7 Jun 2012

An Interview With Sir Psych.

Martin Nunez ( a.k.a Sir Psych ) is a dedicated and driven musician / producer as well as a scholar of psychedelia.
As well as his recently released solo album, "The Popsike world of Sir Psych", he's been recording with his compadre L.A AL as the Smoking Trees, and has recently set up his own label, "Colour Tree Records".
We had a chat via e-mail about these things and more.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER :  Take us back to the start. When did you start writing and playing music? What were your influences / motivations at the time?

SIR PSYCH : You want to go that far huh? At age 4, I started playing violin for Suzuki, which is a well respected method of teaching music started by Shin'chi Suzuki. But even before that I was raised in a musical household. My father who is from Paraguay, South American, started his band, Trio Parana in 1959. They were a huge act that traveled all over to international fame which landed them to the States. That's where I come into the story. I studied the violin, cello, viola, and bass at an early age, and eventually picked up the guitar and mimicked my father. Problem was I was a lefty, and the miniature guitar I played was right handed. To this day, I play guitar left handed with a right handed guitar. That would be my first experience with actual instruments. All before age 5. I knew at a young age that music was in my blood. Maybe not today with those particular instruments, but I was destined to play music.

ACTIVE LISTENER :  When did you first become aware of psychedelia, and who caught your attention at the start?

SIR PSYCH : Again at an early age. My mother, who was the direct opposite from my father, being an American girl from South Bronx, New York had a total opposite effect on me musically. If it wasn't for her record collection, who knows what I would be listening to today. One particular record started me off into psychedelia which was the Original Broadway recording of Hair. This record was embedded in my head as a youth. Imagine being 7 years old and singing "Sodomy", "Walking in Space", and "Hashish". The cover alone takes me back to being a child. When your mother's record collection contains everything from Bob Dylan to Strawberry Alarm Clock and Left Banke, it's going to have an effect on you. From an early age all I listened to was 60's music. To the point, where when I listened to an oldies radio station as a kid, I could tell you the artist, the song title, and even the year sometimes. Adults would trip out on me.

ACTIVE LISTENER :  When did you start to feel like music could be a career for you rather than a hobby?

SIR PSYCH : Throughout my early years I would always imagine myself on stage like my father. Even after we lost touch with each other, at my father's choice after my parents divorce, I still had a love to make music. From using pots and pans as drums and tennis rackets as guitars, I always envisioned myself playing music. Through the 80's, I found a new love of music with hip hop. I grew up with it, watched it develop, watched it change, and get to where it is today. All though Hip Hop is different today then it was 20 years ago, there is still love for certain aspects of the true form of the music. In the early 90's, I went from my mother's turntable to a pair of Gemini turntables, a 5 second sampler, and a stack of my mother's psychedelic lp's. I found my way making beats from these records and recording tracks in high school with friends. I had my style on lock and when people wanted a beat, they came to me. That was when I first started production and producing songs from scratch.

ACTIVE LISTENER :  What musical projects led up to The Smoking Trees and Sir Psych?

SIR PSYCH : Psychedelic music has always been around me, but I recorded Hip Hop music through the 90's. I released a few limited cassette recording in the 90's with a few bands and two solo cassettes. My first solo was called "Psychedelia" which was recorded on my first 4 track back in 1996. All songs were sampled from  psychedelic records in my collection. I since started collecting vinyl in the early 90's, starting with the base collection from my mother collection. I was sampling West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Hollies, and The Deep back then and everybody used to geek out from it cause it was so different at the time from the heavy sampled jazz tracks that were being used at the time. My second release was called "Evolution" which was released again in limited cassettes with the same psychedelic backdrop in sound. It wasn't till 2001, when I met Al Rivera, aka L.A.AL, who was a punk rock musician who was a force in the East Los Angeles underground punk rock scene. I believe I probably softened him up when I exposed him to my record collection. He feel in love with all the psychedelic music I was showing him Remember the first time you got into psych. Everything you heard was new and you just wanted to hear more. At that point, he'd bring his guitar to my house and we'd try to write pop psych songs in that nature. I would play a pieced up drum set I got from parts that I picked up along the way. From there we jammed out with about 5 guys after work a few times a week in East L.A. From there we used my 4 track units to record songs for fun. Besides Al and myself, the other guys were not getting into the music AL and I were coming up with. We were trying to play songs like The Zombies and The Monkees. So after about a year, it was only Al and myself writing and playing these songs. And it's been that way since. Al was still in the punk scene playing with his bands, but in the end, it always came down to us playing these pop songs.

ACTIVE LISTENER :  You've got a massive record collection. How has this enormous exposure to music affected the material you write?

SIR PSYCH : It influences me a lot. I find inspiration not through just these albums, but from sounds in general. I can write a song from one note or a simple drum pattern. I can say most of the song I written and the songs that Al and I have written together were all very spontaneous. I keep the same format in a way when it comes to song structure. Keep it about 2 to 3 minutes, with a simple melody, and a strong hook. I don't pick a particular song or album and copy anything, but I try to concentrate my music on crafting a song in the vein of a traditional 60's pop song. Basically started out with drums and guitar played live. Everything else that is added over the basic track is created to make that psychedelic effect come to life.
ACTIVE LISTENER :  Can you guide us through your discography and tell us a little about each release?

SIR PSYCH: As I stated earlier, my first work recorded was my form of hip hop. I have always incorporated psychedelic music to what I want as a finished product. With The Smoking Trees first recordings we wanted our sound to be a cross between The Kinks, The Monkees, and The Association. The simple guitar chords the kinks used, the pop sounds of The Monkees, and the harmonies of The Association. All of the songs that we recorded as The Smoking Trees, there is maybe 3 or 4 songs where either AL or I sing lead. Most of the song we recorded are both of us singing lead together. It a gives a new voice to the music with our voices combined. I have always loved that about our voices matched together. Al has a higher register than me and the notes that I can't hit to a certain degree Al makes up for it. For my solo record I put out in April, I recorded that in 2 weeks from scratch in between a break we had from recording. When Al came back to the studio, I played him what I recorded and he tripped out and said you need to put that out. It was a tad different because I incorporated little to no guitar. That's what Al adds to The Smoking Trees, guitar, bass, and vocals. I was experimenting with a Baldwin Organ we had. I mic'ed up pedals and different sequencers to come up with different sounds just with that organ. Everyday for two weeks I woke up recorded what came to my head and by the end of the day I had 5 or 6 songs started. Each night I went to sleep and woke up a with another idea to add to it. It was the easiest thing I have ever done, and since then I do the same routine everyday.
ACTIVE LISTENER :  What can you tell us about the upcoming Smoking Trees compilation?

SIR PSYCH : The Smoking Trees music has been recorded since 2002 and in those 10 years little was let out of our circle. Since we were a two piece, going out and doing live gigs was a problem for us, so we concentrated on recording instead. We have so many 4 track recordings it's not even funny. We thought we'd put a few of these recordings out so people can see how we developed our sound from then to now, as a free release with the release of our album "ACETATES". The only thing that really changed was the production. Going from various 4 track units to digital 8 tracks to full on studio recordings. Our first "song" we recorded was recorded live in a bathroom in El Monte, California in 2003 on a Tascam portastudio 4 track. Probably the most basic 4 track units out. It was called "Morning Music from Yesterday". With that song we felt we recorded the perfect pop song for our standards, and from there we have tried to develop our sound with each release. With this compilation, our aim is to have the listener hear the birth of something from a demo recording to going into a studio a creating what we create today. As each song is heard you can hear the growth of two musicians finding themselves musically. This release isn't to change the world, we even hesitated on putting it out. But we thought that this is where we started from and it is a part of our musical history.
ACTIVE LISTENER :  You've made allusions recently to having another album completed that the world's not ready for. What can you tell us about this material?

SIR PSYCH : I recorded a hip hop album in 2011 called "LOFI CIRCA 67'" that incorporated hip hop and psychedelic music to the full extreme. Echo, reverb, harpsichords, full on psychedelia. 30 tracks in all, and 90 minutes worth of stories that haven't been told in the area of hip hop. More told from the aspect of the psychedelic culture side, but combined well with boom bap sound of early 90's hip hop. A great combination, yet I shelved the project after it was complete to release on a later date. Concentrating on The Smoking Trees music at the moment and later will shock and ah the masses.

ACTIVE LISTENER : You seem very self contained with your recording setup. Do you record everything in your home studio? Tell us a little about your studio setup. 

SIR PSYCH : I have used 4 track, 8 track, and have used everything to Reason, Ableton, FLStudio to name a few. I never messed with Garage band before, which I have on my Apple units. We have recorded in a few studios in Los Angeles, but engineers and producers I worked with have their own idea of what they want us to sound like. I haven't worked with the right producers yet that know the sound we are trying to capture. When we are in the studio the music sounds too clean, and I am heavy into LOFI recording. It's not the sound I want to give off. I'll take a LOFi kitchen sink approach over a clean computer edited studio sound any day. It's just not mine or The Smoking Trees sound. Until we find a producer that we can match up with, I will be producing, mixing, and editing our songs.

ACTIVE LISTENER :  One of your most recent endeavors has been setting up your own label, Colour Tree Records. What are your hopes for the label, and what can you tell us about the first batch of upcoming releases?

SIR PSYCH : That is fairly new. I put up a page on my website just a few weeks ago that I am getting ready to launch Colour Tree into reality. It has been in the works for a while in the means to get psychedelic music and art together for vinyl only releases. Most psychedelic bands want their music pressed on vinyl only, and artists have a bigger platform of exposure for their art on a 12'' than on a cd or tape cover. In the weeks since I have launched this I have had several demo submissions and some great art sent to me. We are working with a few artists right now and I have a few bands that I am currently producing. I am mostly working with unheard of bands because that is what I prefer. I like to take and start with nothing and make and turn it into something as opposed to working with something established already. I am very hands on with everything that I do. I am also looking into reissuing some 60's LP's that have been slept on too long. There are so many records that are next to impossible to find, I know cause I have a few of them. I'd like for them to be heard and available on a greater scale.

ACTIVE LISTENER :  Pretend that every artist in the world is looking for a new record deal and wants to sign with Colour Tree. Who do you sign?

SIR PSYCH : Tough one. Most indie labels cater to a certain sound. I would like to sign bands that are all different in various ways. The bands I am working with currently are each different. Some are more beat than psych. I like artists that can create an album that is well rounded and not grounded.

ACTIVE LISTENER :  You've been doing production work for others too. Tell us a little bit about the people you've worked with so far.

SIR PSYCH : I have been working with a trio called The Everlasting Bubble. I put out a snippet single about a week ago and the reception has been great thus far. Heavy on the bass and beat side with psychedelic overtones. Paz Diego has an elastic voice that sounds good over everything that I have been creating with him. He knows how to work over my tracks. 

Pillow is another 4 piece I have had a few sessions with. Very soft sounds that can be played to set the mood for a mellow in the baed all day kind of mood. The Electric Candlelight is the heaviest band I am working with. Deep psych that is very pulsating and easy to get into. They are still trying to find their sound, but for some East L.A musicians they know how to trip me out with their music.

ACTIVE LISTENER :  As well as recording your own music, you've curated the 49 volume "Sir Psych Presents" series (they can be downloaded here). When you put Volume One together did you foresee the series becoming as huge as it has?

SIR PSYCH : Having a huge record collection, I have been making mixes for years. They were put out into the open in 2004 when I met up with Los Angeles's own DJ Nobody and Jeff Moore, who went by their alias's of Dr. Frederick Phases and The Minister Alvin X on KXLU's radio show "She Comes in Colours" It was the most popular show on the station and even won best Los Angeles's  radio show. Well DJ Nobody was and is a well known DJ and musician who would be on tour more than a few times a year. I turned them on to new music and was asked to guest DJ for DJ Nobody when he went on tour starting back in 2004. Since then till the last show in 2008 I was there with songs from my record collection and every time I would guest DJ, since I couldn't give them my records I would give them a mix. In the age of blogging, I started one of my own and up loaded these mixes on my blog and the word got out to the psychedelic listening community. I would literally receive 100's of downloads daily everyday since. I tripped out thinking "Where are all these people coming from?" Point is they listened and wanted more. So since 2004 I have uploaded 49 volumes of Sir Psych Presents, and a couple other series that I posted such as Gentle Paisley Pastries, which is for the soft psych sounds. And I put together The Toytown Sound, which is my answer to the European compilation A Trip to Toytown, but with all US bands that cater to the Toytown psych sound.

ACTIVE LISTENER :  What do you think is the best song you've written and why?

SIR PSYCH : I don't think I recorded that song yet, but the lyrics I write are very personal, and if you read them you can decipher the topic I am stated upon fairly easily. I write a lot about love mostly because love is the one thing that you live for the most. "Slender Penny" is one of my deepest songs about being able to see your future and not liking what you see. But knowing you will live your life and knowing how you end up. "A View from a Wave" is another song in the form of a metaphor about reaching and taking a chance in life rather than just sitting in the shade watching everyone do what you should be doing. I am a poet in ways and I hope people can enjoy the words just as much as the music.

ACTIVE LISTENER :  Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers? The floor is yours.

SIR PSYCH : If I was to say one last thing. I would like to be able to touch people's lives the way other musicians have touched mine through song. If I can do that, it makes everything worth the while. If it's just a good beat or a catchy chorus to someone, I haven't done my job correctly as a musician.

Visit Sir Psych's website here.

The Popsike World of Sir Psych is available here.

Click here to listen to the Smoking Trees.

Tune in here next week when Sir Psych will be pulling a few juicy items out of his extensive record collection for one of our "Out of the Crates" features.

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