The music of Indian Jewelry is often called psychedelic but it’s hardly the kind that looks to the 60’s for inspiration, instead it is largely built around a cold detached electronic soundscape that looks more to post-punk, no-wave, industrial and just about every substrata of electronic music that has come around since Robert Moog first began selling his modular voltage-controlled analog synthesizers for inspiration. Yet, the third eye that psychedelia tries to engage looms high above their work and no more so than in the pulsing hypnotic affairs of noise, flashing lights, and pounding rhythms that is the Indian Jewelry live experience. The band rides a singular orbit that lies at this odd equilibrium between the pull of the Houston’s Noize/Experimental and Indie Rock scenes and the newest album, Peel It, continues on that decade long journey. For fans who’ve been waiting for a new album since 2010’s Totaled, the release couldn’t have come soon enough and they’ll be happy to know that it stands with the best of their previous albums and bring back many of the elements that made them so extraordinary – tracks like “Eva Cherie” and “How Long” trod melodic echo drenched vocals across cold soundscapes that are as dense as they are sparse while tracks like “Guns” pound layers of guitar riffs like relentless krautrockers, and others like “Freak Pride” and “See Forever” slide-in dance inducing post-punk. With the release of the album looming this Friday, we got a hold of Tex Kerschen to discuss the band and the new album.
You guys moved to New York for a while this year. Can you go into the reason behind that and how that experience was?
Tex – By now everyone who knows about us knows that we get around. We have never waited for a reason to move anywhere. Life is short; filled with stuff, etc. Anyhow, New York was great. We saw a bunch of shows, played a few shows ourselves, and finished a couple records. Also spent time with some good friends, ate a lot of terrible pizza, and visited the La Monte Young Dreamhouse.
How was the recording of this album and has the personnel changed any?
Tex – We have had the same people in the band, namely Erika, myself, Richard Durham, and Mary Sharpe, for almost five years now. We were also able to persuade Brandon Davis to move back from his four year stay in Europe to help us make the album. And he’s been a member of the band since the get-go.
We’re not a very orthodox band. We rarely practice, so playing with the same people has helped us to sound tight without having to work too hard. We make all our records ourselves. At least we have so far. Our only ethos is to do whatever it takes to get a song recorded. We had a little apartment, an even smaller rehearsal space, and a few multi-track recorders. Sometimes we arrange to get the whole band into one room at the same time and hit record. Often Erika and I recorded many of the parts ourselves. Just the same, we are a band, and each member has an influence on what we do and how we do it.
We started writing these songs in late 2010 right after a series of long tours. There was no down time. There was also no forethought to what we were going after. We were just writing songs, because that is you do. I was in a terrible state of mind, in part because I was broke and my prospects for improving my position were grim. I was working a soul-destroying warehouse job and dreading each day more than the one before it.
That wasn’t the worst of it. The experience of parading our little record around the “indie” circuit had made me too aware of the kind of shitbags that ruin everything. I don’t mean bands; I mean the middlemen– booking agencies modeled after the corporate style, trend-riders, moron bloggers, bad promoters, they have cooked up a fake indie culture that co-opts every good and bad idea. It is a crappy bush league for cultural capitalism. It doesn’t matter, not really. Except that as I am by nature very sensitive and at the time I was driving too many miles and sleeping too little, I was starting to spoil. I wasn’t doing too well, and my initial burst of songwriting produced a lot of ugly and depressed stuff. Then Erika and I found out that she was pregnant, and slowly everything changed. My mood lifted. I got back some of what I thought had been stolen from me. I don’t recommend everyone get knocked up, nor is it really necessary to making records, but it has been great for us.
A lot of the new album uses a lot of 80’s post-punk and new wave sounds like electronic drums, flanged guitars, and retro-sounding keyboards. What is the appeal of those types of sounds to you as opposed to more say organic sounds?
Tex – My grandmother once turned to me with a pan of cinnamon rolls in her arms as we were leaving a grocery store and said, “Isn’t it funny how we pick up things we like.” We all have our ideas about the way things should sound, and the right equipment to play, but it comes down to taste. I don’t care much about gear. It’s fine for others to be picky about guitars or synthesizers or whatever.
The idea of “organic sounds” stumps me. What makes a mass-manufactured drum kit or a fender guitar and amplifier more organic than any other piece of technology? All of these instruments have been around a fairly long time, and all of them are inexpensive by now. We’ve always used drum machines. In the old days, people associated drum machines with some sort of techno-conspiracy to rid the world of drummers. I reckon it’d be pretty cool to be part of a global techno-conspiracy. That must be invigorating.
Despite the fact that the sounds vary somewhat between albums – sometimes things get more drony, or noisy, or melodic, or rhythmic – it’s always clearly IJ. What is that common thread in all your work and how does this album fit into the whole Indian Jewelry journey?
Tex – We don’t do genre. We’re not a psych band nor an industrial band nor what have you. Never were. This album is mostly the sound of electric guitars running through amps, but we’ve done shows without guitars too. We’re barely a band by the usual definition. We just write songs and try to make them sound cool and loud enough using whatever is at hand. We don’t own that much stuff. But we are dedicated people and we have ideas about music and we’ve been working to realize those ideas for years now.
The only metaphor I can come up with for the Indian Jewelry journey is that big pile of spiraling trash in the Pacific Ocean. Surely we must also float back and forth.
You guys always put on a crazy strobe light filled live show. Have you ever had anyone in the audience get sick or badly affected by them?
Tex – It is possible that earlier on our intentions were a little nastier than they are now. We’ve sickened many people with our lights– which are nothing but store-bought cheapie strobes– but we’ve never caused anyone to go into a seizure. Some people can’t handle the lights. Some leave. That’s part of doing things in the dark.
You recently became rock-and-roll parents. How has that changed the way you approach your music, touring, and the general issues that come with being in a band?
Tex – Our daughter has been immersed in music from the start. I tend to think of it as a good thing– babies love noise; children love music. The first thing for any parent is to be a good parent. Obviously, we’ve had to make a lot of changes. The baby doesn’t care if you’ve gone out dancing– she’s waking up at dawn. When we book shows we have to get a babysitter. When we tour we bring a good friend of ours on the road as a nanny. And for the first time, as parents and as band members, we have to steal time, and this means actually thinking about what we are going to do, which is some kind of change. While you’d have to ask the rest of the band what they really think, things seem to me to be going along about as well as usual.
Isn’t this your 10th year of making music? When you started Swarm of Angels did you think you’d still be doing this for so long and how was the reality different from those original expectations?
Tex – One way or another Erika and I have been doing this band the past ten years. Ten years ago we started the Swarm of Angels. At the same time we released the first proto-IJ releases. Before that it was all something else. I’m a ridiculously loyal friend. I would have liked Swarm of Angels to last forever and to take on many forms. But bands are bands. They come and go. I used to think it mattered what I thought. Now I know it only matters what I do. So I do this.
What’s one experience from being in Indian Jewelry that makes you smile the most?
Tex – Every night I get to burn the flag and scare the church.
Friday, November 2 – Indian Jewelry (record release), The Wiggins, Lowlife, Her Body @ Walter’s