“Hippy Dance Church:” In Conversation With Bourgeois Mystics

Wanda Waterman

Bourgeois Mystics are a crew of eccentric art rockers generating a host of sounds that will delight and amaze you ‘til the cows come home. An abundance of weirdness belies their strong work ethic, discipline, and focus. The video for their cover of the Bollywood cult classic “Jaan Pehechan Ho” is a case in point. They’re now working on the EP Turn On, Tune In, Sell Out, which should be released early next year. Back in August Tonto, Squiggly, Zenith, and someone called Anonymous Illumined Overlord took the time to answer our questions about the band’s background, activities, and mission.

 What kinds of childhoods did you have?

TONTO: Childhood was filled with with dreams of making it to the NBA, especially after seeing Muggsy Bogues in Space Jam. For a while, all I did was play sports. Other than that, it was rather average considering I was in the extreme lower middle class.  Since my family was in the top 65%, I had to pick myself up by my little proverbial boot straps, mowing lawns and selling overly sweetened lemonade, if I wanted to buy any sick Muggsy Bogues rookie cards.

What role did music play in it?

TONTO: My father played guitar in the Air Force band, and he had a little home recording studio, so there were always instruments lying around. It took a while for me to become interested, though. That all changed though once I saw Jimi Hendrix live, in concert, on Youtube. I wanted to be that guy and make those insane noises.  I immediately became obsessed with playing guitar and listening to irreverent devil music like Weezer, Gin Blossoms, and Everclear. However, I also liked Pantera, Alice in Chains, and Rage Against The Machine.

Were you trained in music or did you teach yourselves?

SQUIGGLY: Equal parts. For several years I alternately embraced and spurned piano and vocal lessons, developing my own style with what I’d learned.

Who — or what — was the greatest influence on you as an artist? As a human being?

TONTO: Obviously Muggsy Bogues. The dude was 5’3″ and played in the NBA. I sometimes think it was a conspiracy created by the Illuminati just to see if we would just believe in anything. But also, sometimes I don’t think that.

 SQUIGGLY: Saul Williams is brilliant.

 Why did you choose to play such a mixed bag of musical genres?

SQUIGGLY: It didn’t feel like much of a choice . . . Our music is the sum of us all having eclectic tastes. We all like a lot of the same music and our individual tastes are very broad. With our upcoming releases, we’re grounding ourselves more in the heart of our sound, while keeping all the zaniness intact and still flirting with other genres.

How did the band members meet?

 TONTO: After college, we all moved to Austin with big dreams of becoming filthy rich philanthropist rock stars. Most of the band members moved into an apartment complex that lets bands rehearse and party hard ‘til the wee hours.

How did you come up with the name?

 SQUIGGLY: I was working in a gem/mineral/crystal shop (more of a warehouse) that embraced their spiritual components. Though I still acknowledge and appreciate the power of earth artifacts, I became disillusioned with the mining practices and how people sought out stones based on what metaphysical properties someone told them they had rather than finding it out for themselves. It’s this whole industry based on people outsourcing their inherent spiritual wisdom. What do we call a trophy wife or suburban upstart that embraces this culture — someone who’s more “spiritually endowed” than everyone else?

Can you describe a typical rehearsal?

 TONTO: Rehearsals are strictly business. We all show up on time (except for Squiggly who is usually about three or four minutes late) and then we run the set and work on new tunes for about an hour. We usually keep rehearsals to about three hours with one ten minute break (give or take three minutes).

What do you like best about Turn On, Tune In, Sell Out [EP due for release in early 2019] so far?

 TONTO: We’ve loved the process. We did it all at my home studio, and it’s been very laid back, which can be good for the creative process. It’s nice that we don’t have to pay $100 an hour for that big corporate L.A. sound. If I remember correctly, our percussionist, Duane Barry, once did 354 takes while trying to capture the perfect slide flute performance.  We wouldn’t be able to afford that in LA, unless we had a budget like Smash Mouth or something.

What led up to the album title?

Zenith: The album title comes from Bourgeois Mystics CorporationTM core value statement: “To sell out our principles for hard cash money.” In a world where people are overstimulated by love, peace, compassion, and hope, it is more important than ever to remember the fundamental values that once made this country great. God bless the music industry, and God bless the United States of America. Thank-you.

Did anything funny or weird happen while you were making it?

TONTO: Just lots of arguments involving vegans vs non-vegans, in which absolutely no one changed their stance.

SQUIGGLY: But in which the vegans clearly made better arguments.

What’s the story behind the creation of “Jaan Pehechan Ho?”

SQUIGGLY: I saw Ghost World in theaters with my squidfather when it came out (early 2000s). The movie opens with the Bollywood dance number from Gumnaam. The spastic dancing and campy vibe stuck with me in a big way. When YouTube came on the scene, it was my go-to video to share with friends.

So when the band formed, and we didn’t really have a sound honed in yet, this was my choice for a cover tune. As our sound developed, we made some wild arrangement adaptations, and tried to make it even more quirky: we added a metal/hip-hop section to the end, put in a jazz interlude, and gave the overall feel a more surfy vibe. We also sped it up quite a bit from the original.

When we were ready to shoot our first music video, we knew we wanted to make something super eccentric and we teamed with Diego Lozano, who directed the video. We cycled through a few different ideas, the first to make it more of an homage to the original video, but we ended up getting really crazy and running with a bunch of ideas we’d thrown out in a brainstorming session.

How do you regenerate after giving yourself heavily to the music?

SQUIGGLY: Honestly, I don’t. I just keep slaving away, working toward making my living full-time as a musician. Being onstage and having a great show where everyone is dancin,’ hootin,’ and hollerin,’ charges me up and keeps me content to keep at it.

What conditions do you need in your life to maintain your creativity?

SQUIGGLY: Momentum! When I’m actively creating, the creativity keeps flowing through me. Before the band formed when I was feeling creatively stagnant I’d send a sigil out into the multiverse (using chaos magick’s outline) to engage my creative whims in a musical project, so I’d say it was a most successful spell. I also try to keep my left brains occupied, usually in the form of logic/math games or puzzles. I play a lot of Magic: The Gathering, and find that it keeps both hemispheres fed.

Are there any books, albums, or films that have influenced your work?

SQUIGGLY: The Yes Men are brilliant. It takes a lot of courage to do what they do, and their political art is very effective. The band identity follows a similar mold; we make (hopefully) bold statements against corporate and political tyrants and shiesty spiritualists with their vapid materialism and “money > people” mentality by assuming their identities. 

 The Love Below by OutKast is one of the most brilliant albums ever executed. It’s really catchy and rooted sonically and thematically, but  also an incredible ride across genres. And the vocal exuberance of André 3000 —  it’s just unparalleled.

Do you follow a spiritual discipline that helps you stay balanced?

SQUIGGLY: Well, when I was balanced, I was doing yoga every day and practicing chaos magick for manifestation, but I’ve fallen out of both disciplines. I also would go to “hippie dance church” (ecstatic dance) most Sundays and that was always a great balance for my week. Now I’m less spiritually balanced, but I’m so engaged in my artistic passion that I’m mostly content.

If you had an artistic mission statement, what would it be?

ANONYMOUS ILLUMINED OVERLORD: To maximize profits for our shareholders. Another less important mission statement would be: “To free the populous from predictable harmony, formulaic instrumentation and arrangement, and the oppressive tyranny of 4/4 time.”

 What next for Bourgeois Mystics?

SQUIGGLY: We’re refining our stage show and pulling a lot of influence from Bertolt Brecht’s philosophy of theatre. We plan to tour a lot in 2019 and take over the festival circuit. We’re also working on a political sci-fi concept album for 2020.

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