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Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound

Revival Fire: Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound sculpt old-school dreamscapes.

By Reyan Ali
Posted // September 30,2009 -

According to Charlie Saufley, there are two traits consistent to every record by Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound: “A, it’s recorded to tape—no Pro Tools anywhere, just an old-fashioned two inch tape,” says the San Franciscan psych rock weavers guitarist/bassist/vocalist,” and B, they always record the basic track as a live performance. It’s not edited together. While Saufley doesn’t consider the next point crucial, it’s telling that, “We don’t use much new gear. It’s old, broken-down stuff.”

These tenets are what instill Assemble Head’s expansive, wandering music with its organic, rambling charm. Using the means and methods of the psychedelic, acid, and classic rock produced in the ’60s and ’70s, their concoction sways, tunnels, and stretches without inhibition. Airy guitars lead the charge, unraveling into trance-inducing solos whenever there is an opportune moment. Behind the strings is a palette populated by gleaming organs, far-out shouts, and strewn bits of unintelligible ambiance. “We all share a common love for that classic high era of psychedelia,” Saufley says. “If you were going to classify our music any one way, every song has some relation to that branch of the tree.”

Given the choice between writing music in the present and the ’70s, Saufley says that he’s happy where he is now (“I would hate to have gone through all of the hassle of trying to be weird back then”) but there is one possibility nudging him towards the psychedelic era. A lot gets chalked up to drugs [and] the societal movement, but one of the big, unsung factors of the psychedelic era is all of a sudden there was this explosion of stuff that made these really beautiful noises that still resonate with me, whether it was a Rickenbacker 12-string, a box organ, a rotary speaker, or the Echoplex. It would have been really neat to be there to play that stuff for the first time.”

The Assemble Head experience is intrinsically driven by nostalgia. Yet, their material doesn’t feel like a trite throwback done by a band leeching onto a bygone era they weren’t born in time for. Even while their greatest influences stem from a certain period of rock & roll, Assemble Head don’t dismiss what came later. As Saufley’s inspirations note, just because the group’s members often look to one period doesn’t mean they are beholden to it.

“When I was a kid, I inherited a bunch of cool records from older brothers and sisters—garage records, goldenera-of-psychedelia records,” he recalls. “Those are my first love, really.” From there, it was onto the ’80s. “Hardcore was a big influence to me and Jefferson [Marshall], the other guitarist—things like Black Flag,” he mentions. “All the post-punk stuff was huge for us: the SST label stuff, Dino Jr., Sonic Youth, and all those weird little bands that came out of there.” As for how his project processes these influences, Saufley isn’t sure. “We don’t think that we are [experimental jazz player] Albert Ayler, but we certainly aspire to that freedom sometimes.” Then again, the group also enjoys “really low, banal stuff, like the most retarded metal.” He summarizes: “We love music. If one’s confounded by the descriptors that we are given, maybe we did our job right.”

Assemble Head’s creative process is one where the group is up for anything, save for fiddling with the two elements mentioned earlier. “When we are in a writing stage and between making records, we spend a lot of time in the studio just jamming, jamming, jamming,” Saufley attests. “Sometimes, a seed of something emerges. There’s a spontaneous group composition aspect to the way we approach it that comprises a certain percentage of the songs.” For When Sweet Sleep Returned (Tee Pee Records), Assemble Head’s April release conceived out of writing a “countrified Pink Floyd record,” the band attempted to craft a more cohesive album. “Some of that did come from bringing more complete songs with lyrics and full melodies—a more concrete idea of what the arrangement might be. In both cases, we sit in the studio and hammer it out.”

With all of this talk of psychedelia, guitar solos, box organs, and Pink Floyd, you might assume that, like their inspirations, Assemble Head’s work stems from recreational drug use. (One writer called it “pot-addled.”) Saufley amicably clarifies the conjecture. Generally, if we’re doing anything in the studio, we’re drinking too much beer. Most of us can’t even handle too much of that anymore.” Sure, they “don’t have a clean record as far as psychedelics go” but these days, the gang is fueled by Tecate. “If there is any chemical influence, it’s that,” he says with a laugh. “A little tequila, perhaps.”

ASSEMBLE HEAD IN SUNBURST SOUND
With Sleepy Sun
Kilby Court
741 S. 330 West
Friday, Oct. 2
7 p.m.
All-ages

 
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