by Helen Grant
I’d heard of The Purple Church through Liz Drew and Colin Newman. I found their name to be intriguing because I knew it referenced an urban legend based out of Midwest City. But it wasn’t until their most recent album release that I’d really given their music my full attention. Full disclosure: I like psychedelic rock. In many ways it is an influence and precursor to my favorite genre of them all: dream pop. From there we move into shoegazing, but what does this have to do with The Purple Church? Well, their sound is essentially psych rock meets shoegaze with added notes of punk thrown in for fun. Or if you go by their Facebook page, then you need to throw in some Terrorgaze too.
With the exception of dream pop’s soft spoken vocals, although in keeping with the genre’s fuzzy texturing ala My Bloody Valentine, all these sonic elements are readily apparent in The Purple Church’s opening track “In Waves,” which is off their eponymous album. It was released for free through bandcamp.com on March 26th. With themes about the futility of existence in vast seemingly nihilistic universe, theirs is not what you’d call a light-hearted album. But it’s not without it’s touching and yearning moments either as expressed in nascent lyrics found in songs like “Pink Salt.” Womb imagery, check. A pervading sense of bitterness and loneliness, check. Touching moments tinged with sadness, here ya go: “Touch my face/Bend another spoon/These problems were never meant for you.”
Overall I liked their album, even though their style of psychedelia isn’t something I listen to often. “After Image” starts out with aggressive vocals, but there are moments where it evens out and the balance between fast and slow, aggression and passiveness, makes it all flow in an appreciable way. Plus I do enjoy the weird hisses, presumably because they recorded the album on analog equipment, and the gritty, swirling guitars found throughout their songs, but most notably featured in the track “Singularity.” If this kind of soundscape is your musical drug of choice, then pop your ear buds in and dispense away.
The Purple Church is comprised of: Robby Harris (guitarist and vocalist), Austin Tackett (bass and “occasionally screams”), Lucas Dunn (drummer), and Aaron Tackett (guitars). Atlee Hickerson is the engineer and co-conspirator at Dust House, however he plays drums for both Little Bear and Baby Trees.
Since I’m not as well-versed about The Purple Church, and by extension Dust House Studio, as some of the other okc.net staff, I decided it was time to do a full on interview about the album, their studio, and their role in producing Baby Trees’ April Fools’ album. I spoke with Purple Church and Dust House Studio co-owner Austin Tackett.
okc.net: Let’s see. I have background via Colin and Robert about your band’s history and studio, so let’s skip all that and move straight to what you’ve been up to starting with your album art: what’s up with that dog in a casket? Did you find that photo at a thrift shop?
Tackett: Actually a friend of the Purple Church hooked us up with that photo. It’s the real deal, and the perfect size for an album cover. We literally used no color processing or cropping. It’s morbid, but hilarious in that it perfectly sums up the futility of existence. Much like the Purple Church album.
okc.net: On your eponymous album, I took note of “Parallax.” After rummaging through your back catalog I noticed it’s taken on various incarnations, all of them longer than what is on the album, so what’s the deal with this song?
Tackett: “Parallax” is probably the oldest song on the new album. Various demos of it have been floating around for the last year or so. The single version on the Purple Church’s bandcamp was originally recorded as a one-off web release through Nice People Records. We always intended the song to be part of a greater concept album however.
okc.net: Do you think your sound has evolved?
Tackett: Most definitely. We’ve always had a foot in the “depressing psychedelic” genre of music, but the newest album takes that idea and pushes way further. Likewise, all of our material in the past has been written on a song to song basis, where as this project was written as a whole piece.
okc.net: Was there a theme in mind going into this album?
Tackett: For sure. We wanted to write a loose concept album concentrating on how infinitesimally small and meaningless all of our lives are in the grand scheme of the universe. Robby and Lucas write all the lyrics, so they could probably explain the more nuanced elements of the album’s theme’s more articulately than I could. That said, we very consciously tried to keep the musical themes within the album tied together.
okc.net: I doodled, because it’s this thing I do now when I write about music. I originally told myself I’d limit the time spent doodling to just one play through of your album, but I ended up liking “Parallax” and “Big Muff Super Nova” that I ended up played them twice. And because I can be a bit of re-toucher, it was hard to just stop when those songs were finished as I couldn’t keep it in quite in the spirit of slap dash art, so I decided to play the “Trenton Jeep and Nissan Presents Baby Trees” album. “Figure It Out” was pretty strong. “Christmas at The Hospital” was too fuzzy to make out much of the lyrics. To that end, will the six songs on The Purple Church album be put on a longer full-length album?
Tackett: Well, while the latest Purple Church release is short, we still consider it a full-length album. It’s longer than Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” and “II” by the Meat Puppets. We’ve been working on this project for more than a year, so as far as we’re concerned these songs will never see the light of day again. We are quite ready to move on. It would appear your doodle captures the stringy-floating-in-negative-space type vibe we were wanting to capture on the album. Nice job!
okc.net: Alright, now that April Fools’ Day is over let’s talk about that “Trenton Jeep Nissan Presents Baby Trees” album. Besides getting two new songs for Baby Trees out there, via this satirical vehicle of sorts, have you heard any negative feedback from anyone about your spoof-advertising jingles? I mean, let’s just put it out in the open, this was more or less about Fowler VW’s image and who that dealership appeals to right? Or was this about car dealerships in general promoting musicians? I know there is an OKC Chevy Music Showcase that features up and coming local music too. In a way it kind of makes sense since most musicians will go on tour, but I’m sensing you all have other ideas about these kinds of sponsored partnerships.
Tackett: We have not heard anything negative yet, but honestly I think most of the people involved in the “car dealership” scene don’t really notice what we’re doing anyways. The fake ads and imagery we used on the single are most certainly picking on the Fowler stuff, but really it’s meant as a playful jab at any of corporate entities that have been trying to dig their claws into the local scene. We know very well that guys like Fowler have the best of intentions, but its frustrating to see what happens when that level of marketing is unleashed upon people. It encourages careerism amongst bands, and fosters a ‘lowest common denominator’ approach to the kind of music that’s becoming popular on a local level.
Underground music and culture has traditionally had an anti-consumerist slant. When this type of scene gets swept into the corporate world, the message becomes toothless and marginalized. I listen to music because I want to be stirred emotionally, not so I can be reminded that I can get 0% APR financing on a new Dodge Ram. I mean, how dangerous and evocative is your art if its being used to sell people artisan doughnuts or designer hats?
There’s a time and place for this type of corporate philanthropy, and the city’s benefited in a lot of ways because of it. We have The Spy, which is a great outlet for local bands, and the touring comedy circuit has benefited, etc. I just find that the manufactured alternative yuppie lifestyle bullshit is getting out of hand. It’s time to start celebrating the musicians that are in it because they have something to say.
okc.net: For the record both Colin and I drive Nissans, which is why I was amused. Alright, so I’m sure you didn’t write your jingle with me in mind, but I have asked myself if I bought another car if I would be swayed by what my choice might net me locally. Which is to say, I have considered that in getting a VW I would enable Johnathan Fowler to bring more indie music to Oklahoma. And I was really happy to see Washed Out play Opolis. Although I wasn’t pleased with the marketing tactics used to stir up a frenzy with dropping tickets here and there. I’ve got enough things to do in a day, as do a lot of working people, without having to keep an eye out on where to pick up a “in-the-know” free ticket. Also gas is damn expensive so driving to random ass locations in the hopes you can grab a ticket flies in the face of the environmentally-conscious ideals most indie types ascribe to. I’d rather have bought a ticket online and done will-call to be perfectly honest, or gone to Guestroom Records to pay for one. That said, I know he’s behind some of the other shows I’ve seen or have wanted to see. And the Christmas albums he does with Blackwatch Studios have been fun as are the events he helps to sponsor in various other locations, like the Plaza District for example.
That said, having read your interview with Robert Oxford, I can tell you all think differently on the matter. So tell me what it is about this style of “tit for tat” that made you all to choose this particular trend of corporate sponsorship as your April Fools’ Day mark?
Tackett: “Tit for Tat” might be taking it a bit far. We just wanted to poke some fun at how lame that portion of the scene has become. Again, not everything that guys like Fowler do is a bad thing. And for the record, I’m sure that dude is totally chill and a fun guy to grab a beer with, but his tastes certainly don’t speak for me.
More than anything, we just want a real conversation to start on a local level about music and what it means to people. So many music fans just consume whatever flavor of the month band is thrown at them, and they don’t think about it ever again. Part of the blame should be put upon the local media for never trying to go much further than base level promotion when writing about local bands. There’s a rich narrative surrounding the DIY scene in OKC and Norman over the last 30 years. Tons of interesting people with interesting stories, but you’d never know it because every piece of music journalism here is PR fluff. I can’t help but think our little stunt worked in our favor because here we are actually exchanging ideas about music and the local scene.
okc.net: Yes. I agree. I actually had no intention of entering music journalism. All my writing about music had been mostly a private affair kept in journals, and later on my private blog. But then I picked up a paper one day and read a sloppy mostly PR-ish blurb of Beach House’s “Teen Dream” and decided that I could do it better. I’m not saying that particular album spoke to my soul as no other has, but it meant more to me than just being the “flavor of the month.” I have music reviewers I like, but overall I’ve been trying to figure out what is the best way for me to engage myself as listener, writer, and reviewer. Hence those doodles. I needed something more tangible and creative than a review written online and money in my pocket.
To that end, what is the narrative around Dust House and The Purple Church? Besides being a place where creators congregate, what are the types of stories floating through your lives at this moment?
Tackett: Well, to be honest, I don’t know if it’s our place to set the narrative for what we’re doing. I can say that we’re a couple of guys who are lucky enough to be able to do what we’re doing with Dust House and the associated bands. I’m not sure I want to tell people how to feel about that. Our aim is to strengthen the DIY music community around here, but it’s too soon to tell if that’s actually happening.
okc.net: Do you think there is a way to do it better? A way that doesn’t rely on large profitable entities to sponsor struggling talent?
Tackett: I guess if your asking us if there’s a better way for musicians to make money, you’re probably asking the wrong people. We don’t profit from Dust House, and the musicians we work for certainly aren’t paying their bills with album sales.
okc.net: On the flip side, by doing that “Trenton Jeep and Nissan Presents Baby Trees” album, do you think you’ve put yourselves into a position that you can never allow yourselves to be sponsored by someone other than your fans? Or is there a scenario where you could see partnering with a business?
Tackett: We would never accept corporate funds to continue what we’re doing, it would completely defeat the purpose. We have absolutely no intentions of ever making a profit off of this venture, and in the unlikely event that we do, it won’t be from selling sponsorship. Of course, if any local beer companies want to donate a keg for one of our shows, that’s a different story.
We live in a world were everybody is trying to sell you something. Why can’t culture and art exist without the implication of also making a profit? Can’t we get together and take part in something simply because we love it, or because we want to communicate with one another?
There’s nothing wrong with success, and if someone can make a living through their art, that’s awesome; it just shouldn’t be the only way to approach it.
okc.net: This is kind of random, but would you ever write a jingle for money? Not necessarily for cars, burgers, or clothing, but maybe for a show or something you actually like?
Tackett: Baby Trees actually wrote and recorded the theme to the Two Average Dicks podcast, however we didn’t get paid or anything like that. We did it because we’re good buds with Robby and Jake and think they’re doing something really great. I guess if someone wanted to pay us to do it, and we didn’t associate the jingle at all with Dust House I don’t see a problem with it. If Del Rancho ever needs anything, just hit us up!
okc.net: I hear COOP and Mustang are good donating beer for music events. Lots of little rules they have to follow to comply with the law, so you’d have to talk to them about it, but they’ve done it before. Alright. It seems like your most reliable source to off-set costs associated with running a studio is people coming into record. Album sales seem secondary in terms of potential revenue, but in the end it does come down to how you are treating your projects. Which is to say, and just so I can get a better idea of what it is your doing, this may not be a for-profit venture, but are you all are set up to handle any success, even if it is breaking even or earning a nominal profit?
Tackett: We don’t charge bands to record. We may ask for a couple of bucks to recoup the cost of tape (30-50 bucks) but otherwise there is no fee.
We don’t have any incoming revenue, so there’s not even the intention of succeeding on a financial level. Success for us would be measured more by how happy the bands are with their recordings, and by any extra attention we can garner for the bands we record. Atlee and I are responsible to a fault, so in the off chance we found a way to make a profit, we’d have no problem keeping it managed. Dust House isn’t meant to be a business. We do this because it makes sense from an artistic perspective and because its really fun.
okc.net: Are you all playing anywhere, Norman Music Festival perhaps?
Tackett: Power Pyramid is playing Norman Music Fest this year, as are a couple of other bands we’re friends with. Purple Church played the last two years prior to this one. As far as other shows are concerned, Dust House acts play shows across the city constantly. As for the Purple Church, we’re in the process of getting back in shape before we play anywhere.
okc.net: Would you ever try to get into something like Austin Psych Fest?
Tackett: Sure, although we’ve never submitted. Perhaps one of these days…
There you have it folks. This is about making art for the sake of it, engaging people to listen and think instead of just mindlessly consuming, and rethinking American ideals as they are at the present time.
Speaking of American ideals and creativity, I’m going to leave off with this poster. Not because you can purchase it on Etsy, although you can if it speaks to you, but because Ira Glass, radio host of “This American Life,” is not wrong. It’s only by creating work, DIY-style and for the love of it, that you’re going to improve as a creator and attract interest in whatever it is you’re doing. How you choose to create and how much you do it is entirely up to you. But getting back to Ira Glass’s quote on creativity, it’s probably worth your time to consider what fuels your ambition and why too.