There is an element of playful but unapologetic self-awareness to the band Old Time Relijun that makes their explorations of music and spiritualism more sophisticated, more sincere, and way more punk rock than those of groups who, say, dress in cult robes or pretend to be preachers. Indebted equally to the impassioned aesthetics of Albert Ayler and the Nation of Ulysses, they are a band of, by, and for people who believe that live music can be a means to transcendence, and boy do they ever play like it.
Sadly, Portlanders have only one chance in 2009 to witness the legendary musical maelstrom of the funny, the frightening, and the frenzied that is Old Time Relijun live. I spoke with frontman Arrington de Dionyso in the run-up to their hometown show about the band's plans for their 15th year and how they will move forward now that bassist Aaron Hartman has left the Northwest for New York.
MERCURY: Why is Old Time Relijun playing only three shows in 2009, and only one in Portland?
ARRINGTON DE DIONYSO: Old Time Relijun was on tour roughly six months a year from about 2003 until 2008. Working as hard as we were in this extremely busy period, we all figured we'd be a little bit more rich and famous by now with this project, and it hasn't quite come to pass, so we all figured it might make sense to pull back a bit and wait until we're invited to play All Tomorrow's Parties or something. You know, that stage where they'll want us to only play the songs from our first album from 1996 and have Daniel Johnston come up and do guest vocals on a song with Joanna Newsom playing tambourine, just for fun.
There are plenty of models out there for cross-country recording collaborations in the age of the internet. Will Old Time Relijun continue to be a recording band?
The idea of band practice via email is pretty abhorrent to me. Our music is energy music, it's spirit music... you can't fax that shit. When we mix our albums, we are all crawling around each other in front of the mixing board breathing on each other and leaving our fingerprints all over the miles of two-inch tape that it takes to make an Old Time Relijun album. The album I just finished kind of sounds a little like an Old Time Relijun album, but I recorded most of the instruments myself. All the songs are in Indonesian, there are a couple tunes that started out like Old Time Relijun jams but they mutated in the studio and now they've become something else entirely. I'm not sure what to call it, but we might do a "cover" of one my Indonesian songs at the Holocene show. It will be Old Time Relijun doing a cover of an Arrington de Dionyso song written in tribute to Old Time Relijun.
You mentioned that there is an Old Time Relijun tribute record coming out. How does it feel to be a band that folks as vaunted as Mirah, Phil Elverum, and Mike Watt apparently feel is worthy of tribute?
Well, the tribute idea wasn't my idea, but it's nice to be able to show people who aren't ready-made "fans" of Old Time Relijun that my songwriting has a life of its own that still shines through, more or less, when you hear other people doing the songs. I say "more or less" because honestly I think it's really weird to hear other people singing my songs. It makes me slightly uncomfortable, really, to tell you the truth. What does "vaunted" mean? Mirah did her very first tour ever opening for Old Time Relijun on the West Coast, Phil [Elverum] played drums in our band from 1998-2001 before anybody had ever heard of the Microphones. We've left our special mark on people in all walks of life—it's about time they threw down some payback!
Old Time Relijun perform at Holocene on Thursday, May 14.