"After you get the message, hang up the phone." British philosopher Alan Watts was talking about the limits of psychedelic drug use and "enlightenment"—avoiding burnout by supposedly hitting that "sweet spot" of some kind of psychological insight, but before the point of burnout, blistering brain cells melting like plastic toy soldiers under a magnifying glass in the scorching sun. The same thing is arguably true of psychedelic music: avoiding the self-indulgent excesses of noodling, navel-gazing jam bands and post-Grateful Dead hippie music mutations, to create real, mind-bending, psyche-expanding music that's still rock & roll.
Taking their name from the song of the same name by legendary '60s psych-folk group Love, Sugar House's Red Telephone—Holland James Redd (guitar/vocals), Colton Naffziger (drums) and Aaron Wilkinson (bass)—got into music as a side project to finding sounds that went well with skateboarding videos. Oddly enough, that turned out to be psych bands like Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Black Angels. "Seeing the Black Angels play live was a true inspiration," recalls Redd.
Having played together for five years, the band is preparing to release their first full-length album by the end of June, on Psych Lake City Records, tentatively titled Electric Life Light Show. PLC, a local psych band collective, has done a lot to support the band, adding them to bills with Spell Talk, Dark Seas and Max Payne & the Groovies. They find the resurgence of psychedelic music not antiquated at all, but a natural progression: "With all the technology out there, it's more accessible to do the coolest things ever live," Naffziger says, "it's a rebirth (of an old genre) for a new generation."
Running through their song "Earth Plane," Red Telephone are quick to remind that they aren't a jam band. "[Our songs are] written out note for note," Redd says. In a way, psych music is about fashioning something pleasurable, even blissful, out of unpleasant experiences in life. It does not attempt to create a utopia, but out of the muddle of sensations and circumstances in which we find ourselves, it seeks to attain or reach something greater than the sum of its parts—not trying to force the issue, but out of the noisy din or "haze," some kind of clarity emerges. There is a clear Brian Jonestown Massacre influence, as well as a bit of Spiritualized, but they have their own distinct style—there is noticeably more drum propulsion, and Redd has a flair for Hendrix-esque, sometimes droney, sometimes slightly astringent guitar riffs.
Among their other song titles are "Cosmic Vibration," "Toner," "Hofmann's Potion," and "Sabbath of the Solomonder." They cover bands ranging from the Animals and The Beatles to Led Zeppelin and Blue Cheer. Psych music isn't all old news, however: having attended Austin Psych Fest, Red Telephone will play Urban Lounge July 2 with Ancient River and have played with Night Beats, who are both APF alumni. They are also playing the Garden Extravaganza June 26 at the Artists for Local Agriculture Community Art Garden's fundraiser.
Because there's another band called Red Telephone in Boston, the local band will probably change its name to UFO TV. That's too bad, because they even have an old-style red phone in their house ("I found it out in the desert," says Redd). An object somehow alien, yet as natural as anything; its discovery was an anomaly, like their old-fashioned yet futuristic music. For them, music is in the air but it's also in the earth. "The earth is a conductor of acoustic resonance," reminds Naffziger.
But that's likely oversimplifying it. "We just like to play a lot of music," Redd says. "It's a form of meditation." Like a phone call from a close friend, music is a healer. Naffziger has found, "if you're having a hard day, put on a good song and it can turn everything around."