Notes on the Duke City’s long-running psychedelic music scene, part three, it is to be believed:
For its psychedelic flava, Burque of yore relied on Lance Records bands—especially like The Kreeg and Lincoln Street Exit—to provide some semblance of a scene in the face of much more popular local acts that played instrumental surf rock or Spanish rock. On the fringes of all of that as one decade segued into the next, outrageous outliers like Madrid’s Family Lotus filled in, providing far-flung, trippy musical experiences on the forest’s edge.
In the ’70s Latin-influenced R&B was the thing here as the decade dawned. Later, clever cover bands and ponderous but somehow danceable yacht rockers like the Planets and the Soxx took over El Duque’s popular music scene, leaving little room for psychedelic sound flavors or their corollary astral experiences, especially at mundane locations in the Heights, places with names like Friar’s Pub and Alfalfa’s, for Chrissakes.
When punk broke in Burque at the end of that otherwise un-notable 10 years of self-indulgent local music making, slithery psychedelic music snaked in right behind and local bands like Crawling Walls and The Strawberry Zotz gained prominence while visitors from other realms, like San Francisco’s Korphu and OKC’s Flaming Lips began to make appearances in a nascent, city-spanning scene that thankfully included said Duke City.
As one millennium ended and another began, Albuquerque’s psychedelic music scene went underground again. And although aughts efforts like Oh, Ranger! and Mistletoe sported some psychedelic accoutrements, pop punk and metal began a wide, buzz-killing swath through the town. Those two sub-genres, along with the rise of hip-hop, served to submerge the more fantastical, loudly celebrating the supposed end of a genre that stood for experimentation and transcendent tuneage.
Luckily, like most things in nature that adhere to a cyclic existence, psych was bound to see a resurgence. That swing back toward the ornate and unknown realms of the musical mind came about 10 years ago in this desert town. Bands with names like YOU, the Holy Glories, Sun Dog and Train Conductor started gigging at the largely accommodating hipster central, Sister Bar. And so, a thing long buried became a beacon of black light for rocanrol listeners floating here and there in the middle of Dirt City.
Last week, Will Byrne, the bandleader of über-popular psychonaut music collective Train Conductor—which also features James Sturgis, Mark Campagna, John Deyhle and Andy Ward—stopped by Alibi HQ to review all of this heady information with me. As we discussed the advent of a new Train Conductor CD and subsequent hootenanny over the whole tripped out project he conducts, the sublime and substantial smoke of psychedelia filled the air, imbuing our conversation with wonder as well as a rocked out sort of new reality. Serio.
Weekly Alibi: For those readers who remain unfamiliar with what you are about, how about an introduction to Train Conductor?
Will Byrne: I’ve been a part of the psych rock music scene for at least the past decade. You may remember me from my first band, Small Flightless Birds. That was about 10 years ago. I left Albuquerque and that broke up the band, back in 2009. I moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to work for the railroad. BNSF Railway.
Wow, that sounds intense. Was that good work?
It was great for my career.
Were you really, like, a train conductor?
No. [Laughs] I actually mapped the railroad; I worked on locomotive databases.
So, like GIS and maps and that sort of thing?
GIS. I do GIS.
Excellent! I hear that’s a really happening tech field right now, as humanity tries to wrestle with all the infrastructure it has created. Anyway, that journey led you back to Albuquerque to pursue music further?
Well, I wanted to take a break from Texas, basically.
I get that. I was born in El Paso and my wife is from east Texas.
I fell in love with New Mexico, it’s an easy thing to do. I’m from Pennsylvania, originally, from outside of Philadelphia. I dropped out of high school and moved here when I was 16 and fell in love with this state, the colors, the land. It was my dream for a while to buy some property in the East Mountains. So I did that, I bought five acres.
That’s really cool that you found your home here in New Mexico! Did that move, that realization, come with a creative impetus to make music?
I would say so. I use my home as a recording studio. I’ve recorded [other psych] bands like Sun Dog and YOU out there.
So, what’s going on with your new album? Where is it coming from, where will it go?
So, I took a different approach with this one. I kinda let improvisation work to develop the sense of psychedelia. It’s a collaborative effort in that one of us comes up with an idea and then presents it to the rest. We flesh out the ideas in the studio by improvising around them. We embrace improvisation as a method that enhances the psychedelia inherent in our sound.
When you say psychedelia what do you mean? What does it really come down to with regards to that form in rocanrol?
It revolves around mind-altering substances, of course. I hope you’re not offended.
No, I don’t mind at all. I’m chronic. I smoke for medical and recreational reasons; but also for spiritual, for psychedelic reasons, too. It’s a peaceful way, you get to experience all sorta sublime things. Does your music engender those sorts of experiences?
Yes. Definitely. The new record, called Warm Adobe Brain, represents the evolution of sound through the psychedelic experience!
Where did the title come from?
There’s a type of Piñon brand coffee called “Warm Adobe.”
What’s up with that? Is that a warmer, more earthy flavor, maybe?
I don’t think there’s a flavor strictly associated with it. But one Saturday morning when I woke up, I was drinking coffee and, you know, warm adobe was now in my brain. I thought, “I’m going to record some warm adobe brain.”
That’s cool, that sort of casual causality, that’s like for realz surrealism. I think seeing the interconnectedness of everything is part of the psychedelic experience, right?
That’s for sure.
Besides strictly psychotropic influences what sort of musical or personal influences and experiences went into this new work?
Our bassist Mark called this album a result of me falling in love with a machine. I did the recording on a Tascam 388 reel-to-reel that’s been kinda tossed around the local music scene for some time. We took it up to Denver, had it calibrated, had the heads cleaned. We couldn’t find that sort of service in Albuquerque. I even asked John [Dwyer] from the Oh Sees! how to get it fixed.
[Laughs] That’s funny. I like John a lot; he has an encyclopedic knowledge of prog rock!
He’s also an expert on Tascam recorders! After that series of episodes, I sorta let the tape take over. There’s a lot of dubbing, which is interesting with tape. I never had the opportunity to edit tape before. Because of that, Warm Adobe Brain is a simpler approach to psychedelia.
So, is there a tour coming up, too?
We’re talking about it right now. Texas. That’s a possibility.
What’s important to you, now as you prepare for the next episode?
The careful placement and management of instrumentation. Also, I’m listening to a lot of Willie Nelson right now. And Suuns, I listen to a lot of that too.
I get it; it’s like all totally psychedelic!
Right on. I’m good with that.