Vinyl Williams, Teen Daze, Sunbeam Sound Machine, and Gold Celeste discuss how they are taking a 60s sound to strange new heights.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic 1969 moon landing. And just one month ago, astronomers stunned the inhabitants of this great planet in capturing the first ever image of the previously elusive black hole. New planets are being discovered, possible new homes are being made there, and we are even looking to what’s so far beyond us in an attempt to answer the astrological wonders of our fates.
Space is calling to us. As we heed the call in various scientific and cultural respects, one major unifying force that’s been doing it for decades is music. 50 years ago also roughly marks the birth of psychedelic music, a genre characterized by languid melodies, echoing reverb, and overarching impressions of fuzz and planetary instrumentals made famous by legends Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin, and Grateful Dead to name a few. We are long past the height of the Woodstock era 60s, blooming with irreverently frolicking hippies and hallucinogenic drug discoveries, but we still find ourselves against a disturbingly similar socio-political landscape. Mass revolts, unequal wages, racial, gender, ability, class discrimination, you name it. Psychedelia was a sonic respite from the surrounding turbulence that was occurring when the music wasn’t playing. In this way, it comes as no surprise that in the past few years, there’s been a coinciding resurgence of the genre along with its later subgenres Shoegaze, Dreampop, and Chillwave, pioneered by the likes of Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, and Cocteau Twins.
The music is utterly enveloping yet simultaneously of a cosmic quality that suggests it is both born out of and perpetually suspended in the eathers; it is sounds to melt in and play in the background on a curious journey to Somewhere. Joining this sonic interrealm travel, Document spoke to four musicians working in the genres of psychedelia and shoegaze about their practice, the revival these genres are experiencing today, and the profound effect its having on modern listeners.
Kaylee Warren—I was doing some research and read that Egyptian Biogeometry and Russellian Science are key influences in your work. I was wondering if you could tell me more about that.
Lionel Williams—It’s been a few years since I’ve employed bio-geometrical signatures. They are shapes exerted from silver that model the shapes and patterns of energy that move through every organ in your body. The only reason I got into it was my mother had Four Stage cancer and I was just attempting to try everything I could to improve her quality of life. It just kind of added on to my overarching goal with music and art which is just to attempt to heal through wherever its played. When you get goosebumps [while listening to music], that’s called frisson. In this way, your body doesn’t lie because it can happen without you paying attention to music, and that’s your body reacting positively to sound frequency. Sometimes it’s more psychological than it is biological, but when it is purely biological, I think that is one of the only truths we have in our life besides the fact that we know that we exist.
Kaylee—My favorite track off of your most recent Opal has to be “Aphelion”. It already has a hazy instrumental break in it that just seems to skitter off into the universe, but I recently learned that aphelion is also an astronomical term that has a surprising, potentially political connotation. Do you ever consciously interweave political themes into your work?
Lionel—Yeah, at least the political possibility. With aphelion, it’s the day that our Earth is farthest from the Sun. It changes every year and happens around July 2 through July 6, but it usually falls on July 4th which is our Independence Day in America. [The political idea] is that the day our Earth is farthest from the sun, 350 million people in the United States invoke a solar ritual. We light off fireworks and we explode things and we make war with fun. I feel like that is a very ancient practice of bringing the sun closer and making sure that we go back closer to the sun. The United States is an extremely solar-worshipping nation. It’s a very masculine outpouring of media and information, so it makes sense that July 4 is aphelion to me. The song tries to bring that up, and the music in it is just like a celestial rollercoaster.
Kaylee—I was reading a review for one of your more recent albums Themes For Dying Earth, where you explain that the album was created as a means of coping with your anxiety and getting a reprieve from the woes of the world. Can you tell me more about this? How does the current political climate influence the way you experience and produce music?
Jamison—I think 2016 was a difficult year for everyone. I started the year by trying to get normalized after a very long year of travelling in 2015, and one of the ways I was doing that was by recording. I really felt like I was pouring my anxieties into the songs. Escaping into the creative process can be therapeutic, but also pretty dangerous; I wasn’t actually getting better, or dealing with the true source of my problems. Nevertheless, by the end of the summer, I had an album worth of material. Then November happened: in the span of two weeks we went through the election, my wife and I were in a serious car accident, and we were forced to move. One of the main things I took away from the experience was that although I’m so thankful to have creating serve as a form of therapy, healing comes from a lot of different sources.
Kaylee—The natural and cosmic worlds appear to be major themes in your work with albums titled Glacier, Cycle of the Seasons, A Silent Planet, and your upcoming album Bioluminescence. Do you have a significant connection with natural marvels and celestial phenomena?
Jamison—Absolutely. I live and grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and there’s a part of growing up here that instills a spiritual connection between the natural and the cosmic. I’ve always been fascinated by the spiritual side of life, and I can’t help but see it when I am in nature. There’s nothing more beautiful than having your ego killed by hiking a mountain, looking out over the valley, and realizing how small you are. It forces you to confront how small we all are in the scope of the universe. While I find music is a great way to dialogue with those existential thoughts, it’s also a great way to celebrate the natural marvel that inspired those thoughts.
Sunbeam Sound Machine
Kaylee—I’m curious how you came to give yourself the name Sunbeam Sound Machine.
Nick—It’s not really an interesting story behind it. It’s moreso a collection of words. Machine just sorta jumped out at me for some reason, and then, “sunbeam” was just a word I had on my mind at the time. Not really an interesting story behind it, unfortunately. I knew I had a release coming out, so I had to pick a name [laughs].
Kaylee—I would say “Cosmic Love Affair” is the song that really got me into your music. It’s all encompassing. Is this immersive yet transcendent experience with your music an intended effect?
Nick—I think so. With every song, I’m just trying to create an atmosphere around the song that you can really live in, to capture an emotion. I’m never trying to create something that’s trippy or psychedelic. I’m always just trying to capture some type of feeling and the sounds I’m naturally drawn to. I try not to be too conscious of anything. I write the song, then production-wise, follow what I feel like the song needs.
Kaylee—Considering how people experience this genre in an escapist way, how do current politics impact the way you approach your music?
Nick—I always try to create in a bubble as much as I can. But within the past couple of years, that’s becoming harder and harder. It’s been a pretty turbulent year on a global political level. I wouldn’t say necessarily that that’s come out in the lyrics, but I think some of the work on the new album contains that and has found its way into the lyrics. But never consciously. My music tends to come from a more personal place instead of a political place. But at the same time if you’re writing from a personal perspective and you’re seeing all of this stuff going on, it’s hard for it to not have a political.
Kaylee Warren—Sonically, there’s an undeniable quality of immersion in your music. People have likened it to the languid psychedelic-rock of Tame Impala. How important is the immersive quality of your work? How—conceptually and technically—do you strive to create this immersive experience?
Eirik—When I reminisce back to the days we started making music together, I remember a shared curiosity towards the “wall of sound”. We, therefore, experimented a lot in the studio. Trying to blend acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and a piano to shape one sound. Or a unison melody by slide guitar, vocals and some old synthesizer. Letting different instruments and sounds work together to compliment and mesh together creating a new more unique sound. It might not define our music, but it is a crucial part of us. The way we understand sound is also coupled with a shared love for the unpredictable, the off-beat, the wrong key or chord. We often record our jams, and those moments where we do something that none of us would have been able to do on our own is paramount in making new Gold Celeste songs.
Kaylee— Dreams seem to be a theme in your work. Can you tell me more about that?
Simen—Well, it’s more precisely dreams in the sense of pondering big questions and trying to paint a full picture making sense of it all. A lot of young adults (my former self included) are confronted with the complexities of the world but have not yet established the mental skillset to process them, hence putting on tin foil hats to cope with being fed simple and alienating answers. Some might say that these young people have not yet been acclimated, they are in a healthy opposition to the mindless masses. Well, some of that radical and opposing attitude might be beneficial to later orient ourselves and be skeptic of corruptions in the institutions of power. It’s a beautiful thing to find yourself being able to think outside the box not taking everything at face value, but we are also easily led astray, especially young people getting fed personalized content through their phones.
Kaylee—Why do you think Shoegaze and Psychedelia are having a resurgence from its advent in the 60s?
Simen—It can take you places. It can be both introspective and vividly mind-expanding at the same time. It’s not hammering you with notes and information but rather forcing you to mindfully dissect, and it’s inviting awareness. It’s also an antidote to the constant force-feeding of mainstream culture we endure daily, and this way it’s some form of refuge, the soundtrack of the tranquil cultural contrarians.