Psycho / Tropic: A Mythological Interview with Joshua Powell

>> Joshua Powell is an artist from Indianapolis, IN, who handcrafts a strangely literate brand of psychedelic indie rock that manages to be simultaneously socially conscious and spiritually turbulent. His interview discusses his passion for collage, his wide-range of musical influences, and compares each track off of his latest release 'Psycho / Tropic' to mythical creatures.

Could you please introduce yourself; talk a bit about your background including how you started your journey into the world of music?

I grew up in small town Florida, playing in the woods, going to church, and teaching myself punk music from online forums and guitar tabs. I never had a way out of music, Mom started me in piano at age 5. I went to school in small town Indiana where I made some darling friends and read the types of books that make kids sell all their shit and buy vans and go out in search of things worth taking pictures of. Think of that in a broad metaphorical way. I was booking our first three-month cross country crescent while I was finishing up a thesis on the historical context of Bach’s solo cello suites. I think about those early van years and I’m amazed we made it. We slept in cult houses and public parks. We helped keep Taco Bell in business and we played ten million shows to ten million dive bartenders, slogging it out for Facebook likes and High Lifes. All those years of playing acoustic folk music burned me out on anything but the weirdest sounds, and that brings us to the new record. I live in Indianapolis now, in a bohemian little bungalow house with a bunch of artist types. We teach music on the side to little kids and college students, and we’re proud to be a part of the burgeoning Indianapolis scene. We get back on the road when we can, and I’m culling through the interesting things of life, working on synthesizing them so I can eventually make the next, broader, weirder, freer record.

It is so interesting to see you have such a wide range of influences, from Neil Young to Kanye to Dali. Could you talk about the strangest thing you’ve felt inspired by?

What’s strange to one person is familiar to another, so it’s tough to say. It’s kind of weird how much inspired I am by Black Sabbath. You probably won’t hear it anywhere in the record (at least this one). But between the joyously macabre sensibility of their themes and the unabashed performative element that defines their brand, it’s very romantic to me. Ozzy was like 22 when “Paranoid” came out. We think of Sabbath as these grandfathers of metal, these absolute iconic titans of darkness or whatever, but there was a point where a couple long-haired kids put on eyeliner and started singing grandiose about robots and demons. And of course, it worked. But I just love thinking about before we all “bought” heavy metal, these were just some kids who liked Halloween and guitar solos and had the confidence to sell that as the new cool. That’s what’s funny to me about “coolness” and why it fascinates me.

I want to give some honorable mentions too though: The choral “Medieval 50: Spotify Picks” is huge for me, it’s changing how I wrote melodies in real time. I’ve been really inspired by the films of Yorgos Lanthimos and Panos Cosmatos. I love their takes on surrealism, and we share affinities for the ethereal lurid. I’m inspired by Virginia Woolf’s gender politics, Alain de Botton’s architectural philosophies, and the civic sense of responsibility I find in the the podcast work of Ira Glass, Mike Pesca, and Jon Favreau.

You have recently started getting into another art form, collage. Could you talk about why you decided to chose this art form and what you look for when you go about creating a new collage?

Yes! I just created the cover for the EP/tape cassette “Astral Sister” that we are releasing to our GoFundMe backers, it’s a collage. The big inspiration for this was honestly just the artists I’ve become friends with here in Indianapolis. Adam Tallent is one of my favorite visual artists I’ve ever met, and his collage work (@mystifiedandthankful) is breathtakingly sacred. And then my old friend Matt Panfil (@echoingpulse) who is a brilliant artistic mad scientist--he does everything, installation, sculpture, film, you name it. We’ve collaborated over the years on film stuff, but his collage work inspired me as well when he smashed up a bunch of Native American, religious, and alien iconography. He and I are now collaborating on some paper-mache projects.

I like that collage sort of runs parallel to the the poetic discipline of erasure. It’s a repurposing of existing things to make a new thing, and getting to work so directly with elements that arrest me--it’s a practice in context. I think it will also eventually make me into a much more interesting songwriter.

What is the most inspiring place you have visited on tour and why?

I have a song about it on that tape actually. The tune “Faded Destroyer” is all about my experience at Salvation Mountain, how otherworldly and holy it felt. It’s a protomythic natural art piece out in the desert of southern California, on the edge of an anarchic squatter commune that flies in the face of every shred of American traditionalism. I also think about Big Sur every week, the Julie-Pfieffer Burns outpost where a beachside waterfall into the Pacific backs up against the Redwoods. Honorable mentions include Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in New Mexico, and shoot, the entire state of Colorado.

Could you please describe some of your songs off your latest album, 'Psycho/tropic', as if they were mythical creatures and explain why each song is that particular creature?

“Black Lodge (water)” is the Mothman, because it’s decidedly West Virginian.

“Bright Deceiver!” is a siren. It’s thematically maritime, and you have the alluring aqueous vocals emanating from the front half--but narratively, the utopian culture that half builds caves to entropy, and by the time the sitars are dueling at the song’s end, we’ve wrecked our ship on the rocks.

“Ascension” is obviously an angel, because it’s all about watching your patriarchs climb over the lip into the other side.

“‘59 Tomahawk” is the lovechild of a cyclops and a phoenix, because even though it’s an aural composition designed to text-paint an enveloping visual obfuscation, it rises from its own inevitable decay on fiery and victorious wings.

Why do you create the things you do?

It gives meaning to my story, to my life. Art is a lot of what divides humans from animals. Or so that’s my human perspective, and presupposing some division. But I believe humans make their own meaning, and mine is in loving people and making art. I create because of the inborn drive that god put in me. The Bible talks about God creating people in God’s image, and if that’s the case in any capacity, then we’re made to be makers. I make music because it’s the best fit for my skill set and because I like the way it makes my mind feel. It’s a hell of a lot easier to sell than poems, paintings, and comedy. And I make visual art to remind myself that I love making, because sometimes music becomes work. It’s my favorite work, but it’s very much work. And at this stage I have no stakes in the visual art world, I’m just out here playing.

What artists are you listening to at the moment?

Loving Tierra Whack, especially her 15-minute Instagram album.

Chicago’s REZN is fulfilling a deep spiritual itch I have for stoner doom metal.

I’ve been going back to some old Say Anything and New Found Glory on the treadmill.

I just discovered Porches and Jamilla Woods.

James Blake and Japanese House both put out fantastic records this year.

And I never give enough credit to The Mountain Goats or mewithoutYou.

Is there anything you would like to say to your fans?

Don’t be afraid to talk about politics because they’re important. Side with the marginalized whenever your spirit speaks up. Nurture your neuroplasticity. Read more books by women. Watch Twin Peaks if you haven’t.

And I love you. Thanks for keeping us on the road. Come see a show. Take care of each other. <<

Listen to 'Psycho/tropic' HERE!

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