Interview: Weird Owl Talks ‘Bubblegum Brainwaves’ LP & More

Interview: Weird Owl Talks ‘Bubblegum Brainwaves’ LP & More

The Brooklyn-based psych band Weird Owl has just released its’ Bubblegum Brainwaves LP this month, and the band’s guitarist/vocalist Trevor Tyrrell was kind enough to take some time to to answer questions about the new record. Having played together since 2004, the band has a pair of releases on Tee Pee Records, 2008’s Ever The Silver Cord Be Loosed and 2011’s Build Your Beast A Fire. In addition, more recently, the band’s 2013 EP Healing, as well as their 2015 LP Interstellar Skeletal, appeared on Anton Newcombe‘s (The Brian Jonestown Massacre) label, A Recordings, Ltd. The group’s newest effort was recorded, mixed, and produced by Psychic TV guitarist Jeffrey Berner, and it even features a guest vocal appearance from the legendary artist, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Checkout our correspondence with Trevor below, as well as the band’s recent video for their Bubblegum Brainwaves‘ track, “War.”

LETV: Hi Trevor, thanks for taking some time to answer questions about Weird Owl’s upcoming LP Bubblegum Brainwaves. While it seems as thematically dense as previous efforts, let’s begin with some basic information about who played on the album and the instrumentation. In addition, I understand it was produced by Psychic TV’s Jeff Berner. What can you tell us about your working relationship with the producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist? Also, was the new LP recorded with him at Studio G in Brooklyn, and who engineered?

TT: The band lineup for this record was the same as it has been for the previous two: John Cassidy on bass and synthesizer, J. David Nugent on synthesizer, Sean Reynolds on drums and me (Trevor Tyrrell) on guitar and vocals, with some synthesizer overdubs here and there.

This was the third album we have done with Jeff, and there are not enough accolades or platitudes that can be said about what an amazing human he is or about his prowess in the studio. It has been great working with him over the last 4 years or so, as he really understands what we are trying to do, and he is able to make it happen with his wizardry.

We worked exclusively with Jeff at Galuminum Foil Studios, which works out of Studio G in Greenpoint.

LETV: On Bubblegum Brainwaves, Weird Owl continues to explore psychedelic and occult themes–as those seem hardwired into the band’s DNA and a mainstay of its previous efforts. However, we are told that the new record also reflects “our current political climate.” During the writing and recording of the new album, did the band find itself wrestling with those issues more so than in the past?

TT: It didn’t occur to me at the time of writing the album, but after we were finished I realized how much heavier and darker things had become for us. Far more so than our previous two records. I immediately recognized that this album was a sort of psychic mirror we were holding up to the world around us, and the reflection came back a bit more ominous this time around than it had in the past.

All art is made in a political context in the sense that it is made in a specific time and place in history, but not all art acknowledges that relationship to the greater world in which it is made. While our songs are not “Trump this” or “Muslim ban that”, I think we’re channeling some of these things through the Weird Owl machinery. I try not to be so linear or direct, but prefer a more surrealist approach. Art that is overtly political just comes across as pedantic and boring to me.

LETV: Let’s talk about the writing and recording, a bit? How does the writing of a song usually unfold? Does someone bring in an idea that the band expands upon? Also, how does the band approach writing lyrics? As the singer, are you mostly responsible for that aspect? Is there a song on Bubblegum Brainwaves that you can take us through, so that we might peak behind the curtains into the band’s creative approach?

TT: Our songs typically start with an idea that I’ve been tinkering with at home and then present to the band in rehearsal. Usually, there will be a really fertile writing period, where I come up with a lot of material at once, so I record little demos at home and send them out to the band. The ideas will come faster than we will be able to work on them in rehearsal, so it’s best to have documentation. Once we get into rehearsal, we will work out parts for everyone as well as the overall song structure, which might include some improvised additions that eventually become part of the final song. Then we rehearse it over and over and over to make sure we can play it inside and out. It’s at this time that I will refine lyrics. I usually start with a loose idea, but will just allow improvised lyrics to come out while we rehearse. Then before we record, I will write down final lyrics. I have a sort of mind-magic approach to the songs, where I create specific spatial realms for them so they exist outside of the sounds four guys can make at one time. This way, I can find them again and draw out more specific imagery that is reflective of these psychic environments. We followed this exact template with the song “War”. That started out as a jam I wrote on my acoustic guitar while sitting on my bed, but I could hear the heavy potential in it.

LETV: The Bubblegum Brainwaves track “Bartholomew Iris” features spoken word from legendary artist/occultist/psychonaut Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. The narrative follows Bartholomew’s dystopian attempt to change his life by changing his death. How did this amazing track come about, and what was it like working with the artist?

TT: While we were writing material for the record, I had the idea to do a spoken word track. I wanted to do something a little more avant-garde that maybe you would have heard on a record 40 years ago, but that no “neo-psych” bands are doing today. I wanted to explore the way a lot of country or blues music is narrative, but put it in a psych context. I had bits of this story floating around in my head as separate threads, so I sat down one day and in about half an hour, I wrote the exact story you hear on the record. I asked Jeff if he could ask Gen to read the story for us, and she agreed to do it, which was really pretty mind-blowing. The band laid down a 9-minute noise jam kind of thing with Jeff doing some live manipulations of the sound to create an insane sonic bed, and then Gen came in and nailed the story in a few takes one night. I am in so much awe of her. I really do believe she is a true artist, in ways that far transcend any easy definitions of that word “artist”. I found the whole experience equal parts terrifying and inspiring. Gen is some sort of shaman, and I will leave it at that.

LETV: Like on the track just discussed, “death” seems to be an important theme on the upcoming record. “Bartholomew Iris” is followed by the track “Many Things I Saw in the Coffin.” How does the issue of “death” fit into your psychedelic vision? In addition, with life in our post-modern society becoming increasingly conscripted by group-think, overbearing job responsibilities, ubiquitous media streams, etc., can psychedelics break our cultural death spiral? Your music seems to point to that promise…

TT: Yes, death ended up being a big part of this album, and there is the mini song-cycle that starts with “War” and ends with “Tired Old Sun” that is a passage from annihilation to resurrection, albeit an unsteady one that is perhaps ready to die and start the whole sequence anew.

I think death is a massive part of the psychedelic experience: every trip comes with an existential panic that must be overcome. Gnosis ain’t easy. It’s not all frisbees and flowers, so don’t trust these psychedelic Peter Pan/Pied Piper types who go around promoting whimsical paisley fun all the time.

I think where this gets really interesting, as you point out, is that we are collectively experiencing some sort of cultural death trip. Whether or not this is an imminent mass extinction remains to be seen. However, there is a gnostic notion that we inhabit this Earth as a sort of perceptual prison, and to me that idea is fascinating. What we now refer to as “death” might actually be a dawning awareness of our imprisonment. All the crumbling reality structures we see around us may be imploding under their own unsustainable weight of falsehood.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that psychedelics are the key, but they are an available tool. But so is your own mind in a variety of different settings: you just have to learn how to hack out of it, but not so much that you can’t get back into it.

LETV: Weird Owl has been releasing albums for 10 years now, and Bubblegum Brainwaves will be your fourth LP. That’s quite an accomplishment considering how much the music industry has changed since your start and how difficult it is to keep a project together. What has kept the band moving forward through the years? Has life in NYC made it easier to keep the band together, or more difficult?

TT: For my part, I would say that making music is something I have to be doing. Whether or not there’s an audience there to hear it, I want to be adding creativity into the world. We’ve managed to avoid the ever-changing landscape of the music industry by basically ignoring it and believing in what we are doing. There’s a great deal of freedom to be found in not caring. My hope is that our music can maintain a certain amount of light so that is can be seen through the cracks of the collapsing castle. Maybe in a decade or two people will still be finding our songs and appreciating them, and that will mean a lot to me if I am still here to know about it.

New York City has also changed a lot since we’ve started this band, and she has become a far crueler mistress to us over the years. It is now a playground for the wealthy, which means that many independent underground spaces and resources have been co-opted or crushed by mega-corporations who wish to capitalize off of the culture they are stamping out, ironically.

Again, our music is designed to outlive these sorts of realities; I have often compared it to an eroding wind, which may take lifetimes for its actions to be complete.

LETV: Thanks again for taking time to answer some questions about the band and record! Before we finish, I gotta ask about the killer album art for Bubblegum Brainwaves. Who created the melting ice cream skeleton face?

Thank you! It has been my pleasure.

The album artwork was made by Dima Drjuchin. He’s a friend ours who used to be in the band Ancient Sky and now has a group called The Unconditional Love.

I approached him to do the cover, as I am a huge fan of his graphic art as well as his music.

We sort of collaborated on ideas for the cover, but Dima ran away with it and delivered us one of the cooler album covers you’ll be seeing anytime soon. Thanks, Dima!

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