The Psychic Paramount is one of those bands whose music is supposed to “do” something. What sets them apart from all the other chodes who claim the same thing to make themselves mysterious and artsy is that their tunes really do do something, like make you want to claw your face in disbelief at the sounds that are hitting you. It could probably be described as good trip-out music, but honestly if I was on acid I would want to be nowhere near the degree of intensity they manage to eke out. They do a fair amount of touring outside New York, but if you live in the city you’ve got a better chance of spotting a unicorn during a solar eclipse then seeing them live.
Vice: You guys all live in New York right? How come you only play like two shows a year here?
Drew St. Ivany (guitar): The reason we generally don’t play around town is it’s easier to gear up for like 30 shows instead of just playing one. We’ll take long breaks where we aren’t really playing together. Once we get off the tour routine for a while we have to work ourselves back into it. The first couple shows are usually a little bit awkward cause half the material is loosely composed and then we just base our improvisation on that. Starting out, you’re just not as much in a groove as you are when you’ve done 15 shows in the last few weeks.
Is there a flip side to that though, where you’re in too much of a groove and playing the same thing?
It’s actually kind of cool when it gets really easy, cause then you don’t have to get yourself all psyched up to play. In the beginning you’re just trying to hold everything together and make it to the next part of the set, but once everything becomes old-hat then you can take more risks and that’s what makes playing a live show fun. Most bands just have songs that they play more or less the same way through every time, and I feel like that gets really boring. I also think the audience can tell when something is spontaneous or not, and it really makes things more energetic.
The music on that two-CD thing that just came out was all stuff you put together before the band really formed. What’s your technique for putting songs together?
All that music was made by automatic composition. None of the tracks on those two CDs were preconceived at all—it was just turn on the tape and go for it.
Just like straight through? Didn’t you have to go back and work things out in different places?
It was all first takes. On the second disc each piece had a bunch of different guitar tracks, so I did go back with it and mix them together to make them sound all right. But basically everything was first takes. That was sort of the premise of the whole CD—an attempt to capture something right at its first moment, rather than going back over something you’d previously come up with.
So it’s all pretty much just what you originally improvised.
I feel like there’s a difference between that and your typical kind of improvisational music. Improvising kind of implies reaching into a bag of tricks, whereas this tends to be more exploratory and winds up lending itself to compositions instead of just endless empty noodling. You just play one note at a time, then play the note that you feel makes sense coming after it, and all of a sudden you’ve created this unique sonic atmosphere.
A lot of your tunes are really repetitive, almost to the point of being hypnotic. Did you do this intentionally to wig people out or is it just the way things ended up?
Whenever you’re dealing with repetitive music, you’re going to achieve a certain effect in the brain. What the nature of the effect is depends on the style of music, but I can definitely say with our music it’s to achieve a sort of heightened state of mind. I would hope that the music itself would act in the same way as a drug. That’s also why we try to keep it as organic as possible: It’s easier to trance out to something when there aren’t a bunch of sudden stops and changes to distract you. And it’s also why we play it so loud—extreme volume has an effect on the brain too. I guess overall what we’re going for is to induce a certain sort of high with the music.
Are you guys aiming for one particular type of high above another?
Just by virtue of it being instrumental music there’s a lot that’s unspecified in the content. The upside to that is it leaves a lot of room for people’s personal interpretations. There aren’t words to direct you to a certain prescribed mood or to indicate what we’re trying to be about or the politics of what we’re doing or anything, so people can import their own feelings into what they hear. For instance, some folks have told me that Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural sounds like a really dark, evil record. But to me it doesn’t sound that way at all. I saw on a website that someone in Iraq cited Gamelan as being their favorite record to go out shooting people with.
Jesus, that’s pretty fucking rich.
Obviously this guy was getting that from it, but I don’t look at the music the same way at all. For him it gives him this kind of energy and inspiration to go out and blow people away.
Does it bug you that your music is this kid’s soundtrack to war?
I don’t condone killing people or anything, but I think if someone’s inspired by this music to do something by any means, I’m happy with at least that result. Most of the music I hear doesn’t inspire me to do shit.
By some stroke of fate the Psychic Paramount are playing tonight at the Mercury Lounge with Dalek and Destructo Swarmbots. Origins and Primitives Vol. 1 & 2 just came out on No Quarter, but you should also check out their first album Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural and the album they recorded during their 2003 Franco-Italian tour. Just don’t go out and shoot anyone after the fact, k?