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Psychedelic rock is kind of like pornography, you know what it is when you see it. The Beach Boy’s sunshine-soaked pop and the 13th Floor Elevators grimy riffs don’t have much in common, yet an iTunes genre-grid can’t seem to tell them apart. But however you choose to define psychedelic music, the tag certainly applies to Chicago quartet Disappears. The band, founded by former 90 Day Men guitarist Brian Case, plays tightly wound minimalist rock that’s as heavy on repetition as it is reverb. The band’s performance last night, opening for Tortoise at Black Cat, was a 30-minute tidal wave of head-nodding bliss outs. If the the doors of perception can be blasted open with volume alone, Disappears has the artillery. Interviewed by Washington City Paper, Case agreed that Disappears skewed into psych-territory, but he was certain it had something to do with repetition, noise, and tension.
Disappears debut album, Lux, is out in April on Kranky.
Washington City Paper: How did you guys get started?
Brian Case: It was about two years. I used to play in band called 90 Day Men. We did a tour with a band called Boas, [which included] Graeme and Jonathan. On that tour we hung out a lot. We live in Chicago and we’re all friends. I’d always wanted to play with those guys. It came about that I was doing some songs and I wanted to record them. I did that with Graham and he ended up playing on the recordings. So, it fell into place that way. I just had guitar parts and some words, everybody else came along and added their thing.
WCP: There’s a minimalist quality to Disappears sound, what made you guys go in that direction?
Case: We were just trying to keep it simple, trying to strip away any of the gratuitousness. We were…some of the things we were pulling from, our touchstones, had a really simple approach.
WCP: What were those touchstones?
Case: I guess like Graeme and I talked about Spacemen 3 and Jesus and Mary Chain. We didn’t want to make songs that sounded like those bands, but their beginnings were so stripped down and rudimentary. That was something that interested us. I had never been in a band like that. I thought it would be cool.
WCP: Those two bands are frequently lumped into the psychedelic genre. Would you say there’s a psychedelic component in Disappears?
Case: Yeah, I think there is. The music has a real pulse, a heartbeat. There’s a lot of tension in it.
WCP: But that tag, psychedelic, it’s really ambiguous. It can refer to a lot of different music. In what sense would you say your band is psychedelic?
Case: It’s hard to say. Psychedelic can mean so many things. Some people would consider a band like Free Design psychedelic and some people would consider Hawkwind psychedelic, but those two sound nothing alike. Um…I don’t know what our contribution to psych lexicon is. Probably all the acid we do.
WCP: Is it sort of a live energy? You guys have some pretty good trance-out moment on this record.
Case: Yeah, I mean, the idea is to get something going. To get to where the music becomes physical almost. We call it the bliss-out part of the song—everything is going and its just happening. I don’t know how to describe it. You get the song to a point where the song feels like it’s circling in on itself. Things are changing and, but it’s not like there’s the big change, just subtle changes that you barely notice.
WCP: So how do you know when you’re really hitting that bliss-out point? When do you know the point is really getting across at a show?
Case: We’ve kind of just been trying to make it work for us. Hopefully people understand what we’re doing and are reacting to it in some way. If we’re on stage communicating well, then everybody can get in the zone. The music is kind of physical in this weird way—there’s lots of tension but no release. We don’t talk a lot to the crowd. We try to blast through the shows. It’s just one big wave.
WCP: You mentioned that the music has a lot of tension, what’s creating that tension?
Case: I guess it’s just the repetition. I know I keep coming back to that. It’s a really big part of it. When we’re playing a song and I’m playing the same chords the entire song it keeps falling back in on itself, it gets really trancey or something.
WCP: You guys have a full-length coming out soon, right?
Case: The record on Kranky comes out in April.
WCP: That label mostly caters to softer, looser, ambient artists. In what way do you feel like Disappears fits into that labels overall vibe?
Case: It was weird because it wasn’t…it was not the first place I had through we would end up. I like Kranky a lot, though. They’re so consistent. There’s not a lot of music on there that sounds the same as us, though. Maybe Deerhunter.
WCP: You guys are a little more overtly rocking than Tortoise. How has it been to tour with them?
Case: It’s been really fun. Living in Chicago, you take Tortoise for granted. It’s cool to be on tour with them and realize they’re so good. They’re a rock band at heart, but the records come across differently.