"Are You On Acid?"- Sunburned Hand of the Man's "Mind of a Brother"




It's difficult to write about Sunburned Hand of the Man without slipping into an effusive manner. It's also a chore to talk about them without harping on about myself, but here goes. To begin, yes, I am one of those people who's introduction to Sunburned was seeing them on the cover of  The Wire in 2003. Living in Lexington, Kentucky at the time, I ate this article about "New Weird America" alive. It was something completely fresh and blasted the doors off the more structured diet of sound I had been existing on. They (as well as their New England partners in crime) heightened me, sending me sprinting back to the drawing table to de(re)construct everything I knew about, well, a lot of things. My tastes had been growing in several different directions by that point (as I was a DJ at a great college station at the time as well as curmudgeonly working in a local record store and playing as much music on my own and in groups as I could) but I was always looking for a certain something a bit more odd than the last/current thing I deemed "strange". Finding out that this group had a lengthy history steeped in such a bizarro mind fuck of sounds and actions added to the chaos swirling in my dome. From what I'd read, the Sunburned guys seemed ready for cosmic hijinks so I was game to dive in to this world as I felt rough around the edges myself. Living in the link 'tween the south and midwest of America, the marriage of art zone/space thug at this point was nil in my world. Nearby Louisville had a rich history of rugged underground music (including a heaping amount of true weirdos) but at this point, I wanted something more "psychedelic", if you will. There was a weirdo scene in Lexington with whom I hung out (and was starting to participate in with my expanding ideas) but I was a bit more savage in my lifestyle than my contemporaries. I speculated that Sunburned were well read weirdos who weren't taking any shit. This was all before I even met them! It seemed to me that they were tuff street kids gone acid heads gone record/book nerds gone kaleidoscope tsunamis. I believe the first time I met and saw Sunburned Hand of the Man in the flesh was August of 2004 in Canada. I was playing roadie for Kentucky group Hair Police who were opening for Sonic Youth on their "Sonic Nurse" tour. I wasn't much of a roadie as I spent the whole time getting drunk, embarrassing myself, shit talking, socializing, and handing out my then new band Warmer Milks' demo.  At one point during someone's set on this night (I do not remember who's as I was quite intoxicated), Sunburned drummer John Moloney and myself were rolling around the stage in a bout of ecstatic "ninja dance" frenzy. Fast forward to the next morning and I was on a bus headed back to Kentucky with a dislocated shoulder (couldn't run with the big dogs) but what I had seen of Sunburned stayed with me. Sunburned brought an agrestal energy to that night and what I had imagined via reading about them and hearing their music remote came through even wilder live.  At one point,  Sunburned came through town with Magik Markers on tour which they had been documenting via video (on the defunct Ecstatic Peace site) and so when they came to Lexington, I was very excited. I remember Moloney stumbling around stage possessed, pouring water on a baby doll head during their performance. The sheer ridiculousness of the gesture cracked something open. Warmer Milks were pushing our own boundaries at the time and my live demeanor as a "front person" was confrontational and unhinged, on the verge of moving beyond what I'd learned from a punk/hardcore/indie/classic rock/folk stance. I was hungry for something spiritual/alien to further expel. The only thing I'd seen close to this artful/wacky/divine performance were a handful of noise/experimental sets by other touring acts (some were good) and Robert Beatty performing live in a homemade weird spherical shaped helmet/head at a shitty dive bar owned by a (now deceased) convicted murderer several years earlier. I'd seen things in a live setting or heard sound that were over the top peculiar before, but Sunburned shook me in a new way. I remember after the show we hung out drinking in the parking lot and laughing til the wee hours. To say I was hooked to this breed of insanity would be an understatement.  When they drove away, I was bummed but also enthusiastic to keep going in a radical direction. In the following years John and I stayed in touch, doing some touring together (Warmer Milks with Sunburned, Six Organs of Admittance and Howlin' Rain, all of whom John drummed for at the time), sharing music and growing a friendship. Over time, I allowed myself to coast through various different aesthetic grooves but always ended back up on the doorstep of weirdness. In 2015 I was experimenting with music video making and hit up John about doing a video for Sunburned Hand of the Man. He sent over the track "The If With The Golden Qualm" from their 1997 debut "Mind of a Brother" for an LP reissue. Brimming over the 12 minute mark, I was a bit nervous but also keen on what I could splice together for this group of friends that inspired me so much.  A bit over a year later (when I relocated to Western Massachusetts) I would be playing in the group. After taking a hiatus (playing in other projects then moving abroad), I recently sat in with them in London at Cafe OTO and it was magic. I'm linking back up with them for some recording time as well as for a US tour for August and I couldn't be more chuffed. I expect Sunburned will be up to plenty of activity in the states between now and then so be on the look out. When Troy and I started Fruit Of The Spirit, I asked John if Sunburned had anything they'd like to share for the blog. A week ago John sent me the video I had made for "Mind of a Brother" and asked if we could share the video and revisit the album. Below are liner notes for the album penned by Robert Thomas (bassist/co-founder) as well as a write up by Byron Coley and the video for "The If With The Golden Qualm". Information on obtaining "Mind of a Brother" (as well as other releases) available on their Bandcamp. Photos are courtesy of John and the band. Thanks to John, Rob and everyone else involved in the universe of Sunburned Hand of the Man, a universe that continues to grow well beyond understanding. 

-Mikey







"This LP was entirely recorded in a converted warehouse loft studio at 7 Sherman Street in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The building was shaped rather like a ship, set just off Mystic Ave and, at the time, was surrounded by a junkyard filled with wrecked automobiles & decommissioned subway trolleys. The space was initiated and built out by Kristin Anderson & Phil Franklin as an art & screen printing studio/living space circa 1989. The building itself is known by some as "The Coffin Factory" - I have been told that it was built in the 19th century to manufacture coffins for the civil war dead, and was rumored to have been owned by the Wilkes family of (John Wilkes Booth infamy). I began to research these allegations and quickly grew bored, so I will leave them for you to corroborate if you desire. Kristin continued to operate the space after Phil's departure to San Francisco in the early 90's (where he became involved in Caroliner Rainbow among many other pursuits) and she designed & screened covers for several lovely LP & single sleeves (Michael Hurley's - National Weed Growers Association 7"; Matthew Bower & Richard Youngs –Site/Realm LP ; The No-Neck Blues Band – Hoichi LP and many more…). She began her own Poon Village label around 1993 and released a series of beautifully packaged, hand screened LPs & CDs including "Live at C.O.N. Artists" by Sun City Girls, which was recorded in concert at the 7 Sherman St space.

Sunburned Hand of the Man began informally out of improvised sessions that John Moloney and myself held at 7 Sherman St in 1996 after the implosion of our trio (with Rich Pontius), "The Shit Spangled Banner" earlier that year. Kristin had kindly let the SSB rehearse and record on various occasions in '94 & I moved into the loft in February of '95. Moloney moved in shortly after. My cousin Richard Thomas, Marc Orleans, Chad Cooper, James Coleman, Brian Donnelly and finally Rich Pontius all became involved in the increasingly regular and extended improvised sessions and Cousin Rich, Chad and James would also move into the loft at various points.

In '97 we decided to call the group Sunburned Hand of the Man when it emerged from a stream of consciousness rant of mine. I wanted to include a tribute to the psychedelic Welsh band Man in our title, as I was obsessed with the group's early albums at the time. (Our original group name had been "Save Yourself" in tribute to the majestic Welsh group Help Yourself … one track appears under that name on one of the several “Live at RRRecords” cd-r compilations Ron Lessard issued circa 1997). While I attempted to pay titular homage to the Ballroom inspired, acid rock kingpins of Wales, the early Sunburned music was infinitely less sophisticated, but no less lysergically informed. Certain printing projects had been partially compensated for with a steady supply of clean, powerful LSD which filtered thru much of the group psyche, opening ears and minds to the possibilities of what a musical group could actually be in its wake. “Mind of a Brother” was the first example of these possibilities we chose to share with the world. 



Side one (also tracks 1,2,3 & 5 on the original cd-r and download) were recorded in the summer of '97. Side two "Loveletter to Complicated Dreams" was recorded on April 19th 1998 as an excerpt from our performance at a free afternoon concert we held at 7 Sherman St along with No-Neck Blues Band and Egypt is the Magick #. The NNCK set was issued in its entirety as disc one of the "Birth of Both Worlds" 2xcd (Sound@one 46,47). A beautiful video of this performance was shot by Cousin Rich and has recently been unearthed; I hope it will be made available to the public soon. The impetus for this particular concert was to provide a space for the annual performance NNCK held on Orthodox Easter, which for reasons I can't recall, was unable to be held in NYC that year. This was perhaps the fifth in that series of annual concerts, all of which previously (and subsequently) were held on rooftops in Manhattan. A few years ago, NNCK published their entire back catalog digitally and invited different friends and acquaintances of the group to share written insights & memories of each of their releases on now defunct De Stijl Records. (I strongly urge anyone still reading these notes to consult this site for a much deeper dose of context regarding the entire era) (The De Stijl site seems to be taken down, unfortunately...ed).  In his remembrance of “The Birth of Both Worlds”, John Fell Ryan of NNCK and Excepter describes our “loft space of epic bohemia” and the celebration that began Saturday evening when No-Neck arrived to Sherman St and continued thru the performances Sunday afternoon all the way until the cruel light of Monday morning cast its ugly glare. He recalled how on Saturday Night some swinging, polyvinyl & leather clad “sex lizards” accidentally stumbled into our all night jam session looking for the bi-weekly S&M orgy that was held on the floor above us. After some confusion they were sent upstairs and none of the drug addled beatniks among us mustered the courage to accept their invitation to investigate the fuck dungeon above. (Although, it should be noted that the sex lizards all returned the following afternoon to watch the concert). 




In the tradition of the previous Orthodox Easter events, the music began on the rooftop. A brief introductory set/invocation was performed under a light rain by Adam Mortimer’s Egypt is the Magick # project featuring guests Darren “Catfish” Zoltowski on vocals & John Moloney on drums. NNCK began their performance under the drizzle and slowly unleashed a transcendental quagmire of audio/visual configuration. After 35 minutes their set was just entering cruise control & most likely would have elevated & levitated for another 90 minutes or more had some puritan in the building not called the police to stop the show. (A fate that befell several NNCK shows of this era). I was shocked at the unusual level of courtesy & patience the boys in blue displayed as each member of NNCK slowly became aware of their presence and stopped playing the other worldly music one by one. The cops even applauded along with the crowd of straggly drug vultures as the music faded out in a haze of pot smoke. “We don’t care what you do as long as you take it inside” said one lawman much to my stoned amazement. I can guarantee you that adjectives like tolerant or understanding are seldom used to describe Boston’s finest, but fate smiled upon us that Sunday. 

Once everyone was safely sequestered back inside the loft, Sunburned set up in front of a packed house of about 75. The days of cellphone & internet ubiquity were still in the future & I had spent much of the afternoon answering the landline, telling audience members how to get to our clandestine location. Just moments before our set began, the telephone attached to the wall next to me rang and I answered it with my bass strapped on & plugged in and the whole group ready to play. It was Malcolm Mooney, the original vocalist for Can calling. He wanted me to give our mutual friend Frank van Dan Elzen the message that he was sorry but he wouldn’t be able to attend the party. I assured him that I would let Frank know & hung up the phone and we began playing the music that starts side 2 of this LP. 

After the concert ended most of the crowd & some of the musicians departed leaving behind a crew of approximately 25 members of the Sunburned & NNCK inner circles & a few stragglers. One straggler, a strange, burly young Scotsman, who was a co-worker of Cousin Rich, was approaching people, asking (as J.F. Ryan noted) “Are you on acid?”. When one replied “No,” he would ask, “Do you want to be?” and procure his bottle of LSD for one’s inspection. From that point of the night on & forever more he would be known as “Liquid Andrew”. About 15 or so of the roughly 25 party people there went in for a dose and we spent the rest of the night tripping en masse. My memory for the rest of the evening is somewhat hazy but I can distinctly recall Chad Cooper asking me to stop playing my copy of the “Granfalloon” LP by Laser Pace (Takoma, R-9201) as the devious and psychotic prog/funk stylings of that particular album was making some of the heads nervous. It still remains one of my favorite records today. 



Shortly after the concert, we compiled what we considered to be the finest of the previous summer’s recordings with a 20 minute excerpt from the Orthodox Easter performance. Kristin offered to create a cd-r only subsidiary of Poon Village (cd-r labels still being relatively novel in ’98) called Thrown to the Wind, specifically to release Mind of a Brother in an edition of 99 copies. The original press came in a jewel case and had a one panel booklet with a heavy matte finish and glossy interior. Released in ’98, this was the only Sunburned product until late 2000 when John Moloney started the Manhand label to release the Jaybird & Wild Animal cd-r’s. Additional copies of Mind of a Brother were released as cd-r’s on Manhand in the label’s traditional brown paper envelope with sticker for several years, but the total press (including the Thrown to the Wind run) was certainly less than 500 copies, probably closer to 300. 




The bonus material included on the download card covers all the material from the original cd-r that wouldn’t fit on a single LP as well as a long session from April of ’98 leading up to the Easter concert. It seems that Rich Pontius, Marc Orleans & James Coleman are not present on this recording, but Moloney, Brian Donnelly, Chad Cooper, Cousin Rich and myself can be clearly heard investigating themes that would resurface shortly on “Loveletter to Complicated Dreams”. 

Late in 2002, Julian Cope named Jaybird an album of the month on his Head Heritage website. In his review, which made it into print a decade later in his book Copendium (Faber & Faber), Cope recounted the entire Sunburned history up to Jaybird with eerie accuracy (considering virtually no information existed about us anywhere) and paid Mind of a Brother what I consider to be one of the highest possible compliments by comparing it to one of my all-time favorite albums: “…it really reminds me of L. Voag’s legendary 1979 album The Way Out, with tidal waves of sound coming and going…” Thank you Julian. 

My final anecdote regarding this album just came back to me as I was attempting to get these notes together after much delay. Somehow I had completely forgotten this strange fact and was only reminded of it the other night when I stumbled across another long, psychedelic infused autobiography by Jens Lenkman of the great Swedish cosmic group The Spacious Mind. He recounted his life in music and obsession with psychedelia, particularly the vintage American approach, in a sprawling essay that I urge you all to investigate. (I came across it thru Waxidermy where he regularly posts under the name Floatinghouseman but the link now seems to be removed). I was honored to read about halfway into Jen’s life story that he remembered meeting me at the record shop I worked at in Cambridge, probably around 2002. I recognized him and we struck up a conversation about U.S. psych rarities and shared our mutual enthusiasm for obscure acid rock published by Capitol records. Then I informed him of the bizarre and potentially cosmic coincidence of how both our groups had released albums titled “Mind of a Brother” at virtually the same time. The Spacious Mind cd was called “The Mind of a Brother” and came out in ’99 and even has somewhat similar graphic design. I had been a fan of Jens’ group since I heard their album “Organic Mind Solution” circa ’95 but Jens had heard nothing of Sunburned until we met that day. I wondered whether I had read an interview with him in a zine where he mentioned having an upcoming release with that title and subliminally copped it for Sunburned, but I really don’t think that could be the case. Luckily Jens was as gracious as he is Spacious and was similarly mind blown by the unlikeliness of it all. The fact that I stumbled upon his essay in the middle of the night, in which he reminded me of this forgotten uncanny synchronicity just before I began my long procrastinated notes for this reissue seems to indicate something. Perhaps there may well have been some intercontinental psychic transference happening between these two spacerock ensembles at the ass end of the 20th century."  

-Robert J. Thomas, Easthampton, Mass, 2015


"Amazing archival retrieval of the first release by long-running human zoo known as Sunburned. Forged in the heat of Kristin Anderson’s Charlestown loft, the group more or less descended straight from the corpse of Shit Spangled Banner, although they did not assume the band name until 1997 (two years after the first protean jams had started).

The material on the album was recorded in 1997 & ’98, often deep in the grip of acid flashes, and it really shows. Over the course of their nearly two-decade lifetime, Sunburned has been many things, but it’s easy to forget how spacily jazzoid and proggily psyched-out their initial gushes were. The music here is wildly explorative and crazily inventive, sharing a clear affinity with fellow travelers No Neck Blues Band. Indeed, the second edition of the CDR of this album was created to be sold on a 1999 tour which was No Neck, John Fahey and Sunburned. One can only shudder at the mere thought.

Anyway, this may well be one of the best Sunburned albums. It has a bizarre sweetness I never noticed in the band back then, because they always seemed like thugs underneath everything else. But you can really sense it here. And Rob Thomas’ excellent [4 page] liner notes attest to the benign flow of their early visions.

How nice to hear where this weird trip started."

-Byron Coley, 2015 

Comments

  1. This takes me right back to the inside of what I was seeing during this performance. Glad we could share the experience, and maybe we could share the stage again sometime, Rob. Brian

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts