Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up his Chemistry Set…

Chemistry set 1London psychedelic warlords The Chemistry Set ignited Fruits de Mer’s Regal Crabomophone subsidiary with the stunning The Impossible Love EP.  A second 7-inch matched their own “Come Kiss Me Vibrate And Smile” and “Time To Breathe” with a stupendous cover of Tomorrow’s “Hallucinations,” while the future promises fresh collaborations between band and label.

Long before all this, however, the Chemistry Set were ranked among the modern psych bands to watch.  Formed back in 1987, veterans of the late 80s neo-psychedelic boom, regularly aired by the legendary John Peel (who even sent them a hand-written fan letter), the Chemistry Set released their first album, a cassette of bedroom demos on the Acid Tapes label.

This was followed by a flurry of flexi discs, and the group’s official biog laughs, “for a period from 1988 – 1990, it seemed that every other fanzine was including a Chemistry Set flexi disc.”  And with good reason, of course.  In those dark days before the Internet, fanzines were the only way to find out what was going on in the world of psych.

Things have improved immeasurably since then, of course, and there’s been a raft load of fresh releases since then.  So here we are with chief scientist David McLean, to discuss exactly what goes on inside his Chemistry Set.

GM: The first thing I heard by you was probably “Time to Breathe.”  What are CS’s musical influences… or just the kind of stuff you like?

DM: We like to try and create a kind of “musical surrealism”. The idea is to give the listener something interesting and different to listen to (each time they listen), be it a pop song or a more psychedelic song, so that they can return again and again and hear new things in the songs.

Paul (Lake) and I do have a kind of template of influences and parameters:  Arthur Lee & Love, Syd Barrett, Ennio Morricone, Brian Wilson, John Coltrane, Van Dyke Parks, David Axelrod, Jack Nitzsche.  Plus we also dig some new wave/shoegaze/paisley underground stuff like Wire, My Bloody Valentine and The Rain Parade amongst others.  You can’t necessarily hear them in our music but we dig em!

GM: “Musical surrealism”… I like that!

DM: On songs like “Silver Birch” and “We Live As We Dream Alone,” we are really into creating a “Symphonic sound”. Building multiple layers and using stuff like multi tracked chants/harmonies, mellotron choirs, dulcimers, tablas, autoharps, tambouras, spaghetti western orchestration, strings, real reverb to build up a big wall of sound.

Basically we like to take influences and give them a “twist”. So it is a bit like a recipe: take the above, add vintage instruments (Mellotrons, Rickenbackers, dulcimers, Farfisas etc) but then we record it on pro-tools with a great young engineer on an island in the middle of the River Thames (near Hampton Court), and then work with a fabulous alternative producer in Barcelona to meld together old and nu. Put all these things together and that is our sound.

GM: You don’t necessarily record in English, either

DM: We like to sing in different languages and work with different singers. One example is he song “La Logica del Canvi,” which we sing in Catalan. This song is like a kind of Catalan raga.  Again we look to build up a big sound, with Mellotrons, dulcimers and piano. Singing this in Catalan gives it a surreal quality.

That particular song was broadcast in Barcelona on a radio station and the Catalan minister of culture heard it and we got a message from him (really!) congratulating us for doing it in Catalan. Another song, “Regarde Le Ciel,” is sung in French by a Catalan singer. It is exactly this kind of “twist” we like to do.

GM: What are the band’s future plans?

DM: We have a lot of new songs, about an album full, so we are deciding whether to do a whole album or release them as several  7″ singles or a couple of EP’s. One idea we talked with Fruit de Mer records is to do a double 7″ EP in gatefold sleeve.  We will definitely be doing another single for FDM in early 2014 with a choice cover.

Apart from that, we want to continue to play European festivals each summer and keep making music as long as we keep enjoying it!

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