23 February 2018 by Daniel Davis Goff
Catching Up With Psymon Spine
Psymon Spine’s sound is nothing short of euphoric. Though they have only released an album’s worth of material, they have already masterfully created a sound that defies conventional genre classification. Founded in 2013 by Peter Spears and Noah Prebish, the Brooklyn, New York band currently has a five member line up that includes Devon Kilburn, Nathaniel Coffey, and “Brother Michael” Rudinski.
To call their music electro pop – or more generically, EDM – is to risk classifying Psymon Spine alongside the genre’s least interesting and paradoxically most popular acts. In contrast with the repetitious sound of mainstream electro pop, Psymon Spine’s debut album You Are Coming to My Birthday is intriguingly unpredictable. The album’s sound is a seamless meld of synth beats and melodies, subtle instrumentation, resonant chants and choral harmonies.
You Are Coming to My Birthday is a multifaceted album with a complex soundscape to compliment the band’s pop sensibility. Album opener Separate leans towards maximalism without being overwhelming. The song pairs choral vocals with an up tempo guitar driven melody.
Shocked builds steadily from layered West African style percussion and a whistled melody. Atonal vocals sing in a round, “I don’t understand why you think / Nothing in your life is changing,” over a chorus of melodic chants. The prominent synth in the latter half of the song makes for a seamless transition into Yoana. Yoana drives towards a climactic beat drop in its final minutes. Herein lines their ability to make excellent electronic music: the beat drop is a perfect culmination to a danceable track rather than the sole pay out of a drawn out build.
Predominantly instrumental track Eric’s Basement and Secret Tunnels is a rapturous addition to the album. Eric’s Basement and Secret Tunnels is lighter and subtitler than the preceding tracks, with soft guitar woven through the track alongside the heavier electronic elements.
Even when Psymon Spine adhere more closely to an indie rock formula, like they do in the latter half of the album, the sound is never routine. With layers of strings and vocals instead of synth, Crown a King showcases a different side of the band without sacrificing the depth of their sound. It pairs fittingly with Dad Country, which appears a few tracks later. Dad Country is reminiscent of the ethereal progress of Sleeping Lessons by The Shins. It makes stunning instrumental progress over the course of its six and a half minutes.
Speakers deviates even more substantially from the rest of You Are Coming to My Birthday. Its guitar riffs are heavier than the guitar work on Eric’s Basement and Secret Tunnels or Crown a King, with shouted vocals and a heavy beat on the chorus to match.
Experience Machine melds West African drumming with the heavier guitar and vocal styles of Speakers and – unexpectedly but not unfittingly – the melodic chants heard throughout the first half of the album. Transfiguration, too, returns to the chanting of the half former half of the album. Its instrumental progression is stylistically comparable to Dad Country – though this time I thought more of Meet Me in the Basement by Broken Social Scene – with the addition of a rapped verse.
Penultimate track Lines and Lines and Lines End soars through its six-minute runtime in technicolour exuberance. It is the album’s most popular track for good reason; it makes an effective summation of You Are Coming to My Birthday. Gears brings the album to a softer conclusion while still exhibiting the range that makes Psymon Spine’s debut so compelling.
You Are Coming to My Birthday is a stunning introduction to the band’s musical sensibilities. With the range they have showcased, there is so doubt they have the abilities to make fun, interesting music for a long time coming.
After listening to their album, we were able to ask Psymon Spine some questions to find out more about what went into You Are Coming to My Birthday.
How has Psymon Spine changed since the band’s conception in 2013? Has your creative process changed since you started working together? How does working on Psymon Spine differ from working on your solo efforts?
Psymon Spine underwent, like, 30 member changes before evolving into our final/current form. It’s a pretty intense band to be in and so definitely requires a particular type of person.
In the beginning, Peter [Spears] and Noah [Prebish] wrote everything. It’s become much more collaborative since. Working in Psymon Spine requires a lot of communication and teamwork because we all have such different interests and musical backgrounds. Our ability to communicate and compromise effectively is definitely enhanced by most of us having other creative outlets.
What was your writing process for You Are Coming to My Birthday?
Being that it was our first record and that some of the first versions of these songs existed before we had even met, there wasn’t really any one process in the beginning. As the album progressed the process became more collaborative and streamlined. Our main struggle initially was finding continuity while still doing whatever the fuck we wanted. Working with our producer Graham Dickson (Crystal Fighters / Axis Mundi Records) and using a lot of the same gear on each track helped with that.
What mood is You Are Coming to My Birthday meant to evoke? In the liner notes for Atwood Magazine, you said that album opener Separate is meant to “feel inviting but also a bit dangerous, like walking into a jungle.” What sort of tone does Separate set for the album? How does it compare to the sound of, say, Crown a King?
The goal of the record was to conjure up a range of moods, with the outcome feeling optimistic overall. We made a conscious decision early on to make our first record so all over the place that no one would ever expect any one particular thing from us in the future.
Separate sort of represents that goal on a micro-scale. We thought it’d be cool to have the first song on the record be pretty over-the-top and weird so as to give people a better idea of what was in store and ward off those that weren’t interested in that kind of thing.
How would you describe your sound? Has your sound changed since you first started collaborating?
Our music is like an ever-expanding party playlist for people who overthink shit. Our sound has always been changing, but as time goes on a character definitely has emerged throughout all of it.
We heard you spent time in upstate New York recording the album at William Dafoe’s Rubber House. Could you please tell us about your experiences recording there?
The Rubber House is this dreamy, sorta surreal house in upstate New York surrounded by beautiful snowy woods. I believe the story is that Dafoe had built it with his wife’s dancing career in mind, so it has this giant dance studio that we recorded everything in. This was where we first started tracking the record with Graham, and where we first met most of the Axis Mundi Records family.
Which track best represents Psymon Spine off You Are Coming to My Birthday?
It definitely depends on the listener. That being said, Shocked probably has the widest range of influences within it. It took so long to write that it became sort of like a timeline for the music that we had been listening to throughout the process. We can go through and be like, oh, we were listening to this for that bridge and this other thing in that verse.
What kind of energy do you want to convey in your shows?
Ideally, people leave our shows feeling all wobbly and peaceful and relieved like they just left a sweat lodge or did something really physically exhilarating.
How do you hope to evolve as a band? Who or what are your influences?
Our influences and goals are constantly changing, which is pretty much what makes us sound like us, so it’s hard to say what the future will hold. There’s always room for improvement though.
What do you think of today’s pop and electronic scenes? Where do you think your band fits relative to mainstream pop bands?
There’s a lot of really incredible pop and electronic music coming out right now, especially out of Brooklyn, where we now live. The underground house and techno scene here, in particular, has had a big impact on our sound in the last couple years.
Our sound has been influenced by a lot of different artists, some of which could be classified as “mainstream”, others not; the line gets finer all the time, which is awesome. We’re just trying to go on this fun, freaky adventure, and should the mainstream choose us one day then that’ll just be a new reality, with aspects great and not-so-great. It’s not something we think a lot about.
Is there a story behind the band name how did you decide on the name?
Psymon Spine was the nickname of a friend of ours from school. We just liked the way it sounded. Or maybe we just wanted to make it incredibly difficult to tell people what the name of our band was while in loud venues.