Lumerians work together to create surreal interstellar music on Transmalinnia
Heady, hoppy, smoky with the musky tang of interstellar, international exotica shot through a post-hardcore prism. Oakland psych-space-rock-drone outfit Lumerians' sound is intoxicatingly addictive enough to inspire that imaginary brewski review, even in the thick of the raging patio at Jack London Square's Beer Revolution. And if the band was a glass of sheer liquid refreshment, what would it be? A complex Cab, a supernatural Super Tuscan, or a solid stout?
I'm guessing a highly groovy gruit, as drummer Christopher Musgrave takes another gulp of his herbaceous, hops-free custom-crafted Two Weeks Notice. "It's really weird, but after a few sips it gets really good," he tells newly arrived bass player Marc Melzer. Musgrave should know: he makes beer by the keg in the former Murder Dubbs church he now calls home — and Lumerians' recording studio. "I'm changing my mind. I might order it again."
We swap slugs of our selections from the pub's massive menu — Melzer's Big Eye IPA and my Sweetgrass pale ale. It's all in keeping with Lumerians' shared approach to life and music-making: card that ego at door, share your inspirations — be they musical, painterly, or brew-crafted — and strive to work as one fluidly intuitive, wholly non-derivative whole.
Taking in Lumerians' recently released, long-awaited debut, Transmalinnia (Knitting Factory), I've been sucked into the burly, bass-smudged biker boogie of "Burning Mirrors," the witchy organ-shimmy and sex-magik drone of "Black Tusk," and feathery woodwind textures and unholy shrieks of "Calalini Rises." The LP shares its name with its artwork, a glorious finger-painting from the "Voyage Into Space" series by outsider artist Eugene Von Bruenchenhein — a vision borrowed by a band just a vowel or two away from the lost world of Lemuria, undertaken to turn kindred spirits onto the late self-taught surrealist's mind-blowing art.
"One of the foundations of our band is we do try and make egoless music," explains Melzer with equanimity while a birthday party brays in the background. "It's not about one person writing the music, and it's not about guitar solos or bass solos or drum solos. It's about us, where all these different personalities meet and what develops after that."
Of course, adds Musgrave, "it's not all sunshine and puppy dogs." Lumerians' origins began humbly, with Melzer and Musgrave vowing to play together after a "strange hiatus" from music: they were disillusioned by the band politics in their old indie and hardcore groups. Guitarists-organists-synth-players Tyler Green and Jason Miller had begun to make music in 2006 when Musgrave joined in and enlisted Melzer, a guitarist now playing bass for the first time. "We hold it down," Musgrave exclaims proudly. "We're the earthbound ones. We're like the tractor and the plow." Soft Moon voyager Luis Vasquez eventually rounded out the fivesome on conga and synth.
The group took its time, hoping to create a "sustainable" environment — a world of its own, if you will — and built a studio in SF's South Park where it recorded Transmalinnia, the follow-up to its self-titled, self-released, now-out-of-print, much-praised 2008 EP, forging the songs via jams that they're reluctant to call jams. "The difference is everything we play in the band is pretty simple, but it combines to create a greater whole," says Melzer. "We also play repetitive stuff — we're either trying to trance out our audience or ourselves or both. I don't think that's one of the aims of a jam band." They've succeeded to the point where Melzer confesses he's more than once almost fallen off the stage.
The tough part was capturing the songs in their perfectly imperfect "nascent state," as Musgrave puts it. "We've always tried to capture those ephemeral moments — it's proven to be very difficult," he explains. "Hard drives crash. Or we'll think we're recording and look over and it's stopped. But the power of inspiration is so powerful you can't pull away — it's like you're in a tractor beam!"
Fortunately, Lumerians doesn't seem destined to perish in obscurity à la Von Bruenchenhein — the combo had just returned from the Austin Psych Fest, where by their accounts, they were the underdog belles, hampered by two power outages during their set. Will bands of the future find their minds blown by dog-eared Lumerians LPs? "I don't know if that's the way I think about it," Musgrave says, "but any artifacts we put out are hopefully worthy of discovery."
"So when the blogosphere forgets about us," adds Melzer, tongue lodged in cheek, "and three months later, we get rediscovered!"
With Young Prisms and Bronze
July 2, 9 p.m., $13
Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750 www.gamh.com