The Psychic Paramount is a nuclear missile in a world full of billy clubs. Their songs overwhelm through sheer clangorous power, the extraordinary harnessing of distortion, and a feral sense of dynamics commonly found in free-jazz and noise-rock musicians. You can hear the results of this NYC group's explosive, intelligent interplay on 2005's Gamelan into the Mink Supernatural and 2011's II. The Psychic Paramount—which consists of guitarist Drew St. Ivany, bassist Ben Armstrong, and drummer Jeff Conaway—make their Seattle debut at Capitol Hill Block Party. St. Ivany took time out from blasting the cosmos with sublime cacophony to answer some impertinent questions.
Laddio Bolocko [St. Ivany and Armstrong's previous band, from 1996—2001] were one of the most powerful bands on the planet; Psychic Paramount are one of the most powerful bands on the planet. Clearly, you guys have tapped into something demonic and damn near apocalyptic. Is it that you're blessed with exceptional brains and nervous systems, or that most everyone else is mediocre and underachieving?
I subscribe to the latter opinion. We gear our music to our own tastes and courage level. We get high from this pressurized intensity, so naturally we indulge ourselves. Like you said, it's more about tapping in and conjuring than anything else. It has more to do with spell-casting than writing a pop song. When it's good, it's very transporting, and that's what we're in it for.
I find that I have very little in common with newer musical trends. Most indie rock just sounds whiny and full of emotions that should probably be suppressed instead of vocalized. I don't want to be in that clean, digital atmosphere. It just seems suffocating and spiritually dead to me. If I could escape back to the '70s, I would in a heartbeat. It's really no wonder that we're outsiders.
What are the Psychic Paramount's primary reasons for making music?
It's an addiction. It tends to propel itself, as addictions do so well.
What challenges did you face trying to follow up Gamelan into the Mink Supernatural, one of the most incendiary debut albums ever? Why did it take six years between Gamelan and II?
It seemed like Gamelan was a fully comprehensive statement. I love the material, but we took it as far we could and wanted to surprise ourselves with something new for the next one. So we started exploring and disappeared into our own experiment for a few years. I don't know why it took so long, it just did.
Do you view your music as a conduit to spiritual fulfillment/enlightenment?
Yes, absolutely. We live in America. Is there a better way?
How do you feel at the end of a show? It seems like it would be a physically and mentally draining experience.
If the show was a good one, it's a great release, like having sex cerebrally with no one in particular.
The Psychic Paramount sound like a group that's informed by minimalism, but you seemingly seek to blow out that approach into a maximalist attack, similar to what Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham were doing in the '80s. Were those artists influential to you?
Neither of those artists were influential to me. From that angle, we were way more influenced by Terry Riley and Tony Conrad and krautrock groups like Can and early Tangerine Dream. Also, Penderecki, Ligeti, and Xenakis in terms of atonal crescendo. I was never really into the New York City punk stuff, except for Suicide and the Ramones, who created some of the best music ever made.
You're playing a summer music festival among a lot of feel-good, accessible acts in Seattle. The Psychic Paramount are way beyond anyone else on the bill in terms of sonic power. With that in mind, do you tailor your sets for specific circumstances, or do you just unleash your most explosive material as explosively as you can every time you hit the stage? (I'm trying to envision how tracks like "Echoh Air" and "X-Visitations" will go down with the typical Block Party attendee; I'm anticipating stunned, panicked looks and soiled underwear.)
Ha! Well, sometimes it depends on how good the PA is and how well we are mixed. We'll certainly do our best to encourage people to soil themselves.
What's your effects-pedal setup?
I like Boss pedals the best and would always recommend them, except for their loop station, which sucks. I've been meaning to spray-paint them all black until these companies at least give me free ones for traveling around endorsing their less-than-durable products that I keep paying to replace.
If you had to cover one song, what would it be?
I don't know, maybe "Summer Madness" by Kool & the Gang.