PUTTING YOUR FINGER on what "psychedelic music" is can be as disorienting of an experience as the music itself. To get a deeper perspective on the psychedelic phenomenon, I sought out the wisdom of a diverse counsel of sages, hippies, studio gurus, and burnouts. This, my friends, is what they had to say.
So, what is it that makes music psychedelic?
Richard Vaughan from Silver Sunshine: Psyche music, for me, is anything that makes me feel out of my skull. An aural hallucination by a successful blending of the right songwriting, instrumentation, lyrics, and freaked-out production. It's all relative really. What's psyche to me may not be psych to you.
B'eirth from In Gowan Ring: Strictly speaking, it would be the ability of the music to operate in the transmission of an expanded sense of experience; rendering a heightened sensitivity to spiritual or non-material realties.
Helios Creed from Chrome: It's not just two dimensional or flat three dimensional... with width and depth and very visual.
David Hurley from Silver Sunshine: The first thing that enters my mind when I hear the word "psychedelic" is color spectrums. The kind you find in space, like in the rings of Saturn, or on the cusp of a black hole. When making psychedelic music or, more proper, making music psychedelic, I like to think in colors and how they relate to the music I am playing. The music becomes a canvas and the mood of the canvas, in order to be psychedelic, relies on the colors and the rest in asymmetrical brush strokes.
Chris Newman from Snowbud and the Flower People: When I first heard the music, I had never ingested any psychedelics; I saw the films in health class and read about it in Time magazine and such. To me, the music itself would take me to otherworldly places and reveal to me thoughts and feelings I never dreamed existed!
Peter Sando from Gandalf: It is a fact that the word psychedelic infers a relationship to hallucinogenic drugs. And certainly much of the '60s psychedelic music was created in or inspired by a drug-induced state. That being said, the music and lyrics in a good psychedelic song will affect the mind in the same way that a drug experience would.
How do you make your own music psychedelic?
David Hurley: I use my ears as a satellite and my hands to reciprocate the message.
B'eirth: I find the most useful device in pursuing psychedelia is immersion in solitude within undomesticated environs. Pertinent adjuncts taken advantage of are a variety of yogas, erotophilia, and the here gratuitously mentioned provocation process of the myriad herbs. The process of creation in music making is often in and of itself psychedelic—long improvisation sessions can be especially potent.
Peter Sando: Echo and delay effects can make a song colorful and moving. I'm comfortable in a deep echo chamber. Of course finding new sounds creates new experiences, and I'm always experimenting. For me, the lyrics are a key element in a psyche song. Visual imagery and enigmatic phrases can leave the listener with their own interpretation and experience. One of my favorite lyrics is [Procul Harum's] "A Whiter Shade of Pale."
Adam Forkner from White Rainbow: I use a combination of looping devices as well as a bevy of effects, both in stomp-box and computer form (including filters, delay, phaser, fuzz—all very trippy), to create complex, multi-layer waves of sound. But you don't need gear to make psychedelic music. It's a state of mind and creative presence more than anything else. They didn't use any of this stuff to make A Love Supreme. They didn't have this stuff 1,000 years ago in the Javanese gamelan, and that shit is TRIPPY!
Is psychedelic music all about drug use, or has it moved beyond that?
B'eirth: Though the term "psychedelic" was originally coined with regard to drug use, the psychedelic experience is primordial. The psychedelic experience has been traditionally linked with drug use as with music, ritual, ecstatic dancing, etc., so drug use with regard to psychedelic music would be corollary.
Peter Sando: I would say that in 1968 when we recorded [the album] Gandalf, we thought drugs made the music better, but in hindsight I know it was just an illusion. We could have produced so much more without the hang-ups that ensued. There was so much confusion and wasted time. A healthy mind is the ultimate high.
Stuart Sclater from Silver Sunshine: Music just sounds better when you're stoned.
Why does psychedelic music have such renewed popularity lately?
Helios Creed: Well, it never really died, it just lives deep in the underground to come back bigger than ever!
Noel von Harmonson from Comets on Fire: Bummer times? A gross unbalance of so much? Media drainers? The apocalypse, cultural and otherwise?
Conor Riley from Silver Sunshine: Politics: a rebellion from a very narrow-minded view that governs our country.
B'eirth: I would suspect it may have to do with the natural waxing and waning of people's fascination in, and disenchantment with, materialistic modes; though... one would like to hope that philistinism will eventually go out of style completely.
Peter Sando: I know that many young people are infatuated with '60s pop culture, and especially the music. It's a history lesson that they can relate to. It was an amazing time—an explosion of creativity. There was so much pain, so much love and hope, and ultimately, so much disappointment. They recognize that and they study '60s music just as we studied blues and country roots to find humanity in our art. Perhaps I'm over-analyzing this. Perhaps it's just that they dig good music!
Snowbud: People will always hunger for the truth and spiritual growth!
B'eirth is a recent Portland transplant, and is the weird folk mystic behind In Gowan Ring and Birch Book.
Silver Sunshine is a Technicolor power-pop quartet from San Diego.
Helios Creed has created some of the most damaged rock music known to man, as a solo artist and as a member of Chrome.
Peter Sando was the mastermind behind Gandalf, whose eponymous 1968 album is a lush, psych-pop classic.
Chris Newman (AKA Snowbud) makes drug-laced rock music about drugs with Snowbud and the Flower People.
Adam Forkner has been "tripping the light fantastic" for 10 years with many projects, including White Rainbow and Yume Bitsu.
Noel von Harmonson rocks the Echoplex in the interstellar garage band, Comets on Fire.