I fail to understand how I could have overlooked San Francisco's ASSEMBLE HEAD IN SUNBURST SOUND in recent years (yes, shame on me). Fortunately the situation changed due to the last Tee Pee promo package, because it included their new and fourth studio album named 'Manzanita'. Since then, the disc is merged with my CD player and it wouldn't be an overstatement to say that I've become an addict. ASSEMBLE HEAD IN SUNBURST SOUND stands in the tradition of finest 1960's psychedelic rock and belongs unquestionably to the best current purveyors of that genre. Excellent craftsmanship, along with a good deal of ability to write soulful songs form the backbone of 'Manzanita' (review here) and their music has a rail of melancholic intensity and atmospheric depth which never fails to fascinate me. And if I love a band as much as ASSEMBLE HEAD IN SUNBURST SOUND, then I would like to know more about them.
So I had a couple of questions for the band to find out more about the people and their music. They have been here for relatively a long time, playing a lot of gigs and releasing their self-titled first album seven years ago. However, the past of ASSEMBLE HEAD IN SUNBURST SOUND does not have a major role in the interview, but more the present time. And this not only refers solely to the music but also to other subjects. So, If your curiosity is aroused and you are interested then I advise you to read on. Lastly, I wish to thank Dagmar of Gordeon Music for passing over the questions to Charles Saufley (guitar, vocals).
Congratulations to your new album 'Manzanita'! I'm utterly blown away by the record. What do you think about it?
Thanks man, that means a lot! I'm ready to make the next one! Personally we're all still too close to 'Manzanita' these days to listen objectively. I'm still picking it apart - finding things I wish we'd done differently. But there are lots of things on there we're all very proud of. And some of the more tuneful songs are among my favorite things we've ever done. Though now I think we might feel like we just want to do something completely bonkers and face ripping!
We're psyched about how the record sounds too. Tim Green is a fantastic engineer and his new Louder Studios is an absolutely amazing sounding room that really worked for what we do - killer drum sounds!
How long did it take you to record the new album?
The recording happened fast - a couple different sessions spread over a few months. And the basic tracks were done very quickly, save for a couple songs were tricky - typically the more restrained ones are a little harder to get. But I think we had all the basic tracks done in about three days or so. When those were done, we chilled out for the holidays and came back and did the overdubs over a few long weekends. I always really look forward to the overdubs - piling on the weirdness and color.
Everything leading up to the actual recording was harder though. Since 'When Sweet Sleep Returned', a lot of real, day-to-day life intruded on the band - breakups, long-distance relationships, being broke, losing day jobs, Camilla and I lost our Dad after a protracted illness. On top of that, we had to move rehearsal spaces four times, so we weren't doing as many of those all-night, easy-going jams. That's part of the reason the record is a lot more song based, really.
Who did the wonderful cover artwork?
Andy Ristaino has done every one of our covers. He's a genius. And a very hard-working, prolific one too. Initially, I'd talked to him about this idea of floating objects - of gravity gone wrong as a visual metaphor for feeling lost, overwhelmed and un-tethered. But I love what came back on the other end. It reminds me of something Neil Young would have done in the '70s in a weird way - especially because of the twisted ecological sci-fi scenario you can read into it - the Earth getting so fed up with idiot humans that is says fuck it and peels itself away and takes off. I doubt Andy ever saw Dinosaur Jr's 'Farm' cover. But I'm such a big fan of Dinosaur and Marc Sputsa's work that I really like that it ended up as a unintentional nod to those guys too.
It seems as if you have a good relationship with Tee Pee Records, because 'Manzanita' is your third album for that label. Why do you stick to Tee Pee?
Tee Pee just lets us do our thing. They always have. It's a rare relationship to have with a label. We don't take it for granted.
What would you do if you would get a lucrative offer from a major label?
If they gave us as much liberty as we have with Tee Pee, I'd be stoked. I doubt that would ever happen. Big companies can make otherwise sane people do weird things. Having money to get all my broken gear fixed would be awesome though! And it's fun to imagine what we'd get done with a little more time in the studio. We could do amazing things given how much we've learned about working on a tight budget.
What does psychedelica means to you? Is it only a musical genre or some kind of outlook on life?
Well, psychedelic experiences - any kind of deep sensory experiences, really - enable you to see the world beyond the social constructs we live in, which can really get you in rut.
Right now, people are down deeper in those ruts than ever. The whole world is flirting with these Orwellian/Philip K. Dick/Huxley scenarios come to life where everyone is plugged in, self medicating, and unable to see much of anything beyond what's most convenient. The Internet and all these tools of connectivity make people think they're more free and informed than ever. And in some ways they are, I guess. But for the most part it seems like folks can't extract themselves from the six inches in front of their nose and entertaining themselves immediately. They're like children, you know?
The Internet does amazing things - not least enabling interactions like the one you and I are having, and enabling curious people to discover different music and ideas. But for the most part, it's really just the biggest conduit for garbage ever created - a complete shit chute - and having a means to escape its clutches is a big deal.
Artistic experinces, natural experiences, travel, psychedelic music...all those things can extract people from the oppressive side of society and the internet and help a person constructively subvert those forces. I love that aspect of the psychedelic tradition and psychedelic music but any art and the natural world too.
What do you think is the difference between old Texan and old Californian psychedelic rock and which style do you prefer?
They're two sides of the same coin, really. The 13th Floor Elevators are one of the biggest musical influences in my life - maybe bigger than any of the classic California psychedelic bands save for the Byrds. 'Easter Everywhere' is just as deep and beautiful as a record can be - and is really kind of perfect convergence between West Coast and Texas vibes. That record has been a huge influence on Assemble Head from the beginning too. But I could never pick one style over the other as a favorite. I depends on the day and my mood. It's funny though - that duality of the Byrds and the Elevators, it's a very big part of Assemble Head's sound and approach - that blurring of light and dark.
That said, any of those generalizations - Texas vs. California, Velvet Underground vs. the Grateful Dead....those dualities rarely make sense to me or anyone else in the band. There's songs on Grateful Dead bootlegs that are as unhinged as 'White Light/White Heat', you know what I mean? I want to live in both worlds.
I've read in another interview that you hate the thought of being labeled a retro band. To be honest, I do not understand your statement, because your music is closely related to the late 1960's, even though there are a few newer influences. Moreover, you use old recording techniques. So, can you please explain to me your aversion to the term retro band/retro rock?
I just mean that we're not trying to re-create the '60s or facilitate some nostalgic experience for anyone. Clearly, we're influenced by '60s rock in a very significant way. But we don't long to live some illusion of what the '60s was.
This is the age we live in - you can't change that. And whether people relate to Assemble Head as art of just a fun thing to do on a Saturday night, I want people that hear our records and see our shows to be excited about what's going on in the present - and feel like there are alternatives to modern life apart from being glued to their computer or phone, that there's the potential - or reason - to keep being creative outside the bounds of the internet and TV. Too much nostalgia can blunt that energy a bit.
But we do love the sounds and textures of '60s rock. And there's a lot of emotion in those sounds. I absolutely love the sound of a Rickenbacker 12 string or a Vox organ. I love fuzz boxes. Those are my favorite sounds in the world, and they are rooted in and attached to '60s rock. But whether we succeed or not, we're trying to take those sounds and re-contextualize them - not recreate a Chocolate Watchband show.
At the end of June and July, you will play a couple of shows in the USA. When will you return to Europe? Are there any plans?
We're trying to make it happen. I'm sure it will. But we don't have a lot of dough right now. We love playing Europe. European fans have been so kind to us - really enthusiastic, willing to drop a line and write encouraging things. That support makes you want to keep going on rough days.
Do you tend to use a psychedelic light show on stage?
I wish we could afford to have insane visuals every show. It's so damn fun for the band and the crowd. We need to find a lighting man that will work for burritos, though.
I saw a big Tony Oursler show recently and it made me really excited about the visual component of things. We've been working on a video with our friend Tyler from the band Lumerians, who are very light show oriented - seeing those guys always fires me up about visuals too.
How the hell did you get interested in music in the first place? What brought you to the psychedelic rock community?
I grew up in a musical family and had older siblings with great taste and cool records. I was given all the Beatles records very young, and my brother gave me all his singles, which included things like the 'Eight Miles High/Why' 45, '7 & 7 is' by Love, 'Talk Talk' by the Music Machine...all the Creedence singles...it was an incredible education. Our drummer Mike was very active and interested in the more contemporary psych scene for a long time - playing shows opening up Sonic Boom's Spectrum and stuff like that. In fact, Spacemen 3 was one the bands that Jefferson, Mike, and I really bonded over in the earliest days of the band. In the beginning we were always trying to combine the sprawling textural aspects of Spacemen 3 and Floyd with Black Sabbath and Dinosaur heaviness.
As a band though, we were just lucky enough to have come together at a time when things were really brewing in San Francisco and around the country in the psychedelic underground. Ethan Miller from Comets on Fire, in particular, was enormously encouraging and pushed us to get things done. We met some very accepting people that, to our surprise, saw merit in what we were doing. That kept us on the path.
What's the last record you bought and what kind of music do you like?
I bought one of the new White Fence records - Vol. 2. There's some cool, weird treats on there - some of the Skip Spence and Syd Barrett nods are a pretty literal, but they're great and there are some really inspired moments and beautiful songs. The new Keiji Haino record is insane, and the new Six Organs of Admittance, with the Comets on Fire dudes as backing band, is a mind blower. The new Blues Control record is fascinating - I've had some very interesting half-waking experiences to that record.
There's not much I'm not interested in, with the exception of the chart-topping stuff, which is really freaking grim these days. It makes me feel physically awful. All grocery stores that play cotemporary pop should be forced to pipe in Fushitsusha for a day.
That's it for this month. Thanks a lot for your answers! Any last words?
Thank you for being interested!