Another Side of
Psychedelic Horseshit
by Stephen Slaybaugh

When Agit Reader Associate Editor Kevin Elliott and I chose Psychedelic Horseshit as a “band to watch” in 2006 for the local rag in Columbus that I was working for at the time, I don’t think either of us had any idea how far the band would progress. Sure, we both dug the deconstructionist undercurrent to their rickety ruckus, but it didn’t necessarily seem built to last. Hell, the instruments the ragtag bunch played seemed only to be held together by duct tape and spit.

In the intervening years, Matt Whitehurst has proved himself to be a master shapeshifter, not to mention one determined individual. Since releasing Magic Flowers Droned, the full-length Psychedelic Horseshit debut on Siltbreeze in 2007, he’s led the band—consisting of (the only other constant) drummer Rich Johnston and a myriad of bass players and other contributors—down an adventurous path of fidelity-challlenged textures, DIY dub, fragmented folk, and prickly pop on several slabs of vinyl and the odd cassette or two. Johnston and Whitehurst parted ways in 2010—I guess you could call it “creative differences”—and Whitehurst went to work on what would become Laced, the band’s new album, released a couple weeks ago on major indie FatCat.

For those expecting an extension of the shitgaze that’s come before, Laced surely must be a surprise. Assisted by musical renaissance man Ryan Jewell, Whitehurst has created a mindfucking record of frizzy electronic fibers. If you’ve been paying attention, though, it constitutes an extension of the progression Whitehurst has been making over the last few years. Though his methodology has shifted, songs such as “French Countryside” and “I Hate the Beach” share a similar aesthetic with his past work and reflect the same attempt at capturing the sound and vision in his head.

Whitehurst and Jewell were in Brooklyn for a couple shows the week of Laced’s release, and Matt and I sat down over a couple liters of beer to discuss the album and whatnot.

Did you make the record mostly by yourself? How involved was Ryan?

Matt Whitehurst: It was made over a period of two years. Usually, I’d take stuff over to his place and he would add his parts to songs, or we would have practices where he would play a single drum sound and we would sample it and load it into a sequencer. That way I’d have a bunch of his drum sounds—like a single hit on the kick drum or single tabla knock—and could sequence that stuff without him. So I did a lot of it here and there over time, but all the live percussion was Ryan. He’s so good, I can work on stuff for a couple months and then take it over to him and he does his parts in a day, and it turns out amazing.

So was it done mostly live or did you piece it together much?

MW: It was recorded on an eight-track, and once I fill that up, I can’t really do anything else. And by then I’ve usually added so much crap that it’s going to be hard to mix anyway. It’s usually until a song feels done or I don’t have any tracks left. But we’re starting to use computers now so we have unlimited tracks.

Look out! How different was it from making records with Rich?

MW: It was a lot different. I felt kind of alone when I was making it. I wasn’t bringing a song to anybody to record it as a band. I would start with an idea or a sample or a riff and then a song would blossom out of that, then over time would get fleshed out into a final song. With Rich, I’d have a song written and then we’d get together and practice it a few times and then record it.

Did wanting to do this kind of music necessitate working with Ryan instead of Rich?

MW: Absolutely. I mean, Rich and I both love each other and will be friends forever, but on the last tour we got a little frustrated musically with each other. We were going in different directions and there wasn’t a lot Rich could do to help me do what I wanted to do. I wanted to keep him around because he’s awesome to go on tour with, but musically I wanted to go in a different direction, and Ryan could accommodate the direction I wanted to go in.

Was there any pressure from FatCat to do something more accessible?

MW: Not really. The way that happened was they had asked to hear something and I had a record done about two years ago that I was waiting for a label to want. It was somewhere between Too Many Hits and what Laced became. “Tropical Vision” was on it and so was “I Hate the Beach,” but otherwise all the other songs were different. I sent that to FatCat, and Dave (Howell), our A&R guy, sent an email back—one of the longest emails I’ve ever gotten—basically telling me that he was really into what we were doing, but that the album was only about 70% there and he didn’t want to sign a new artist and put an album out unless it was 90% to 100% there. I had a lot of respect for him being straight-up with me. Plus that was stuff was already feeling old, and I wanted to do something new. I had gotten a sampler and started incorporating that, and I didn’t have a band. The sound was born out of losing Rich and not having a band at all last summer. Dave called me eight months later and wanted to know what I was doing. I had a batch of eight songs that we were supposed to put out on a record with another label. It was like half of what the record ended up being, so it was like the second version of our next record. I sent it to Dave, but I thought it was pretty weird and wasn’t 100% on it. I was cool with putting it out on a smaller label, but when FatCat wanted it, I started finishing songs that in my head were going to be on the next record because I wanted it to be an album and not an eight-song EP. I feel like Laced feels like a cohesive record in the way that Magic Flowers Droned does, but different.

Did you focus entirely on making a definitive statement rather than put other stuff out as you have in the past?

MW: Not exactly. It was November when FatCat decided they wanted to do the record. At that point, it was called Trance and it was eight songs. I was still mixing it and they needed everything by mid-December. Then, on like December 4, I woke up and decided I needed to put the songs on that weren’t done yet. I started working on stuff and sent Dave some demos a week later and asked if he’d give me a couple weeks to get them to him. So I got them done, and he was like, “Yes, this is totally the record it needs to be.”

That being the case, are you doing proper shows where you play the record? I mean, you’ve always seemed to finish something and then move on to something else.

MW: We’re playing three or four songs from it then some newer songs from the Shitty Sundays (the portion of the band’s website where they’ve been making new material available for download).

As far as the Shitty Sundays thing goes, do you see that as a better way to release things as opposed to the odd cassette or 7-inch?

MW: I think it’s more immediate. You know, we make a cassette for someone that gets degraded in quality and doesn’t sound the way I want because they used the cheapest pressing plant and it takes four months to come out, when all it was was some crap I had laying around anyway. The mp3 thing is definitely a way to get stuff out right away and I like that about it. It doesn’t even have to be something that’s polished or that I’m completely happy with, but it can be something I just did last week. It’s a way to get stuff out of our system and stay actively musically.

Given the direction you’re going in, do you even have a guitar with you right now?

MW: Yeah, I do. Actually, though, I was just thinking about selling it. I was like, “This guitar is shitty. I need to sell it, but then I’d be without a guitar for awhile. Hmm, maybe that wouldn’t be bad?” Honestly, I want a guitar player in the band. I’m not the best guitar player, and I think we’d benefit from someone who can play the songs so I can do what I need to do. Ideally, I’d like to just be mixing and singing and playing electronics. I love guitar—I love playing solos—but I’m not a very good rhythm player, and at this point, I’d like us to be a little less sloppy and chaotic.

The band’s expanded and contracted, expanded and contracted, etc. Has that been indicative of where you were at musically?

MW: Sort of, but also because no one can afford to be in a band unless they’re privileged and have a lot of money or they want to slum it and just barely get by month-to-month. It’s hard to get people to sign up. I’m lucky to have Ryan Jewell with me because that’s what he does for a living: play music with different people. Psychedelic Horseshit is not his only project; it’s one of many, probably 20, that he does, so I’m lucky he can afford to do this because we’re still not making money.

Kevin (Elliott) did an interview with the singer from Cult of Youth and he was complaining about how bands have become hobbies and no one is all that serious about it and the music has suffered as a result. Would you agree with that assessment?

MW: Maybe. If you can afford to buy the right equipment, then you can make commercially accessible music. It doesn’t take a ton of money to do that, but if a lot of people don’t have access to that, it makes what comes out lopsided. If only privileged kids are making music, then you’re only getting half the story. I think everybody is an artist in some way or another, but if you don’t have the means to make art then you’re not going to.

If you had greater means, how different would this record have been?

MW: I don’t know. We still play with drum machines where we have to put a bottlecap underneath the plug just so it will stay in. I think we’re supposed to be on a different level. That adds to some of the chaos, I guess, and that’s been one of our trademarks in the past, but I want to make better music. I’m happy with what we’ve done so far at every step—except for maybe Golden Oldies—but I want to go further. I want to make something that’s very clear and experimental.

I’ve always felt like a song like “Astral Weeks Again” could have been a hit single, which is ironic since it is on a single. Do you think people have been dismissive of the band because of the aesthetics or even just because of the name?

MW: Probably, but at the same time if we didn’t pick Psychedelic Horseshit as a name, we might not still be a band. It was one of those things where the name was part of the appeal and helped define what we were doing while also allowing us some room to basically be fuck-ups. But yeah, there’s probably at least 10 songs that I’ve written where if they were recorded properly in a studio with some attention paid to detail, we could have a pretty killer album.

I mentioned to you before that “Automatic Writing” sticks out as something unexpected. Did you at all going into this have the intention to confound people?

MW: No, not really. It was the first time where I consciously took my influences into account when making the music, other than like being into Bob Dylan...

But that also comes up on the record.

MW: Um, yeah on “Another Side.” What was the question again?

Did you want to confound people?

MW: No, that wasn’t the intention, but I knew that people who liked us for certain reasons weren’t going to like this record. I was conscious of that when I was finishing it. I knew it was a different kind of record for us, but it reflected the change in my taste in music. Psychedelic Horseshit has always reflected my taste in music at the time, and this is just moving on. Plus, I don’t want to make the same record twice.

There’s the famous Mark E. Smith quote about how it could be him and your grandmother playing bongos and it’s still the Fall. Is that the case with Psychedelic Horseshit?

MW: Unfortunately, probably. I’m at a point where I’d love to have a solid band of people who are behind it and are really gung-ho for everything and anything and want to go for it. Because that’s what I want to do. I hate sitting in Columbus doing nothing. I want to be out playing music and making music all the time. I do live it, but I want other people who want to live it too. You need a team, and I don’t have a team. Ryan’s here to help, and he’s doing a good job, but it’s hard to dedicate yourself to Psychedelic Horseshit and survive.

You’ve said that Psychedelic Horseshit reflects your taste in music, but is there an element of parody?

MW: I like to think we have a sense of humor. I mean, we’re called Psychedelic Horseshit! But it’s not like They Might Be Giants. There’s definitely things thrown in that I find funny. Like on Too Many Hits, there’s a really obvious Primal Scream sample thrown in the middle of a folk song, and I thought that was funny. But this record was weird for me. Parts of it came out sounding like warped versions of stuff I like, but I don’t think I was intentionally going for that when I was recording it.

How do you think a label like FatCat markets a band like Psychedelic Horseshit?

MW: I don’t know. They’re doing a good job. They’ve gotten us reviews, and I have an interview next week with a guy on BBC Radio1. It’s really surreal because it’s Psychedelic Horseshit. They’re trying to push us—not into a commercial realm—but they’re trying to sell records. They’re a record company at the end of the day after all and they’re trying to get it out there and get people into it, which is cool to have a label doing that. At the same time, it makes you kind of rethink what you want to do musically and how you want to reach people and how they are confronted with your music. This record doesn’t reflect that, but that will definitely enter into what we from now on in some kind of way.

Do you think this record will reach a different audience?

MW: It will definitely reach a different audience. The stuff we’ve done before reached whatever audience it was supposed to, but this one will definitely reach other people. Hopefully that will be a good thing. I got interviewed by an Italian magazine, and the guy asked me, “What do you think of how the Terminal Boredom is talking about your new record? Nobody seems to like it.” You know, I didn’t make it for the Terminal Boredom kids. That’s kind of a garage rock message board when it comes down to it. I never felt like we were garage rock, and if those kids don’t like it, that makes me happy because that means there’s no hint of garage rock in there. And thank god, because it’s been done. There’s great garage rock that already happened and it doesn’t need to keep happening.

There was all that media interest a few years ago that you got swept up in. How surreal was it being interviewed by MTV News and places that ordinarily wouldn’t have had taken an interest in this sort of music?

MW: It was insane. I had never even been in a band before, and we put our first record out on a small, real independent label, and because of some joke we made, all of a sudden there’s all this coverage of some new scene we’re a part of. I didn’t feel a part of anything really. I was just trying to make the music I wanted to and it came across like that because we were just getting started. That’s just how it came out: distorted and really lo-fi. The new record is lo-fi too, I guess, and I hate to admit it. But it is, unfortunately, because we recorded it on the same machine that we recorded Magic Flowers Droned on. I want to get away from that. I don’t like lo-fi and I don’t want to be lo-fi. I think there are ways to use lo-fi as a production technique, but as a whole aesthetic, it’s useless.