Denver's percussion-based electronic performance band Itchy-O is about as unusual as it gets. Between the avant-garde music, live performances that look like Halloween parties, and more than fifty official bandmembers, the group is one of the most interesting, mysterious and exciting acts in town.
Ahead of the September 26 release of Itchy-O's third record, Mystic Spy/Psykho Dojo, the band, in a collective voice, spoke with Westword about writing the new record in a hot, tiny room up in Fort Collins, launching a record label, and the wild places from which the act drew inspiration.
Westword: How do you anticipate that opening Mettle Studios will allow you to evolve or grow as an artist?
Itchy-O: Working with Jello Biafra and putting our first two records out on Alternative Tentacles has been such an honor. It gave the band a real sense of legitimacy and allowed us to not only reach more fans, but reach more fans of a particular subversive punk-rock ilk. This third record most definitely has its punk-bombastic moments, but also has some very dynamic and experimental parts built into each side.
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The vinyl also has seven 32-second noise vignettes at the center of each side of the record that end in locked grooves [grooves on a vinyl record that trap the needle and play until you lift the needle out], which made this concept boutique record the perfect vehicle for us to launch on our own label. We hope it will also serve as a platform for us to release more of our “unclassifiable” type of music on.
This is not to say we will not ever release another record on Alternative Tentacles; we just see this as another way to honor ourselves as a multifaceted production. We also see Mettle Studios as potentially becoming something more than just a label itself, as the name might infer.
For instance, in tandem with this first record, we have also created (along with help from Suspect Press) a publication called IDRA & SCEPTER, which includes an interactive digital lock-groove site that allows fans to build, record, and download their own Itchy-O experimental pieces. Creating new ways for fans to interact with us is a goal of this new label beyond just putting out records, and is something we very much intend to continue to do.
What was the scene while writing Mystic Spy/Psykho Dojo? I imagine writing a new album with a band of this size and style is a bit more complicated than when a person picks up a synthesizer or guitar and attempts to write a song.
Think hot, nasty Fort Collins heat in the middle of summer. Now imagine thirty hot, sweaty individuals crammed into one room. All temperatures considering, this was actually one of the easiest albums to write, mostly due to having our two global themes already setting the course for each track's style, vibe and veracity.
What was the inspiration behind this album?
Side A – MYSTIC SPY was heavily inspired by the hypnagogia of JG Thirlwell, along with David Shire’s score to Taking of Pelham 123. We wanted to create a sort of soundtrack to the idea of spiritual larceny or a sort of abstract esoteric espionage. Think Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain meets Mad magazine’s wordless comic strip Spy vs. Spy.
Side B – PSYKHO DOJO is where we shine a very intentional spotlight on our incredibly talented taiko drummers. Two key members of Itchy-O have both had experience training with world-renowned San Francisco Taiko Dojo under Sensei Seiichi Tanaka, and two of the others have extensive backgrounds in Japanese taiko culture, which has hugely inspired the group and led to creating this alternate universe of deep martial hive-minded discipline. "Psykho" obviously being a nod and play on the work "taiko," which simply means "drum" and also sounds like “saiko,” which translates to “supreme” or “highest" in Japanese.
How difficult has it been to figure out the writing process? There are so many layers to your music, and it has such a collaborative sound. I’m wondering if this is something that took a good amount of time to figure out.
Yes and no. With so many itchie's in play, and as with so many other organizations, it's often difficult to gather consensus/inspiration from multiple members to harness and craft any one particular song. We tend to employ a process of one 'decider,' or the lead who will present and direct/produce each track. With that in place, it's then merely a matter of laying the bones out and letting our musicians flesh it out naturally. With the only difficulty being TIME.
Which comes first: Writing the music itself or writing the visual storytelling in live performances?
Writing the music.
What was the most fun you had while writing this album?
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Problem-solving. This was our first attempt at writing a concept album, and we must say, we went into it full-steam-ahead and smiled all the way through.
What is the most rewarding part about being in this band?
The spaghetti dinners, hands down.