Life's Sweet Breath - interview with Jeff Conaway

Brooklyn, New York's own The Psychic Paramount brings us another sonic assault of noise, psychedelia, and prog with their brand new album, II. Life's Sweet Breath got to talk further about some of the influences going into the new album.

Life's Sweet Breath: You did a small East Coast tour this past November with Maserati. How did that tour go, and are you guys planning on doing a tour in support of II?

Jeff Conaway: The 5 shows wish Maserati went well, and it was nice to see Steve Moore, who was on most of the shows, and A E Pattera, who was drumming for Maserati. We had toured with their band Zombi before.

LSB: It has been six years since Gamelan Into The Mink Supernatural; what was the band up to in that time?

JC: We were always active on some level. We did several US and European tours during that time. We did some recording, but ended up not using it ultimately. So we began the recording for II in late 2009, and spread out the tracking, mixing, and mastering instead of doing it all in one shot. It was a long time between records, but I would always prefer taking the time to hone something rather than wishing you had later on.

LSB: From first listen of II, there seems to be more space and breathing room in the sound as compared to your last record. Was this intentional or something that just came naturally?

JC: I think it was a pretty natural evolution. In a way, Gamelan is about this kind of maximalism; I think a song like “Echoh Air” exemplifies that approach the best, where there is a lot of space being filled by each instrument. Then you can contrast that with a song like “N6”, which best exemplifies a minimal approach to playing a song. The palette is very limited, there is a constant 16 note pattern that all three instruments are stating. There are minor variations in the rhythmic patterns, some chord changes, and a moment where things break out of that pattern. Having more sonic space allows you to play with groove more, and that is something that has always been important to us.

LSB: One of the most interesting things that some notice with your band is how the band is very rhythmic and have sort of a math rock sound, but still manage perfectly to barrage the listener with psychedelic noise. What are the band's, and your own, influences that attribute to that?

JC: I don't really think of it in a math rock way. We don't really disrupt grooves with tricky changes or pauses. Our particular combination of rhythm and psychedelia is us using the elements we love - we are absolutely instrumental, so you have to push other elements to the forefront. I always have loved music that goes somewhere else, for lack of a better term. You can achieve that with atmospheres and sounds, but also rhythm. There is a real pleasure in trancing out on a groove; it suspends time for a while. On the sonic front, Drew is great at getting a huge range of sounds out of his guitar and effects. Ben brings a lot of loops and recordings to the table that add to the noises, and occasionally I do some contact mic and effects live, a departure from drumming that I definitely enjoy in a live set.

As far as influences and inspirations go, I would just throw out a few that we all like for a range - Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, My Bloody Valentine, This Heat, James Brown, Can, The Stooges, Black Sabbath, Kraftwerk. Personally, I would add some stuff like The Dustdevils for their sonic intensity. Their album Struggling Electric and Chemical has always been a favorite, and they had a great drummer on that record, I think his name was Rick Nance, but I didn't know who it was for a long time, they only listed first names on the album. Tinariwen is another personal favorite.

LSB: You're actually the second drummer for the band and were in the band Sabers before the Psychic Paramount. How did joining the band come about?

JC: My friend Bryan Zimmerman knew Ben and Drew and told them about me when they were looking for a drummer for a tour they had set up with Acid Mothers Temple. I had been a huge fan of Laddio Bolocko, but I hadn't heard The Psychic Paramount or met those guys yet. We did the tour, and then recorded Gamelan, and just kept going. I was doing both Sabers and The Psychic Paramount for a while, but Sabers ended up dissolving due to various circumstances.

LSB: In this day and age you see a lot of bands "take advantage" of the ability to fill an entire CD with 80 minutes worth of music, and many times you hear lots and lots of filler. With your records, they are short and very concise. Is this sort of the band's philosophy on making a record?

JC: For us, I think it's definitely better to have less in terms of total play time than to strive to fill up an entire CD. We also didn't want to wait 12 years to release an 80 minute CD.

LSB: So how did it feel when you found out that NPR wanted to showcase your new album on "First Listen"?

JC: I was surprised, but really happy about that. I think it reflects the fact that people have much more access to music these days, so tastes have widened, and NPR is both reflecting and contributing to that. I would have never guessed that we would be on their radar.

LSB: Last question. What are some new releases from last year and so far this year that you have had in heavy rotation?

JC: I will just tell you what I've had in heavy rotation - Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, Alice Coltrane’s Universal Consciousness and Ptah, the El Daoud, The Flaming Lips’ Embryonic, The Roots’ Game Theory, Trans Am’s Thing, and very lately PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake.

-Jordan Leman, March 18, 2011