It’s hard to trace back exactly when this “Renaissance of Psychedelic Music” began, but it’s easy to see that The Asteroid #4 are one of it’s main proponents. With nearly 10 studio album and a slough of singles & EP’s under their belts, the band is definitely one of the most prolific and creative forces in the world of psychedelic rock today.
We caught up with Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist Scott Vitt at Austin Psych Fest and spoke to him about the band’s move to San Francisco, what the term “psych” really means, and much more. The conversation served to further prove my idea of Austin Psych Fest being more a “psychedelic conference” than just a music festival. It’s a place were like-minded people can get together to enjoy the music they love as well as talk about the music they love. Here’s what Scott and I had to say.
You guys are originally from Philadelphia right? When did you make the move to San Francisco?
About two years ago, our guitar player Ryan was born and raised in the bay area so he moved to Philly when he first joined the band and lived there for about 6 years. He just kind of had enough of it so he moved back to California, and then we kind of followed him out because we need something new.
What’s it like being in SF now, is it a big difference from Philly?
Yea it’s a lot more inspirational, as far surroundings are concerned. We all live north of the Golden Gate Bridge so it’s very pastoral and it’s really got a natural vibe. The ocean is there, the mountains, the forest… you know. We’ve already started working on a new record and it’s got that California chilled-out vibe. Philly was weighing on us, it’s a great place to be for a musician because it’s affordable, unlike the bay area. But it’s like a membership fee, if you want to live somewhere that beautiful and be surrounded by culture and free thinking liberal people you’re going to have to pay a price for that because everybody wants it.
Your new record, the self-titled album, was that a result of your move to the West Coast?
The genesis of it… well let me think back. Actually no, the basic tracks, about 60-70% of the basic tracks were recorded in Philly. But we definitely added tracks and finished the ones that were already started in California and it was mixed and everything else in California. It started off in Philly but it kind of transposed itself fairly easily to a California record.
It’s a great album, one of my favorites. I first got into you guys when I heard Hail To The Clear Figurines. I was hooked on that album and I just wanted more. Then all of a sudden this amazing self-titled album shows up online without any warning, why did you decide to release it in that fashion?
Well, we didn’t know what to do with it, we don’t really know all the time what we’re going to about a label, so we put it out to try and stimilate some buzz and make a little money. Which actually worked out fairly well with the download level but we finally signed a small deal with an English label and we were able to get it pressed on vinyl and CD. That just happened, we just got these [records] the other day.
What do you think about it being so easy to release an album digitally these days? it seems to have been beneficial in your case.
We prefer to think that it’s better to listen to our music on vinyl, of course. We’re record collectors and all avid music fans, we spend a lot of money on records. We have a relatively small fan base compared to Jonestown and a whole lot of our friends, so we like to think we have a small niche of vinyl loving music snob weirdos. I mean we’ll release it digitally because we like our music on our iPods as much as anybody and to be mobile, but to have something as real as a 12″ record to us is a much more important thing.
I’m the same way, it’s something tangible…
It’s got moving parts involved and you can hold a nice big album cover in your hands…
We record everything on tape so we’re definitely not a big fan of the MP3 but it is what it is. It’s technology, what are you going to do? You’ve got to roll with it.
So the new album you’re working on, when will it be released?
Well we just started but we’ve been doing a lot of basic tracking and demoing. Like I said, because we’re in California now, we’re very inspired. We’re just cranking stuff out. We went down to a friend’s studio in Carmel, which is right by Monterey. It’s got beautiful scenery, we started doing some stuff there and took it back. It’s got a much more laidback vibe, definitely still has that… I guess what we’re know for… a little bit of jangle and lot of 12-string stuff. It’s us.
We’ve been around so long now that we’ve found we seem to have our own sound pretty much. I would say this one ties in a little bit more with what we did on Honeyspot in 2004. We’re kind of bringing back this more country vibe with a California soulful kind of thing, but we’re trying to do it a bit more tasteful this time and less contrived. When we did that album it was really an experiment that kind of failed as far as we’re concerned. It helped us write songs and think about things a little differently so that when we kind of went back into doing what we’re more known for it seemed to work. We’re in California now so it feels appropriate.
There’s some actual forests and nature there as opposed to Philly. But if you learned from it then it’s a good stepping stone into something better.
That’s right, and now we actually live in the country.
Going back to the self-titled album, I noticed a lot more interludes and instrumental tracks. To me, it felt like one of your most cohesive albums, it seemed to really tell a story of sorts.
That’s something we try to carry with us on every record, even the country record we had a lot of instrumentals and interludes. I think our new record is probably the most similar to our first record than anything we’ve done otherwise. That’s the thing that’s rough for us, is the “MP3”, because we don’t really write songs without thinking how they’re going to be a cohesive part of an album. We like to make records and that’s why maybe we might not fit in so well with some of our contemporaries. It’s not about the one song or the “sound bite”, we’re much more about records. It takes a little bit more patience which is why I love vinyl so much, it’s an investment of your time. A lot of people don’t really have that or are willing to give that to art or music. I feel we might be a dying breed.
There’s still hope. I’m 28 years old and I have an entire wall full of records…
We’ve been doing this for a long time now and noticing some of the younger people have coming up and buying records lately.
That market is there, it might be small but it’s enough to keep record stores going.
Absolutely, that’s true, I’m shocked by it. Sometimes we think we’re alone out here but it’s definitely a growing thing, it’s getting bigger and bigger. With Record Store Day and festivals like this…
I spent over $300 on Record Store Day…
Oh my god dude, I know… it’s definitely getting bigger and that’s a good thing. Of course, the cynics in us are like “What’s real here and what’s not?”, but there’s a lot of good stuff. Just like any time in music, you have to sort through a lot of the bullshit.
This festival alone has a ridiculous amount of good stuff.
I know, I know…
We’re from Chicago, and there we have Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, Riot Fest, etc… and they’re all good festivals, to an extent. But I could pay $150 to see nothing but great bands that I really love here at Austin Psych Fest or twice as much to see a couple bands I like at Lollapalooza and then something stupid like Kanye West.
That’s right, here it’s so overwhelming. I don’t even know who’s playing right now, I’m probably missing something great. It’s all good.
So do you have a record label lined up yet for the new album?
We kind of write records then we shop them around to find a label that seems appropriate for it. They’re always small, which is fine with us because we like to keep things more boutique-y and to have someone that cares about putting out a nice record. We just kind of do what we do.
That’s got to be nice to working with different labels, that way you’re not getting bogged down with one major label telling you how to do things.
Every record we pretty much have done it with a different label, we like ownership of all of our stuff. We’re a “niche band” and that’s kind of the way we like it. We’re not fooling ourselves. We’re playing psychedelic music not “psych” but we play psychedelic music. There’s a part of it where we don’t really believe it should be popular. Because psychedelic music hasn’t been popular… it really hasn’t ever been popular, maybe from ’66 to ’68?
Besides maybe when the Nuggets Compilations started to come out…
But even that was never on a level where it was the mainstream. So I mean, there’s a difference between “Psychedelic” and “psych” music today, and we like to think that we’re the Psychedelic one and not the other. We’re into songs.
You’re not as into the trippy, long-winded jams…
We have elements of it, but that’s usually one or two songs on our records, not every song on every record. Not to say what other people are doing is negative, but we like to mix the great psych records that we’re all influenced by from the ’60s. We take elements of folk, country, blues and it’s all meshed. It’s like an experiment, it’s not just a drone, but there’s elements of that too.
“Psych” has become this broad umbrella term it seems like…
It’s a little bit too broad, there’s not a lot of “Psych” music at this festival.
Yea, I mean when you think of a band like The Zombies, they’re a pop group.
Odessey and Oracle was psychedelic.
That’s true, then bands like Of Montreal are playing too, and I wouldn’t necessarily called them “Psych”. I think this festival alone is broadening the idea of “Psych”.
Yea, well our friend, Adam, who’s the leader of The War on Drugs was just sitting here and saying “I don’t even know what I’m doing here, I’m not psych”. At first, I think they wanted to try to have the bands that play here every year do every other year. But now it’s almost like they’ve run out of psychedelic bands, so there are bands that are getting recycled. The Warlocks played the pre-party with us the other night and they played the fest last year, we played two years ago. I’d rather see the bands keep coming back every year. Brian Jonestown was just here two years ago, the year we played. We’ve played this three times including this year and we want to do it every year.
They do bring in some new acts every year, I just talked to Zombie Zombie who are a great duo from France, and there are lot of other smaller acts that The Black Angels are finding out on tour and bringing back for the fest.
That’s right, and the other thing that’s beneficial for us is that we can tour around the U.S., which is not an easy thing to do, and play to the same amount of people that we would play to at this fest. It’s a very centralized, focused, group of people. Why not keep coming back? This is what we want to do.
As far as I’m concerned, and among my friends that are into psych music, you guys are up there at top. Alongside bands like The Brian Jonestown Massacre and the other greats from the last couple of decades.
That’s cool, we always like to think that we’d be the kind of band that in 20 years people are looking back and saying “God damn, these guys put out 10 records of psych…”, the way that we look back on our biggest influences now. The bands that we’re most inspired by nobody’s ever heard of them, you know what I mean. Bands like Kaleidoscope and The 13th Floor Elevators and all of that they weren’t really known in their time.
I got to see Kaleidoscope last year and they were amazing. Peter Daltrey is one of the greatest people I’ve ever met and that album you did with him is fantastic.
That was a very defining moment in our lives.
How did that come about?
The short of it is that we had a friend in common and we played this show in some backwoods place in Pennsylvania somewhere and he was the opener, Damien Youth, he’s here actually. He knew Peter personally and told us he wanted to make a record with an American band and he said you guys have to talk to him. So we got in touch and talked about a process and got a starting point on what he wanted it to sound like. He talked about how he wanted to do an American folk-rock album, like The Byrds. So we started writing the songs. What we did was I wrote the songs thinking the way I would write melodies or lyrics over them but we took everything off and left them open. We sent them over to him, he wrote everything, sent them back to us, we re-worked the songs to work with his lyrical phrasing and met him in LA to play a couple of shows and then had him record his vocals live on our music.
It became a really beautiful relationship, we played with him in England when we were up there last fall. Now we’re talking about having him come to California to do another thing, a follow-up, where we could all be in the same room from start to finish.
You guys have to tour again, I haven’t seen you in Chicago in a long time.
Chicago’s been tough, we’ve been through there a bunch of times and there were always like 9 people there. It sucks.
That’s a shame… I keep seeing you guys do these West Coast dates and I’m waiting for a Chicago date.
Well, I mean we lived on the East-coast for a while, we did Philly, New York, DC, Boston, so many times and it just got old. Driving up and down the New Jersey Turnpike will make you want to blow your head off. Some of our favorite tours were in Europe or along the Seattle to San Diego route, so we said you know what, let’s just move out there and do that for a while. So as much as people want us to come back to New York and Philly and Chicago, we’re really in no rush. We do much better in Europe and it takes a lot resources for us to have a successful tour in the US.
If we could get on a bill with a headliner like we’ve done in the past with Brian Jonestown Massacre, we’d do it. We gotta play the game that fits us best at this point, the same way we are with our records and all that other stuff within our lives. We have to be the same way about touring. We’d rather do this and make people want to come out and see us rather than tour to much and wear ourselves down. We want to be more strategic about it.
The band’s latest self-titled record, The Asteroid #4, is now available on Vinyl, CD, & Digital Download. The limited first run on CD & vinyl has already sold out but Pre-Order’s are available for the next round of vinyl via the UK record label Bad Vibrations. For more on The Asteroid #4 check out our review of their latest record and follow the links below.