In anticipation of the upcoming Mad Trip Tour by the Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show, A Love That’s Sound spoke with Dwayne Seagraves, mastermind of the Los Angeles based psych group the Stevenson Ranch Davidians. Hot off the heels of the Stevenson Ranch Davidians’ 2017 album Amerikana, Seagrave’s speaks up about the stories behind his angular lyricism, recording solo and the ups and downs of psychedelic culture.
David Lacroix: What inspired you to name your record Amerikana?
Dwayne Seagraves: I’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on politically in the US and a larger scale for a decade now. It came through in 2009 with the last record we did, Life & Death a little bit. Since then I took a break for five or six years, not making any music, just doing a bit of gardening and trying to educate myself on world events and all of that stuff. That’s defiantly what informed the music and the topics and the songs. I’m a big fan of the original idea of America, not necessarily patriotic to the country itself but on liberty and the ideas of the enlightenment period of freedom for humanity. It was one of the greatest experiments in freedom, the founding of this country with the most amount of liberty for its people. It only took a couple of hundred years for it to become one of the most oppressive, empire building type nations in the world. I don’t think that that experiment really worked out. The spelling of the title is a reference to the German spelling “Amerikana,” Germany being the other country in recent history being one of the most tyrannical governments on the planet.
DL: Independent thought thrives on the frontier. Did that connection attract you to western music elements ?
Dwayne Seagraves: I’m not hugely into country or folk music to the point where I have any favourite artists. I’m not largely steeped in that music. I love it when I hear and it’s good, ya know? It’s somehow managed to creep into my own music but that was more of an organic theme rather than me wanting to make that. I didn’t set out to do a roots based Americana type record but it just happened. I love the independence of the American west and that whole western expansion kind of vibe. It’s just in there somewhere.
DL: Rob Campanella (of the Brian Jonestown Massacre) and brother Andy Campanella are both in your current touring lineup. How did you bring those two into the group?
Dwayne Seagraves: I’ve known Rob Campanella for years. He’s been around the local scene in LA so we’ve been friends and he’s always liked the band. We actually talked about getting together years ago but it never panned out. I was playing with another lead guitar player at the time. We went on a break and it just didn’t happen. When I started out again, Rob responded and I sent him the songs. He pulled Andy into the band who is a great drummer. We talked to Andy about playing in the band years ago but it didn’t happen then; obviously, it was supposed to. Rob brought Misha Bullock, our rhythm guitar player in. Our bass player Jessica Latiolait, was with us already. It just happened and it worked immediately.
DL: How did you record this last record? What was the studio environment like?
Dwayne Seagraves: I did it myself entirely. I never want to do that again; it’s so much work. It took me a year to just do it in my home studio with a 20 year old pro-tools set up, a couple of mics, a delay pedal and a Fender Telecaster guitar. That’s really it. There’s a lot of background vocals and reverb. I did it all at home – drums, vocals, guitar… everything. The only exception is that Luke Dawson pedal-steel on the second last song on the record. Luke has played with Christian Bland & the Revelators, Spindrift and Chris Catalena & the Native Americans.
DL: “The High Meadow” has a very gospel/spiritual side to it. Can you tell us about writing that piece?
Dwayne Seagraves: That’s actually an old hymn called “Wonderful Peace,” that actually happened by accident. I had a chord progression with a melody that seemed really familiar and I realized that it was that old hymn which I heard in my childhood, I was a church guy. It was such a great melody and the words were so nice so I just stuck with that.
DL: The track “Holy Life” seems to take on organized religion. How did you come to write that song?
Dwayne Seagraves: That is one unusual song. That’s the only song I’ve ever written where I had the words and melody first without any guitar or any music. It’s an unusual arrangement. As far as lyrical content, I was in one of those mind frames thinking about all of the darkness. I thought to myself that the only thing to pierce through that is the individual being empowered to realize the power that they have when they are focused, critical and tuned in. “Holy Life” is a glorification of the human spirit.
DL: The song “Binary Bop” centres on the idea of a middle. What were you thinking when you penned that song?
Dwayne Seagraves: It’s been a running theme in all of my music. I feel that I inhabit that place, “the middle,” in a lot of respects. It’s a tricky thing to try to explain. I guess people do tend to think in binary ways. The importance of binary thinking in one regard which is logic. Everything is yes or no, black or white or up or down to a lot of people. In any real search for truth, the process of eliminating contradictions to arrive at an objective truth can only be done with binary thinking. I would say that more open minded people realize that most things are all spectrum and that life is a lot about balance.
DL: What’s your opinion on the general health of current psych rock?
Dwayne Seagraves: I think that a more uplifting tone in music is needed and a more critical view of psychedelics and psychedelic music is needed. As much as I love psych music and culture, I was really into that in my 20s, I think that people really need to take a closer look at who is behind that culture. The research of Jan Irvin at Gnostic Media, he does a lot of research into the people who push that into the culture. If you want to talk about technocrats and the elite and how they operate behind the scenes, there is so much evidence. He really does academic level research on the whole counter-cultural movement. That has been injected into my music too. I think people should be a bit more critical and not so eager to get lost in the psych thing and just trip out or whatever the hell they are doing. There’s more going on there.
DL: You sing “God-bless the Technocrats” on the song “Psy Ops.”
Dwayne Seagraves: That was a dose-y. I did a demo for that song and a lot of the words and phrases came out in one take. I was just doing it, really feeling it and sang whatever came to mind. Anything that I might want to say that might work just comes out. It was started with the chords and vocal melody. That sort of stuff has been in my mind the last decade. I read a lot about and am very interested at what occurs at the higher levels. I’m not really into partisan politics, that kind of minutia that a lot of people like to get into, it seems like a waste of energy to me, personally. It’s good to know what is going on, but more people are understanding now that things happen on a grander scheme that affects all of that. Politics is kind of a puppet show.
DL: The Stevenson Ranch Davidians are setting up for a tour with the Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show. How does performing with a light-show affect the act of live performance?
Dwayne Seagraves: Just like how music affects your mind, your entire environment can do that too. Lighting is really crucial, space is very crucial. Playing shows with like-minded bands and people who know how to make that sort of special space is definitely preferable to going to a club in LA and seeing a spotlight on the lead singer and an overall crappy vibe. I’m really excited to do this with the Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show. LSD & the Search for God are good friends of ours, I’m really looking forward to it.
DL: Do you think that artists have a particular duty to play a leading role in the discussion of social issues?
Dwayne Seagraves: If you want to be interesting, you do need to do that. It’s one thing to have a good time and make psych music that makes people feel good, that people want to get lost in, that’s just been done so much, there’s so much of it out there. I’m sure some people even do that with my music but theres a more important layer to it and good art in general that being more conscious of things that affect people’s daily lives. It’s good to inject that when you can. Music is so powerful, even on a base level, with the way that it affects the brain and the body on a biological level. Music is and has been used to affect the mind and the resonance of the body. If you can put a positive message behind that, it’s powerful. Even if you are talking about negative things, which I do, talking about things that are darker truths, it’s a good way to do it. As long as you’re approaching it from a way of doing something about it and not just submitting to that darkness. That’s all I’m trying to do.
Check out more at www.thestevensonranchdavidians.com
A Love That’s Sound – “Right Down The Middle” –
Artwork: Marie Ingouf
Photography: Angela Clement, Stu Pope, David Lacroix.
Interview: David Lacroix.