Patrick Lundborg talks about vinyl psych and garage records, including the popular artists, the best places to find records from obscure underground bands, and the differences between the psych and garage genres. Patrick can be contacted via his website, http://www.lysergia.com.
I’ve been interested in psych records for about 25 years now. It started with just 1960s music, the Beatles and stuff like that, and then I kept on checking out new things and finding new music that was unknown or not very well known that I thought was really good. The Beatles started with the Revolver album in 1966, which was an influential early psychedelic record. They were definitely one of the most influential psychedelic bands, but psychedelic stuff was just a small part of what they were doing. In 1966 and ’67, they helped to create psychedelic music, but they did so much else.
The psych genre started in 1966. That’s the first year where you have a number of psychedelic records. Some of the other pioneers were the Yardbirds in England and the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, and Grateful Dead in America. The 13th Floor Elevators were one of the early bands, and one of the most important. They weren’t very popular then, but when you look back in retrospect, the 13th Floor Elevators was one of the earliest and purest psychedelic bands.
The 13th Floor Elevators were based in Austin. You had early psychedelic bands in New York, too, but it wasn’t a really strong place for psychedelic music or culture. Psychedelic culture was more of a West Coast and Texas thing, and of course in England.
“Psychedelic music” basically means the band was influenced by psychedelic drugs, which would be LSD and mushrooms and things like that. In the ‘60s, it was mostly LSD. The bands had these weird experiences and it started influencing their music. You have psychedelic drugs and you have rock music, and when you put those two together, you have psychedelic music.
The term “psychedelic” was created in the 1950s to describe these new drugs. It’s a technical term to describe certain types of chemicals. People today think psychedelic is anything with pretty colors and stuff like that, but originally it was a very specific term that referred to a certain type of hallucinogenic drug.
Collectors Weekly: Were there a lot of smaller psych bands?
Lundborg: Absolutely. The smaller bands are what I look into most of the time because they’re unknown and the stories have never been told about them. They were mainly followers. They listened to the Beatles and the Byrds and stuff like that and said, “This is great. We should do something like that.”
You can hear the influence from the big bands, but these small bands came from small towns. They didn’t know exactly what they were doing and that created interesting music. They had a different angle or they took it to unexpected places mainly because they didn’t know. They weren’t hip. They didn’t know exactly what they were doing, which was an advantage for them in retrospect because what they did was unpredictable and original. They improvised, and that often made for interesting results.
The smaller bands were world-wide. For each big band, there were 10 small bands. Golden Dawn is a good band to mention. They came from Austin, the same town as the 13th Floor Elevators. They were basically following the Elevators, but they came out sounding differently. Today they’re a huge cult band, but back then they were a flop. No one really bought their record, but after a while people started discovering it.
There was also a band from Los Angeles called the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, and in New York, you had a band called the Mystic Tide. They only did 45s, but they’re very highly rated. In San Francisco, you had a band called Mad River, who are very highly rated today but were almost unknown at the time. In Philadelphia, there was a band called the Mandrake Memorial. Those are some bands that are considered classic today but weren’t successful in the ‘60s.
It’s possible to find music from the smaller bands, but it’s getting harder and harder. Ever since the early 1980s, people have been trying to find the unknown bands and unknown records. For each year that passes, it becomes more difficult to find things that no one has heard of, but it still happens.
“‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ is classic psychedelic.”
A typical scenario would be a record collector goes to a flea market or a junk shop and looks through the records. Some are buried under everything else. They find a record that they don’t recognize that looks interesting, so they buy it and they take it home. Once in a while, that record is really good and previously unknown, and then the collector will tell his friends. Now with the Internet, everything goes much faster. Maybe he’ll put up some sound clips on the Internet and say, “Look what I found,” and if it’s really good, word will spread fast about that record. That’s the way it usually happens nowadays.
Bands would pay for pressing up a few hundred copies of their record. Often there was no record label involved. The band put it together themselves, either a 45 or a whole LP, and then they would sell it locally at concerts and through record stores. Even if they only did 500 copies, sometimes they wouldn’t be able to sell all of them, so when a collector tracks a band member down, sometimes he still has copies left and the collector will buy them and sell them to all the collectors. That’s a very common scenario.
Collectors Weekly: Are there certain smaller bands that are more sought after than others?
Lundborg: Yes, some become more popular than others, but mainly it’s oriented towards certain genres and places, like Texas or California or New York. The other thing is the timeframe. Anything from 1965 to 1968, the Golden Era, will usually be in demand, and things from the 1970s are maybe less in demand. There are psychedelic collectors, ‘60s garage music collectors, hard rock collectors, West Coast rock collectors, etc.
It’s genre-oriented. The small bands usually only have one or two records, so it only takes a month to collect the band. Then you look for similar or related things. Genres are mostly what govern it.
Collectors Weekly: Did garage influence psych music?
Lundborg: Not really. The genre didn’t really exist in the ‘60s; it was invented after the fact to understand that era. Garage was basically American bands trying to imitate the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and coming up with this slightly different sound. They didn’t think of themselves as garage bands. They just thought, “We’re a rock band.” The term “garage” was applied in the 1980s. They were inexperienced, young suburban kids, and it sounded like they were playing in their dad’s garage. It’s simple and somewhat amateurish and a bit wild.
Psychedelic music was more self-conscious from the beginning. The key era for garage music is 1966 and psychedelic music is 1967 to ’69, so the garage style preceded it, but it didn’t really exist as a genre. It was just music. Psychedelic music was part of psychedelic culture. It was connected to changes in society and protests and all that stuff. I would say, however, that many people do collect both garage and psych. It’s a very big collector field.
Collectors Weekly: Who were some of the bands from the garage era?
Lundborg: You had the Chocolate Watchband from San Jose, the Sonics from Tacoma, and the Remains from Boston. Most of the bands made maybe one or two 45s and they didn’t even make an LP. Psychedelic music is collected mostly on LP while garage is a 45-based genre. That’s an important distinction to make.
There’s a strong neo-garage scene today that’s been going since the 1980s. The 1980s was when the first garage revival came. It’s pretty interesting. It looked like it was just a fad that would disappear, but there are new bands coming all the time. Some of them have become pretty big, like the White Stripes and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Garage is one of the biggest neo-retro things around.
The White Stripes are more than garage, but they listened to the key garage albums and a lot of garage guys like them. When you listen to the White Stripes and you read interviews with them, you can tell that they know garage. They have that background, among other things.
Collectors Weekly: Was garage music only in America?
Lundborg: Yes, it’s definitely an American phenomenon. You can sum it up as American teenage bands responding to the British invasion bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. That’s what garage was in the ‘60s.
Collectors Weekly: Was there a difference between the sound of American, British, and German psych?
Lundborg: Yes, I would say so. The British psych was more pop-oriented. It was Beatles songs like “Penny Lane” and the whole Sgt. Pepper album. There was a lot of pop music there. American psych was more serious. It was more concerned with serious topics and society changes and things like that. It was more of a lifestyle in America than it was with the British bands who were more just having fun.
The German bands came later in the ‘70s. They were influenced by both the British and the American bands, and they had this art student feel, which made it unique.
There are two big collector scenes: America and England. Everything else is way behind. Behind those two, the most collected scenes are probably Germany, Canada, and Australia. They had lots of good bands in Australia, but most of them were unable to break out of the country. However, now people are hearing good Australian music, and since it’s in the English language, there’s no language barrier for the collectors.
Collectors Weekly: How do collectors find records from small bands?
Lundborg: Collectors are curious. They’re always looking around. When you’ve heard everything famous, you start looking for the obscure and unknown stuff. People look in record stores, flea markets, record fairs, people’s attics, everywhere. There’s a whole subculture of record collectors simply looking everywhere for unknown records, but it has to be vintage music from the 1960s or ‘70s. You can tell just by looking at the cover if it’s something that may be of interest.
Then you find maybe 20 unknown records, and out of those 20, one will be really good. That’s the one that you tell your friends about and maybe try to find the band. You have these collectors everywhere doing it. In every town, there are two or three record collectors searching for unknown records.
Collectors Weekly: Was it the same in England with the British psych scene?
Lundborg: There’s an important difference there. In England, they had a few major record labels that basically controlled what music would get released. You were either signed to a major label or your record didn’t come out, meaning you didn’t have a record.
In America, they had private pressings, where bands paid and pressed up the record themselves; a do-it-yourself thing. In England, that didn’t really exist on the same level. In England, even unknown records came out with record labels; they just flopped for whatever reason. In America, you have thousands and thousands of things that bands self-released. They call it a vanity release. That’s a big difference between England and the USA.
Collectors Weekly: You mentioned that you can tell from the cover that it’s going to be a psychedelic record. Who did the cover art?
Lundborg: Depends. If it was on a real record label, there were artists and art directors and everything, but if it was a private pressing, the band would do it themselves or someone’s girlfriend would do it or something like that. Those record covers can be pretty unusual because they were amateur designs, so they can be pretty funny to look at. Sometimes the cover design is completely wrong. It’s the wrong vibe and doesn’t match the music at all. On a real record label, the things made sense, but on these smaller releases, you never know what to expect with the cover.
Covers were also influenced by the psychedelic drugs, or at least they were supposed to look like they were. Maybe it was some 50-year-old guy who just got an assignment and did it. You never know. It was supposed to look hip for the time, just like today’s album covers.
Collectors Weekly: Are people more interested in psych records now or back in the ‘60s when they were coming out?
Lundborg: Hard to say. There is a strong interest that has always been there since the 1970s because it was a really unique era in terms of the music created. The popular bands like the Jefferson Airplane or the Doors sold many more records than they do now, even if they’re still selling reissues. However, some of the flop bands that have now been discovered, their records are being reissued by small record labels and they can actually sell more copies now than they did in the ‘60s or ‘70s. That’s pretty interesting. They sold maybe a thousand copies back then, but now, some are reissued on CD and they sell 3,000 or 5,000 copies. These things happen for some bands. It depends on how good it is and how well it fits what people want today.
Collectors Weekly: Is there a neo-psych genre today?
Lundborg: Yes, but it’s not as strongly defined as neo-garage. You have all kinds of bands who may or may not be neo-psych. It’s more a case of psychedelic music influencing a lot of really big bands. The neo-psych thing is not really a very impressive phenomenon. Neo-garage makes more sense. It’s more coherent. Neo-psych is more hit and miss.
Psych is music inspired by psychedelic drugs. In the ‘60s and the ‘70s, it was rock music, and then in the 1980s and ‘90s, the music inspired by psychedelic drugs was dance music, rave music, techno, acid house, ambient music. That’s where psychedelic music went. Modern psychedelic dance music is a really big phenomenon, so that’s where that energy went.
Collectors Weekly: How did psych distinguish itself from rock music?
Lundborg: You shouldn’t separate it as a different genre; you should think of it as psychedelic rock music, because that’s what it is. One way to tell a psychedelic rock song from a regular rock song is to listen to the lyrics.
“Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles is classic psychedelic. It has all the elements of a psychedelic rock song. The lyrics are surreal and very weird. You don’t know what it’s about, and there are a lot of studio effects, like backward tape masking, phasing, weird sound effects, and echoes and filters on the voices. The structure of the song is unpredictable and broken up. It’s not like a pop song with a verse and a chorus. You can do anything with the song and change the basic structure. The Beatles did all that stuff with their psychedelic music, and in that sense, they were extremely influential. All the other bands listened to them and tried to do similar things.
Collectors Weekly: What are some of your favorite psych records?
Lundborg: I don’t have that large of a collection. I have about 1,500 vinyl records, and then I have a lot of CDs and stuff also. I have the 13th Floor Elevators, so definitely that band, and Mad River from San Francisco. They’re a big favorite of mine. I have to mention the Yardbirds also. I like them a lot. They were pre-psychedelic, but I think they’re still a very good band today.
Collectors Weekly: Do you have a want list of records that you’re looking for?
Lundborg: Not anymore because I’ve found almost all the things that I’m looking for. The few things I’m looking for now are so obscure that there’s really no point in putting them on a want list. I know I can send out that list to a thousand people and there wouldn’t be a single reply. I just have to wait until it pops up.
I also buy a lot of old books, magazines, posters, and things that are related to psychedelic culture. I’m drawing a wider circle around it, saying that the music was part of a psychedelic culture in general. I’ve been expanding a bit in recent years because I’ve found most of the records I wanted. Most record collectors have a pretty narrow definition of what they’re looking for. The interest in the culture in general is not very common.
Collectors Weekly: Where would you suggest looking for psychedelic records, especially rare ones?
Lundborg: I look at eBay a lot and I do Google searches on specific titles once in a while. Someone mentions, “You should check out this record,” so I Google it and sometimes I find it. The Internet is a pretty good place to find records. Collectors also go to used record stores, flea markets, and junk shops, or they put want ads in local papers: “Do you have an attic full of old records? I can come and take a look at it.” They get a call once in a while and they buy 500 or so records from someone who just inherited them. That’s pretty common. But I’m in Stockholm, Sweden, so I do almost all of my searching online, via e-mail, and via friends.
Collectors Weekly: You’ve written quite a few books. Are they on the psych genre?
Lundborg: Yes. The most recent book I did, which is the one that has really been a success for me, was called the Acid Archives. It’s a guide and a collection of reviews of 4,000 underground albums, mostly psychedelic but also garage and hard rock. I’ve also written a book about the 13th Floor Elevators and I wrote one about garage, but that was more like a fanzine. It wasn’t really a real book. The Acid Archives book is the big thing I’ve been working on in recent years.
If you’ve been collecting for a year or two and you’re not sure how to progress, I think Acid Archives is very good, but if you’re completely new to record collecting or ‘60s music, I don’t think it’s a good place to start. For someone who has a little experience, the book will take them further. That was why we wrote it.
Collectors Weekly: If someone was just starting out with psych records, what advice would you have for them?
Lundborg: Start with the the famous bands and the famous records. There are guidebooks, like Rolling Stone magazine’s Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, and you can start really mainstream by looking at what they recommend. It can take a year or two to get a grasp of the mainstream bands, but you can’t really understand the less famous stuff without having heard all the big guys.
You can’t jump past the classic stuff because you won’t understand the more obscure stuff. You go through layers of the most famous stuff and then the less famous stuff, and if you do it that way, you’ll understand the music and find it better.
Collectors Weekly: Anything else that you’d like to mention?
Lundborg: Psychedelic music and psychedelic culture did not go away in the late ‘60s. It continued to happen throughout the ‘70s, but people don’t really realize that. It kept on until punk rock and disco came in the late ‘70s. Punk and disco basically put an end to the original psychedelic era, but throughout the ‘70s, there were bands playing psychedelic music – not famous bands, because they were moving on, but local bands who made records and were influenced by the Grateful Dead and the Beatles and stuff like that. In 1975, they were still making music that sounded like it was from 1968.
That, I think, is one of the most interesting things you discover when you start listening to the local and obscure bands: how strong this psychedelic culture was locally in the small scene. The general perception is that psychedelic goes from 1966 to ’69 and then ends and goes to other things, but that’s not really what happened. It was very much alive until the ‘80s, when it was gone totally, but you don’t know that until you start finding these more obscure records.
The culture is alive. The original idea behind psychedelic music moved into dance and ambient music in the late ‘80s and it’s still very much alive there. I listen a lot to that stuff because I hear the same things that you heard in the ‘60s music. Even though it may seem very different on a superficial level, you hear the psychedelic moods and ideas in it. Unfortunately, record collectors don’t really like electronic music, so you don’t have many collectors branching off into that.
(All images in this article courtesy Patrick Lundborg of http://www.lysergia.com)