The sad fact of rock journalists: We’re all kinda the same. We’re like sheep—just with a superiority complex, a creepy knowledge of chord progressions and at least one famous friend we can namedrop when it suits us. (Mine: Ronnie Vannucci of The Killers.) We like the same things—and like to tell people why, often in snotty tones. We all think we’re cool. And generally, we all want to know the same things—which is why Alex Maas is having a banner multi-tasking day.
The frontman of the Austin-based psych-rock consortium The Black Angels, Maas has stacked up a slew of interviews. He’s got four phoners in a row, each allocated 20 minutes to ask their not-so-probing questions. I happen to be No. 1 for the day. And while he’s talking, he’s finishing up an e-mail interview—perfect for a little rock journalist piracy.
City Weekly: So what did they ask you?
Alex Maas: Some of the usual: How did the band get formed? How did the band get signed [to indie label Light in the Attic]? Why are a lot of psych-rock bands getting a lot of attention these days? Actually, the last one isn’t bad.
He’s right—especially since it was totally on my list of questions, too. And there’s some validity to it. In the last few years, there’s been a resurgence of psychedelic rock that, while still small compared to the glut of droning distortion that swirled out of the late ’60s and still defines the genre, is growing exponentially. Bands like The Warlocks, Beachwood Sparks and The Brian Jonestown Massacre sparked the movement over a decade ago. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club made it commercially viable thanks to hipster soccer moms. And today, bands like The Black Angels, Dios Malos and Dr. Dog cover every branch of psych-rock ever made, from the massive distorted swells of The 13th Floor Elevators to the mellow pseudo-psych of The Byrds to the psychedelic aftermath of The Band. More groups are indulging in the rolling drones and mind-altering tension of psychedelia.
The reason, Maas says, is the same one that led him to start The Black Angels four years ago: freedom. “The great thing about it is that psychedelic rock allows you to get lost in the song,” he says. “The time doesn’t matter. Nothing really matters. You can just get into it and move with it.”
That’s been The Black Angels’ mission from the start: to create music that you could move with at a primal level. The band’s 2006 debut full-length Passover, was a fuzzy and focused trip full of songs that, at their core, always moved. The bass lines churned in their own feedback. The drums beat on like a pulse. Guitars provided the drone. And Maas, with his nasal howl, tossed out vaguely political lyrics that were really nothing more than a way to deliver his vaguely mesmerizing melodies and hooks. Combined, it all made your body start gyrating—whether you wanted it to or not. Even Maas, whose monotone delivery somehow links up with the beat and pulls you into the rhythm.
In fact, on the group’s sophomore disc, Directions to See a Ghost (Light in the Attic), Maas is almost like a siren. The rest of the band has upped the drone elements—“We wanted these repeating songs that sounded like something you could rob a bank to,” he says in all seriousness. But Maas, he’s now a secret voice in the mix that, buried just below the bass at times, makes you listen even closer. He literally pulls you into the music. Like on “Deer-Ree-Shee.” Maas is a echo in the back of the room. You can’t help but move closer to the speaker to hear what he’s saying. Once there, the music surrounds you, commands you, takes over.
“We didn’t plan things that way,” he says. “It wasn’t contrived as it was more of an organic thing that just happened. We let the elements of the songs guide us, which made this more of a groove-oriented record than ’60s-rock-oriented like the last record. You can really get lost in these songs.”
Ironically, though, Maas and the Angels are doing their best to make sure they don’t get lost. That previous question about the rise of psych-rock: That’s partly The Black Angels’ fault. When the group started getting national attention a few years ago, the band made sure to reach out to like-minded souls, promoting their friends whenever possible and touring together constantly. The result is a loose-knit movement of bands that love overheads-and-oil light shows and massive drone jams—and questions about a psych-rock revival.
“Yeah, we’re all trying to stick together,” he says. “We’re not trying to say we’re better than any other group or any other band. We just realized that all the synergy helps everyone grow.”
And maybe force a few other psych-rock frontmen to multitask.
THE BLACK ANGELS w/ The Warlocks @ The Urban Lounge 241 S. 500 East, Friday June 13, 10 p.m. 24Tix.com