Marijuana Deathsquads release Crazy Master tonight at Nick and Eddie
The many, rotating members of Marijuana Deathsquads have always had a tendency to do business according to their own unique sense of time. So it's not too surprising that they're just now getting around to putting out their first official release, even though it's been widely known to be in the works for several months. (For the better part of the last year, in fact.)
All the same, now that Crazy Master is here for all to see and hear, it comes across as a little confounding. After all, Deathsquads have been working their live sound up to a furious, surprisingly poppy pitch, to the point that they're easily one of the most exciting local live bands. And yet, with the exception of the title track, the album is largely slow and ambient, all but fading into the background on side two.
So, Gimme Noise sat down with lead vocalist, Isaac Gale, and band mastermind, Ryan Olson--hot off their month-long residency at New York City's Bowery Electric--to find out what gives.
Gimme Noise: We've been hearing that this album is going to happen for a while. When was it actually recorded?
Olson: We did a session with Joe Mabbot at McNally Smith for his engineering class. We'd go in there like Tuesdays at noon and just bring in what we could. We did four or five sessions, and that was just one of them. I think that was last March, maybe.
Gale: It was in the earlier stages of figuring out what we were doing, so [the sessions] kind of helped us with that.
GN: That makes sense. It's definitely slower than what your recent live shows would have suggested it would sound like.
Olson: It's a bit more poppy and action-packed now, but I think it's a good piece as an example for where [the band] goes. Sometimes we'll do hour-long drones, real ambient, nothing but a hi-hat set. Shit like that. I want people to not expect it to be, like, pop I guess. So when it does happen it's surprising, hopefully.
Gale: Our plan is to get this out, then hopefully keep releasing shit each year. We just recorded a whole massive chunk of stuff that's sort of more representative of where it's going--and then that'll be late, because by the time it comes out, we'll have something new [laughs].
Olson: I'd like to get it to a point where we can go in, bang it out over a weekend, and have a full-length. It's very possible; it has the option to be very streamlined. Assignments need to be set, basically.
GN: Your approach is based mainly on improv. Have there been particular things you've learned playing live that you need to figure out how to do in the studio?
Olson: Yeah, there's a way to take the language we have and that we've developed to apply that basically to written songs, which is what they'd end up being. It's good to go in there and just discover the song and let it unfold, you know? But no matter what, unless there's a specific direction going on, there's just a lot of post-production work. So you can eliminate that and still catch all the energy and all the vibes of it with enough of it mapped out.
GN: So does that mean that you have different objectives in the studio from playing live?
Olson: The idea is to kind of capture ideas and reactions, but you have to set it up properly... So you got to set some parameters, but it can't be so tight that you can't discover shit. You want to make it so you can have that sense of capturing a moment, all the time, but you don't want it to be this ambling jam-band bullshit... I think the more control we get, the farther out we can take it.
GN: From a lyrical standpoint, it's not always easy to tell what's being said, and when you can, it's not very easy to parse. How do you approach vocals in a band like this?
Gale: Recording vocals is a whole new problem for me. I don't necessarily care about lyrics that much, but when they're recorded, I want them to be fucking good. I don't always write [fresh] stuff; live, I have a pool of things I think are good and reuse them.
Olson: The vocals are a huge part of the sound. They supply the imagery and sense of overall mood. It's important to give Isaac and Stef [Alexander], or whoever, spots where it's sections you guys should deal with... If we can get that sorted, it's kind of where our dynamics are right now. Because the lyrics are a huge, huge part of our message--and the message is hopefully vague enough, more just a feeling, you know?
GN: I get the feeling that playing in this band is just a lot of fun for everyone involved, like maybe more than usual, even.
Gale: Sometimes it feels like we've invented the perfect band for, like, all fun and almost none of the headaches. We don't have amps, we don't have practice spaces, all we do is play live and learn how to do that better every time. It's sort of limited all the things I hate about being in bands.
GN: The fact that you've played residencies in other cities, rather than just going on tour, seems to play on that idea as well.
Gale: Right, and then we can play with all the people we want to. We might dream up someone we want to play with, like Eric Wareheim, and then play with him in L.A. It's a way to make magical things happen for us...
Olson: It's fun. It's really about building communities. Folks you know come on, and their friends come play with us, and tell their friends. Just the concept alone is enough to get people to want to throw down. So when we tour, we got players in all these different places.
GN: And yet you don't ramble on too much or go off on many tangents. The sets tend to stay kind of short.
Olson: In general, I like 20-25 minute sets, tops... It's really about our quieter dynamics, because our loud dynamic is louder than anything, anywhere. That's not a problem. [The goal] is to get our breakdown fully audible and legible, then you can vamp on stuff. But in general we like to be full-blown and attacking a lot of the time. It's like a hardcore band: it's better if it's a shorter set. No one wants to hear a hardcore band for an hour [laughs].
Photo by Steve Cohen
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