An Inter(re)view of The Big Picture’s “Psychic Psalms Chapter One”
If you remember seeing Manchester Orchestra way back when they toured with New Frontiers and Annuals, you may remember seeing the East Coast run of that tour where a band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina called The Never opened up for them. Possibly one of the most fun live shows I’ve ever seen was when they opened for Manchester at the Drunken Unicorn and played a longer set as Annuals was laid over in Spain… Crowd participation (not the kind that makes you wish you were anywhere else in the world), a drummer who played his drums with a flute, and I think instead of signing albums, they were drawing pictures for everyone.
Fast forward years later; The Never is on hiatus as their members are working for one of North Carolina’s most awesome labels and they’ve introduced me to an amazing group by the name of Lost in the Trees. Long story short, Lost in the Trees comes to Macon and impresses in every way Mr. Tunnell said they would and everyone has a blast (sort of). I get emailed out of the blue recently that a joint project from members of The Never, Lost in the Trees, and the Trekky Records family that has been in the works for a few years is finally completed.
I was given a brief description of what I was in for but I decided the best way to review this album would be through a series of questions that were written chronologically as I listened through the “mix-tape” for the very first time. Thus, here you have a one-of-a-kind, questionnaire/review of The Big Picture/DJ Gonzo’s Psychic Psalms: Chapter 1 with a few members of the group.
The Big Picture
TBI: Is that the Dalai Lama and is he saying “It is very erect?” (“The Awakening”)
(Jonny) Hah! That’s for you to decide. It’s Jiddu Krishnamurti but I won’t tell you what he’s saying. His teachings are amazing.
(DJ Gonzo) We enjoyed much of what Krishnamurti says about living in the present. What I like about it most is that he has a take on living for the moment that is not particularly hedonistic or overly self indulgent. He simply appreciates the current moment. I tried to cut bits and pieces of his talks that reflected that.
(Sarah) I’m glad you heard that too, Sean! I have thought this and kept it to myself. Good to know I’m not the only one listening that immediately went there.
Who is singing the background “ooh’s” on the second track? (“The Learning”)
(Jonny) That’s me… It’s so strange when you’re working on a recording project you don’t realize sometimes how much you sound like other people in the band until someone tells you they have no idea who’s singing! We trade off all the time depending on the lyrical content and who feels they communicate the message of the song best.
Also, is that someone beat boxing?
(Jonny) It does sound like beat boxing!! But it’s not… It’s me having way too much fun with electronic sequencers, probably drinking too much at 3 am and recording.
Where is Ari [Picker – LiTT] in the picture on your Bandcamp.. I only could recognize you, after about 2-3 minutes?
(Jonny) The picture on our page was taken by Tim Lytvinienko at a photo shoot on the roof of our neighbors house. It includes Alphonse (our part-time additional percussionist) as well as Mark Paulson, one of our favorite musicians who plays with us when he can. Not pictured is Aharon Segal (DJ Gonzo) who put the mix-tape together, nor Alec Ferrell (our additional guitarist). We all love the photo, although it’s not the exact cast you’ll see on stage for the current incarnation of the group. It’s ever-evolving, but the core of our group is becoming more solidified. Ari Picker co-wrote the song “Girl” along with Joah and I. Joah and Leah have played (and at times continue to contribute to) Ari’s group Lost In The Trees as well.
(note: You will notice that my question went unanswered here, as these guys we’re probably too busy starting a new band..)
You and Joah are singing the verses on track three and Ari is singing the chorus with those ladies? (“Girl”)
(Jonny) What an ear!! You’re good, Sean. Buuuuut Ari’s not actually singing on this song at all! It’s Joah first then myself then Carina Gibson (in choruses) who has one of the most beautiful voices I’ve had the honor of recording. She lives in Chicago right now and hopefully we’ll get her back soon. Ari wrote the chorus and Joah and I made the music and verses. We hadn’t done anything like this before so it was really fun to do a collaboration like this and it’s the reason why I chose to call these mix-tapes. I have big plans on who to include in the future.
“Girl” seems so reminiscent of a track that would have been on Antartica (The Never’s last release). Was it written around the same time that album was being written?
(Jonny) Toooootally. It was around the same time and has just now been finished! This whole recording process has taken Joah and I around two years to complete and I’m so excited for Chapter 2 and 3 because it’ll represent newer ideas.
Also, don’t every be sorry for getting a little weird.
(Jonny) Even if I’m apologizing because that “weird thing” included your mom??
(note: Jonny is a 25-30 year old child who has never met my mother)
Track four is my favorite so far. Props to whoever came up with that bass line. This would make such awesome music for an ’80’s cop drama, but the lyrics completely give it a different vibe. (I say that with my respect and compliments) What’s the basis to the lyrical content of this track? (“Monster”)
(Joah) Thanks! I love that bass line too! The lyrics came from having an older relative who developed dementia around the same time that her marriage fell apart. It’s a sad story.
(Jonny) The story behind this song is so heartbreaking however, Joah will eternally surprise me by being both the quietest person I know and having the ability to write the grooviest bass lines ever.
Track five starts off with quotes from a ’60’s or ’70’s acid test video doesn’t it? Who would that be singing also? (“Backyard”)
(Sarah) Hi Sean, that mystery voice would be me. The snippet before “Backyard” does in fact start with a woman being interviewed on her first acid trip. The way that she describes her experience in their exchange comes from such a pure, dreamy place and really sets the stage for the etherial content of the lyrics. I played this song for Jonny the first night we met. I wrote that song at a friends house, imagining running after an untouchable lover in her small forest of a backyard. Sharing that song with The Big Picture has transformed it from a simple folk song to a slick little lament. I love it.
What was the process for writing this album? I can imagine this calls for a paragraph long response…
(Jonny) It allllll started about 4 years ago… Writing songs while touring with The Never. When we’d get home, Joah and I would record the songs ourselves in the old Trekky house studio, which was a collective studio between Ari Picker and several other members of the Trekky team. All of my favorite records have ridiculous layers, parts that you can’t even hear on the first listen but a month later you realize there’s a whole bed of strings under a vocal piece or several different melodies layered over to make more of a feeling than a sound. All of that happened in various rooms of wherever I was living at the time. I was moving around a lot while going through a very painful divorce sooo it was quite a lot of different friends’ homes. Thanks everyone for letting me crash! Sorry for all the gear on the floor…big love ya’ll. The way I write is to typically start with the drums and before I have any music down, go ahead and start singing over the beats because i really like to not have to deal with any other music in my head to battle with what I’m trying to write. Joah will write totally differently because he, unlike me, is a great musician and can actually play guitar at the same time he’s singing… I have no idea how he does that…
The album ends with the lines “I’m not the man I thought I would be/Somewhere I get left” (??) but continues on for the remaining 2 1/2 minutes in a strangely beautiful and truancy ending. Does the song purposefully act as complete closure to the album and it’s themes? (“Why Can’t I Breathe”)
(DJ Gonzo) We like to leave it open to interpretation. This song was written by Joah who is a very quiet, soft-spoken guy. I often feel that his main vehicle for communicating his ideas is through music. We tried to produce the ending of Chapter 1 in a way that would be complimentary to that and allow his words to resonate a bit. I’m glad you picked out those lyrics, because we hoped to highlight them here. I like to use samples that feel open and free to skip class as they please. The truant officer comes around for my samples every once in a while and I tell that man, he’s a good kid- just exploring his environment. We get slapped with a court date and I go in there with our project and sooner or later they let us off the hook. I feel that when Chapter 2 comes out, the end of Chapter 1 will actually make more sense… but I wouldn’t count on it. My samples do like to cut… They just have trouble sitting still in a class room for that long.
Readers: All in all, a very interesting and well composed album. I would recommend listening to it with speakers or headphones (duh), as the laptop speakers didn’t really cut it.
(Jonny) Word to that brother. The way I record and mix my music is for the heavy end lovers out there. Fat low end is a huge part of our sound. We love it.
(note: We have no comments regarding this last answer or what exactly it was he meant)