Unlocked: Psychic Teens knows the time for noise
Psychic Teens‘ drummer, Dave Cherasaro, and guitarist/singer, Larry Ragone, are sitting at a sidewalk table in Center City drinking a beer and a margarita, respectively. The sun is high and reflecting off the stainless steel tabletop into Cherasaro’s eyes. Despite the glare, they both look comfortable, laid back and that they both finished a day at work.
At the time, it’s roughly two weeks before their second LP, COME, is being released on SRA Records. Two years have gone by since their first release and by the sounds of it, they’re satisfied with the end result of this one.
“This is definitely the next obvious conclusion of what’s come together since then,” Cherasaro says.
They played a ton of shows in that time, released two different EPs, one of Nine Inch Nails covers and the other of Misfits covers. And through all that they learned what parts of their songs needed to be controlled or even toned down. Ragone’s never been afraid to crank his volume or make major noise through guitar effects and distortion. Except he found that there’s a time for everything and the noise can sometimes be brought down a bit.
“We realized people respond to songs better when there’s some sort of hook rather than when we just drone on for eight of nine minutes,” Ragone says. “I feel like I’ve dialed back a lot of the noise both live and on the record and just kept going to things that were more ctachy. This record has more hooks on it, but it’s definitely not a pop record.”
That’s definitely true. Songs like the seething “LUST” is not the easiest pill to swallow if you’re not ready for it. Which is how the Teens’ characteristic noise with Cherasaro abandoning the beat to just keep time with the bass drum, hi-hats and other cymbals. The change allows Ragone to morph his guitar into a machine of tsunami of sound, wiping all in its away as the most over-blown guitar chords devour the end of the song’s bridge. And even through it all, Joe DeCarolis keeps the song afloat with a busy circular bass guitar part. That’s often his biggest role in the band.
“There are moments on the record where things get seriously noisey,” DeCarolis says. “But that’s usually how Dave and I have always worked. We just lock-in and let Larry do whatever he wants over top with guitar noise.”
The anguish in Ragone’s voice during “LUST,” as he blares, “Suffer, suffer/ My dream’s the cruelest joke,” sounds genuine. However, he says the lyrics he writes are just what comes to mind while in the studio.
“A lot of the lyrics were literally done on the fly,” he says. “They would say to me, ‘Hey, you need to track these vocals now.’ And I’d reply, ‘Okay, give me five minutes,’ and I’d just come up with anything. That’s how “BUG” came about. I just wrote something about being a bug. And it’s worked this way so far so I’m not going to change it. ”
As for the other end of the vocal departmant, where Ragone’s larynx is the sole employee for the Teens, it’s working extra on COME. He recorded backing vocal tracks for depth. While they may not be as prevalent throughout as you would think, they’re pretty obvious on certain tracks like the opener, “NO.” But the first idea was to ask someone to back Ragone in the studio.
“It’s usually hard enough getting the three of us together to get into the studio,” he says. “So I just sang really high and did my own back-up vocals.”
There are a couple other parts of this release that Ragone felt he just had to take care of on his own. When it was time to find cover art for COME, he reached out to Polish painter, Aleksandra Waliszewska, himself. Ragone says he’s been a fan of her work for a little over a year, but he never thought she’d write back.
“She replied to me barely an hour later,” he says. “We exchanged a few ideas, sort of collaborated and met in the middle, which worked out great. All she asked me to do was buy her some books on Amazon. She mustn’t have access to Amazon US in Poland.”
Same goes for the other visual end of the album, the “BUG” video. When the band came up with the silly idea of just playing the song in some bug costumes at practice, Ragone says their friend who eventually shot the video initially told them it wouldn’t work, they needed a storybooard.
“But I eventually convinced him and just went out and bought the bug-suits on Amazon, they were delivered on a Friday and we shot the video at a friend’s huose that Saturday,” Ragone says with a laugh. “And then i just returned the costumes to Amazon on Monday and got a full refund.”
He and Cherasaro can barely control their laughter while recalling the video. They both add it’s not meant to be taken seriously and that even though the music is dark on COME, they can still take a joke.
“I’ve definitely met some peers and contemporaries that you can almost see it in their eyes that they don’t want their stuff to be taken as bullshit,” Ragone says. “But we’re just friends having fun with a band, we’re not set out to make art to destroy.”
COME is the featured album in this edition of Unlocked; hear the spotlighted track “Less” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, watch the video for “Bug” in yesterday’s post, and check back tomorrow for a vinyl-shopping trip with the band.