The Black Angels' Alex Maas on DMT, St. Louis and lots more
The Black Angels has reached the point of royalty among today's lysergic rock outfits. In between relentless touring and putting out killer albums and EPs, the Austin five-piece started Austin Psych Fest, now in it's fourth year. For its third full length, 2010's Phosphene Dream, the band recorded in L.A. with super producer Dave Sardy (Holy Fuck, Oasis, LCD Soundsystem), but the sun-drenched metropolis had little to do with the poppier excursions on the album--that debt is entirely owed to the psychedelic drug DMT. The band members were reading DMT: The Spirit Molecule when they were writing and recording. The album title alludes to the optic phenomena of seeing stars. Morose themes still prevail on tracks like "River of Blood" and "Yellow Elevator #2," but uplifted instrumentation and tighter songwriting temper their melancholic proclivities with a significant dose of pop. We caught up with frontman Alex Maas to talk psych, St. Louis, and the crisis of America.
What's up in Canada today?
It's actually sunny and beautiful right now, kind of awesome. We're heading to Montreal, this is the fourth or fifth time we've played there.
Do you like the city?
I do like the city, it's kind of interesting. We do well in France, we don't do that well in Montreal; there's a disconnect there. Everyone speaks French there. There's some kind of art disconnect with the people of Montreal in general, I think. We do okay there, it's not one of our biggest cities, but it's always fun.
What size club do you play in Montreal?
I think we're doing 500 there tonight or something like that? We're opened up for bands there that have been in bigger places. But it's not like playing New York or Austin or anything.
You guys were coming to St. Louis with some regularity for a while, but you haven't been back since 2007. Is there any particular reason?
It's probably just routing, or it just makes sense. Whenever you're routing a tour, there are a lot of things that go into it. Whether it's out of the way or we happen to be coming St. Louis for a Sunday night or a a Monday, only 20 people will show up and we'll lose money. I'm not saying that's what happened, I don't know why we haven't been back. We used to play there a lot. What was the name of the place I used to play there? I would know the name if you told me. I used to play there a long time ago. It was a really smoky place.
Creepy Crawl? Mississippi Nights? Blueberry Hill Duck Room?
The Duck Room, yeah, I think that's what it was. Actually, we've kind of played all over the place, but I always enjoy playing St. Louis. We have a couple friends who live in St. Louis who have bands. They're always asking us to come back through, and I'm actually glad we're playing St. Louis this time. I think it's a really pretty city. There's a lot of big, empty red brick buildings that could be turned into a studio or a venue--there's so much potential there. I think it's really pretty.
The rent here is about half what it is in Austin, and we've been saying St. Louis is on the brink for years.
Totally. That's what I thought the very first time I went there, the very first show I played in St. Louis. I was like, wow, why isn't that like, something? So much potential, so many empty warehouses. The architecture down there is beautiful, and I love the barbeque.
So, did you guys do DMT with Dave Sardy when you were recording Phosphene Dream?
No, I don't think he dove in there. [laughs] I don't think he did any, not that I'm aware of.
Was there sort of a washing of the hands and then a sacramental DMT rite before you recorded?
Definitely, definitely, there were things like that [laughs]. I think it's just a little known bit of magic that's in the world I think that people should know about. It's kind of amazing. It's a natural thing, DMT is in everything. It's in you, it's in plants, the older the plant is, the more prehistoric it is, the larger quantity of DMT is in the plant. I could be wrong on that, but I think that's what I read. It kind of makes you think about religion and how religion got started, and the fact that DMT is released into you bloodstream when you die.
You have a religious experience, sort of huddle and your entire life flashes before your eyes. You see kaleidoscopic, heavenly sort of things...yeah. Um. Anyways. I think people should know about it. It could be used as medicine for people just like Prozac, but it's natural, it won't make you commit suicide. There are so many natural things on this earth that could help change lives, and help change people's perspectives for the better. I'm not advocating DMT use every day or anything like that, but we're just kind of on the verge of realizing what it does for people.
Do you have any theories about what it might be, say the animus of the universe or something like that?
Yeah, maybe, I mean, they call it the spirit molecule, or it's a spirit molecule. Maybe it's one of the most minute pieces of life that exists in everything. You can somehow extract this pure element of life. And you know, Mayans and people in South America are still using a lot of the stuff. Well, the Mayans are no longer here, but lots of South American tribes. I think the therapeutic properties that it holds, they're relatively untapped. People have been doing it forever, it's probably one of the oldest psychedelic drugs in the world. Have you ever done it before?