Published on February 4th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron3
The Myrrors Interview
Tucson, Arizona, psychedelic rock band The Myrrors are back with a refreshed lineup and a brace of spectacular new albums, the latest being Arena Negra, which is due for release on March 24. It’s a sprawling piece of drone-drenched experimentalism celebrating the avante-garde scenes that sprang up in Germany, Sweden, Japan, and the USA during the late 1960s.
Spinning lazily like a leaf on a deep, murky stream, this four-song cycle is at once feather-light and impossibly heavy. Layers of instrumentation—from eerie tinkling chimes to droning violin, saxophone, and clarinet—decorate the path as you travel deeper into each track. Although the music is loosely improvised, there’s no doubt the band have a clear destination in mind and know exactly how to go about getting there.
It’s the sort of album that places a firm grip on your attention that doesn’t release until the last notes of the epic 20-minute closer The Forward Path fades to black.
The Myrrors are in the vanguard of a growing collective of bands around the world that are pushing psychedelic rock beyond the cliché it’s at risk of stagnating into. They successfully carry the restless spirit of the great artists that came before while infusing the music with a distinctive modern flavor.
We caught up with drummer Grant Beyschau and guitarist Nik Rayne to talk about what informed the creation of Arena Negra, their upcoming performance at the huge psychedelic rock festival Levitation in Austin next May, and why listeners are trading in their iPods for vinyl records.
BNU: Congratulations on the new album. Arena Negra seems an evolution of the sound you created on Burning Circles in the Sky with the psychedelic element coming through even stronger. Did you do anything differently this time in terms of the recording process?
Compared to the first record, the tracks on Arena Negra definitely stem more from live improvisation, and many of them were built on first-takes. Burning Circles in the Sky tended towards traditional song structures and was essentially built up through overdubs and us learning how to operate in a “studio” environment for the first time.
The album features varied instrumentation and a world-music feel. The droning violins in the background remind me of the rebab used in Balinese gamelan. I also heard clarinet, saxophone, flute—it’s really a shamanic mix. And Juanito Laguna I thought referenced Shomyo, the track that opens “Buddha Meets Rock” album Ceremony by the Japanese experimental band People. It’s also got a Taj Mahal Travellers feel.
Most of the tracks were pretty spontaneous in their composition, so there wasn’t too much writing and arranging put into them in the traditional sense. That being said, once we reformed the group, it took a while for us to reach the point at which we felt the music was ready to be recorded and released. Not sure that People had that much conscious influence on the record, as much as we love that band, though we will admit that the last track/suite does nod towards the Taj Mahal Travellers in its middle section (Distant Travellers). We’re always learning and experimenting with different sounds and trying to work them into the fabric of the music—it kind of seems like as our musical influences expand, so does our collection of instruments!
Psychedelic rock is in a renaissance. Festivals like Levitation are attracting the biggest names in the world. Were you and the other guys always into psychedelic music or is it something you’ve come to more recently? Do you think younger people discovering this music will stick with it?
We’ve all come to psychedelic/experimental music in our own ways, though it’s probably safe to say that it’s been a driving force for us since the beginning. The catch here is that what we consider to be “psychedelic” isn’t always the type of “psych rock” that most people probably associate with the term. It seems like “psychedelic music” can cover all different kinds of music, whether it’s Pharoah Sanders, Terry Riley, or traditional Swedish fiddling [laughs].
As for the second part of the question, there has always been an underground music following for “psychedelia”, so we don’t think that will ever disappear—though it’s not hard to imagine the current popular psych-rock revival slipping out of favor once something else comes along that manages to catch people’s attention.
The Myrrors’ music draws the listener into a trance-like state. How do your albums differ from your live show? Is it all sitting on the ground with bong in hand and flowers in the hair or do you try to get people moving?
The sound of the band live tends to move back and forth between heavy, rhythmic jams and long-form drone sections. There’s a huge element of improvisation, so even a track taken off one of our records is probably going to sound pretty different than the recorded version… especially as the band is significantly different now than it was seven years ago when we recorded Burning Circles in the Sky [but released only very recently].
Can you remember a particular band or concert that changed how you listen to and perform music? Or is there other media that inspires you?
International Harvester’s Sov Gott Rose-Marie definitely changed everything for us. Strange as it sounds, hearing that record was like discovering the music we had been searching for all our lives. It seems like almost all of our favorite artists nowadays are somehow associated with that band or its members: Arbete och Fritid, Stenblomma, Bitter Funeral Beer Band, Archimedes Badkar… Don Cherry was definitely a huge one for us as well. As far as other media goes, we’re really into experimental and surrealist film (Jodorowsky, Godard, Buñuel, Tarkovsky, etc.) and are all voracious readers.
A lot of people seem to bemoan the advent of digital music—and the iPod in particular—as having destroyed the art of listening to albums in their entirety, and reinforcing a tendency towards short attention spans. But the renaissance of vinyl and long-form psychedelic music seems to contradict this.
It seems that the resurgence of vinyl is almost a reaction against digital media and its emphasis on short-attention spans. There will always be those who value the more immersive listening experience that LPs have to offer. When we’re recording or working on a record, we’re definitely thinking in terms of LPs and not of singles, etc. Sometimes even a single LP doesn’t seem like enough space to lay down everything we want!
In connection with that, it’s now possible for bands to distribute and promote their music without necessarily needing a label. As a result there are about a billion independent bands clamoring for attention on social media. What did The Myrrors do to kind of cut through the noise and be noticed enough to be asked to play at Levitation and to start selling a few records?
Honestly, we’re not all that sure, it kind of seems like a fluke! There are so many great groups out there making fantastic music that it seems bizarre that we would have reached the point we have.
What bands from the last few years have excited you the most? In what direction do you think psych rock music will head over the next couple?
Some recent favorites have been Tolchock, a drone-rock duo from Japan that Nik recently released a cassette for on his label Sky Lantern Records. The Night Collectors, another Tucson group that our new guitarist Connor Gallaher plays with. Scattered Purgatory from Taiwan, and the hurdy-gurdy-based drone band France. There is so much great music coming out from all corners of the globe.
Japan definitely has a great scene going right now, of which Tokyo Psych Fest and Guruguru Brain are probably representative, and experimental and free music seems to be flourishing in South America with ensembles like Ø+yn, Pandelindio, and Montibus Communitas.
It’s hard to predict the directions that the music will take in the next couple of years, especially as it’s so diverse, but we hope that maybe the scene will move beyond its current infatuation with the 1990s shoegaze/psych sound and start breaking some new ground.
What plans do The Myrrors have for 2015? Are you guys heading overseas? How do you anticipate your sound will develop over the next few albums?
Well, we’re playing Austin Psych Fest’s Levitation festival this year, and we’re in the middle of planning an East Coast US tour for this summer. We’re hoping to be able to make it over to Europe sometime soon, and have some leads in this direction, but we can’t make any promises yet!
We’re never really sure how the band’s sound is really going to develop, as the music is always evolving (more or less on its own accord) and we have no desire to tread water. We do have some material recorded more or less concurrently with Arena Negra that we might end up releasing—a tape and a live record—but even those take the sound of that record in new directions.
The Myrrors will perform at Levitation in Austin, Texas, May 8-10 alongside The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, Spiritualized, Thee Oh Sees, and Primal Scream (plus many more). Ticket purchase and information is available here. Arena Negra is available for pre-order via bandcamp.
(Top image: Kevin Moynahan)