Thursday, December 04, 2008
Spa-a-a-a-a-ce People..! We return now from our brief hiatus whilst sorting out schedules, etc., as we try to incorporate the radio show into our life. Thanks for your patience. (I believe it's all sorted to mutual satisfaction & I can maintain this blog, too. I hope that's good news.) So, let's get on with the gettin' on, shall we?!
For today's guest I've turned to friend and-in many ways, our own personal hip inside-the-scene tripmeister & Psychedelic Encyclopedia, Kris Thompson.
Kris is the one who paved the way for my contacting today's respondent; although our guest freely invites contact, I preferred the route of introduction. Kris happily-as always, assented. I then returned to our intrepid Lotharian to inquire if he might write the biography/lead-in. Once again, his generosity of spirit came through. Punch your ticket. The trip begins:
I'm very pleased to have been asked to unfurl the preamble here for this piece on the one and only John Terlesky, aka Brother JT. I assume it has something to do with my having introduced JT to Our Blogmeister General for the purpose of this feature. My pleasure, mos' def. Thanks, -valis!
Before I forget, though: please do get cozy with JT's latest, 'Jelly Roll Gospel', his 14th release(!), and his 4th for Drag City, I might add.
So...based in and around Bethlehem, PA (outside of Philadelphia), JT first gained notice with The Original Sins in 1987. Having caught them about a year later (at Boston's long-since-defunct Green Street Station) I recall a hearty tussle of garage-punk shakedown, with JT's quakingly delirious delivery foreshadowing the psych-soul explorations that were to follow in his solo recordings.
The Sins released nine albums between 1987-99, never letting more than a year or two pass between releases. However, starting in '91 our Mr. Terlesky began quietly releasing material under "Brother JT" -- a moniker bestowed upon him by subterranean scribe Byron Coley, apparently inspired by JT's resemblance to a "defrocked monk".
The solo material was "weirder", sure, but no matter how tangled up JT got in barbed-wire guitar freakouts, vibrato vortexes and fevered petitions to hotel ceilings, he always sat on a strong melodic reserve -- even if it was sometimes stuffed into his back pocket for a minute or so.
The labels who've released JT's material form an impressive list of psych, garage, and general damage-purveyors including Twisted Village, Siltbreeze, Drunken Fish, Birdman, and Drag City. That's pretty heavy, you have to admit.
The first time I saw JT live in his solo format was in '97 at one of the "Deep Heaven" multimedia loft parties that I used to help organize in Boston. Somehow during the set -- amidst the delivery of tremulous melodies and great psych guitar playing, he lost track of his trousers. It was no mean feat, and one (we hear) that was repeated at a number of shows around that time.
Am I supposed to be telling some tales out of class here? We'll keep things decent, but when JT and his various lineups have stayed over three or more times, the fodder does tend to mount. Once, JT had enjoyed himself so thoroughly at a winter night's gig that he couldn't be bothered to be roused from the van when arriving at my place afterward. His erstwhile bandmates (in Vibrolux) covered him carefully with blankets, left him a bucket, and came upstairs to divvy up the warm living room space and party treats.
One of the coolest JT times ever was at Terrastock 2 (San Francisco, 1998), when he & Vibrolux played their set in Star Trek uniforms that they had come across whilst traipsing about the Bay Area.
In late 2000 my band Abunai! invited JT to come to play at the release party for our third album, 'Round-Wound'. We were the backing band for his set that night too, having spent a few weeks learning some of his songs that he'd hand-picked for the occasion. It was a great and surreal venture, to be sure, and I sorely lament the lack of documentation to this day...*sigh*...
But anyway...goshdarn the torpedos, and on with the "Ten Questions"...
1. In ten words-or less, define "psychedelic music."
Any music that makes you think of higher things.
2. What is the most psychedelic instrument, why?
I guess I'm a little biased, but I'd have to say the electric guitar going through a fuzzbox. Because youve got the sustain and the distortion and the bending--it seems like it was made for expression of that kind of fluid, visceral experience. A wah-wah wouldnt hurt either.
3. Favorite psychedelic album of all time?
Probably Easter Everywhere by 13th Floor Elevators. I feel like it comes closest to summoning the spirit of the experience, at least for me. Alot of stuff, like Sgt Peppers and Piper At The Gates Of Dawn etc., which are great in their way, seem to deal more with the trappings of psychedelia--the opening up of possibilities, surface feelings of euphoria, return to childhood, etc. Easter sounds like acid really feels, on a gut level--that feeling of letting go of your self and letting some other being take over and show you stuff from somewhere else. Even production-wise its no-nonesense--no effects to speak of, very clear and earthy sounding, because that experience, ultimately, is one of intense clarity. Theres no need to dress it up sonically; its weirdness comes from within.
4. What factor contributed the most to your own desire to play/create psychedelic music?
Well, aside from actually imbibing, so to speak--because it practically compels you to release music when you do--I guess the fact that, by its very nature, psych usually expresses progressive thoughts--the kind of stuff that moves things forward, instead of just hitting the same old progressions, or complaining about my baby left me, do dah doo dah, etc. Not that that stuff can't be fun too, its just kind of limiting. And, on a playing live level, once you have felt things really take off onstage, and it feels like someone else is flying the plane, its something you want to do as often as is allowed. The trouble is you can't always plan that sort of thing, it just sort of happens.
5. If you could be a member of any band in history, what band would it be and what would you play?
Oh, I dont know, probably the Monkees. First thing I'd do is punch out Davy Jones (nothing personal, Davy) and then point to Nesmith and say, "Youre next, buddy!" Having asserted myself as group leader, I would assume the role of rhythm guitarist and insist on shifting the group's sound to a heavier fuzz-attack, canning the lame-o ballads, and creating a high energy stage show based on their fear of me. I would then use the tv show's popularity with the youth to mount some kind of cult/politico movement, culminating in a run for the presidency in '68. With my knowledge of the future (I'm assuming thats a given) I would convince people that voting for Nixon would be disastrous, and be swept into power on a landslide vote after mysterious corruption of various urban water supplies, ala Wild In The Streets. Once in office I would lead the world to almost immediate annihilation due to my complete lack of competence and hair-trigger temper. Or maybe cowbell with the MC5 would be better--they seemed to be having a good time.
6. What psychedelic album do you wish more people knew about?
This is more pop-psych, but I'd say Begin by Millenium. I only just got it a little while ago myself, and it really seems like a classic of its kind, up there with Forever Changes and Pet Sounds, if a bit less dark. It's the guy who produced some of the Association songs-- I dont know, maybe everybody knows about it already, I'm kinda out of the loop. Mighty Baby's first record is good too as far as lesser knowns go.
7. What band, active today, most defines "psychedelic" to you?
As I said, I'm out of the loop with things, I dont see many bands or anything. I'd have to say Bardo Pond, just for that guitar sound alone. Is Hawkwind still active? I saw them in 1991 in Berlin and that was pretty intense--just locking into 2 chords forever.
(image by Dan Cohoon. Thanks Dan!)
8. What album would you most like to cover in its entirety, and why?
Thats tough, because I'd only want to cover something I could bring something new to. Maybe a kind of best-of the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music--I already covered "Mole In The Ground" and "Dry Bones" from it, and there are so many great, monolithic, haunted songs that you could embellish upon.
9. Top Ten Psychedelic Songs?
No particular order...
Tomorrow Never Knows--Beatles
Why (Younger Than Yesterday version, but any will do)--Byrds
I Heard Her Call My Name--VU
Slip Inside This House--13th Floor Elevators
Come Back Come Back --Duffy (from Beyond the Calico Wall comp.)
Mirror Man (Strictly Personal version)--Capt. Beefheart
Brainstorm (Space Ritual version)--Hawkwind
Looking At You (67 demo)--MC5
The Creator Has A Master Plan--Pharoah Sanders
Your Lady--John Coltrane
10. Turn the tables, if you'd like, and ask me a question.
Brother JT: OK, can you recommend any sounds of the heavy, brain-melting variety?
-valis: "..'eavy.., very 'eavy." There's a few band who leap readily to mind fitting this descriptor of yours, Brother JT: Ghost & Acid Mothers Temple from the Land of the Rising Sun; On Trial & Baby Woodrose outta' Denmark; and then there's Grails, hailing from Portland.
I was first alerted to their existence via friend lo-fi jr, who forwarded a link to Julian Cope's Address Drudion in December, 2006. I'll let Sir Julian splatter the verbiage for you JT:
"I was tempted to hold back on commenting about the new Grails album BLACK TAR PROPHECIES: VOLUMES 1,2&3 on Important Records, because I’ve been playing this sucker so often, I didn’t wanna nix its chance to be a future Album Of The Month. However, with so much amazing music out there, you just have to hear its mighty yawp sooner rather than later. Grails’ Middle European music exudes a dark occult mystery few are capable of achieving. Like some East German ensemble of the early ‘70s, their heathen Ur-klang combines acoustic guitars, banjos, bouzoukis with drums and samples that summon up the Ancients. Accessed via www.grailsongs.com, this is truly The Shit!"
And, here's a taste of 'em live:
Hope that assists you JT! Thanks for your participation & insights into psychedelia. We're grateful....sincere best wishes on the new album, 'Jelly Roll Gospel'!
Thanks also & ever to Kris Thompson. You're a good man.
Remember kids: the higher you fly the deeper you go.......
Signing off, until next week, I am...