MELTED 2019: Defining Psychedelia with Noel Von Harmonson of Heron Oblivion< < Back to
The band is what one could easily categorize as a “psych-rock supergroup,” as every member was a part of the mid-2000s psychedelic rock scene in various capacities. Vocalist Meg Baird hails from Espers, a folk-psychedelia outfit based out of Philadelphia; bassist Ethan Miller (also of Howlin’ Rain) and guitarist Noel Von Harmonson both played in Comets on Fire, a West Coast act whose influences ranged from the Butthole Surfers to Hawkwind; and second guitarist Charlie Saufly played in Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, a San Francisco psych-rock band that was formed in the ear 2000s.
WOUB’s Emily Votaw spoke to Noel Von Harmonson about many things, but the topic of the conversation was largely centered on how one can define “psychedelia,” and the myriad of ways one can classify something as such.
WOUB: Heron Oblivion played the Nelsonville Music Festival here in Southeast Ohio in 2016, and that is when I first saw you all, and I was really blown away. Could you tell us a little about first playing in the area as Heron Oblivion?
Noel Von Harmonson: We sure did play that festival! We had a really good time — that one was sort of a long card for us; I think a lot of bands who are from the west coast who haven’t played the festival before might not know too much about it. We didn’t, and as it got closer to the festival, we saw the all the line-up, and we were really blown away at everyone who was playing. We were trying to figure out “what is this? What is this festival going to be like?” Then we checked the weather, and it was supposed to be pouring rain and very muddy, and we thought it could be a total disaster — but probably not, you know, with our California optimism. But we had a great time – it even started raining, and when we were playing there were some tiny electric shocks here and there – but we hung in there, and so did the group of people who gathered to watch us who didn’t run for cover or anything, which was amazing. We hung out for the rest of the night and saw a bunch of great people play – it was a very fun experience.
WOUB: So, I’ve been asking everyone that I have interviewed who is playing at Melted what their definition of ‘psychedelic’ is, especially as it relates to music. I know that in general, Heron Oblivion is defined quite often as psych-rock, which is just a genre label, and pretty fitting, as fitting as a genre label can be – but how do you feel about that? I know you all get asked this question a good bit, based on my research of the other interviews you’ve done.
NVH: We do get asked that a lot, and it’s always a good question! You know, we are based out of the Bay Area, San Francisco, and we always have been, or have been very aware of the Bay Area. This area, all the way up to the present, has a pretty rich psychedelic rock history. All the way back to Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead, all that stuff. “Psychedelic,” as a term, is something that has gotten kicked around quite a lot in talking about bands from this area in general – you know, anyone at any time could use that word to describe the sound of a band from this area from any point in history, and it’s kind of cool, and it kind of works most of the time. I would tell you that each member of the band would have very different, yet relating answers to that question – so far as what is and isn’t psychedelic music.
You know, on a face value, so far as influences to our music; do we dig Jefferson Airplane records? Of course we do! Were they a psychedelic band? No doubt! Do we think that if we were put on at the Fillmore two or three nights in a row opening for them that we would be able to hold a candle to them? I don’t know, maybe? We would probably be so nervous and thrilled by the experience that we wouldn’t play our best, if we time travelled back to ’68 or ’67.
In some ways, back then, psychedelia had a lot more to do with the counterculture, as kind of a political thing, a movement that was tied to culture in general; to unplugging from mainstream culture. It was a response to how things were sort of running amuck at the time, which could be said of contemporary times, too. Some 60 years on, “psychedelic” is sort of a genre label, like you say, and it’s a pretty loose one, a lot of things could be put under that flag, I think.
You know, on a face value, so far as influences to our music; do we dig Jefferson Airplane records? Of course we do! Were they a psychedelic band? No doubt! Do we think that if we were put on at the Fillmore two or three nights in a row opening for them that we would be able to hold a candle to them? I don’t know, maybe? We would probably be so nervous and thrilled by the experience that we wouldn’t play our best, if we time travelled back to ’68 or ’67. – Noel V. Harmonson, Heron Oblivion
I would say that the most common descriptor is that something that is psychedelic musically is something that is able to take the listener to a sort of transcendental state of mind. You know, you get someplace by going there, and if you go with the music, you will be transported from wherever you are – it will play on your memories and emotional states and maybe give you déjà vu and it will make the handful of mushrooms that you just ate a lot more intense – but that isn’t something that is required. I mean, in a way, I would hope that everybody is having some kind of experience that resembles this. Psychedelic music or a psychedelic experience engages you on a deeper level than just tapping your foot – and you don’t have to have long hair or a light show for it to happen.
Honestly, I would probably give a totally different answer to that question if we did a second take! I think that it is very interesting, looking at Melted’s line-up, how there are some bands that are more classically understood as being psychedelic – but then there are band’s that aren’t really classically defined that way. Like my old friends, Deerhoof! I think they’re totally psychedelic in that their music is so otherworldly and unpredictable – just unlike any other music that anyone has ever made. They’re markedly different from some of the other bands on the bill, like us, who are maybe a little more spaced out, have echo-y vocals – that kind of sound. But Deerhoof doesn’t really answer to anybody, influence-wise – but I would say that probably some of the other bands playing might answer to Pink Floyd or The Grateful Dead, and those are incredible bands! Ty (Segall) is an old buddy of ours, and the stuff he makes is always onto the new thing, the next frontier, it is psychedelic. I love that some of these bands are what are considered the sort of legacy of psychedelic rock, and I love that Deerhoof is in that same space, which explodes the idea of what psychedelic music “should be,” or what people thought it would be.
Melted will take place starting at 1 p.m. at The Bluestone (583 Broad Street, Columbus) on Sunday, February 24. Performers include Ty Segalland White Fence, Black Lips, Kikagaku Moyo, Deerhoof, Cherry Glazerr, Heron Oblivion, JJUUJJUU, Ma Holos, and Dana. For more information, or to buy tickets, follow this link.