Prog is uncool. Long and extended jams that wrap around themselves for ten minutes before repeating themselves with synths sounds like if jazz were invented by white people. The story of punk taking down the technicians of rock and roll is well-storied, Johnny Rotten practically spit in Roger Waters' face and he spent the last few decades crying about it, right?
But 2017 is wild, Tool is headlining Gov Ball and an Oakland outfit called the Once & Future Band have made one of the spaciest slices of groove rock to hit the collective earbud since we sent shuttles into the great and wide unknown. But don't take my word for it, Consequence of Sound likened Oakland's band of merry progressive men to "to Pink Floyd [playing] from a pod on a spaceship from 2001: A Space Odyssey." That's some hot shit.
Their first record is a self-titled effort that's out on John Dwyer's Castle Face records, the man and label behind Thee Oh Sees, psych-rockers who blow your top off before politely saying hello. But Once & Future Band's keyboards do not spit and their perfectly-tuned guitars do not stutter. I had the chance to chat with Joel shortly after Once & Future Band dropped and I could see the crazy leaking out of his eyes.
Unlike a lot of debuts, you feel like consummate professionals. How long have you guys been around?
We officially became Once & Future Band around 2013. We prefer to think of ourselves as consummate beginners because we're always reaching for the next rung.
Your publicist bragged that you folks have "an epic live show." Tell me what ya got:
Imagine, if you will: hurtling through a time-tunnel of kaleidoscopic fantasy. Bursts of telepathic heraldry flashing before your eyes, blurred by tears. But they are not your tears, but those of the goddess herself. A joke, a jest and the truth has been laid at your doorstep. Three pence and a farthing for the tillerman. Begone, knave.
John Dwyer signed you guys. Ty Segall called him "the nicest guy in the world." Are legends of his niceness unexaggerated?
The legends and scrolls speak of many things. Ancient tales have been passed down the through the ages, from elder to child and so on for many eons. The origins are now lost and the legends have taken on new meaning.
But John put out our record, and that was super niiiiiiice.
Prog is always in and out of fashion, with everyone from heavy metal acts to Muse occasionally being called reinventors. You guys, however, seem like the real deal. How do you sell prog to the punks out there?
We just make the music we want to make. We're not holding a banner for any specific type of genre. Prog is just one of the many we love. Our goal is to connect with people, to hopefully meet somewhere in the middle with our audience, sharing our joy of playing these songs with those who love hearing them.
The frontman of a space rock band once told me they kept old sci-fi movies playing while why jammed. Are you guys big on old school sci-fi? I wanna know about the "future" in the Once & Future Band?
Our music may evoke images of traveling the cosmos of the future, but we imagine the passengers of these trans-galactic flights will be plagued with the same mundane existential crises that humans face today. Imagine Raymond Carver aboard the Nostromo. He's got enough to worry about.
I've read the Yes and Pink Floyd comps. Gimmie some real 70s deep cuts.
Here's a few: [breathes in]
Clube de Esquina by Milton Nascimento & Lo Borges, Southern Nights by Allen Toussaint, Someday Man by Paul Williams, Lucifer Black Mass by Mort Garson, Believe It by The New Tony Williams Lifetime, The Art of Tea by Michael Franks, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy by Return to Forever, Le Planete Sauvage Soundtrack by Alain Goraguer, I Am by Earth, Wind and Fire, [The] Black Messiah by Cannonball Adderley, The Inner Mounting Flame by [the] Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Woah. Now, I listen to a song like "Rolando" from your debut and there's lots of jazz going on. Jazz is another old sound that's being revived lately, do you listen to any of the new records or do you stay with the greats?
There are tons of amazing jazz musicians around today, but the past is where our aesthetics lie. We all love and respect jazz, having been introduced to it not just through the iconic recordings, but also by how those sounds were recontextualized by the genius beatmakers of the early 90s, Pete Rock, Mr Lawnge, DJ Premier, and layered with many other kinds of music. We're deeply inspired by the complex harmonies and rhythms, but incorporate them along with the rest of our influences.
What about the new stuff? You've been described as nostalgists but I wondered if anything new gets passed around. Any music that would surprise us?
There's so much amazing new music coming out right now, we've been digging bands like The Internet, King, Thundercat, Shobaleader One, Knower, Badbadnotgood, Weyes Blood, Andy Shauf, Dungen, and Kaytranada to name a few. There's a misconception out there that artists only appreciate the kind of music that they're involved in. Every musician we know loves a ton of varied genres. There are no guilty pleasures, only pleasures.