Phantasmagoric Transubstantiation

Dig the Psychedelic Democracy of First Communion Afterparty

In our mass-specialized, RSS-fed, iFixated society, being around a full-on family like First Communion Afterparty is unnerving. It even feels a little cultish. Sitting on two worn-out couches in their tiny practice space in the Warehouse District, all seven of them listen to a Warlocks record over and over. They converse in concentric circles, each coming in a little too early, deferring a little too late. It's an overlapping septalogue about feelings and drugs and music that crescendos a mere half-hour in—as she listens intently to singer Liam Watkins describe the catharsis that comes from a beautifully played song, keyboardist Marie Haberkorn suddenly bursts into tears, a spontaneous combustion of empathy and mascara.

Watkins takes the waterworks in stride. "I've said this before," Watkins says again. "The reason this band works is because I think like a woman—I surround myself with girls who talk about their feelings." Lead guitarist Kieran Holcomb looks like he doesn't know exactly what to think about this. "I mean, look at Kieran," Watkins continues. "He's the biggest woman I know!"

The rest of the band (all but Watkins and Holcomb are actual women) coo over Holcomb. "Oh, come on," singer "Mama" Carin Burno says. "Kieran is just a sensitive, modern..."

Holcomb interrupts: "Straight!"

"...man," she finishes.

It's hard keeping the entire band straight, really. This latest incarnation is their fifth (or sixth, depending on which one of them you ask) since FCAP started playing together in 2005. Haberkorn blames most of the past shakeups on "boy guitar egos." Watkins, for his part, says this lineup, whose members range in age from 16 (blond percussionist Jane "not our Nico" Belfry) to 24 (Watkins), is his favorite. And while they appear to be a psychedelic hippie commune, FCAP collectively (of course) credit their success to a strict democratic system.

"We vote on everything," Watkins says. "Majority rules." The rail-thin Watkins, a Scottish-born former male model who writes most of FCAP's songs, is flamboyantly alpha in his own way. Yet he's uncomfortable in the role of egocentric artistic visionary, based on prior experience. "I've been in bands before where I've been frustrated being 'the leader,' constantly wishing somebody else would step up, and then resenting everybody when nobody would," he remembers.

"So there are no egos in this band," Haberkorn says. "We're friends first. Family first. Nobody power trips.

"But there are rules."

Rule one, no hooking up between members. "That is incestuous and that will never happen," Watkins says. "If two members were ever found cavorting, there would be two less members."

Another rule is mandatory practice every Friday and Saturday. And they stick to a disciplined regimen: If they have a show coming up, they will run through the entire set, in order, take a break, and then run through the entire set, in order, again. They hope their forthcoming vinyl-only release, Ever Lasting Live, showcases this observance of continuity. "It's helped us grow so much," Burno says. "We don't get into arguments about music anymore."

Their current lineup workshops every song as a group—voting on everything from the placement of a keyboard riff to the overriding tempo. "It usually starts with a chord progression," Watkins says. "And then somebody will feel something and volunteer to write something for it."

"And usually that's either Liam or me," Burno says.

"But the singer should be the one most invested in the lyrics," points out bassist Sarah Rose.

To a band committed to an entrancing psychedelic layer-cake of sound, the lyrics often aren't the most important element anyway—they're usually echoing someplace deep in the mix. "But I love Carin's lyrics," Rose sighs, clasping her hands together.

If a hyper-feminized, egalitarian-shambolic band like FCAP has an anthem, it's probably Burno's mesmerizing "The Ebb," which culminates in a mystical chant borrowed, with permission, from the Wiccan priest Starhawk: "We are the flow/We are the ebb/We are the weavers/We are the web."

They surround themselves with all the expected phantasmagoria: An Alice in Wonderland coloring book sits next to an ashtray; Holcomb references the use of religious symbolism in The Golden Compass series of fantasy novels; Watkins's boyfriend just gave him The Prism of Lyra (a book about aliens); Haberkorn implores me to check out Magical Egypt, a documentary available on the internet. And of course, where there is mind expansion, there are mind-expanding drugs—but FCAP collectively decline to discuss them.

"My grandma collects all our clips," Haberkorn pleads. Watkins admits to taking "his share" of acid, but swears that he's only tripped while playing guitar once. Besides, four of the seven members are underage, so even getting a beer can be a hassle at their shows. "And music is its own drug," Watkins says. (This is right around when Haberkorn starts to cry.)

The real tie that binds is FCAP's shared taste. Their sound derives from a soupy mix of records from their parents' collections—Genesis, King Crimson, Yes—and personal downloads like Jesus & Mary Chain, "early" Dandy Warhols, "early" Blur, and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Before they formed the band, they were just a bunch of bored kids isolated two-by-two in south Minneapolis, each certain they were the only ones into the kind of music they were into, not yet aware of the swirling, collective unconscious prancing in its purple paisley puissance outside their purely physical doors.

Whoa.

 
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