As long as reality remains a reliable manufacturer of horribleness, psychedelic music will be necessary. Sensitive souls require periodic escape hatches from the prevailing political/social/environmental madness. Because hallucinogens are elusive and (stupidly) illegal, bands like Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound provide a crucial service.
According to multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Charlie Saufley, making music for AHISS satisfies both soul and body. "I think there's something spiritual in what we do, if only just a desire to transcend time and earthbound normalcy and the hassles of modern life in the space of a song, so you can see some alternate, maybe mystical, way of being and looking at life."
The San Francisco group—featuring core trio Saufley, Jefferson Marshall, and Mike Lardas, as well as Anderson Lanbridge on theremin and Moog, vibraphonist Tim Green, and Saufley's sister Camilla on bass, electric piano, and organ—draw from fecund sources of hirsute, high-times motivators such as Amon Düül II, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, and the colorful triumvirate of Deep Purple, Blue Cheer, and Black Sabbath. Assemble Head's latest full-length from the stoned stable of Tee Pee Records, 2007's Ekranoplan, toggles between cavernous chaos and meditative meandering.
Saufley acknowledges that today's dire climate calls for drastic action, even if only within the confines of a record or concert. "There may be a bit more urgency given the sense that everything feels really bland and homogenized on [an] enormous, global scale," he says. "That might further energize those instincts to rip things down and blow them up and make something that takes you somewhere else."
Many critics and fans will inevitably label AHISS "psychedelic." And that's fine with Saufley. "I love psychedelic music. It's part of our vocabulary. But I never thought psychedelic music was just wah-wah pedals and backward solos and lyrics about purple fishes and flying on dragonflies. We're into anything transcendental that delivers you from the tedium of commuting and working and mini-mall errand running to a more elevated place where you're thinking more—or less—and feeling better and floating above it all.
"Sometimes that happens in a visceral, explosive way. Sometimes it's more contemplative or mystical. But either way, it's a kind of transport and that's the aim."