Man, some people… right? While I have trouble dragging my sorry ass out of the couch every now and again, others are just relentless. Take Walter Schreifels. He started by playing in little-known bands like Youth Of Today, Warzone and Gorilla Biscuits before moving on to even more obscure acts such as Quicksand and Rival Schools. And still he keeps on going!
Late last year we caught up with him to talk about Vanishing Life, the band he started with members of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and Rise Against. And now he’s back already with Dead Heavens, yet another outing in this man’s prolific music career. Along with members of Into Another, Cults and White Zombie among others, he dove headfirst into the 70ies and came out with some seriously groovy, psychedelic songs.
Dead Heavens’ debut “Whatever Witch You Are” will be out this Friday via Dine Alone Records.
PRT: So… modern psychedelic rock. How and when did you decide this was something you would want to foray in? Because it’s quite different from anything you have done in the past.
Walter: Probably started when I bought my first wah-wah pedal some years back. The guitarist of Rival Schools left the band and I felt like I should try and recreate some of his parts. Between a wah-wah and a delay pedal you can create an incredible volume of sound, this changed my playing. I’ve always been a fan of psychedelic rock, starting as a kid with Hendrix and Cream, through the 80s with Jesus And Mary Chain, later My Bloody Valentine and the list goes on. I happened to come up through hardcore music but even then I was never solely into that, my taste in music has always been pretty diverse. With Dead Heavens I feel the combination is somewhere between Cream and MBV but I feel if you sped up the songs a bit they could still be Gorilla Biscuit songs. Come to think of it, if you take GB out of the NYHC context, it’s probably one of the most psychedelic bands ever, so in truth I’m just coming full circle.
PRT: What is it you find in Dead Heavens that you did not find in any of your other bands? Or was it just about getting the chance to explore a new sound?
Walter: It’s a different time and chemistry. I’ve played with Drew for many years in varied groups but Nathan and Paul are new people for me and I’ve learned tons from them. There’s definitely an openness to try new things and taking chances.
PRT: Do you think the world can use some more psychedelics in their life right now?
Walter: Absolutely. We’re living in such stressful and violent times. I’m not advocating drug use as it’s not healthy for everyone and certainly not for children who are psychedelic enough as they are, but the idea of seeing the many hidden possibilities hidden under our noses is something I associate with psychedelics. It was in the late 1960’s that you saw the peace movement take shape, the civil rights movement, ‘68 revolution and the amazing classic rock music we still listen to today. These ideas were not created or sustained by drug use but I do believe getting out of your own staid patterns of thinking can lead to positive change. This can be achieved in many ways, meditation, sustained aerobic exercise, yoga and for some magic mushrooms does the trick.
PRT: When I saw you live in Belgium, the night ended with a freak accident where Drew had a part of his finger sheared off. What happened exactly and how is he doing now?
Walter: Part of Drew’s finger was sheared when a beach chair collapsed beneath him as he was moving it forward. It was super gnarly and a miracle it only took off a very top part of his finger. He wanted to play in Brighton so we adjusted the set. I was nervous about his finger but the set was one of the best and most memorable I’ve ever played. We wrote three new songs in soundcheck, all awesome. Our 2nd album already has innovative hits ready to go as a result. The finger has healed and while it’s a little bit shorter it doesn’t too look bad and works fine. I’d say Drew’s a better drummer for it, kind of changed how he plays.
PRT: The show had a certain looseness to it, this mellow vibe that was pleasant. Like friends getting together to play whatever it was they felt like playing. Is that where Dead Heavens stems from?
Walter: Our live mode is based on the idea of anti-fragility, there are no mistakes, everything works whether intended or not. When you feel you can’t fail it makes you feel loose and more open to having fun. Of coarse we screw up all the tie but we embrace that inevitability rather than fear or brace for it. That said the show at Brighton the night after you saw us was particularly loose and mellow because of Drew’s accident. We were improving the entire set, we really had no idea how that was gonna turn out.
PRT: “Whatever Witch You Are” sounds like it could have just as well been released in the late sixties/early seventies. How important was it for you to achieve that sound?
Walter: Most of our influences for Dead Heavens are coming from that era so I guess sounding that way is a healthy by-product. While that sound does influence us our main goal was to play well and that the songs work and ultimately have an album that plays as one complete thought broken into chapters.
PRT: How did you go about achieving that sound? Did you use nothing but vintage material?
Walter: We play vintage equipment for the most part and the sounds and techniques we’re going for are influenced by that golden era. But at the same time I wouldn’t say we’re too clever about recording. There are bands that really nail that idea. Guided By Voices come to mind or more recently White Fence who really understand how to make a recording sound like it came from the past. While we’re into those classic sounds we also hope to sound contemporary, we try to manage both by just being ourselves.
PRT: For people like me who don’t really know too much about psychedelic rock, what are three albums we should definitely check out if we are digging what we hear on “Whatever Witch You Are”?
Walter: Psychedelic records I'd recommend that influenced Dead Heavens...
Fresh Cream by Cream, 1966, bluesy, hippy, classic era psychedelic.
MBV by My Bloody Valentine, 2014, warm, dreamy, shoe gaze.
White Fence by White Fence, 2010, handmade, San Francisco, art mod, new psych.
PRT: What’s up next for Dead Heavens once the album is out? Plenty of touring in the near future?
Walter: Yes, we’ll be touring throughout the year and into next. Our plan is to keep the records coming, singles, full lengths and play as much as possible.