Psychedelic Guitar in the Modern Age
Psychedelic rock had a huge impact on its immediate surroundings in the ‘60s, and the shockwaves continue to resonate today. When we think of psychedelic music I guess we most readily jump straight to Jimi Hendrix — for good reason — but there was so much more happening in ‘60s psychedelia. Some of it was overt and some of it was tangential. For instance, Frank Zappa touched on psychedelic rock often in his early career, even if he was at odds with the psychedelic mindset. Carlos Santana touched on moments of pure psychedelic brilliance when he wasn't essentially inventing World Music. And of course the Beatles slipped into a heavy psychedelic period. And then you have The Yardbirds, The Byrds, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, The Doors, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band… much like with metal today, the flavors of psychedelic rock back in the late 60s offered a little something for everyone.
It's much the same today. Again a parallel can be drawn with metal: although it's wavered in and out of favor over the years, metal has never gone away and neither has psychedelia. Later bands like The Cure and the Stone Roses incorporated psychedelic elements in their sound. And Guitar World once quite aptly described Steve Vai's Passion & Warfare as 'a psychedelic song cycle.' There's something very relatable about psychedelia, whether you subscribe to the trappings of the era (you know, tie-dye, patchouli, lava lamps, certain other recreational aids) or not. Listening to psychedelia is like being dropped into a hyper-real world — slipping into the middle of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, or maybe into the land of Oz — and that's something that anyone who ever dreamed after a midnight cheese binge can relate to. And two of the bands flying the flag for psychedelia in the modern age are Mini Mansions and Tame Impala.
From Perth, Australia, Tame Impala is the brainchild of Kevin Parker, a sort of psyche-auteur with an intuitive knack for creating emotional dreamscapes drenched in melody and shimmer. After a steady rise in their home country, Parker and co have begun to break internationally, appearing at the Coachella festival, performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and having their music appear in the second season finale of the HBO show Girls as well as in a Blackberry ad. And yet for all the authentic and bold psychedelic colors in Tame Impala's music, it's impossible to pin them down as being inspired by a particular artist. Certainly these influences seem to go deeper than Hendrix and Cream and more towards the kind of stuff you'd find in Shindig magazine or on the compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era. "I think it's just because of the kind of people we hang around," Parker explains. "We hang around in a big schlomp of people and we all share musical delights and desires, and we all end up listening to the same thing. I guess it's a progression of a group of people listening to a type of music that really gets you. I can't really name a particular group that got me into psyche music. I love the structure — that structure being that there isn't any structure. That opens up the biggest amount of possibilities. With other genres it's a bit restricting."
Tame Impala: Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
It's a similar situation for Mini Mansions' Michael Shuman, who founded the band after his other job - playing bass in Queens Of The Stone Age — went into hiatus mode in 2009. Shuman says the strong psychedelic edge of Mini Mansions comes from a more conceptual than musical place. "I wouldn't say there's a musical influence — a psyche era that we're basing our music off of — but definitely when you talk about cinematic elements I think a lot of the lyrical content comes from film, books and even television," he says. "I watch a lot of dramatic television and I think a lot of the lyrical content creates a picture that you can see if you use your noggin. They're really just well-crafted pop songs. A lot of our lyric content, there's a story and there's a basis behind each song but there's definitely a lot of fiction in there, which I personally prefer compared to, y'know, talking about what I did on Wednesday night."
Mini Mansions: Kiddie Hypnogogia
Where do you see echoes of psychedelia in modern music?