Psychic Ills have been a New York zone-out institution for a few years now; back in 2006, the Voice even named them the best psych-rock band in New York. And while their musical output has certainly remained nothing short of impressive—a 12-inch through Australia’s Spring Press imprint, an odds and sods EP, a remix record as part of the FRKWAYS series, a C40 collage tape—they haven’t released a proper studio record since Mirror Eye came out in January 2009, and they haven’t been exactly active on the live circuit either. After a brief reorganizing period they’re releasing their third album, Hazed Dream (Sacred Bones)… thanks for reviewing it for us, guys. Due October 18, Hazed Dream is a return to their slow-bubbling, organ-drenched art drone, mixing Velvet Underground fog, stoned-out Mercury Rev churn, and long trips in a “Planet Caravan.” The difference, as guitarist vocalist Tres Warren is quick to point out, is that the band’s re-embraced songwriting—Warren’s a fan of murk-funk enigma Jim Sullivan, country-psych footnotes Relatively Clean Rivers and the recent output of his new labelmates. Bassist Elizabeth Hart calls Hazed Dream their most “organized” album, but one listen to this stream of glazed, misty, four-minute drone-pop gems will reveal that it’s easily their most accessible one as well.
Q&A: Psychic Ills on Hazed Dream
What was your favorite thing you did during Psychic Ills’ absence?
Tres Warren, guitarist/vocalist: I’m not sure if there’s really been an absence of in terms of the music; we just haven’t been so active live in the last year for one reason or another. A refiguring period, I guess. We did play a cool event at the Kitchen in March for a thing called Cinema 16, where they screened some original avant-garde films like Ron Rice’s Chumlum. The best time I’ve spent in the last year or so was when I visited my mom in Texas last summer. She’s had some serious health stuff going on for a while but is holding strong.
Elizabeth Hart, bassist: The Cinema 16 project was an interesting way to be working, but because we were supposed to specifically compose music to go along with the films selected, that took us out of thinking about how we wanted the next record to sound. It was still Ills, but the approach of creating sound with the sole purpose of accompanying the visual element, because the films were the focus, was a fun challenge. Also, in the past year, I got to travel to Miami a few times for dance and a couple art film projects of friends of mine, so that was pretty cool.
How did that ultimately affect the record?
Warren: As far as I can tell, a lot of things affect a lot of things: New musical ideas, old ideas resurfacing, people moving, people getting thrown out of the band, people dealing with death, illness, working, losing jobs, playing music outside of the band, playing more guitar again. New Mexico on the mind, New York in the body…
Hart: This past year, it felt like the hits kept coming on a lot of levels, which put a lot in perspective. There’s a lot of stuff that you can’t make sense of, but you are forced to realize that maybe there is some reason for it all. At the very least it opens your eyes and makes you check in about what really is important in your life. I guess what I am trying to say is that everything personally is surely going to affect the music, so in the midst of a lot of heavy, going “light” seemed like the natural step.
How did you approach this album differently than Mirror Eye?
Warren: I think the explorations that influenced Mirror Eye and some of the things surrounding that period had run their course. I wanted to write some songs, or at least work with some shorter more arranged ideas. I was listening to more song-type things again after having sort of only been listening to synth explorations, drone and improvisation stuff, out-rock, and ethnic field recordings for a few years—all stuff that I’m still way into. But I was going back to a lot of songwriter stuff—of a lot of varieties, from obscure bedroom pop type stuff to well known studio sounding stuff. I’m not saying that’s what came out, but that’s what was going in—ha!
What can you tell me about the opening track, “Midnight Moon”?
Warren: That song has sort of an intro-y vibe, so that’s why we put it at the beginning of the record. I also thought it’d be cool to have the jaw harp be the first thing you heard. You know, maybe ’cause a little bit of, “Oh here we go again.”
What inspired it musically?
Warren: I was just playing guitar in my apartment. Playing some chords with some echo on it and I arrived at that. A lot of these songs happened that way. Maybe it’s a little simple sounding, but making music this way feels pretty right to me.
Tell me about making the two-minute drone track “Dream Repetition.”
Warren: I was thinking we needed a break in the record from all this song stuff, so I reversed the guitar take from “Sungaze” and played my Roland SH-1 synthesizer on top of it. Dang, I guess that’s sort of a contradiction from how I answered the last question…
Hart: Well, you know we couldn’t totally abandon our previous methods!
What’s your favorite place to eat in New York City?
Warren: Well there’s a lot of them, but right now I’ll say Great Jones Cafe.
Hart: Natori, Cafe Mogador, and Taco Chulo.