This episode of Turn Me On, Dead Man focuses on recent extended psychedelic tracks, heavy on improvisation. I asked the bands about their creative process, so check out their answers below. The drops in this episode come from Terrence Malick’s 1998 film Thin Red Line.
Dark Fog – “Black Candle/Eldanc Kcalb” [from Psychedelic Landscape released Feb. 22, 2020]
On Dark Fog’s latest album, Psychedelic Landscape, they follow a 4:44 guitar freakout track with the same track played in reverse. Like many of their experimental tracks, this works really well. After noting how prolific Dark Fog has been, I asked Ray Donato about “Black Candle/Eldnac Kcalb,” as well as the band’s creative process.
The idea for ‘Black Candle/Eldnac Kcalb’ came from my appreciation of backwards tracks, this is definitely a traditional form for psych, one of my favorites being the excellent 60’s bubblegum psych band Yellow Balloon who in 1967 released their self titled single ‘Yellow Balloon’ with a b-side called ‘Noollab Wolley’ which was of course yellow balloon played backwards, trippy as hell! The ‘Black Candle/Eldnac Kcalb’ was also inspired by my obsession with repeating numbers (11:11,3:33,etc.) with ‘Black Candle’ clocking in at exactly 4:44, I realized this was the perfect song to flip in reverse as both would be back to back 4:44- and also as ‘Black Candle’ has reverse vocals, ‘Eldnac Kcalb’ would then allow you to hear the vocals forward, for extra effect…
We are quite prolific these days, I’m not sure how that happened except that maybe after all these years of songwriting I know what works for us and lately I’ve also been inspired by the huge psych scenes that have sprung up around the globe, some really excellent stuff coming out nowadays, and I’ve felt the need to keep the intensity going…
My creative process always involves the influence of psychedelics first, reaching for my inner emotions and vibes, often I will have sonic hallucinations of songs that I will then try to interpret to my playing to make what is in my mind come alive. Other times I will be struck with a sort of manic energy that I then play out through the chords and guitar stylings that I have developed over time, often these manic feelings will result in more repetitive grooves and anthemic songs as I am feeling the groove and not using my conscious thoughts at all. Arrangements often come later and involve more thought as to what I want the song to ultimately convey, and often Yt and Drew will also have ideas for arrangements, cues, etc. Most of our songs are mapped out with some sort of skeleton that we then breathe life into, there is often much freedom to improvise, and many songs will be planned to have parts that are completely improvised, and sometimes improvisation will then lead to parts that are then made permanent and repeated. Also, these days I will often map a song on paper, similar to Jazz ‘charts’ and the band will just go for it, having a recording studio in our practice space allows for these ‘improvised’ first and second takes to sometimes be the version that is used on the final LP, as there is often magic that can come from not having a ‘set’ part to try to play ‘properly’ or whatnot.
Melt Plastic Group – “Return of the Turkey (Edit)” released Feb. 27, 2020, an extended version of this track is on Fresh Plastic released Jan. 23, 2020
Dire Wolves (Just Exactly Perfect Sisters Band) – “Deep Sunrse Energy” [from I Just Wasn’t Made For These Set Times released Feb. 9, 2020]
Elkhorn – Electric One (Part C) [from The Storm Sessions released on Beyond Beyond Is Beyond on Feb. 7, 2020]
The Spacelords – Spaceflowers [from Spaceflowers released Feb. 21, 2020]
TMODM: What’s your creative process? How much of your material is improvised and how much is mapped out ahead of time?
Spacelords: Usually one of us is coming up with an idea – a guitar melody, a bass line or a drum groove. We jam around this idea, record everything, taking the best parts and develop them. Mostly one idea bears another and after some time we get a basic song structure which will be refined until we’re all satisfied with it. So our titles are all mapped out ahead of time but there are still free parts which can be shorter or longer depending on the mood while performing. All titles from our albums can be easily recognized when we play them live.
TMODM: What are your main influences?
Spacelords: We can’t name a specific band. Of course you can hear the spacerock, psychedelic and stonerrock influences, but we always wanted to create something unique. We think it’s not a good idea to copy or to go into the exact same direction as someone else did before.
Kanaan – Urgent Excursions To The Tundrasphere [from Odense Sessions released Feb. 14, 2020]
TMODM: What’s your creative process?
Kanaan: The creative process varies a lot from song to song, but we usually meet up and jam, sometimes totally from scratch and sometimes on a riff or a melody, and then we kind of collectively from there. Improvisation is definitely an important tool for writing the tunes. On our most recent record “Odense Sessions”, all of the tracks are more or less improvised. “Urgent Excursions to the Tundrasphere” is loosely based around the two guitar themes you can hear in the first couple minutes – we’ve also used those earlier, on a performance we did in Oslo based on the Swedish science fiction poem “Aniara” (which is also the source for most of the titles on the album – who would guess!). Also, “Of Raging Billows Breaking on the Ground” is based on a couple of stoner rock riffs written by Eskild, our bass player. You could probably say that that particular record, rather than four typical Kanaan compositions, is more of a document of us playing with Jonas Munk for the first time and jamming in his studio.
TMODM: How much of your material is improvised and how much is mapped out ahead of time?
Kanaan: Most of our songs are composed, but we always leave room for improvisation in some way.. This usually means that we have a set of composed parts, often at either the beginning or the end, and we have some free improvisations somewhere in the middle or between parts. The spontaneity of the improvisations really keeps us alert and attentive – it also keeps the energy of the music really potent. At least that’s what it feels like to us.
TMODM: What are your main influences?
Kanaan: Always a difficult question to answer, as we’re all three inspired by all kinds of music, but we’ll try… The Norwegian jazz rock scene for its great musicians and creativity, German krautrock for its experiments, electronic music and radical mindset and the whole psych/stoner rock scene for the heavy riffs and all the amazing sounds you can get out of a fuzz pedal.