Flaming Lips Side Project Spaceface Orchestrated a Psych-Rock Pillow Fight

Spaceface brings its trippy light show to the hi-dive on Tuesday, May 30.
Courtesy of Spaceface
Spaceface brings its trippy light show to the hi-dive on Tuesday, May 30.
A St. Louis venue barred musicians in the Memphis-based psych-rock band Spaceface from using a smoke machine at a gig two years ago. So before the gig, guitarist Jake Ingalls and his friends went to a thrift store and bought roughly twenty down pillows.They poked holes in the pillows and passed them out to the crowd at the show, orchestrating a massive pillow fight.

Ingalls, who joined the Flaming Lips as a guitarist and keyboardist two years after Spaceface formed in 2011, says he had no idea just how bad the pillow fight would get.

“I knew there’d be the visual of feathers everywhere,” Ingalls says, “but I didn’t know they’d get caught in my throat. Like, you see the pictures, and you can see all these feathers everywhere, and everyone’s smiling and having a good time. But in reality, it’s not just feathers; it’s a lot of dust and debris, because they’re old feathers and old pillows and everything.”

The pillow incident is just one example of the band’s spectacular DIY approach to its stage show. Daniel Quinlan, who heads up the band’s stage show, says the group started off simply, with a string of Christmas lights controlled by a button they could stomp on the floor. Now there are hundreds of automated multi-colored bulbs, LED rope lights and lasers that shoot out of guitars. And there’s a big roller-disco rainbow that was given to one bandmember's weed dealer.

“You definitely have to make it work,” Quinlan says. “It’s kind of like the band name: You kind of have to become that thing. It may be a little goofy and silly at first, but you do it enough and you become it, and people recognize you for it.”

Ingalls says the stage show, which was partly inspired by the Flaming Lips and Of Montreal, has come together slowly but surely. When Spaceface started out, there wasn’t much of a psych-rock scene in Memphis, just a lot of roots rock and cover bands.

“On one hand,” Ingalls says, “it was easy for us to shine a little brighter, but on the other hand, it was tougher to get people to come out. They ask, ‘Do you know any covers?’ ‘Well, we know a couple David Bowie covers.’ At the time, you know, before he died, it was like, ‘Why are you doing that?’ That’s kind of where the light show and theatrics were born out of. It was like, in Memphis, if your friends are going to try to come and pay $5, well, you'd better make that $5 work it, dude. I could just stand with a handle of whiskey and have a good time.”

Spaceface has released two EPs (including one that was recorded at Pink Floor, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne’s studio) and just released its debut album, Sun Kids. Ingalls says the band was going for more of an organic psychedelic sound versus just guitars and phaser pedals.

“I think we all wanted it to sound like a breathing sort of entity,” he explains. “So there’s a lot of natural sounds throughout, like cool reverbs. I feel like there’s this sound that’s really pervasive right now in psych rock, which is just like crunched-out guitar with like a huge phaser on it. I think we actively avoided that.

“I think we try to mix in more…I was calling them melody clouds. So there’s just a whole lot of hidden little guitars and sounds that you kind of want to live in between throughout the record versus this just one gnarly riff. It’s a little more like a couple melodies going on at the same time that creates this sort of — in my opinion, there’s a very breathing quality to each song, like parts just sort of flow in and out of each other.”

Even the way the songs on Sun Kids were sequenced makes the album flow, as well. Ingalls says each song is supposed to feel like a different moment at a party.

“From the get-go, it kind of sounds like you’re waking up a little bit, getting yourself together,” Ingalls says, “and then it’s like hop in the car and just kind of have a fucking fun day. We’ve been talking about it. I feel like this song’s supposed to feel like your window’s down. You’re on the highway, and you don’t really care when you get there, but you’re there. Or like this is the moment where the party become a little too intense, but you end up staying for longer than you need to anyway. Now you’re, like, way too messed up.’”

Spaceface, 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 30, hi-dive, 7 South Broadway, $10, 303-733-0230.