There’s this sense when listening to Psychic Ills’ latest album that they’ve have been down a road like this one before. After all, Tres Warren (vocals/guitar) and Elizabeth Hart (vocals/bass) formed the band way back in 2003. Since that time, they’ve released a handful of LPs, four EPs, a compilation disk, and several singles. With their new double album, Inner Journey Out (Sacred Bones Records), the New York based band by way of Texas has the sound of a band totally at ease with itself. TGA recently heard from Ms. Hart, who said that, “After ten years of playing together a lot has changed. At the same time a lot is the same. Approaches to the music are always evolving as are aspects in our personal lives…”
Branded earlier in their career as an experimental psych rock group, the passage of time has mellowed Psychic Ills’ songs and sanded down the edges. Whereas previous albums were brushed with Eastern influences and awash with scuzzed out guitars, Inner Journey Out embraces the clear-skied, windswept blues of the South. The making of the album was a long process, though. “We had a lot of material and were working on this record on and off for three years,” Hart said.
Spread out over 14 tracks, Inner Journey Out is a delicate blend of slowburn country and gospel, with a backbone of the blues. The longest song of the bunch is the aptly titled “Ra Wah Wah,” clocking in at 9:14, but a track like that is more the exception to the rule on an album that tends to avoid the trappings of traditional psych rock jams in favor of a more traditional structure and sound palette. Spaced out guitars have been traded in for Wurlitzer keyboards and Farfisa organs, which really help tie the room together. This record is more Rock n’ Flow rather than Rock n’ Roll.
The majority of Inner Journey Out was recorded in Brooklyn, but mixed in California, which Hart said is something they hadn’t tried before. “We thought it might be beneficial to take the songs out of the studio and get another set of ears on them for the mixing,” she said, “and also for us to change locations to see what effect that had on us.” They aim to have the songs already pretty well fleshed out by the time they hit the studio, but record live with the core instrumentation to “capture that energy,” as Hart put it. Various guest musicians, from Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval to Endless Boogie’s Harry Druzd, are folded seamlessly into the mix. Sandoval features on lead single “I Don’t Mind,” where her harmonies with Warren entwine them like two old lovers who lament that they, “just can’t let it go.”
Psychic Ills will be on tour throughout the remainder of this year. They’ll be in Europe performing at various festivals and club shows throughout August. In September, they’ll be back in the US, and then down to South America in early November before returning to Europe to cap off the month.
In an industry that places pop music on a pedestal and is forever searching for the latest catchy thing, Psychic Ills remain dedicated to their roots and on steadily evolving their sound. Hart said to expect something probably more concise for their next record, but it’s a long road between now and then. “Who knows what we will discover along the way.”
Stephen M. Tomic