Psych supergroup

Brian Jonestown Massacre’s legendary tambourine man Joel Gion goes it alone with his new album
By Alex James Taylor | Music | 7 July 2015

Joel Gion. Photo by Lilly Creightmore

An integral part of the Brian Jonestown Massacre since the 90s, tambourine-shaking Joel Gion has become as iconic as the band itself, with the mightiest chops in music and a penchant for tomfoolery he’s gathered a cult following all of his own.

Since his parent band are now spread across the globe Gion found himself absent of the constant creative stimuli that BJM brought and had the sharp idea to fill his free time by recording his own solo record, Apple Bonkers. But this is no part time effort, the record is held together by the same zany psychedelia tropes that have stood him in good stead throughout his career, possessing a sense of surface level familiarity, but on top of that there’s a creative freedom and distinctive verve that Gion has brought to the forefront.

Recruiting Dan Allaire, Collin Hegna and Rob Campanella of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Ryan Van Kriedt of Asteroid #4/The Dead Skeletons Gion has put together a psych supergroup that yields rich results. Marrying sophisticated chord progressions with a mixed bag of effects, enigmatic lyricism and driving Motorik rhythms Gion has found his voice.

Take lead singer Yes, a bluesened trip into the realms of neo-psychedelic.With throbbing motorik beats and a melange of textures, from jangly guitars to wafting flute, it charms and drives in equal measure. Grooving comes easy for Gion, move in time with him.

Alex James Taylor: You’ve released a few solo records before, 101 Tambourines and Extended Play, but why have you chosen now to release Apple Bonkers?
Joel Gion: It took those releases to get where I am with now Apple Bonkers. When I first started writing I just went for it learning in public style. There’s some good stuff for sure, but those first seven or eight not so great songs every songwriter has and buries in the backyard – I released mine. Whoops haha!

AJT: How long was this record in the making?
JG: I wrote and recorded it over about a six month period. I would write two songs, record them in the studio and then start writing others. Music has always been the most important thing to me, but with Anton being so crazy prolific I was able to be lazy and just man the beer keg. Maybe more truthfully he’s so great it was intimidating to even try.

But us being far apart now made me into tap my own creativity and figure out how it works. For this record my self standard was “would I buy and love this when I was 24?” Now I’m in my early forties but am still in the beginning stages of tapping my songwriting creativity. It’s a strange situation. I’m even more excited about the new music I’m working on for a series of EP’s. It’s more of a representation of me in the now.

AJT: Sure, and how would you describe your new album?
JG: Being my first proper studio album I’m flying a lot of the musical flags that formed who I am. Putting classic things together but in a new way that makes it signature me. I needed to get that out of the way first to start this trip.

AJT: Many of the BJM members live on different sides of the globe now, how often do you all get together? Is it just when recording/touring?
JG: It’s hard for us to all get together other than when we lock ourselves up in a bus and tour. But for my own record I was able to incorporate most of the BJM lineup fans have gotten to know live for the last ten years. Dan, Collin, Rob and myself are all relatively close geographically.

AJT: Where are you living nowadays?
JG: San Francisco. BJM originally came from here – but I’m the last one hangin’. I’m at Vesuvio in North Beach as we speak – the old Beatnik hang spot. I’m surrounded by portraits of Keasy, Dylan, Kerouac, Ginsberg, I love this place.

The Austin Psych Fest Levitation Festival is a wet dream many of us had for a long time. But it’s all getting bigger and bigger and like anything that eventually grows into the mainstream the bubble is gonna burst and we’ll be getting Taylor Swift doing some goofy Lenny Kravitz thing in a floppy hat.

AJT: How does it feel making an album under your own name as opposed to under the bands name? Did you feel more pressure or a greater freedom as you are the one in control?
JG: Total freedom. It’s the singer not the song until the singer writes a song. I love making this stuff up, then I show it to the guys and we get mad collaboration going. Having three other heads that all have good ideas is great fun. But yeah, ultimately it’s my song but I rarely have to shoot anyone’s idea down.

AJT: And why the title Apple Bonkers?
JG: I used Yellow Submarine to comment on the current state of San Francisco. Right now there is a massive influx of tech industry workers causing lot’s of people from my friends to little old ladies to be thrown out of their apartments and as a result the city itself. It’s quadrupling rents and killing the diversity and artist community here. The tech industry is about an hour away from SF, but instead of making that area a playground for their workers, they are providing private bus services so they can all live here in the city. Obviously we are also benefitting from some cool new San Franciscans, but the scales are tipped towards people who don’t give a fuck about what it takes to make this place cool and just live for money. Totally changing the vibe around town. The musicians, poets and artists that made this place famous would just be considered fucked up losers now. Which of course many where and that’s what made them so great. So, I saw a connection between that and The Blue Meanies in Yellow Submarine coming to town and bonking everybody over the head with giant apple logos and taking over. Hopefully in the end music will save San Francisco.

AJT: How do you feel about the current psych-garage revival kicking off?
JG: The Austin Psych Fest Levitation Festival is a wet dream many of us had for a long time. But it’s all getting bigger and bigger and like anything that eventually grows into the mainstream the bubble is gonna burst and we’ll be getting Taylor Swift doing some goofy Lenny Kravitz thing in a floppy hat.

AJT: Which new bands have caught your attention?
JG: Ah man – not a lot. I know on one level that’s weak, but I grew up in the 90’s with Spacemen 3, The Jesus & Mary Chain, 4AD, Creation Records. Today’s psych scene takes many of their cues from then. I do like a lot of current bands, but I always wind up  trading in my Oh Sees and Temples records after a couple months for new reissues of older stuff. I think there is definitely something to reunion tours being the biggest deals nowadays.

AJT: Which record has had the biggest impact on your life?
JG: Those red and blue Beatles double LPs from the 70’s. My mom got me those after I saw Yellow Submarine when I was 7. That’s when I started working on my backwards tennis racket moves. To a little kid something like “I am The Walrus” is a cartoon for the ears.

AJT: Whilst I’ve got you here I have to talk to you about tambourines briefly, who are your favourite tambourine players?
JG: Gene Clark was the man.

AJT: Now you get to pick your ideal gig to play. Who would be on the line up with you?
JG: Well one fantasy actually happened recently. I got to play tambourine with Ride on “Leave Them All Behind” at Their San Francisco show. They played The Warfield Theater where I’ve seen a hundred amazing gigs but have never got to play. I was so into it by the end I kissed Andy Bell full on the lips! Sorry Andy! But I can’t help it if beer and legendary music turns me into a twelve-year-old girl.

AJT: Can we expect any new BJM music any time soon?
JG: Yep there is an EP coming out in November. I’ll have a single out around then as well.

AJT: Last question, do you still mix your sodas “suicide” style?
JG: Heh, no I don’t drink much soda pop these days, but I do drink quite a lot of club soda and vodka! Maybe I should throw more types of booze in there…

Apple Bonkers is out on September 1st in the UK via The Reverberation Appreciation Society / The Committee to Keep Music Evil.

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