And Now For the Whatchamacallit

And Now for the Whatchamacallit by Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

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Coming in hot out of Perth, Australia, is a little extra-crispy, wild-eyed, thunderous force of nature known as Psychedelic Porn Crumpets. With frenetic energy and innovative songwriting they’ve been making waves the world over, and they are returning to the U.S. this fall after hitting Europe and Japan. They’ll be stopping in at Chicago’s own Lincoln Hall with support from Meatbodies on Wednesday, Sept. 25. (Tickets can be found at http://www.psychedelicporncrumpets.com/tickets).

Last month, I caught up with vocalist/guitarist Jack McEwan; we discussed the group’s origins, the nature of “psych rock,” how the insane slurry of Psychedelic Porn Crumpets is made, and more.

[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity].

AH: So for those who may not know, can you tell me a little bit about how Psychedelic Porn Crumpets came together?

JM: “Me and Danny used to be play in an older band together, and he was the drummer. Then I started with a couple of bedroom recordings at home, sort of procrastinating while I was at uni. Then Luke heard them through a mutual friend of ours, I think when they were working at a pet shop. We managed to sort of get a jam together, just learn a couple of songs. We rehearsed in the barn that I originally lived in. I think after like three months, because we recorded at home, it had just turned into this recording project, which was great, and we really put some cool stuff together for that first album, and things just progressed from there.”

AH: You’ve just released your third album, “And Now For the Whatchamacallit.” What can you tell me about putting it together? Was there anything you really did differently compared to your previous records?

JM: “Yeah, we started it more like a concept kind of album. There was this idea of trying to create like a 1930s, kind of English sort of album. It was kind of reminiscent of The Kinks, and that quirky circus kind of thing, but reimagined for future generations. So things would be wrong, and you’d have all these strange sounds that we would play around with, rather than completely go back to that acoustic way; we messed around with the Mellotron, and I was kind of fiddling around with some of these instruments to get a quirky organ sound.

“I think from there, we just had so many different ideas and couldn’t hold the concept, so it eventually just turned into the “whatchamacallit,” a bunch of kind of nonsense music that fits together nicely. But we originally went for a concept rather than trying to make as many diverse sounds as possible. In the end, it’s still that same crazy Crumpets territory.”

AH: So is there any typical way that a Psychedelic Porn Crumpets tune comes into being, or does the music tend to sort of dictate where it goes?

JM: “It starts where usually I just record a bunch of music in my bedroom. I’ve got Ableton and a pretty amateur setup, but I’m trying to get to the point where I just get carried away writing and recording at home, and just sort of throw some ideas together. But this last album was more Danny just heading straight to the studio.

“As the albums progressed though, Luke would put his guitar down on one of the tracks, or whatever it took to add to it, he would throw his ideas in. The first record we completely recorded ourselves. It was such a home job production with these bad mics and no idea what to plug them into or what input to use. As we got into the second and third albums, we still kept that original idea of just creating the song to have it, and then in the studio when we jam we’ll try a different idea. It’s hard now I suppose to change that up. If you’re so used to writing songs, that’s almost like your escape. So what we sometimes, as a band when we’re just throwing together ideas, we can’t help but say ‘Here’s a song!’

“Sometimes the too-many-cooks things will change an idea too much, but we wrote some really good songs together, like ‘Gurzle’ and ‘Found God in a Tomato.’ I think we sort of worked on that for a good solid couple months. But sometimes I just want to create something in a day and that’s it, and then I’ll get bored of it, onto the next one. I need the ideas to keep moving.”

AH: When you’ve got such a loose approach to crafting the music itself, do you find that your live show ever mirrors that with improvisation or anything like that?

JM: “We have these sort of drunk meltdowns where I suppose we do a little improv. Not really planned, and we’ll never do that again (laughs). Obviously we change little bits and pieces from the album just to sort of segue our way through the tracks. Lots of the set has been planned, but we work on a new set for each tour. There are obviously also things that happen that just work, and you keep those in, like extended pieces. But a lot of it is very much sort of how the song goes. We’re not the Grateful Dead yet (chuckles).”

AH: Much ado has been made about the Australian psych rock scene in recent years. What do you make of it all and why do you think it receives so much attention?

JM: “I think at the moment, it’s almost like that domino effect. When you see a band doing really well, like Tame Impala, they kind opened the door for all these other Perth bands, you know, Pond, us, and all these groups emulating that kind of psych sound. But the scene has always been here, it’s just propelling the next generation of bands. You’ve always got that same side of music.

“Sometimes it’s just what we listened to growing up too, which is bizarre, you know? Tame Impala was this rare band that came out of nowhere from Perth to take the world over. So we idolized them at home when we were in school, and then King Gizzard came out and was just mind-blowing. And then you go over to the L.A. psych scene with bands like Wand and Oh Sees, that whole California thing, and it’s very reminiscent of what’s happening in Australia at the moment. But they kind of joined forces and became this worldwide psych scene. And now we can go over and play shows in America.”

AH: So you’ve just had your first tour in the US this year. What were you expecting when you touched down here, and how did the experience shake out for you?

JM: “I couldn’t believe when we started that there would actually be a person at our shows. Who even knew who we were, this little band from Perth? So to even have Frankie & the Witch Fingers supporting us on that tour was nuts. It was like, ‘They’re supporting us? You sure?’ We’re big fans of theirs, and we just got be absolutely best mates with that band, and we see that same sort of resemblance from Australia in them. It’s a huge slog when you’re starting out, first time heading over to the US, to Europe, and I think it’s amazing that when we were playing together there were all these people coming out to the shows, and it felt like this excitement really had a buzz around it. Whether we went to California or over to Chicago, the Midwest, it was all unreal. I think when we played the Cactus in Milwaukee, that and Chicago were among our first shows, and both nights sold out, and we were blown away. I think the promoters were even considering giving us another beer each. We didn’t really know what to expect, and I suppose coming from Australia where the crowds are wild, that built this almost psych punk rock, this kind of heavier, less chill vibe with the audience, more chaotic and wild. But it felt like America was on that complete train as well, with people crowd surfing and going nuts. It didn’t feel any different than being home, which was such a nice feeling.”

AH: The term “psych rock” casts a pretty wide net, and we’re currently riding this new wave of psychedelia, after the original explosion in the ‘60s and resurgence in the ‘90s. What do you think it is about music that falls under this banner that causes it to sort of reinvent itself in times of turmoil?

JM: “I think because it’s so diverse. It’s this experimental genre that ranges from Radiohead to Sleep, to Dumbo Gets Mad to loop things like Tobacco, Black Moth Super Rainbow, that kind of stuff, you can just have loads of fun with it. When you start out playing, like say you come from a punk band: punk is great and all, but sometimes you can’t really change up from the two-minute thing and you’re stuck. You’ve created boundaries with this genre. If you start with no boundaries, I think you can go anywhere with it. That’s what people are loving King Gizzard and Oh Sees for, they’re always changing up their sound and doing different things. Tame Impala as well, all three of their albums they’ve released are completely different. So I think psych music has got more excitement and gives you more control when performing and can be different. So for us, I think that’s it: because it’s genreless.”

Don’t miss Psychedelic Porn Crumpets coming to a town near you.

Tickets and more info: http://www.psychedelicporncrumpets.com/tickets

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Andrew Howie lives in Champaign and hides his pretentious music taste behind self-deprecating humor. If you seek radio hits, this is not the column you're looking for. Come here to find the acquired tastes, the obscure albums, the innovative and bizarre.

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