Life is tiring when you're a Black Angel.
Alex Maas, the hard-working front man for Austin's masters of swirling psychedelic rock the Black Angels, says he's keeping long hours these days. He sounds exhausted during a telephone conversation. He yawns regularly. He accidentally switches the first syllables of Britain's Reading and Leeds Festivals, referring to them as 'Leading and Reeds' before correcting himself. Clearly, the poor guy is beat.
'Yeah, I'm a little bit tired, but I'm doing well. I'm kind of on UK time right now,' says Mass, who has been collaborating with UK downtempo electronic duo Unkle. 'I've been doing this production work all night and Skyping all morning. It's pretty intense.'
The quintet worked with Unkle on 'Natural Selection,' the third track off that renowned duo's album 'Where Did the Night Fall.' That song soared to the top of the charts on Australian radio station Triple J, leading to a barrage of business offers from all over the world. They're currently readying the release of third album 'Phosphene Dream.' And they're busy putting together the finishing touches for Austin Psych Fest, their lovingly assembled celebration of psychedelic music, which commandeers both stages of the Mohawk this weekend for its third annual outing.
For the festival, the third time looks to be the charm — 2010's Austin Psych Fest has a strong venue, will boast fancier production and lighting displays, and most importantly of all promises an eclectic lineup.
'It's getting bigger and it's getting more professional and better run. We're starting to figure out how to do this (expletive),' says Maas. 'Because we're just musicians. That's all we've done. We don't throw festivals. We go to them, but we don't throw them.'
That may be the case, but if this year's Psych Fest is any indication, Maas and bandmate Christian Bland, who originated the festival and have helped put it together since 2008, are getting better at pulling double duty as musicians and festival organizers all the time. The Black Angels anchored the first Psych Fest, a modest single-day affair. It expanded to three days last year, with a wider array of performing artists, but the goal remains the same: an eclectic sampling of all the nooks and crannies of psychedelic music, informed by the connections forged on the Black Angels' tours.
'We've been playing all over the place since 2004, so we've made a lot of connections and a tremendous amount of friends all across the psychedelic music scene,' says Maas. 'In that same time, we've been constantly studying musically what's going on in the psychedelic world, which has a lot of different kinds of music. There's the '60s, 13th Floor Elevators thing, there's psychedelic electronica, there's all kinds of stuff. So this is our chance to bring all these people to one venue and have a big party and celebrate that.'
Aside from going down in a different month — previous Psych Fests were held closer to the barrage of competition brought on by South by Southwest, which Maas says they made a conscious effort to stay away from — variety is the big change this year. From the proto-electronica of classic '60s artist the Silver Apples to the experimental art rock of Los Angeles' Warpaint, Psych Fest 3 has more going on musically than any previous festival. There's still plenty of old-fashioned psychedelic rock — fans of long jams and droning guitars won't feel left out in the cold — but Psych Fest 3 offers an impressive sonic diversity that pushes the boundaries of psychedelic music.
'In the beginning, when we started the festival, we wanted a '60s thing. But honestly, why exclude yourself?' says Maas. 'So we're trying to expand outwards and have different elements of psychedelic music there, from the new wave to more ethereal stuff. It made sense to expand — because that specific genre of psychedelic music that sounds like it's from 1968, that's kind of a small focus.'
That focus on sonic expansion — and accessibility for a wider variety of listeners — also informed the Black Angels' third album, currently due sometime this summer and produced by Dave Sardy, who's worked with Wolfmother and Oasis. Maas says the new record is a little friendlier and more listenable, while still maintaining the trademark Black Angels fuzziness — although listeners will make that judgment for themselves when the band busts out the new material during its Saturday night headlining set and on Sunday.
'Honestly I think, in the right way, that it has a more pop sensibility while still having that Black Angels feel. It's definitely evolved,' says Maas. 'Dave was kind of like a musical consultant to bounce ideas off of, and we've never really had that before. We had the listener in mind more. I think it'll reach more people for sure.'
Five Austin Psych Fest 3 artists to catch
Warpaint— Friday, 9 p.m., outside stage. The intertwined vocals of Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman and Jenny Lee Lindberg give Los Angeles quartet Los Angeles its distinctive, dreamy, enchanting sound and make for spellbinding live shows that garnered the band plenty of praise during this year's South by Southwest Music Festival.
Pink Mountaintops— Saturday, 9 p.m., outside stage. Pink Mountaintops craft frequently wistful shoegaze psychedelia that's more accessible and singalong-ready than that description would imply, and shares members, including front man Stephen McBean, with Vancouver's beloved Black Mountain Collective.
The Vandelles— Saturday, 11:50 p.m., inside stage. Brooklyn's Vandelles mix the rapid-fire guitar lines of surf rock with the edge of psychedelia for a potent blend of rock that made them one of last year's Psych Fest highlights.
The Dutchess and the Duke— Sunday, 7 p.m., outside stage. One of the surest signs of Psych Fest's expanding purview is the presence on the bill of Seattle's Dutchess and the Duke, a four-piece indie folk outfit with infectious harmonies and stomping percussion.
Silver Apples— Sunday, 10 p.m., outside stage. The Silver Apples are far from a household name, but the band — a psychedelic electronica duo that rose to cult fame in the '60s — has influenced a legion of artists in the fields of electronica, dance music and indie rock. Drummer Danny Taylor died in 2005, so these days synthesizer player Simeon holds things down.
Austin Psych Fest 3
When: Friday through Sunday
With the Black Angels, the Raveonettes, Gaslamp Killer, the Silver Apples and more.
Where: The Mohawk, 912 Red River St.
Cost: $18-$20 per day, $40 for a three day pass
Info: Full schedule and tickets available at www.austinpsychfest.com