Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Interview with Lumerians

Lumerians is a stalwart, psychedelic 4-piece band (Tyler Green, Marc Melzer, Jason Miller, Chris Musgrave) from San Francisco emerging from a very long line of eccentrics, kosmische journeymen, and folk art propheteers. Though one might originally be drawn to think of bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother & The Holding Company, Lumerians self-identify more with the weirdo transgression of Chrome and Tuxedomoon. It makes sense because as much as geography plays a role in the band's story, their music is in the vein of krautrock forefathers Neu! & Ash Ra Tempel, or maybe it's more reminiscent of discombobulated multi-instrumentalist Bruce Palmer. It doesn't matter. Anyway you slice it, Lumerians is no stranger to the weird and the far-out.

Transmissions from Telos vol. III (link is a full album stream) is the newest LP from a confident band making improvised music. Clearly they have technical chops, but Lumerians also possess a rarity in psychedelic music: they know restraint. Rather than an all-out wah freak fest, Lumerians prefer a gentle churn that wafts into a mind-melding gyre before gently, lovingly bringing the listener back down to planet earth, perhaps a bit changed.

The band's entire discography is worth a listen, especially if you're in the mood to tune in and drop out of life for a few hours. Lumerians also plays Chicago's mini-psych fest Levitation at Thalia Hall on March 13 & 14.

Jordan Reyes: Two specific themes I've noticed throughout your work, especially in your titles, are outer space and the future/change - elements of science/speculative fiction. How are science/speculative fiction and its themes important to your work? Does it affect more than labeling your pieces?

Lumerians: What draws us to science fiction, themes of outer space, projections of the future and even psychedelia is really the same thing. Imagining greater possibilities or other ways of being: alternative types of existence. Even forgetting the world’s weight of suffering for a moment can be useful. Human civilization is broken on nearly every level. It’s understandable to look around and read the news and respond by saying we’re doomed and make bleak, apocalyptic art. It’s a greater challenge to imagine and propose other options. We don’t have any answers, but if we can inspire the minds of thinkers among us and in the future at least be a link in a chain of thought that poses a useful alternative to impending doom then we’ll be successful.

JR: Another element brought up in your work, especially the titles of the two parts of "The Weaning and the Dreaming," is consciousness. I often where consciousness comes from: I ask myself if the human brain and nervous system play the role of a shaman transporting consciousness from somewhere else. Do you have any ideas about what consciousness is or where it comes from?

L: We certainly have ideas. If the universe is a singular organism, viewing yourself as a self, as separate, singular and removed limits your receptiveness to an unlimited well of knowledge and inspiration. The human brain and nervous system may just be a receiver, processor, and conduit. 

JR: Do you think that reality is as it appears? Can a person rely on any sensory experience to grasp any sort of truth?

L: No.

JR: Okay, let's get into your tunes. You guys just released your second LP titled as part of a series of Transmissions from Telos. What's Telos and what is the purpose behind having a series?

L: Going back to the question of consciousness, Transmissions from Telos are collections of spontaneous compositions. Most of the pieces were never played before or since. New Telos is the name we’ve given to our recording studio, which would imply there is an old Telos. A transmission from Telos is like speaking in tongues, but through instruments: a piece of music that comes from our collective subconscious or possibly Telos and then is re-transmitted from New Telos to you. We are fortunate to be able to record most of our improvisations, which are the impetus to all of our songs. Some come out more fully formed than others. Whereas with records like Transmalinnia or The High Frontier, we start with improvisations and then through conscious selection, repetition and editing carve them into repeatable songs that are more processed and polished, transmissions are much more raw.

JR: The two records have exotic birds on the covers too. Why? Are you guys big bird fans?

L: We love Big Bird but it’s quite heartbreaking to see him so strung out nowadays. We blame Oscar.

JR: Outside of the Telos series, you guys have had some pretty far out covers. Do you guys make the artwork yourself or is it someone else who does it for you?

L: Transmalinnia was the work of the immensely creative 50s outsider artist Eugene Von Bruenchenhein. The High Frontier was a piece by contemporary Brazilian visual artist Bruno 9li (Novelli). Transmissions from Telos Vol. IV and III were designed by our friend Adam Keller. In the case of Transmalinnia and The High Frontier, we found artwork that strongly resonated with the music and themes we were exploring at the time.

JR: What instruments appear on Transmissions from Telos III? For instance, the first track seems to have some basic stuff like bass, guitar, and drums, but there are some really awesome electronic instrumentation vibes that slither on top of your groovy backdrop. What are you guys playing?

L: We are growing a pretty eclectic collection of instruments in the studio, some contemporary and some vintage. There's a couple contemporary synths like The Music From Outer Space Soundlab mini synth and Arturia Minibrute both going through a lot of pedals. There's an old Sequential on a couple tracks, a bit of the Vox Super Contintental that's been on most Lumerians records and a couple tracks have a Wersi DX400 on them, which is a bizarre German digital synth/organ from the 80's. Marc even got to break out the vibraphone a little.

JR: How much of your music is improvised and how much is written down?

L: Again, all of our music starts as improvisations and then is structured and learned. What you hear during a live set is largely rehearsed, though there are often passages in “written” songs that allow for flourishes of improvisation. We want to deliver a great show. Though live improvisation can be amazing and transcendent, there’s about an 80/20% split between mediocre jamming and greatness with the majority weight on the side of mediocrity - and that’s if you’re very very good. If you’re lucky and we feel inspired to do so, we may channel a spontaneous composition during a live performance. We've only allowed that to happen a few times, but there’s always the potential for it to happen again.

JR: Do you think there is a certain power that comes from improvised music that eludes a written, overtly controlled piece?

L: There definitely can be. At its best, improvised music can be an ecstatic, transcendent, even spiritual experience and knowing you’re experiencing something ephemeral makes those experiences even more powerful. At its worst, improvisation can be unlistenably plodding, uninspired or unforgivably self-indulgent.

JR: There's a long history of psychedelic music from San Francisco. I'm sure it's unavoidable, and maybe even annoying. Do you think that the history of the town's psychedelic scene at all informs or influences your music? 

L: In addition to San Francisco’s history of psychedelic music, there’s a much larger history of weirdos, freaks and outsiders that have been drawn to this area. Anton LeVay started The Church of Satan in San Francisco. Jim Jones had The People’s Temple in San Francisco before relocating to Jonestown in Guyana. We also had the Beats, the Diggers, Hell’s Angels, etc.  Musically, I think we have a stronger simpatico with San Francisco weirdos like Chrome, Tuxedo Moon or The Residents than with Jefferson Airplane or the Dead. San Francisco is a boom/bust town. Since the gold rush, there’s been an endless succession of waves, each displacing and reshaping what rode in on the one before. There’s something about that energy and potential to reimagine and redefine yourself that has historically made San Francisco a hub of alternative thought. Things are not very fertile for us in San Francisco right now, which is why we relocated to Oakland a few years back, but the current wave is bound to crash sooner or later and San Francisco will get weird again.

JR: Do you think you guys will tour the record?

L: We’re already in the midst of recording a new album but we may learn to play one or two songs from TFTIII and work it into our live set. 

JR: What all is in the future for Lumerians?

L: We’ll be in Chicago to play the Levitation festival in March and then tour Europe in the Fall. Right now we’re working on a record of more structured songs that could feel like a departure from our previous recordings. Lumerians is really about exploration so we usually operate with the concept of a future that is unclear to oursleves.

JR: Anything else you'd like to say?

L: Thanks for listening.

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