derek?
Being a record collector, my tastes span far and wide, but my biggest loves are psych, 60s soul, British Invasion stuff. I could never pick one fave, but the music of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Hendrix, 13th Floor Elevators, Miles Davis, and The Velvet Underground have been the most influential to me, and they are artists that have been in constant rotation for many years. I am also a member of two of my all time favorite bands (The Chocolate Watchband and Rain Parade). For new music, I tend to like 60s influenced or worldly psychedelic stuff like Triptides, Kikagaku Moyu, Creation Factory and Aimee Lay. Also really dig noisy guitar music such as Ty Segall.
What inspires you, when it comes to songwriting?
I’m not super prolific as a writer, but when it comes down to it, songcraft to me is the most important aspect of music. I’ve always been influenced by my heroes and life events, just like anyone else I suppose. One thing that has been huge for me is working with the ‘legends’, and seeing their creative process, most notably the collaborative nature of Matt Piucci and Steven Roback in Rain Parade. Those two are amazing on their own, yet when they come together they encourage even greater highs out of each other in songwriting and arranging, which has made me see the value of contributions in a very positive light. I find the best band situations are ones where each member adds their own creative flow to the mix and when it’s the right vibe between members, everything is exponentially better. I had considered the Gentle Cycle album to be my last statement as a songwriter, as I find it so satisfying to be the ‘side guy’ in bands. However, since Roy Kaiser/ Record Recycler licensed the Gentle Cycle album for reissue recently, it has given me a creative spark to write again, and the songs for the next Gentle Cycle album are nearly complete.
What would be your favorite album by the Chocolate Watchband?
The big one to me will always be the Rhino’s ‘Best Of’, as it collects all of the tracks from the 3 singles (which feature the original band and no studio musicians), and a whole lot else. Even though I have gone on to collect original copies of the 3 singles and the 3 albums, that compilation is the one that I always go back to as it was ‘where it began’ for me as a fan.
You’re a big fan of psychedelic rock…
Absolutely! Psychedelic music and 60s soul will always be tied for the #1 spot in my heart. Not only do I love the music, but I’m a firm believer in the psychedelic way of life – a plant based philosophy that includes having an open mind, open heart, open perception, and forward thinking.
Could you tell us about the Gentle Cycle?
I first used the name Gentle Cycle on a 7″ single that I released in 2013, and a few years later it became a full blown band. We recorded and self released the album in 2017, and the pressing quickly sold out. With a heavy heart, I decided to put that band on ice when I moved from the bay area to LA, as I felt as though I had made my final statement as a songwriter and bandleader. However, late in 2018, Roy Kaiser, who owns a record store in LA and has been not only a highly respected record dealer for many years, but is also a big fan of psych, got a hold of a copy of the album and approached me about reissuing the album. Even though Roy initially pitched it to me as being an archival issue, it felt like the right thing to do was have a band that could promote the record. So not only is there still the bay area Gentle Cycle (the guys who play on the record), but there’s now an LA Gentle Cycle as well. Plans for the immediate future will be to record album #2, as the renewed interest in the band has inspired me to move forward with writing music, and being a bandleader once again. With the reissue, there are two variations of colorful splatter vinyl, as well as basic black, and we revamped the front cover as well. I’m much happier with the reissue, visually! The original issue was starting to sell for collectors prices, so I appreciate the fact that Roy saw this and felt it was his obligation to make the album available again.
How about Rain Parade?
Rain Parade formed in LA in the early 80s; Illinois native Matt Piucci met California native David Roback while both were attending college in Minnesota. Matt moved to California and reconnected with David, and his brother Steven (Roback) was brought into the band. David left after the first album to form Clay Allison/ Opal, which eventually morphed into Mazzy Star. They were one of the most crucial band in LA’s Paisley Underground scene, bringing a psychedelic edge and remarkable songcraft into a period in LA that was dominated by hardcore punk on one side and synthesizers on the other. Rain Parade were active until the late 80s, at which point Matt began playing guitar with a Neil Young-less Crazy Horse, and Steven founded Viva Saturn, which also featured RP guitar wiz John Thoman. Rain Parade returned in 2012, and a band I was previously in was on the bill with them for their comeback gig. Matt and I became friends immediately, and I often joke about how he was my long distance guitar teacher, as I would sit in my room as a teenager learning his licks off of Rain Parade records! Flashing forward a few years, and I began doing some guitar tech work for Rain Parade, which quickly morphed into me playing a bit of guitar onstage with them and also taking a prominent role in his other band The Hellenes. Occasional guitar eventually morphed into being a full fledged member of the band. My first recordings with RP are on the ‘3×4’ album, which is both a celebration of the Paisley Underground scene, and also was the first time that Rain Parade had made any official recordings since 1986!
What are some future plans?
To get the Chocolate Watchband over to Europe for more tour dates. Work on new albums with both Rain Parade and The Gentle Cycle in the immediate future.
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Happy to be able to discuss these things with your readers, as I’m a big fan of the site! I appreciate you and your colleagues helping to spread the word and keep this music alive every day.
– John Wisniewski