Philly’s Ecstatic Vision on making the blistering psychedelic get down of Raw Rock Fury
Boxes of new t-shirts have arrived, and each member of Ecstatic Vision is checking them out for the first time. They’re unpacking them while Spacemen 3’s “Walkin’ with Jesus” is sound checked from the stage just opposite the room at Underground Arts last month. There are two versions of the shirts, each features the band in a fiery red silhouette, emblazoned with “Raw Rock Fury” to go along with their new album of the same name. And the hard-hitting four-piece would bring exactly that to the stage later that night.
Raw Rock Fury is a scorcher that burns hot and leaves a nothing in its path. It’s undeniably deliberate and a product of the way Ecstatic Vision evolved from their 2015 album, Sonic Praise, which was written predominantly by guitarist and singer, Doug Sabolik, prior to the band’s current lineup being fully formed. Sabolik says he was listening to a lot of African music at the time that inspired the album’s expansive space and looping rhythms underneath his heavy and whirling psych riffs. After saxophonist / guitarist Kevin Nickles sat in with Sabolik, drummer Jordan Crouse and bassist Michael Field Connor enough times following the release of Sonic Praise, they realized their lineup had been solidified and Nickles became a permanent member.
As the band continued writing more material they gradually steered away from the looping rhythms of their origins and veered into what Crouse describes as party rock. However, he and Sabolik assure there’s a bit of a concept to the album that begs a specific question: What is raw rock fury?
“The first [album] had all this tribal stuff and we kind of changed after that,” Sabolik says while venue staff hurry about preparing the bars and floor space before show time. “And then this whole idea of ‘raw rock fury’ came. What is that? So, then we kind of tailored the material around what we thought that would be at the time.”
Nickles says Raw Rock Fury’s blistering opener, “You Got It (Or You Don’t),” is the call to arms on this idea; the mission statement to the album. Appropriately, he’s able to turn his sax loose the most on the song and certainly doesn’t hesitate to do so on stage, too. His saxophone blasting was an integral addition to the band for Raw Rock Fury. As Nickles continued sitting in on shows, the other three members realized that if the band had played out with him, then didn’t have him on the album, it wouldn’t translate the same.
“There’s saxophone on the record, so if you go on the road and there’s no saxophone, it just won’t work,” Crouse says. “We’re not going to have [Nickles] play on something if he’s not going to be there.”
Their new album consists of mostly live takes, which it benefits from, not because it has an improvised feeling or that it’s “warts and all,” but because Ecstatic Vision’s live show may be the best representation of the band. On stage, they’re unrelenting at the peak of the groovy, bass-heavy “Keep It Loose” as Sabolick yells, “You make me weak in the knees / Baby, I’m begging you please.” Yet when it comes time to dial it back, they know how to build upon lasery synth lines with calculated precision on the rumbling “Twinkling Eye.” And according to Crouse, they know exactly how to construct their more subdued moments just as well as when they’re rocking in the studio.
“What keeps you in check when recording, because we can keep putting layers on layers on layers, and make it sound better and better, but we’re always thinking, ‘how do we do this live?’” he continues. “So, if you get beyond the point that you can do it, then you realize you’re playing a song you’re not going to record, or you need to bring it back to reality.”
Tonight in particular Sabolick and Connor are found beaming smiles to each other, while Nickles takes long pulls from a beer after a run on his sax. The crowd, looking to get loose in their own way, is sending that vibe back as they lit joints during “Astral Plane.” Exchanging that feeling with their audience is all that Sabolick seeks.
“I think it comes from something of being able to go to the show and have something that’s fun to watch,” he says. “Since we don’t play many ‘pop’ songs, or whatever, we fit in more with people that just want to have a good time instead of just going to see the songs they like.”
Crouse backs that sentiment up with his even more concise explanation for how their live show, a complete “party rock” scene, relates to Raw Rock Fury.
“We’re just trying to put on a fun show, be able to listen to it, too, and I don’t know… get down.”
Ecstatic Vision play with Eyehategod, Rosetta and Moros Saturday, April 15, 7 p.m., at First Unitarian Church. More info here.