Myshel Prasad on Space Team Electra's Reissues and Reunion Show

Space Team Electra formed in Denver in late 1994 during an especially active era of local music. It was a time when Twice Wilted still roamed the musical landscape, along with 40th Day, the Elephant 6 bands, Psychodelic Zombiez and Sympathy F. Initially calling itself Dive, Space Team Electra quickly garnered a reputation for riveting live shows and music that defied categorization under the clumsy, stale umbrellas of alternative rock, shoegaze and dream pop. STE's lyrics aimed at deeper psychological spaces, with music that enveloped, exposed, exorcised and illuminated universal experiences, dreams, pains and yearnings for connection. The band's vision of spirituality seemed humanistic, and its religion lay in the rich use of imagination in order to live more fully. Heady stuff for a time when Hootie & the Blowfish and the Dave Matthews Band dominated the airwaves.

STE worked with well-known record producers for all of its albums: Keith Cleversley (Hum, Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev) for Vortex Flower, Sandy Pearlman (Blue Oyster Cult, the Clash, Dream Syndicate) for Intergalactic Torch Song. STE released two albums, an EP and a seven-inch during its initial run, with a collection of songs called Kill Apollo that seemed more rumor than reality. But in late 2015, singer Myshel Prasad released Kill Apollo through iTunes; that was soon followed by digital reissues of Vortex Flower and Intergalactic Torch Song that included unreleased tracks. As exciting as that was for longtime fans, now STE is playing a reunion show on Friday, April 22 — its first performance in thirteen years. We talked with Myshel Prasad about it all.

Westword: What prompted you to do a digital release of
Vortex Flower, Intergalactic Torch Song and Kill Apollo at this time?

Myshel Prasad: I reconnected with an amazing engineer who I’d worked with on Torch Song, Rob Beaton, to master a new song for a film last year in Los Angeles, and I think it was the pleasure of working with him again that inspired me to dig back into the Kill Apollo recordings, which he mastered beautifully last October. Meanwhile, after many years of being unable to contemplate recording anything without the smell of iron oxide — I grew up listening to music through a McIntosh 275 amp and giant JB Lansing speakers, which should explain everything — I’ve finally started working in Pro Tools, and I guess digitally releasing the STE catalogue suddenly became something I could contemplate.

Part of your inspiration as a poet and lyric writer were Romantic poets. What is the significance of the title Kill Apollo?

The Cassandra myth has always held a fascination for me, ever since I was young. The idea that vision comes with terrible consequence is something I instinctively understood. I started hunting for her, for Cassandra. I read Christa Wolf’s novel Cassandra and saw Tantalus, the full cycle, at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and then saw a production of the Oresteia at the Berkeley Rep, all in the same year. I was sort of in her skin at that point, and the only solution I could see for her was to kill him, to kill Apollo, and to give back his gift of prophecy and his punishment, to be free of both.

When did STE begin and end? What brought the band together? What were the ideas and concepts you all shared that would inform the band? There was no official final show, as some bands now seem to go through. What brought about the end of  STE?

Space Team formed in 1994. I don’t know that we had any single concept for the band in the beginning beyond a commitment to our sound — carving out and stretching sonic space in a particular way — and the volume required to generate that sound. There was no precipitating event or decision to “end” the band. I don’t think we ever did that, actually, but I left Colorado in 2003.

Kit Peltzel has acknowledged 40th Day as an inspiration for his and Bill Kunkel's wanting to start a band. Were there local bands or general musical movements that influenced what you set out to do with Space Team in a musical sense?

Denver is full of great bands and great musicians, and we shared stages with many of them, but I really hadn’t been here long enough to know any of them when Space Team formed. I’m from Detroit originally. My first boyfriend had a Jim Carroll record, and the song “Lorraine” kind of blew my mind and was probably the first time I heard that addictive and vaguely abusive marriage between poetry and rock, and definitely some of that spirit carried over into Space Team. I also remember listening to the Cocteau Twins in high school, at incredibly high volume, trying to figure out how they made their records sound like that. But probably the first guitarist I really related to was Dean Wareham. I was living in New York before I moved to Colorado, and I went to see Galaxie 500 play at the original Knitting Factory with my friends Matthew Buzzell and Sean Eden, and there was Dean, five feet away, so I could actually see how it all worked. Sean became the lead guitarist for Luna, and I think that might have been when Sean first met Dean and Kramer, so it obviously turned out to be a much bigger moment for him than it was for me! But really, I think of all the members of Space Team, and guitarist Todd Ayers, as my most defining musical influences.

You worked with Keith Cleversley at The Playground in Chicago for The Vortex Flower. Why did you want to record out of town, and why Cleversley in particular?

I met Keith when I was passing through Chicago and stopped by the studio to hang out with a friend of mine, Shawn Jimmerson, who was there recording with his band Wig. They were playing chess when I got there, which was a standard part of any session Keith did; Keith usually destroyed everyone on the chess board fairly quickly. Sitting with him in the control room felt like being in a space station, and the guitars sounded incredible and totally unique. He was so talented and inventive, so wide open. When I got back to Denver, Kit was listening to the Hum record, which Keith had just produced, and we all loved that sound, so we headed out to Chicago and recorded Vortex. We did Kill Apollo with him as well. Finding Keith was like finding our fifth bandmember; he was kind of our soulmate, we all fell in love with him, and some of those songs are very much about him. He recently built and piloted his own airplane, which gives you some sense of what he’s capable of.

How did you connect with Sandy Pearlman, of all people, and come to work with him on Intergalactic Torch Song? Do you think his work enhanced any particular quality of the music or brought out qualities that you have come to appreciate since?

Sandy had come to see us play at SXSW, but I didn’t actually meet him until after a show in San Francisco. His production style was something of an analog gauntlet; I used to have three garbage bags of the edited pieces of two-inch tape in my basement but I do see it now as a necessary artifact of his craft…the Studer tape machine, the old Neve console, all those fantastic compression units, the Neptune, those ribbon mikes that were like magic wands…. Sandy was the kind of producer to whom you could say, “Make it more diaphanous” or “The guitars should sound like terrifying angels here,” and he could do it. He never touched a dial by himself, but he knew all the specs of each piece of gear in that studio intimately and knew how to make it happen. Everyone who worked on that record pushed themselves to their limits. Marc Senesac, Rob Beaton…what an incredible privilege to work with them. It was an uncompromising effort, but also very experimental. Anything was possible. Sandy remains my cherished friend. His intellect is incandescent, and as a music producer, poet and “sacred technician,” he is probably the last living master of the generative void, and one of the few people who knows exactly what that means and why it matters.

Space Team was active in an unusual time in Denver music, and in the music world generally as the backlash against alternative rock happened, but the resurgence of music with roots in shoegaze and dream pop had yet to happen. Do you feel that the band was going on in a time and place where it was difficult to operate as a group beyond the local context?

In industry terms, I think we arrived in an unwelcome place somewhere between grunge and electronica. But I’m not sure the shoegaze resurgence would have helped us find a commercial niche. I don’t really think we were ever properly a shoegaze band.

With your show in April, who will be performing, and do you plan on playing songs from all of your releases? A focus on a particular album?

It’s the original lineup of Space Team [which is guitarist Bill Kunkel, drummer Kit Peltzel, bassist Greg Fowkes and myself on vocals and guitar], and we’re playing with I’m A Boy. We’ll probably do two or three songs from each record.

The artwork for Vortex Flower is a self-portrait. What is the nature of the painting you did for Intergalactic Torch Song? Kill Apollo? Have you continued with your painting since those days? Have you been active with music in any way?

The Kill Apollo cover is a photo from the NASA archives. The painting on the cover of Torch Song is a sort of Tree of Life, where the fruit, the woman, the tree and the serpent are one dynamic form. I was very interested in the power of transgression — not in a moral or ethical sense, but in terms of the corrosion of normative narratives and conventions that can obscure or distort immediate experience or real exchange. Art can function on either side of that equation. So reframing the concept of original sin, and original exile, has always been a subject of examination for me. There’s an extraordinary painting by Pavel Tchelitchew, “Hide and Seek,” that was probably at the back of my mind, but as you can see, my own painting tends to be in a kind of crude, naïve almost folk-art style.

I’m still writing and composing, and I started playing in Glenn Branca’s guitar orchestra back in 2006. Last year I played on the debut of a new piece at the Paris Philharmonie; there were 100 amplified guitars and basses, and Glenn was creating, composing and conducting at the same time, but he could still somehow catch you if you made a mistake, which is a sort of demonic power. When his compositions are played correctly, you feel like you are hearing what reality must sound like at the quantum level. Definitely check it out if you haven’t heard his work.

Space Team Electra with I'm a Boy, 9 p.m., Friday, April 22, at Syntax Physic Opera, 720-456-7041, $7, 21+.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.