SOUNDTRACKING: With The Frontman Of “Psychic Ills” Before Their Electric Owl Gig

February 25, 2013 

by Daniel Colussi | For the past ten years New York’s Psychic Ills have bobbed around the fringes of the modern psych/art/freak-rock scene. Over four albums and more than a half dozen singles and EP’s they’ve covered a lot of ground. Their debut, Dins, was a masterstroke of psychedelic space rock. Universally acclaimed, it placed them way above their contemporaries. Less celebrated were their middle years – an abruptly stark second album and several EPs of throbbing, meandering group jams. During these wilderness years Psychic Ills threatened to drift away from planet earth completely, and the critical response was generally along the lines of, “What the fuck am I supposed to think of this?”. Personally, I dug their commitment to aimlessness; I’d throw on a record and let it waft through my apartment while I puttered around. On their brand new long player, One Track Mind, the band pull out the rug from under us once again. Never have they sounded so reigned in. It’s an album of concise jams – with recognizable choruses and hooks even(!) – recorded by the legendary Neil Michael Hagerty of Royal Trux fame. Currently on a three month tour of North America and Europe, frontman Tres Warren kindly responded by email and helped put Psychic Ills’ career in context for us, in particular their very excellent new album (which you can stream in full here).

What’s it like to transition from long, freeform, almost aimless jam music to the last two albums, which are more concise, direct, classic rock sounding? I’m still a big fan of freeform and aimless stuff, but I’m concerned with expanding the parameters of the music inside me. Sometimes I want it more concise. I don’t spend too much time making sense of it.

Does it feel fresher to be playing more direct music nowadays? I think it just feels fresh when you’re playing your newest stuff – the stuff you’re most interested in at the time.

Do shows feel different? They may be more dynamic. More song-oriented.

Did your approach to writing lyrics change with the last two albums? It just became more about writing a song. Sitting down when the idea is there. I was reluctant to do that before.

Does working in a more classic rock mode change what you want to sing? No. I just sing about simple stuff.

Tell me about working with Neil Michael Hagerty – how’d that come about? I had gotten in touch with him a while back about doing something, but the timing wasn’t right. It’s almost a coincidence that he worked on the stuff from One Track Mind because he got back to me right around the time we were going to start working on it.

I imagine you’re a Pussy Galore/Royal Trux fan. I heard Royal Trux first and worked back. I used to work at a few different record stores and found them that way. They were almost done by the time I got to them.

What did Hagerty bring to to the table? He brought an outside ear to the mixing. That’s what I was looking for. Someone from outside the band to apply their approach to the mixing.

How much was it a collaboration? He played some guitar on I Get By. I didn’t give any direction on that. He did backup vocals on Might Take A While. I had recorded back ups but wanted him to re-do them with him singing, and I think it’s better for that.

Did you record in Colorado, or did he come to NYC? We did it in Brooklyn and Neil’s stuff happened in Denver.

You recently toured China. How was that? It was crazy. That place is one of the last great mysteries. We loved it. The people we met were great.

How did that come about? We were brought over by a label that puts out bands from China and also brings foreign bands over to play. We were lucky. The band has logged extensive tour time over the years. I would tour forever if it was possible. Playing music and seeing different places and meeting new people is pretty cool.

What do you guys do in NYC when you’re not on tour? Play music, hang around and work different jobs to pay the rent.

(photo credit: Samantha Casolari)

Psychic Ills, Follakzoid (from Chile!) and Student Teacher play the Electric Owl Sunday March 3. Tickets at Zulu, Red Cat and Highlife.

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Daniel Colussi is the Music Editor of Scout Magazine and a contributing writer to Ion Magazine. A veteran employee of Zulu Records and tuneage aficionado, he DJs on an infrequent basis (about four times a year) and is a musician around town who plays in several ensembles.