Leon (V)

Psychic Milk at the HiLo Club

The Interview

Psychic Milk Interview

I sat down to inter­view youth­ful neo-psy­che­delic rock­ers Psychic Milk after after they opened for Kill the Reflection at Oklahoma City’s HiLo Club. Guitar play­ers Leon Manson and Justin Hogan, bassist Brandon Wilson, and drum­mer Charlie Marsel drove down to my house in Norman after classes — all the band mem­bers attend OCU’s Academy of Contemporary Music — to answer a few questions.

Also in this inter­view we fea­ture an exclu­sive 1st lis­ten to Orion’s Destruction Buckle.

Leon (I)
Leon (I) — Psychic Milk, HiLo Club, Oklahoma City

Mercury Photo BureauWho started the band?

Leon MansonWell, me and Charlie [Marsel] were liv­ing together […] and then we met Justin at ACM, and we were just kinda sit­tin’ around, and I’d just quit the band I was in, Moon, and I was kinda startin’ to write with Sonic Violence […] and we kinda just all gath­ered ’round 1 day and asked, Why the f*ck aren’t we all in a band together?

MPBWere you all in bands?

Justin HoganI’d just got­ten out of 1. I was in a band called Unmarked Cars, and we’d just bro­ken up. You meet peo­ple at ACM and you see who’s good and who’s got some bril­liance in them, and you want to work with those peo­ple. Mutual admi­ra­tion and them being cool peo­ple [brought us together].

Brandon (II)
Brandon (II) — Psychic Milk, HiLo Club, Oklahoma City

Brandon WilsonI don’t think we could be in a band together, if we didn’t like each other.

MPBSounds like the stars lined up for you. Brandon, you have some­thing to add?

BrandonI don’t think it’s a coin­ci­dence that we started as David Goad‘s back­ing band. I was fresh out of high school, and that’s how I met all of these guys, and even­tu­ally ended up play­ing with David.

MPBWere all of you in band or orches­tra in high school?

JustinI was in band for maybe, 6th through half of 8th grade. [I played] alto sax­o­phone, but I got a cheesy lit­tle key­board for Christmas when I was 13, and I was like, F*ck sax­o­phone, man; this thing is cool!

Charlie MarselI was in per­cus­sion ensem­ble […]. I played vibra­phone in jazz band, and drums, later. There was an age-based hier­ar­chy. I was in jazz band for 2 years, and also in pep band. That was lame. [laughs] And also gui­tar ensem­ble, which is weird, ’cause I’m not very good on guitar.

BrandonI had my fin­gers in all the pies. Choir, band from the mid­dle of 6th grade through the end of high school.

MPBEverbody in the band sings, right?


MPBWere you the kind of kid who went around the house singing all the time?

Charlie (IV)
Charlie (IV) — Psychic Milk, HiLo Club, Oklahoma City

CharlieEvery lit­tle kid sings. Every one of us was a singer before, but none of us was singing in a band — most of us played instru­ments. Psychic Milk meant learn­ing how to sing again.

MPBWho writes the lyrics?

AllAll of us.

JustinDepends on the song.

LeonThere are some songs with a verse by 1 per­son and a cho­rus by another per­son. Justin […] has writ­ten a lot of the lyrics.

JustinAnd it’s cool. I’ve been in sit­u­a­tions where you’re in a group, and 1 per­son does that, and that’s their depart­ment. This is fun; it’s kind of ‘Beatle-ey’ to me, just because every­body contributes […]

MPBDo you find your­selves hav­ing a song idea out­side the group, maybe sketch­ing it out a bit, before bring­ing it to the others?

LeonYeah. Somebody will be like, Here’s this chord pro­gres­sion I have, [and] we’ll kind of sit around together, jam it out […] until we have some­thing we like.

Justin (I)
Justin (I) — Psychic Milk, HiLo Club, Oklahoma City

Justin It’s fun, because there’re times when everybody’ll bring some­thing, and it just trans­forms into some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent than what I thought of, or what you guys might have thought of […]. You give off some­thing, and it echoes around every­body, and it comes back and it’s this bet­ter thing [that] I wouldn’t have thought to do in a mil­lion years […].

MPBDo you guys have song­writ­ing ses­sions, where you’ll say, we’re going to write 3 songs in a cer­tain time span?

LeonWe’ve done that a few times. It’s based on how we’re feel­ing; there’s not a whole lot that can be done chas­ing the muse; instead, I’ll call some­one and say, Hey, man, I’m in a writ­ing mood. You want to get together and make some music? Everybody has dif­fer­ent sched­ules; there’ve been a few times when we got together and said, Okay, every­body, we need a new song, and we’ll write a new song, but it’s usu­ally not in any thought out way; it’s usu­ally hap­pens spontaneously.

JustinIt depends on the cir­cum­stances. We’ve got this show, we’d bet­ter have some new mate­r­ial. That’s how Orion’s Destruction Buckle came about.

MPBTell me about Orion’s Destruction Buckle.

BrandonIt was a [chord] pro­gres­sion I’d been mulling over for a while. I think it came from a school project I was work­ing on; it was more-or-less sound design, rather than com­po­si­tion, but I kind of built it all up just to break all it down, elec­tron­i­cally, just for the root idea. It was just 3 or 4 key­board parts all sequenced and then [arranged for gui­tars and bass], and Charlie plays key­board on that, as well […]. We all have other projects going on, where we think, This could go with Psychic Milk, or it could go with [another project].

JustinOn another note, I’d like to men­tion that Brandon is our Chief Science Officer. He is wear­ing blue right now; he’s got his pin. This guy’s a genius.

[Brief dis­cus­sion between Brandon and myself about sound designer and film edi­tor Walter Murch — Ed.]

CharlieWhat’s cool about the way Orion came about is that Brandon brought in the embryo, the key­board parts and the sequences, and I was inspired to extrap­o­late from that onto the drums. It’s actu­ally fun to play, too.

Psychic Milk — Orion’s Destruction Buckle

MPBIf you guys had to mar­ket your­selves, if an A&R man were sit­ting in the room with you, and said, We need to put you in a genre, so we can sell your music, how would you describe the band?

CharlieDidn’t we decide “comic book-core”?

Leon (VI) (Thrashing)
Leon (VI) (Thrashing) — Psychic Milk, HiLo Club, Oklahoma City

Leon I really hate the term “psy­che­delic rock,” because it’s so played out, and it’s such a thing for bands from Oklahoma to be cat­e­go­rized with the Flaming Lips. When we talked to A&R guys [in the past], it’s like, Oh, psy­che­delic rock, Oklahoma, Flaming Lips, that jump hap­pens so quickly, I hate to even throw that out there, but it’s kind of the only thing that works. I like to think of it as just rock & roll music […]. It’s like if Brian Eno and David Bowie had some weird, f*cked up space-child, and then that kid grew up lis­ten­ing to noth­ing but the Who and Dinosaur Jr. And Black Sabbath.

MPBThat works for me. When you started with Eno and Bowie, well, they actu­ally did what you describe [when they col­lab­o­rated on the Berlin tril­ogy], but when you throw those other ele­ments in, it makes per­fect sense.

JustinWell, what did you think?

MPBI was hav­ing a hard time peg­ging it, fig­ur­ing out who your influ­ences were. It was a lot eas­ier, Justin, when you did your 2nd set with David Goad; the visu­als are a pretty good clue there. He clearly takes his look from [Ziggy Stardust-era] Bowie and [Bauhaus’s] Peter Murphy. As far as your sound goes, I was hav­ing a hard time fig­ur­ing out, Who do these guys lis­ten to?

JustinI’m proud of that. I like that.

CharlieWe all have such dif­fer­ent influ­ences, that also over­lap in dif­fer­ent ways for each per­son, that when it all comes together — I mean, we’re all proud of our influ­ences, and we’re wear­ing them on our sleeves in a way, but at the same time, altogether —

Justin (IV)
Justin (IV) — Psychic Milk, HiLo Club, Oklahoma City

JustinIt’s dif­fer­ent than with [David] Goad, because then it’s his vision, it’s his direc­tion, but with this, it’s every direc­tion. It’s like a hadron collider.

MPBWith [David Goad’s] Kali Ra, it’s obvi­ous that the front man is the dri­ving force, that the music is the prod­uct of a sin­gu­lar imag­i­na­tion, with you guys pro­vid­ing sup­port. I really got the feel­ing watch­ing you guys that I was hear­ing a collaboration.

LeonI didn’t know we had a front man.

MPBYou don’t, really. You have a singer, who also plays gui­tar; a dif­fer­ent thing alto­gether. Moving on, I’d like you to pick a song and redeem it. By that, I mean: choose a song that is usu­ally not per­ceived as very good, even though it might be hugely pop­u­lar or suc­cess­ful, but that you might not want to admit that you like, and tell me why it’s actu­ally a good song.

LeonShe Bangs, Ricky Martin.

CharlieWhat‽ [laughs]

LeonI have this weird rela­tion­ship with pop music, where I will lis­ten to Top 40 radio, and like, lis­ten to One Direction or some­thing, and just be like, Oh my god, these chord pro­gres­sions; they’re so f*cking epic, because there’s like, some motherf*cker sit­ting in a stu­dio try­ing to fig­ure out [what the the best hook is]. I really, really, really love pop music for that.

JustinLike he says, you hear the chord pro­gres­sions, and that’s just a par­tic­u­lar reflec­tion of those pro­gres­sions through that medium; it’s like when José González did [his acoustic cover of Heartbeats]. [Sidenote: Heartbeats is a song by Swedish elec­tronic musi­cians The Knife.]

Charlie (III)
Charlie (III) — Psychic Milk, HiLo Club, Oklahoma City

Charlie I grew up lis­ten­ing to a lot of 60s pop-rock; I really dig the acces­si­bil­ity of it. I under­stand a lot of mod­ern pop, but it’s hard for me to relate to it. I’ve been drawn to, mainly, Scandinavian bands, being straight pop, but I can’t under­stand it, so it’s just sounds I can relate to, like another instrument.

MPBI know I’m guilty of lis­ten­ing to a song, and, if there’s a really good hook, all I hear is the melody — I might not hear the lyrics till the 6th or 7th time through. As lyrics writ­ers, does that frus­trate you?

CharlieDifferent peo­ple lis­ten their own way. I was talk­ing to my mom yes­ter­day, and she’s never been able to hear pitch; she can’t sing; which is why she really appre­ci­ates the words.

JustinI think lyrics are hugely impor­tant. Whether peo­ple lis­ten to them or not, I have to be pleased with them.

MPBLyrics can be explicit, or they can be open to inter­pre­ta­tion, pro­vok­ing mood with­out a spelled-out nar­ra­tive, like the dif­fer­ence between prose and poetry. Do you take a more pro­saic or poetic approach to lyric-writing?

LeonIt’s gen­er­ally stream of con­science when I write. As we’re play­ing a song, [I’ll impro­vise singing, and I’ll deter­mine the mean­ing ret­ro­spec­tively]. I tend to mum­ble. It’s almost like with visual art, where you want peo­ple to have their own per­sonal inter­pre­ta­tion. I’ve always been the guy who messes up all the lyrics to every song; I’ll be singing, and peo­ple are like, What are you singing? Those aren’t the words! I like that; I want peo­ple to almost write in their own lyrics to what they think I’m say­ing, and draw their own pic­ture, as opposed to This is my vision, and these are my words! Hear them in your head, and know that it is true!

Brandon (I)
Brandon (I) — Psychic Milk, HiLo Club, Oklahoma City

Brandon I approach lyrics writ­ing from a cou­plet-based, rhyming stan­zas, for­mal­ist view­point. I’ve got, or I had, this weird obses­sion with sym­me­try and engineering.

MPBWhat’s a favorite song from your par­ents’ music collection?

JustinDogs, by Pink Floyd; it’s actu­ally from my Aunt Deb’s col­lec­tion. Ever since I was 13 years old, stand­ing at the bus stop after Christmas break, and it’s like, really dark because it’s not day­light sav­ing time yet, and I was freez­ing and I had this [Sony] Walkman, and I put this Animals tape in, and just the eerieness —

MPBThat’s a pretty dark album. I would have thought that would be pretty scary for a lit­tle kid?

JustinWell I was lis­ten­ing to KJ103 and Dr Demento, that was more my thing. Yeah, I dis­cov­ered that, and that song in par­tic­u­lar, espe­cially David Gilmour‘s solo. It totally changed my atti­tude [toward music].

BrandonFor me, it’s either Won’t Get Fooled Again or Baba O’Reilly [from Who’s Next] by the Who. My dad’s a big Who fan. I love the epic­ness, of form, of it being a com­edy and a tragedy, with so many col­ors in a sin­gle song. Even more so with Baba O’Reilly, because they pack so much into an even shorter song.

CharlieNowhere Man, by the Beatles. I was lis­ten­ing to the Beatles in the womb. Every day, I’d watch Yellow Submarine, and that was always my favorite scene, because of the char­ac­ter of Nowhere Man, [Sidenote: The character’s name is actu­ally Jeremy Hillary Boob, PhD] and also because of that song, espe­cially George [Harrison]‘s solo: sim­ple, but with a great pres­ence. That got me into want­ing to play music.

LeonWhen I was like, 13, I had a lit­tle record player, and my dad busted out his records, and the 1st one he gave to me, ’cause I had lis­tened to a lit­tle Black Sabbath before, but he was just like, “F*ckin’ Masters of Reality, right here,” and I seri­ously sat there lis­ten­ing to Sweet Leaf, like, 20 times, pick­ing it up and start­ing it over, and I was like, “Holy sh*t!” So yeah, f*ckin’ Sabbath.

MPBI’d like to thank you all for com­ing down.

All[var­i­ous polite rejoin­ders]


About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

↑ Go back to the beginning of this page.
Mercury Photo Bureau underlying-calculable