When I first listened to Psymon Spine’s “You Are Coming To My Birthday,” I entertained the passing thought that I was, in a way, peering into the life of someone else though this album. It, in an unexplainable way, feels so personally connected to the artist that you, as the spectator, are sitting on the outside, listening in on their life story. There’s a definite start, and a definite end, and a full rainbow of sounds and stories in the middle.
I had the opportunity to pick the brains of the band about their album, their visual art, and got a track by track breakdown of their debut album, out on streaming platforms today, called “You Are Coming To My Birthday.”
The new album it was, to me, like reading a collection of short stories– each story is about a new topic, but they share an undeniably similar tone. Every song on your album sounds different, pulls reference material from different genres, but there’s a really strong underlying sound that unites the whole thing, gives it a narrative cohesion. What are the overarching themes of the album?
Thanks! Given that we all came from very different musical backgrounds, sounding like a million different things came pretty naturally. Keeping the record cohesive was definitely the biggest challenge early on. Our producer/guru/label head Graham Dickson helped a lot with that.
This is your first full length album, and it already seems that aside from creating a signature sound, you’ve also taken great steps to begin curating a really engaging visual presence. I’m digging the music video for “Yoana” a lot, and the album artwork (by Erin Barry) is really cool. What is the art direction like when you work in visual mediums like that?
You can go a couple different ways when curating a visual presence. You can keep it super minimal and try to stay out of the way of people’s natural associations, or, as in our case, you can find something that looks the way you want the music to sound and roll with that. When we saw Erin’s amazing body of work we immediately felt a strong connection.
We take the visual end really seriously. At best, a good visual presence enhances the music; at worst it can ruin it. Psychological associations are no joke – the food might taste good but if the restaurant smells weird you’re probably not eating there again.
(Insert: Since the interview, the music video for “Eric’s Basement and Secret Tunnels” was released, again directed by Erin Barry, and it’s just as rad and mesmerizing as the first one. View here.)
What were you all listening to while you were creating this album?
Fela Kuti, William Onyeabor, Francis Bebey, Aby Ngana Diop, Shina Williams, Prince, Talking Heads, Mr Twin Sister, Os Mutantes, Beach Boys, Ricardo Villalobos, Factory Floor, the Buggles, Pond, Is Tropical, post-Beatles Beatles, Flying Lotus, Broken Social Scene, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Quasimoto, Vince Staples, YG, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Band of Horses, the Band, and a lot more.
What are the ideal listening conditions for this album?
Floating in a blimp with a malfunctioning VR headset. Besides that it’s all fair game.
With that, let’s begin the track-by-track breakdown of “You Are Coming To My Birthday:”
This is the welcome-to-the-weird-world-of-Psymon-Spine song.
Noah sampled the vocals from a piece of music Peter wrote for a high school play, wrote some guitar over it, and then the band overdubbed it together and composed the rest of the song. We figured we’d make the first song on the record stupidly over-the-top and if anyone makes it past they’re probably along for the ride.
The percussion in this song was sampled from the same high-school-era-Peter play that we sampled in Separate. Noah wrote it for a friend who was stuck in a self-destructive emotional cycle, encouraging him to snap out of the loop he had entered and cheer the fuck up.
“…cheer the fuck up.”
In 2015, we were stuck in a shit record deal and wanted to sign with Axis Mundi so we wrote a bunch of songs for our friend’s fashion label (Yoana Baraschi) so we could buy ourselves out. We started this song for that project and turned it into a full song a couple years later.
Eric’s Basement & Secret Tunnels:
In 2013 Noah and Mike’s electronic project was asked to tour Europe but Mike couldn’t get out of school so Noah asked Peter to come along and fill in. They started writing the first Psymon Spine songs together along the way. “Eric’s Basement & Secret Tunnels” was written in a hostel in Paris.
Crown a King:
Peter wrote this one in high school about his group of friends: their hidden insecurities, and how those insecurities motivated the changes in their weird social hierarchy.
Peter wrote the lyrics for this one on the back of a receipt while dying a slow and refreshing death behind the counter of a frozen yogurt shop.
Noah wrote this one about a philosophical thought exercise by Robert Nozick (read here). The work was intended to refute the hedonist philosophy that the so-called quality of a life may be quantified by the abundance of pleasurable experiences and lack of painful experiences therein. Put simply, the essay argues that if a machine existed that could let one experience anything that their heart desired, most people would still prefer an authentic life over a “perfect” but artificial one.
The song isn’t opinionated, just a reflection on an interesting piece of writing. It’s also the first song we began recording on this album, back when Axis Mundi had a studio set up in Willem Dafoe’s old house in upstate New York, and the last song we finished mixing.
Devon wrote this song after meeting Peter at a party in the woods in upstate New York and then joining Psymon Spine.
Several years ago, before our friends Is Tropical were signed to Axis Mundi, a few of us went to go see them DJ a party in Chinatown for their old label Kitsuné. We were all underage so we tried to sneak through the church on other side of the club, which was called the Transfiguration Church. We thought that it was such an amazing name that we had to use it for something.
Lines and Lines and Lines End:
This is a song about getting older and believing less in fate and more in chaos. Noah wrote the words in Mexico City and the music in California.
If our album was an old sci-fi movie, Lines would be ‘THE END’, and Gears would be ‘…?’. Peter also wrote this one in high school, during a period in which he felt that every stage of his life was only in place to prepare him for the next.