One of the more interesting and exciting releases this year coming under the banner of psychedelic music has been the collaboration between Kandodo (Simon Price of The Heads) and John McBain (Monster Magnet). The fusion of two of psych rock’s more intense explorers created an album which was a shifting wall of sound where your senses were battered and then sent into orbit. Making psych in a classic sense with the onus very much on the motorik sound of early Hawkwind, Kandodo/McBain with Lost Chants/Last Chance tapped into a higher plain of consciousness usually unachievable without drugs. To find out more psychonaut Martyn Coppack catches up with Simon Price and John McBain to find out the inside story.
(((O))): How did the collaboration come about?
Simon – The Heads were invited to play Roadburn festival but at that time our lead guitarist, Paul, was busy so we thought about using someone else. We were big fans of early Monster Magnet, so, through a mutual friend, we got in touch. We ended up not playing live but did do the recordings.
John – I was really flattered that the guys asked me to join them for Roadburn, but I just wasn’t able to make it happen on my end. The recording studio has always been a comfortable place for me, so when they sent me the tracks that later morphed into Kandodo/McBain I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. And I didn’t have to leave the house! I mixed this record in my underwear. Not very rock n roll, but it worked for me.
(((O))): How did you find working with each other? What process took place?
S – We met only briefly over 15 years ago, at a gig in Seattle. This collaboration was all down to the wonders of the internet, Wayne, Hugo and I played/recorded in Bristol. John then worked on the material in San Fran, doing what was needed to make it into a coherent whole. A fair bit of editing went on. I would stick my oar in but luckily John was very patient.
J – Met at a show at The Crocodile Café in Seattle. My band shared a bill with The Heads. That was the extent of it. Or so I thought.
The process? They sent me 6 tracks. Drums, bass guitar and synth. Lots of space for me to work with. So I started piling on the guitars and mellotrons, chopping up what I had recorded, editing/rearranging the songs to make things more coherent and finally sending my results back to them for their opinions/critiques etc. There never seems to be any sort of deadline involved, so we were able to take our time and get things right.
Of course, the down side to not having a specific deadline is that it took several years for us to reach the finish line. But I’m quite happy with the results. And I got a really spiffy tote bag out of it!
(((O))): Did you find you had differing views on how to make the music?
S – We never really touched on that in the emails, we used a live band situation to record the basic tracks, just as we had always done. We obviously like similar gear from the golden days of rock (krautrock, Blue Cheer, stooges etc..fuzz, wah and delay were touchstones too). Some were jams we worked on, others were more finished pieces, not really songs. It was all quite loose though.
J- Not at all. We knew what we were getting into. Similar paths in music with similar likes and dislikes. On my end, the only difficulty was fighting the urge to turn everything into a massive wall of freak-out. Been there, done that. So the editing process became the most important factor in the creation of this album. Laying down the guitars was easy. Digging through dozens of takes and finding the little bits that were worth keeping was hard. These songs needed to have some clarity and space. Hours of guitar tracks were trashed in the making of Kandodo/McBain.
(((O))): Do you find the way you write music with your other bands affected the way you wrote together? Both The Heads and Monster Magnet explore the psychedelic, but in different ways?
S – I’m not sure how John used to write with Monster Magnet but I know that in The Heads we would take a riff and play it to death to see how it could go, then maybe try to arrange it, stick a chorus in or just keep it as a jam. Standard stoner work practice? Paul would show up with a riff and off we’d go for 20 minutes. Repetition always played a big part, still does. Hypnotic is good.
It would have been great to actually hang out with John and play in the same room, all amped up but we probably would have ended up with a totally different album. I like the intense but chilled vibes of Lost Chants.
J – My writing process has always been the same. Very close to The Heads method. Find a part that works, beat it to death, maybe add a chorus or two, run all of it it through an Echoplex and call it a day.
(((O))): What are the difficulties in working the way you did? It seems to be common practice these days but surely it can’t beat the studio?
S – I would have loved to play the guitar in the same room as John as, for me, nothing beats the rehearsal room vibe, chat, hang and play. It would’ve been great too to sit in on the mix, it’s a laborious part but a fascinating one too; seeing/hearing the textures ooze through, making those choices, discovering hidden gems. Might have made John’s task easier too as often I would say/mail ‘can you turn the drum or guitar up on this part?’ then next email ‘can you turn it down?’. Tweaks that could take minutes or days. Ultimately though, we couldn’t have made the album any other way.
J – Working like this has become almost “normal” to me. My past collaborations with Carlton Melton were done in the same exact way. And we live in the same city! My mastering business is also 99.99% virtual. The digital age has broken down barriers of distance and time. Anything is possible when dealing with ones and zeros. Having said that, the “immediacy” of being in a room with other musicians is still the best way to get to the heart of it quickly and honestly. No time to edit. It is what it is.
(((O))): Psychedelia is a strange animal and kind of transcends genre. What is your take on it? With having no particular “musical form” how do you incorporate it into the songs? What is it that makes something psychedelic?
S – Psychedelia is a many headed beast, some heads more psyche than others. To me it’s music that allows you to get lost in it, immersive and enveloping. I mess around with visuals, if they make me feel like I’m ‘out of it’ then I’d class them as psychedelic. Psychedelia should be hard to pin down, like a nebulous wraith thing that makes you go ‘wow’. Drugs might help but are not essential. It’s difficult not to go all Spinal Tap when trying to pin down the unpinnable. Dub reggae is psyche, ‘101 strings’ are psyche, Steve Reich can be too, it’s out there, man.
Guitar pedals, (fuzz, wah, phase, delay my faves) help to turn one note into a cosmic stream of sonic salvation (or slop, it’s a fine line at the outer reaches of psyche). I try to steer that line.
J – As I see it, the best psychedelia happens through a series of happy accidents. Music that tries to be “psychedelic” holds no interest with me. It’s all smoke and mirrors. And boring. The Grateful Dead, for example. I can’t listen to them. And I never will.
On the other hand, Hawkwind were a drug damaged punk band that made incredible psych music! Same goes for The Stooges. Their first album is a psych masterpiece.
My favourite psychedelic records are the ones that never intended to be psychedelic records. They just ended up that way. For instance, the Washington DC band, Void. Their split EP on Dischord, a punk label, is one of the greatest psych records I’ve ever heard. It’s a punk band trying to make a metal record. And the results are a complete mindfuck. At times It sounds like they are all playing completely different songs. It’s a fantastic mind warping experience. It’s up there with Easter Everywhere and Psychic, Powerless, Another Man’s Sac on my personal psych album top ten.
And Slayer’s Reign In Blood still gives me out of body experiences. It was my go to album back in my LSD days. It was all I could listen to. I had it on cassette. It was on both sides! How cool is that? Stick that in your cassette player with auto reverse, and your evenings soundtrack is taken care of!
The best psychedelia should take you some place. Even if it’s dark and more than a little uncomfortable. I’ll take Altar Of Sacrifice over Dark Side Of The Moon every time.
(((O))): And finally, do you have any plans for playing this album live together?
S – Sadly, I can’t see that happening. Kandodo have played 4 gigs in their life (over 5 years), not exactly prolific, like The Heads. Wayne and Hugo are also busy occasionally with Loop. It’s not like we can say, ‘see you later for a jam John?’ either. Shame, would’ve loved to.