The Chain Letter Interviews: SXSW Pt.III

Kerri O'Malley

Warm Soda

So begins the third and final installment of our three-part Chain Letter interview series, conducted at this year’s SXSW! How does the chain work? Each band gives us three questions to ask the next band, who propose their own for the following band, and so on. Today’s chain gets mystical/magical with Sam Flax, Burnt Ones, and Warm Soda as the Austin festivities wound down, landing us on a leather couch in the back of Warm Soda’s van, stroking some crystals. No better place to be.

If you haven’t linked into the chain yet, check out the first part of our SXSW edition of the Chain Letter with Permanent Collection, Bad Cop, and Natural Child as well as Part II with Shannon & the Clams, Levek, Colleen Green, and Weekend.

Sam Flax

After their set at the Impose day party at Yellow Jacket Social Club, Sam Flax took a break with us on a bench to share some Bloody Marys and maybe a bit too much sun. As we chatted about Age Waves and their experience at South By, we quickly got caught in the band’s rabbit hole, talking about intellect vs. intuition in a euphoric mind-meld. A half-hour later, when keyboardist Amy Blaustein shouted “ROYAL BLUE!” before their Hotel Vegas show, we suddenly knew why.

As someone who really likes dancing to your tunes, it upsets me to see no one shaking a leg here. Do you think people should be dancing to your music?

Sam Flax: I don’t really try to impose any expectations on what people should be doing. I think they should just do whatever they feel like doing. If they feel like scowling 50 feet away, that’s fine. [Laughs] And if they feel like dancing, that’s fine too. I have a bit of a pet peeve with bands that are like, “Alright everybody get down to this one!!” I’m like, “Well, I’ll be the judge of whether I get down to this or not.” It’s always nice to see people dancing because they’re engaging in a different way and connecting with it, but that’s also not, like, the dominant paradigm anymore – it seems like. There’re a lot of crossed arms and contemplative looks.

Does the reaction of the crowd change how you feel about performing?

Amy Blaustein: I went to the Berkeley Psychic Institute, a two-year training program for clairvoyance.

Woah, are you clairvoyant now?

Amy: I believe that everyone’s clairvoyant, so it’s more a focusing of tools. They teach you there that connecting to someone one-on-one is a different ability than connecting to a group of people, psychically. So I feel like, as a performer, I’m always working on that ability to connect with multiple people. For me, it involves a kind of leaving of myself – almost a sacrifice in a way – where I just need to go out of body a little bit to go into everyone else.

Sam: My take on it is similar but slightly different because I feel like you have to maintain a certain kind of separate-ness and otherness, and that balancing act between becoming part of a collective but also being aware of a certain performative, stage aspect where the stage ends here, and the audience begins there. And, ideally, they interconnect as much as possible –

Amy: Well cause there’s like, “You can have me,” but there’s also “I can have you” – it’s a symbiotic relationship, ideally, where you’re feeding off of each others’ energy. It’s not just a spectacle, one-way street.

That’s interesting to me, thinking about the distance between yourselves and the audience – is there also a distance between yourself as a person and yourself as a performer? With something that you’re creating, it seems to me that it’s both so personal and yet so necessary to not take it personally, you know what I mean?

Sam: I’ve thought about it a lot, and it’s inevitable that when you go on stage, there’s a shift that happens, even if you’re exactly playing yourself, there’s still some performative aspect to it.

Amy: It’s fun to objectify yourself, though.

[All laugh]

Sam: It’s just necessary – a stage is for performing. You have to decide what the character’s going to be and get into character. So the character just might be you, in close, or it might be something larger or smaller…you’re putting on a mask of yourself, or something. It’s a balancing act of finding the sincere connection with the group mind but having enough separate-ness to know that you’re still a person.

Amy: Sometimes before we play, we try to match psychically on a certain color, just so we’re all connected.

Does that change the show, depending on what color you choose?

Sam: It’s not about the color. It’s about intentionally taking a second to realize we’re all together, let’s take a second to just be together.

Have you ever had a sexual fantasy about your band mate’s mom?

Amy: I have a sexual fantasy about Michael’s dad’s shell collection. Just me, surrounded by shells.

Sam: Yeah, he had that one really phallic shell…

Michael: My parents collect things they find on the beach, and they have this weird jar of it all. He has this one shell that looks like a cock and it goes into this other thing and that thing, like, squeaks –

Sam: It made sort of a birdcall.

What’s the worst shoe decision you’ve ever made?

Amy: I went on tour with my old band to Europe for six weeks, and I only brought ridiculous shoes – like, unwalkable shoes. Insane heels and platforms and stuff. Worst shoe decision.

What’s the most disturbing video you’ve ever seen on the internet?

Jamie: Probably this video I saw recently of this weird dude in LA making weird marionette shit – I don’t know, I can’t describe it. That video was fucking crazy.

What three questions do you want to ask the next band?

What’s the last dream you remember having?
Why or why not?
What’s your favorite Sabbath album?

Burnt Ones

Later in the night, the sun firmly set and the Burge Record showcase in full force, we stole away from the sandy pit to a dark but still-noisy alley with San Francisco, by way of Indianapolis, psych-rockers Burnt Ones. The trio let us get intimate in just a few short minutes and did their best to forget their nightmares.

As a couple – Mark and Amy – is there an on-off switch for you two when you’re making music vs. hanging out, or does it all kind of melt together?

Mark Tester: I think there has to be a change sometimes – I wouldn’t say an “off” switch – but at the same time, there never really is. Maybe more like a “stand-by.” [Laughs]

Amy Crouch: I feel like we try to be almost…business-like? Not that, but you know…

Mark: We’re not, like, slobbering over each other all the time. We don’t want it to be, like, a band that’s based on a couple.

Brian Allen: I don’t think it’s any different because every band has personal relationships.

It’s not getting all Fleetwood Mac up in here or anything?

Mark: No. I hope not!

[All laugh]

What’s the last dream you remember having?

Brian: I don’t really ever remember having dreams. The last dream I remember having was fighting a guy with chainsaw with chains.

Amy: I’ve been drinking the last couple of nights, and I think that’s kind of changed my dreams. I’ve been dreaming more violent things. But I have had this recurring dream since I was five years old where I’m in my elementary school, and I’m singing on stage with my two best friends from first grade and we were wearing these weird 20s gowns…I keep having it!

Yeah, my dreams have gotten pretty twisted while I’ve been here too.

Amy: Yeah, I think just sleeping in strange places and constantly moving around makes my body confused.

Mark: Definitely, I’ve had a lot of experiences waking up, being really weirded out and not familiar with where I am – but that’s not really a dream. [Laughs]

That’s just reality! Second question: why or why not?

Brian: Because.

Mark: Because…you might as well.

[Laughs]

What’s your favorite Sabbath album?

Amy: I never really listened to Sabbath, so I’ll just be the fucking asshole. [Laughs]

Mark: I’d say Masters of Reality. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is good, too.

Brian: Yeah, that’s the one I listen to the most because I have it at my house.

Amy: When I was in high school, I went to Ozzfest, does that count? [Laughs]

What three questions do you want to ask the next band?

Why are there no girls in your band?
Warm Dr. Pepper or Warm Mr. Pibb?
What’s your spirit animal?

Warm Soda

By the time we found Warm Soda’s black van behind the Burger show, our feet were aching for a hearty lie-down. Fortunately for us, Warm Soda gutted the back of their band in favor of a wide leather couch and muted red lighting, where we spread out in comfortable ease to talk about crystals, share scary stories, and get real uncomfortable about gender issues.

So I heard a rumor about you and crystals from Burnt Ones…

Matthew Melton: We have a lot of crystals in the van. Although we don’t present an image of being a psychedelic, mystical band, but in fact we are. We have a number of spiritual practices that we, um, aren’t going to reveal in the interview.

[All laugh]

Oh come on…please?

Matthew: We definitely use crystals. They’re not just ornaments or souveniers. They’re functional items in the van. We also burn Paolo Santo, which is something we believe in. We’ve also got sage and human energy field – absorbing energy from your surroundings. You ever heard of orgonite? Wilhelm Reich invented this thing called an orgone accumulator. He found he could heal people of illness by putting them in this box that accumulated energy from the universe. It’s totally proven, but I think the Nazis destroyed it or something.

Why are there no ladies in your band?

Matthew: It’s complicated. Women, um….woah. [All laugh] It’s touchy. This is touchy.

Chase Oren: I mean, we just don’t.

Matthew: Girls just have a tendency to make things more complicated. They’re more emotional – I think that’s a fair statement. Being on the road is tough – Jesus! I’m gonna sound like some fucking….ugh! This is fucked.

[All laugh]

Chase: I’ve been in a lot of bands where there’s a girl, and inevitably someone sleeps with someone and then it gets weird…it’s just less complicated to be in a band with four people who aren’t trying to fuck each other.

Have you guys ever gone to that next level and tried to fuck each other a little bit?

[All laugh]

Matthew: We spoon.

Rob Good: You’re looking at our house – it’s pretty tight quarters.

Matthew: We’re actually all going out with the same two girls right now, just for this week. We kind of married somebody, as a band. The wife for the whole band.

Chase: She cooks for us and cleans…actually, we clean…

Dammit, don’t tell me you cook too! Let me let you off the hook, guys, and go to the next question…

Matthew: Yeah, we bombed that one.

Warm Dr. Pepper or warm Mr. Pibb?

Rob: They have Dr. Pepper with real sugar, here dude….but warm Coke all the way.

Matthew: No high fructose corn syrup.

What’s your spirit animal?

Matthew: Kind of like a scorpion.

Ian McBrayer: I think I might be a golden retriever, unfortunately. [All laugh] I’d prefer to be a wolf, but I’ve heard that enough times, I gotta go with golden retriever.

Chase: I’d say wiener dog – Doxen.

Rob: I was given an eagle charm today, so I guess I’d say eagle.

Ian: You’re totally an eagle!

Chase: Some sort of ravenous bird, for sure.

Do your spirit animals get along?

Matthew: We get along really well. I’ll just go on the books saying that. We’re good spirits together.

As we lingered in the back of Warm Soda’s van and cuddled some crystals, the SXSW chain letter came to a mellow end, to be continued at our next fest.

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