Local band Calliope will play the 5th annual Psych Fest this Saturday. We chatted with singer and guitarist Victor Buell about the band's postmodern recycling of culture that is psych music.
How many times has the band played Milwaukee Psych Fest?
This will be our third time. We take it seriously and know our fans are going to be there and people who might not have heard of us before that are predisposed or possibly going to enjoy our music. So we try to put on some of our best shows. Aside from when we have record releases, it’s one of the few opportunities to bust out all the stops and bust out the big guns, so to speak.
How do you feel about the festival celebrating its fifth year?
I’m just excited that it’s happening again. A five-year marker for any festival, especially one that starts as a grassroots and DIY kind of thing, I think is a great accomplishment. It’s a good road marker. It’s cool to see its continuous growth and awareness about it year after year. This is probably the best lineup yet. It’s also expanded outside just Cactus Club too. The expansion to Company Brewing and an outside stage is great progress and is indicative of the growth of the festival.
The Austin Psych Fest was kind of a huge pillage for all the huge psych rock bands. Now that’s not happening there’s room for other festivals around the country to pop up, and it’s pretty cool that Milwaukee is attracting some national and international acts that probably won’t come here otherwise, to be honest.
So with the falling of the Austin Psych Fest, I feel there’s definitely a void to be filled and I feel it’s a great opportunity to put Milwaukee on the map as far as an enclave of psychedelic music, which there is. It’s small as far as local bands but I feel like the quality of those bands doing psychedelic music is top-notch and second to none. Moss Folk is definitely an establishment. Us in Calliope, we definitely hold up our end of the bargain and do our best to foster that music culture. It’s exciting and we’re honored to be part of it yet again. We’re glad we can keep doing it year after year.
We just released singles that will be featured on a full-length album that we’ll be releasing hopefully in the fall. So that’s a great opportunity for us to promote that and bring something to the fest…[Japanese band] Kikagaku Moyo is blowing up. The fact that they’re making a Milwaukee stop is amazing.
Why is the festival important to Milwaukee and younger local acts like Calliope?
It helps put Milwaukee on the map. Previous to this fest going on, I don’t think people considered Milwaukee as having any kind of psychedelic music scene. I think the quality of it is second to none. It’s good for the bands that are doing that and grow and become more involved with the national and international music fest scene.
For us, it’s an opportunity for us to meet the people involved. The industry is all connections-based so being able to meet and talk with these people and demonstrate to them that we can hit it hard and play our music that’s up to snuff in front of these industry tastemakers is a huge opportunity. For us, we hope to foster existing relationships and hopefully establish some new ones.
For any band looking to be part of that scene nationally or internationally, it’s a great opportunity – even if you’re not playing – to come and hang out and be involved and be excited about it. These people are real people. They’re not huge international superstars necessarily. So they’re very approachable and easy to talk to. It’s a celebration of the music but it’s also an opportunity to foster any existing relationships and hopefully establish some new ones.
Austin, Texas and southern California are hotbeds for psych music. With Milwaukee being so far away, it’s neat to have something going down in Milwaukee, which is a small city in comparison to those places. It’s a big deal, not just for the psychedelic music scene. I can’t think of many fests, especially ones that are independently run, that bring national and international acts into town to play a festival on the same weekend. The only other thing I can think of is Summerfest and that’s a huge corporate thing. This has a strong DIY ethic. It’s a big deal for the music scene in Milwaukee as a whole.
How do you think Calliope fits into the psychedelic genre?
In a number of ways. Psychedelic music is very subjective. It’s really up to the individual and what they think is psychedelic. Psychedelic is kind of like a spiritual, transcendental kind of experience that gets into spirituality and mysticism and whatnot. There are two ways: One is droney and mantra-esque that encourages that state. And then there’s the symbolism and themes of psychedelic culture. I think we blend both of those elements. Probably a little heavy on the symbolic side. The sound lends itself into creating an experience that is not just trippy sounds but creates a feeling or emotion that helps elevate the spirit, we like to think.
But that’s not our whole thing. We like to rock out and head-bang and hit it hard. Part of psychedelic culture is having a good time too. I think we blend heavy rock music and that heavy beat that makes you want to bang your head and shake your ass with sonic textures that elevate the spirit in a psychedelic way…if people close their eyes and use their imagination they’ll be somewhere else.
A lot of our music that is the psychedelic part is in the lyrics that paint a picture of a very psychedelic scenery. Like a lone individual walking across the desert with rising mirages. That’s an example of lyrical content. It comes across in the song structures themselves – the actual structure of the song and the notes being played and the way the chord changes happen. So it’s a combination of a lot of things. Obviously the droning organs have a lot to do with it. It really shapes our sound and helps solidify the sonic soundscape. Our sole purpose isn’t to elicit some meditative dream state. There are a lot of bands out there that do that and do that very well but we like to have fun too. A big part of psychedelic culture is just that it’s rock and roll.
I think it’s an important discussion to be had because I feel a lot of new bands on Bandcamp just throw around the word psych. I feel the term psych is the new indie and just a label that they attach to because it’s kind of a hip thing. Which is cool. This is the music that’s happening now. Even if it’s part of this postmodern recycling of culture. That’s what that whole Blues and garage rock revival in the early 2000s was about with the Black Keys and White Stripes. Right now it’s trippy psychedelic music. It’s a counter culture of the late 60s, early 70s, that is now being recycled and re-appropriated into something new. That’s the whole hallmark of postmodernism. That’s what in right now. So ride the wave while you can.