To paraphrase the werewolf of Woodstock himself, Roky Erickson,The Golden Grass have always been here before. That’s not to say that they’re retro or proto or even now-tro, but it is to say that they channel something truly timeless.
They vibrate to some ancient, sacred thrumming. They hover in a decidedly hip haze where crushed velvet and the pinkest Floyds meet, a Lear jet ride through the purple cosmos with either Lucifer or Lou Reed in the co-pilot seat. Take your pick, really. After two years of mood rings and egg chairs and a killer-diller debut and a tasteful smattering of 45’s, the Brooklyn power-trio have returned with a psychoactive dazzler of a follow-up LP, the helpfully-titled Coming Back Again (Listenable Records), which is essentially a sun-drenched Sabbath worshipping some cowbell-bonging marshmallow god.
It’s good, man. Like, 70’s cop show good. Transformative, really. And here’s the crazy thing. As druggy as this motherfucker gets - and halfway through eight-minute ego-melter Shadow Traveler, you will be reeling – it was created with sharp eyes and clear heads.
“We’ve never tripped since the band’s formation, and yet we still sound like we do,” laughs Golden Grass guitarist/singer/fashion icon Michael Rafalowich, “and I personally haven’t done so in over 20 years. I think LSD can be a very valuable experience, but I also think it’s very, very dangerous, and these days I avoid it, and pretty much all drugs. We all get very into listening to Robert Anton Wilson lectures while traveling, which is vicariously psychedelic.”
Rafalowich formed the Golden Grass with drummer Adam Kriney a few years back, although it’s perfectly cool if you think it was a couple decades. A handful of bass players have joined “the Pete Best club” along the way, as Rafalowich likes to call their former bandmate roster, but they have settled in nicely with bassist/vocalist Frank Caira, who has helped expand their sound well beyond the realms of the typical ‘power trio.’ But still, is it far out enough? If any Brooklyn rock n’ roll band deserves a full-time sitar player, it’s these dudes.
“I’m aiming to get a concert harp and a sarod – a classical Indian instrument – on a record at some point,” says Rafalowich. “I almost succeeded in getting a glockenspiel on Hazy Daybreak from our new LP, but it was in use already the day we were in the studio, and so I was forced to cut the track without it. There will be a remix someday. We did manage to get some positively buzzsaw blues-wailing harmonica on Shadow Traveler courtesy of Brian Hurd from Daddy Long Legs, and Wavy Davey has also played the flute on our cover of Hot Smoke and Sassafras (available, incidentally on their Heavy Psych Sounds split with Wild Eyes, Banquet, and Killer Boogie.)”
If there is a theme to the songs on Coming Back Again, it’s a sort of wide-eyed, fist-in-the-air optimism wrapped in the kind of flower-powered poetry Donovan might spew after a few weeks on a tour bus with some hard-living 70’s boogienaut band. The Golden Grass wants to take you higher, sure, but they also know times are tough. And they never take any of this shit too seriously, which is key.
“Themes of our songs so far have included girls, travel, personal quests and ambitions – of which I guess girls and travel could be included as a subset,” explains Rafalowich. “There’s a bit of narcissism and braggadocio – in a funny and quirky way, though. We call each other’s names out in songs. And why not? James Brown did that, why can’t we? We’ve earned it. If we really have balls, we need to have some fun with who we are, right? We can’t be hung for that. Humour is the hallmark of freedom.”
Indeed. And if any band is waving the tattered freak-flag of Freedom Rock these days, it’s Golden Grass. In fact, if they are not in the studio creating that elusive third album, the one that’s mature but not a sellout, the one that breaks them out but keeps them real, then they are probably on the road on some endless, reckless, til-the-wheels-fall-off tour. And, as Rafalowich explains, sometimes both at once.
“We continue to hold both live touring and recording in parallel of equal importance,” he says. “They are two separate media that occasionally intersect. When we’re performing live, sometimes we play the songs to the letter as we did on the recording, and conversely, when we’re recording, we occasionally channel the live performance by free-forming and going off on improvisations on a theme. We continue to tour, in fact we seem to have voracious appetite for it. Regarding the wheels falling off, I’d like to think that the vehicles we employ for touring are reliably built and will experience no such phenomenon. Unless you’re referring to our song called Wheels, which, for the moment, has fallen off of our set list.”
Golden Grass are currently steamrolling ahead on the new album’s momentum. Expect more of everything, probably sooner than you expect. But you have to wonder, given the band’s sunny homage to the crackly vinyl world of classic rock, if they ever feel like men out of time. Can rock n’ roll in 2016 really stack up to some far-away world f jukebox heroes like, say, 1976?
“Well,” says Rafalowich. “`76 had Jailbreak, the Ramones debut, Virgin Killers, the Blank Generation film, Wings Over America, Young and Rich by the Tubes, A Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson, ZZ Top’s Tejas, Shake Some Action, and Sad Wings of Destiny. 2016, meanwhile, has Coming Back Again. So, tough call.”
It really is.
Coming Back Again is out now.