Sold as a record very much in the great Texan tradition of acid-drenched outlaw music, Seattle band Night Beats’ third album, Who Sold My Generation harks back to the likes of The 13th Floor Elevators, pre-ZZ Top band The Moving Sidewalks and Austin psych band The Black Angels. Psych rock aficionados will also applaud its nod to the defining Lenny Kaye Nuggets compilation. However, Who Sold My Generation is a groovy slice of garage-infused psychedelia that you can enjoy without a shred of that history.
It’s visceral, pounding and addictive. Some of the standout tracks on the 12-song album – and there’s more than enough to propel you out of your work chair slithering, banishing all memory of any kind of quotidian grind before closer “Egypt Berry” takes complete hold – co-produced by Nic Jodoin and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Robert Levon Been include “Right/Wrong”, “No Cops”, “Porque Manana”, “Shangri-La” and the irresistible “Last Train to Jordan”. There’s enough color and variation in their psychedelia to take in the harder pace garage-rock of The Stooges and MC5, to the rootsy R&B soul of James Brown as well as the Madchester sounds of The Primal Scream but of course, casting the longest shadow are Texan progenitors, The 13th Floor Elevators.
The Elevators exploded onto the scene in 1966 with Roky Erickson’s soul-wrenching shrieks in “You’re Gonna Miss Me” heightened by Tommy Hall’s jug-playing skills – yes he played an electric jug that gave the song that bendy quality. They went on to release three defining albums but not before Erickson was thrown into a mental institution where electric shock therapy did as much if not more harm than the psychotropics he ingested in that era. After health issues and many years in the wilderness, Erickson has overcome great odds and last year, amazingly, The Elevators were reunited to headline Austin’s splendid Levitation Festival.
“The Elevators were one of the reasons I decided to become a singer and form the group. I loved their attempt to play R&B music, but from a distinctly Texan approach. I’d say they have profoundly influenced the group, but it’s now our job to take it to another level in a new age,” said Night Beats frontman, Danny Lee Blackwell.
There may have recorded it on tape but this is no vintage wanna-be sound. It is a mirror of the current crop of erudite millennials who are inspired by music of all the decades. And rather than just be content by their peers (Temples) or their peers’ inspirations (Brian Jonestown Massacre) or even their parents’ record collection (Rolling Stones), a band like Night Beats goes way further back unearthing gems like Arthur Alexander, Lee Moses and of course, Erickson.
Taking it to another level also means incorporating social commentary of dystopian disfunction and disillusionment as the album’s title astutely alludes to. It is too easy these days to write music without paying attention to any of it but it takes balls to come out and make a stand. We don’t need all our musical heroes to do it, especially if they are going to be dilettantes about it but when they craft a tune so masterfully as the Night Beats do – we sit up and listen. And groove.
Do not miss this chance to catch Night Beats when they play the Rickshaw Stop on Saturday, April 2. With the proliferation of neo-psychedelia in recent years there is no shortage of psych rock bands but Night Beats have cultivated a reputation for electrifying live performances that precedes them.
On the heels of a hectic outing at this year’s recent SXSW, Blackwell takes a moment to speak to byteclay.com about having BRMC’s Been play bass and co-produce their new record; what it’s like being signed to British label, Heavenly Recordings which is home to UK psych rockers, Temple and Aussies, King Gizzard & Lizard Wizard; and touring with the legendary, Roky Erickson.
Examiner: How was SXSW – how many shows did you do?
Danny Lee Blackwell: We did close to 10 or 11 shows. We had a few unofficial shows that snuck up on us.
Examiner: “Celebration #1” the new album’s opener – it’s got an audio clip in the opening that reminds me of the opening of Primal Scream’s “Loaded” – where did your audio clip come from? It’s almost impossible to tell when the clip ends and your words begin?
DLB: There’s this guy who used to do film recordings it would range from the sound of peacocks to people on the beach with their families – recordings from the 40s, 50s and 60s. And he would have these really funny interludes where he would talk over the recordings – I heard that particular one I felt like it made perfect sense for our record and was kind of badass too. And I love his accent so I tried to bleed that element into my phrasing for the song.
Examiner: It’s also a real statement about the tape recorder or just the way we make music these days. It’s so ubiquitous thanks to the technology but there is a warning not to treat it like a passing fancy – “A device capable of capturing sound – a toy to amuse one’s friends and a then to be discarded like a fancy hat.” What were you trying to put out there with the clip?
DLB: The thing is it’s not necessarily about the tape machine but overall how disposable we have become as a culture. We do always record on tape because we like the aesthetic and how it sounds but the bigger statement is the treatment of our generation, our souls.
Examiner: Even the title Who Sold My Generation immediately calls to mind The Who and a whole history of American roots music that inspired the British Invasion groups yet it is very contemporary and speaks to the millennial inertia. Could you expand on these ideas what was on your mind with this album?
DLB: We deliberately left out the question mark. It is a statement of sorts but we want people to stop and think for a second. If you’re pissed off with what’s on the radio or going on in politics you need to think about when these problems really began, how it started and why? Where it’s possibly going? I wanted to start a dialogue – if you have ideas about what it is to have ownership of your self? It’s not giving any answers but talking, prodding … and of course you need to also have a good melody. If you can do both that is a bonus.
Examiner: You’re trying to talk about some very complex issue – for example “No Cops” the fate of African Americans at the hands of the police and “Last Train to Jordan” ties in with gospel music but is also a call to this generation to ‘get on board’ within this strand of psychedelia, do you see a co-relation between the times we find ourselves in and the growing rise of psychedelic music in all its permutations?
DLB: I think there are a few bands that do it well and others not so well. The Black Angels first record did that, they even had a song titled “Call To Arms”. Sometimes a song can get converted and its meaning changes because of a trend. Tupac was vocal about issues that made people think. The golden age of hip hop has seen a rebirth, Kendrick has shown some great insight into bringing issues from his town to a wider audience. He should honestly run for mayor. I feel that protest and open-mindedness should just be given, something that we all have the right to, not something that is a trend. There is a real danger when people perceive it as a trend or fashionable. So these ideas used in a franchise of hip hop – the message is true and effective when done right – the song is going to work and people are going to hear the message. Likewise, there have been movements in the psychedelic realm that have been useful in spreading the message. The vocalization of groups like Spacemen 3 and Stone Roses bring light to messages that permeate throughout social contexts and problems we feel in this country. They are brave and bold and I respect that.
Examiner: There is so much to love about this album – Right/Wrong, the horns on “Bad Love”, the surf-rock sound of “Shangri-La”, “Night Train to Jordan” I dare anyone to not groove to that song – one of may favorites is “Porque Manna” it’s got a Tex Mex vibe to it, can you tells us about the inspiration for that song. And you sing in Spanish?
DLB: Yes. It is in Spanish. But my Spanish isn’t very good. That sound started as a demo idea 2 years ago when I spent a lot of time in Spain – that’s where the inspiration came from. Then we were messing around with elements of that Tex Mex strain, then I thought it would be a good way to get people who don’t normally speak English to hear the record. The Beatles had songs in different languages which opened up a broader audience. I want everyone to hear these songs, and if it helps to sing in a different language, then I’ll do my best to learn that language, though I might suck at it. I have been thinking about trying to write songs in other different languages too …
Examiner: Like in French or Italian?
DLB: Yes but someone told me that I should stay away from German.
Examiner: I don’t know maybe you should do it in German just cause someone said not to – perhaps something garage-rock with a Krautrock propulsive beat?
DLB: Yeah, I think it has to be aggressive … (mumbles in mock German) That could work.
Examiner: Or if you went the complete other way and did a more spacey track with morsels of words in German, that might be interesting too?
DLB: Yes. (Laughs) That could work too.
Examiner: So you were recently signed to Heavenly Records – they were part of Sony and EMI for a while there, and now Heavenly is independent again, the changing landscape of the music business I guess – were you shopping around for a new record company at the time?
DLB: Yes we were talking to various labels. Heavenly stuck out for us. We had a show in Bristol or Leeds… and Jeff came out to the show to check us out and hung around to talk to us after – it made a really good impression on us. He was talking about maybe putting out a 7 inch, we hadn’t recorded the album yet at that time. However when the album was finished we were shopping around and sent the full LP to Jeff, he liked it and said yes. It’s been good. It’s kind of interesting being on an English label, I think we’re the only American act so far.
Examiner: Yes from what research I did. Heavenly have such a great reputation as well and Jeff Barrett is a legend, it’s quite special to be on their roster?
DLB: It really is. And Danny Mitchell has been great to us too.
Examiner: Does that mean you will be in the UK and Europe even more this summer to support the album?
DLB: We actually go pretty often as it is. There’s a cool following of rock and soul music there. It’s going to be great for us if we do spend more time there.
Examiner: It seems like you lost a bassist but then got Robert Levon Been to co-produce and play bass on Who Stole My Generation – I don’t think you could get a better outcome if you tried?
DLB: We went into the process as a two-piece actually – me and Traeger, and we thought we would be overdubbing the bass later. I usually write the bass notes and it follows from the melody anyway – and it works. But then Robert got on board and he came with these intricately prepared bass lines that he had been thinking about in his head for a few days. That was an extra step and those bass lines really blew my mind. He was also suppose to come to the studio for one day only but he stuck around for the whole week.
Examiner: Everything seemed to really come together for this album and you’ve been a big fan of his work with the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club?
DLB: Very much so. I have been listening to BRMC since I was in middle school. He actually came with our producer and friend, Nic Jodoin to one of our LA shows but I’ve also been known to wait outside his shows for the last 12 years so I had spoken to the man before. He had sent a letter to say how much he liked what we were doing on the UFO Club and would like to get involve. That would have been a good collaboration but it didn’t work out. But we got along great – we have an almost tele-kinetic understanding of each other and the music. I mean he’s been a professional musician his whole life and I have too but his got far more experience than me. But he is just a beautiful soul – I can’t say enough good things about Robert.
Examiner: You’re also a self-confessed Roky Erickson fan – could you tell me what about him and the sound of his music that really connected with you?
DLB: It’s the combination of that raw, stripped-down voice and his music which was inspired by James Brown. He was trying to sing like him but was able to pull that off under the Texas flag. It was also his lyrics and the message. I think he is amazing and a constant source of inspiration for me. We were fortunate enough to do this tour with him a few years ago and spend 5 to 6 days with him touring the West Coast.
Examiner: I am about to watch the documentary “You’re Gonna Miss Me” have you seen it?
DLB: Yes, be prepared – it’s quite sad and confronting.
Examiner: Sure and it’s amazing his story that he was in the wilderness for so many years and it looked like he could not even function, never mind go on tour. And Night Beats have had the opportunity to tour with Roky Erickson – did he have any words of wisdom for you?
DLB: Yes Night Beats opened for the legendary Roky Erikson. We felt honored every minute of it. I wish I had time to learn from the man. However, he his at a place where, just to be in his presence you learn from not saying a word.
For tickets to see Night Beats at the Rickshaw Stop, please click here. To purchase Who Stole My Generation please click here. For further tour details, see below.
Night Beats Tour Dates
Apr 1 Fri Natural History Museum Los Angeles, CA
Arp 2 Sat Rickshaw Stop San Francisco, CA
Apr 3 Sun Don Quixote’s International Music Hall Felton, CA
Apr 4 Mon Holland Project Reno, NV
Apr 5 Tue Urban Lounge Salt Lake City, UT
Apr 6 Wed Neurolux Boise, ID
Apr 7 Thu Dante’s Portland, OR
Apr 8 Fri The Observatory Spokane, WA
Apr 9 Sat Neumos Seattle, WA
Apr 30 Sat The Marc, La Luz San Marcos, TX