As any brave psychonaut will tell you, an altered state of consciousness requires exploration. Delve a little deeper through the myriad strains of cosmic mischief that defines itself as ‘psych’ today and you may just end up finding your new favourite band. After capturing the imagination of the hordes at 2014’s Liverpool Psych Fest, our own fiery, sweaty ball of energy STRANGE COLLECTIVE are asserting themselves as many people’s ones-to-watch this time round, as they take to the stage with hopes of solidifying their growing reputation of blowing minds and rattling teeth.
A palpable buzz has calcified around Strange Collective since their rumbustious launch onto the Liverpool music scene in early 2014, an appearance that was heralded by a 54-second YouTube clip of four blurry figures lost in the squall of what we now know to be a trademark Strange Collective jam. Since coming out from their self-assigned shroud of secrecy (the last time we spoke to them they wouldn’t even tell us their names or meet us in person), it’s no surprise that the group have quickly become the local support act of choice for those operating within the broad church of psychedelia. The quartet have consistently impressed with a seemingly endless streak of high-profile supports that include The Black Lips, Clinic and those most catchily named Aussies, King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard. This extended run of diverse live opportunities, coupled with a taste for full-blooded headline shows, has ensured a wave of adulation for a band who are very much purveyors of their own branch of garage psych worship.
Ascending on a purely word-of-mouth basis, Strange Collective unleashed their debut single a year after their first performance. Released in February 2015 by Salvation Records, Sun epitomises their infectious blend of mischievous riffage, tripped-out yelps and pummelling distortion. Imagine, if you will, a Litherland Ty Segall fronting a spiritual hybrid of Hawkwind and Thee Oh Sees, and you’re pretty much there. Strange Collective find themselves in the middle of a world that has its hands coiled round the neck of the zeitgeist, with an audio signature that has the ear of psych and garage fans, between skater pop and stoner rock.
I caught up with the group in Elevator’s Whitewood Recording Studio, where they were busy recording a track for a special pre-Psych Fest release with Bido Lito!, which will be released in September. The boys – Alex, Ali, Sian and Andrew – are in buoyant spirits having just recorded four new songs. There’s a perceptible excitement in the room as we are talked through working titles and working relationships within the band. Bassist Andrew Gordon Parry is quick to point out the deeper significance Psych Fest played in the band’s formation: “Me and Alex first spoke at Psych Fest. It’s going to be our two-year anniversary. Romantic.”
Guitarist and vocalist Alex Wynne – who outside of the project illustrates under the guise of Blak Hand Design – recalls that the lucid encounter occurred during an obliterating performance by San Francisco rockers Fuzz. “I asked Parry if he fancied having a jam,” Wynne remembers. “I thought, if he’s into all these bands that we’ve just been talking about, does he fancy coming along and doing that. I think I freaked him out… I showed him a picture of an octopus. I suppose that was the genesis of what is now Strange Collective, though.”
Recruitment and adjusting to new members seems to be a salient factor in Strange Collective realising its current potential. The band’s personnel have alternated frequently since its initial inception. Assiduously, Alex delineates the band’s so far transient membership. “We had Louie first, then Robbo, then Sam, now Parry on bass. On drums we had Sam, then Parry came in, now Sian is in there. It follows a strong tradition of our members coming from different bands.”
Even the group’s title represents the disparate sourcing of its own composition. Each member, estranged from a previous band or project, wants to contribute towards something altogether more alien than what they’re used to. After working their way through four bass players and three drummers, the band are now reaping the benefits of a consistent and committed line-up.
“Our first gig was with Lucid Dream and Wild Eyes – which for a first gig was decent,” Parry continues. “We had no idea what we were doing… We had a month and a half to write a full set and get it ready. We thought – can we do this again? We saw Tyler from Bam!Bam!Bam! and he offered us a gig in The Kazimier with the Warlocks and Mugstar, and that was the second show. After that we had the discussion of, ‘Are we doing this?’”
Strange Collective’s willingness to throw themselves in at the proverbial deep-end of the pool of high-profile support slots demonstrates that they thrive on a mantra of necessity being the mother of invention. The group have had the testicular fortitude to perform alongside legends like Silver Apples, Sean Lennon and Ariel Pink, and have inevitably gained from those potentially career-defining experiences – although it’s fair to say that guitarist Ali Horn took more from the former two than the latter. “Ariel Pink was a prick. I really like his music but I’ve not listened to it since I’ve met him.”
Performing with your influences and, indeed, meeting your heroes can be a risky business, but then there’s always the possibility they take a shine to you and help you up the ladder. Having heard Strange Collective’s newly recorded tracks and noting the influence of vintage Jonestown, I wonder if the band would approach this year’s Psych Fest Artist in Residence, Anton Newcombe? Still sore from his encounter with the 5’4” serial diva Ariel Pink, Horn is wisely reticent: “I love the man but I don’t want him to spit in my face. I’m too scared of talking to people I respect, because if they’re not what they’re cracked up to be, it can be really disappointing.”
The presence of a raft of newly recorded material that has yet to be aired has given the band a renewed impatience to perform, something that has been a feature of their best live performances to date. The new-look Strange Collective set hinges upon energetic new offering Super Touchy, which will be delivered to us as a split 7” vinyl single (b/w The Myrrors) by God Unknown Records, the label founded by Mugstar bassist Jason Stoll. It may only be a small step in terms of physical output (the release is limited to 200 copies, available only through signing up to God Unknown’s own maladjusted Singles Club), but the company the band are keeping in this latest run – Goat, Black Bombaim, Mainliner – suggests that the path they’ve embarked on is suitably whacked-out and thrilling enough for the PZYK masses.
Aware of how quickly the effects of momentum can dissipate, an increasingly convincing Strange Collective are ardent in pursuit of their goals. “We just want to play sweaty shows,” Parry says, deadpan. “We played a really cool gig the other day with Bad Meds, Ohmns and Mind Mountain – it was so fun. There was no stage and everyone was in a tiny room. That’s the whole vibe, really.”
There’s a beautiful simplicity in what this group do, even in the loose and carefree roll of the tracks. Listening to Strange Collective play live is like watching a ball of energy that could collapse in on itself or fly apart at the seams at any moment, which gives you an unbelievable adrenalin rush as you latch on to their unstoppable forward momentum. Don’t resist, just hold on tight.
The Strange Collective headline The Bido Lito! Membership Launch Party on 20th April at 24 Kitchen Street.