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Interviewing The Prefab Messiahs

About their new Album Psychsploitation Today, Worcester origins & their own musical alchemy

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Never quite in sync with their times, this could be the Prefab Messiahs moment to shine. Starting back in the 80’s around the time of the Paisley Undergound they went their own way dosing out psychedelia with a cynical humor that now feels like the perfect prescription for the present.

Mixing a 60’s sound with a post punk attitude the Prefabs come up with something truly unique on Psychsploitation Today .It’s safe to say there’s going to be a lot of anti-Trump songs in the coming years but I doubt any will have you laughing as much as the harmony soaked, sunshine pop of “Man Who Killed Reality”. That’s really what makes the album work here, in that they make their sardonic jokes above all fun to listen to. “Everything you know is wrong again” could be a dour lament in different hands but with them this realization becomes a catchy sing along backed by a Stonesy garage riff. Like a friend who can makes you laugh at the worst moments, the band cuts through with ironic precision throughout the album declaring that life is “Outtayerhands”.

While other bands simply try to revive the past the Prefabs redfine it creating an album that sounds anything but dated.

Taking time out of their schedule the band were also kind enough to talk to the Hassle about their early Worcester days, their new album and what lies ahead for the group. They will be dealing out a video for EVERY song on the album over the next year that have to be seen to be believed and all highlight their twisted, cartoonish humor.Subscribe to their Youtube channel to see them all as they come out.

The Prefab Messiahs are Xerox Feinberg(XF), Trip (Kris) Thompson (KT), Doc Michaud (DM)

 

1. So what were the band’s original intentions when you started? Was there one?

XF: When I put up the photocopied fliers that sucked Kris (Trip) and Mike (Doc) into the Prefab vortex, I seem to remember aiming vaguely for a frothy mix of sarcastic social commentary mixed with punk attitude, wistfully bitter psychedelic hippie-era nostalgia, a dollop of New Wave pretension, Dadaist energy, and typical youthful rock and roll attention-seeking noise. It certainly was more of a mental “band of the mind” than a group of musicians who knew what they were actually going to sound like.

DM: We were always joking about fast food icons, conspiracy theories, subliminal advertising, so we enjoyed playing with the idea of worshiping corporate idols.

KT: Xeth described the musical intentions pretty perfectly. I would add that our environment and the social context was another formative dimension. We met at Clark U. in Worcester MA in the fall of ’81. There were only the faintest strands of New Wave in the campus consciousness, practically no punk, and not much interest in anything experimental. There was a hangover of lethargic post-’70s apathy informing the preppy aesthetic there, generally. So, an urge to “confound the status quo” also figured prominently in our intentions.

2. Are you surprised that people are taking more to your music now than then?

XF: On the one hand, not really. There’s a certain Prefab alchemy that we always thought could have a certain appeal to certain people. On the other hand, back in the day we were so naive, so unskilled, so broke, so disconnected from all the common sense things people do to be ‘successful’ that it would have been a miracle for us NOT to be doomed to obscurity. And then on the OTHER other hand—yeah, I am surprised—because while it’s now commonplace for “older bands” with cult followings to have comebacks and celebrate their commercial glory days, we might be the only comeback band that has nothing commercial to come back to!

KT: Not really. Punk and New Wave had started to seep into mainstream awareness by the time we’d started, but probably we were cutting across too many lines—’60s garage, post-punk, power pop—to be an easy favorite to all that many folks. Since then, there’s been a lot more cross-pollination in music styles, and people aren’t thrown by it as much.

DM: Everything goes in cycles. At the time we listened to a lot of ’60s psychedelic and garage bands that have fallen in and out of favor over the years, so why not? Back then we joked that we might be rediscovered, revived and physically propped up onstage.

3. Do you think your story might have been different if the band was in a different location or it were a few years later?

DM: Personally, I doubt the band could have fermented anyplace other than Worcester, MA in the DIY era of the early ’80s. There was a T-shirt at the time that read “Worcester is the Paris of the ’80s.” Tongue-in-cheek, but it was an exciting time for art, music, film…we played at art galleries, punk clubs, donut shops, and basement parties. We could try anything we wanted without getting a lot of attitude—creativity was valued as much as chops, probably more so. Plus, many of Xeth’s songs were about the city. Worcester was like a fifth member of the band.

XF: Before the internet, information about other options wasn’t so obvious… especially (for some reason) to me. Worcester (Wormtown) was a little backwater scene built around college/community radio stations like WCUW… but it had a certain self-deprecating swagger and a creative, gritty, nowhere-to-go-but-up feel. Being part of that tough little underground sort of made the whole idea of “The Prefab Messiahs” more appealingly ridiculous to us. Why didn’t we just pack into a car and relocate to somewhere like the East Village or (at least) Boston? Because we literally never thought of it… and probably would have been eaten alive… and also we didn’t have a car!

KT: Actually, we were getting to gigs in an old station wagon that my mom had passed along to me. But yes—good question there about other locales and times. No one has asked us that before! I guess that if we’d started in NY or LA in the mid-to-late ’80s of Worcester MA in ’81, we could have had a better go of things during the first go-’round. Or if we’d started in the late ’00s. But there’s something to be said for letting creativity sprout in a relative vacuum. And I kind of like how things have turned out…it’s like we planted some weird seeds and then came back years later to see what had sprouted. And instead of being a lame cover band of our earlier selves, we feel like new sparks are shooting off all the time.

4. Did you find it hard to get back into Prefab songwriting mode after the hiatus?

XF: It’s actually been very refreshing to re-channel the vibe that powered the original Prefab music. My approach to songwriting (and worldview) has never really veered that far from cranky, semi-serious/angry-bemused critic guy. We weren’t singing about young love or rockin’ out, it was more a “hey (dummy), pay attention” sort of attitude. So for better or worse, it’s not been a problem of “how to write songs like 20-year-old me?” It’s more like picking up the gauntlet and running with it. But we all always felt it crucial to reconnect honestly with the band’s original spirit (otherwise no one would play my new songs.)

5. What can you tell us about the new record? How did the recordings go? What music/albums were you listening to?

XF: Due to logistics and experimentation the new album took over a year to come together. It’s the first album we fully produced ourselves, finally controlling everything from recording to mixing. That’s not so amazing these days, but it was a personal goal. (Affording recording time in a studio back when we started was almost inconceivable.) The songs came together in the rural NY-PA area where I live, layer by layer as everybody hammered out their contributions to the basic framework, all anchored and enhanced by the percussion and techno-wizardry of
current drummer Matt (Mattyboy) Horn, who lives down the road from me next to a cow pasture. The way it all unpredictably grew to be more than the sum of its parts was great.
To my mind, our 2015 album (Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive) was the kind of faster, “live” record we wanted to make back in 1983 but couldn’t. The new one (Psychsploitation Today) feels like our modern garage version of something more dense and concept-like… like Pet Sounds or (The Small Faces’) Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake or something vaguely of that ilk. We have a lot of sounds and styles, all run through the ’80s-’90s-’00s Prefab mind-blender. My go-to music still tends to branch out from 1966 garage and pop rock and anything that echos that. I try (in my humble, very lesser way) to be the Ray Davies of The Prefabs.

KT: I visited Xerox for a long weekend and cut a bunch of tracks. I also sent some other tracks remotely like Doc did (who’s in Memphis now). Throughout the months-long process I was listening to lots of things, including Morgan Delt, Mind Spiders, Thee Oh Sees, 39 Clocks (’80s German band), MMOSS, Electric Prunes, Broadcast, Plasticland and Gary War (Gary also guested on synth on “The Man Who Killed Reality”).

DM: This is the first time that we recorded our parts separately, so it took some getting used to. In addition to guitar parts, I sent Xeth sound clips of fuzzboxes, Mellotron and combo organ apps on the iPad, etc. There was more time to try different sounds, but at some point you have to stop noodling around and commit to something to contribute.

6. “Psychsploitation” (the song) talks about how companies use the internet to spy on consumers and their interests, Do you think the internet is too invasive or a mixed blessing?

XF: It’s both too invasive and a mixed blessing! I think it was better about ten years ago before social media and phones ate everybody’s brain. I could send people emails and get them to check out my website. And companies wanted to pay people like me to make “content.” The not-so-old Good Ol’ Days… so innocent and quaint!

DM: Corporations are always going to manipulate the masses. I don’t mind targeted advertising, but people need to stay aware of what’s going on.

KT: Mixed blessing. It’s being abused by corporate marketers and maniacs who aren’t interested in contributing positively to society—but from our band’s perspective, at least, it’s brought us a lot more listeners.

7. I really love the videos that are coming out withe the music, Who is behind those? Where do they get their ideas?

XF: In what used to be my real life, I’ve been a cartoonist and animator for many years…so putting together the music videos is something I always hoped to do. Given all the formats for music today—vinyl, CD, cassette, streaming and downloads—I figured “let’s ultimately make Psychsploitation Today an actual Video Album.” All ten song videos are in different styles… a mix of animation, live footage stuff, found images… eventually to be released as a complete Prefab audio-visual mini-movie floating around the YouTubes for all eternity.

8. What’s up next for the Prefabs? Can fans expect any live shows after the album release?

XF: We hope to play shows this Spring. (I’m through with lugging equipment around in all this freezing shit… my one concession to age and experience.) As usual, then we’ll see what comes of all this new activity.

KT: We’ll keep making videos for most of the songs we do…it’s a way to give added dimensions to the songs and ideas — and to connect with people too, since we’ll only be doing a handful of shows here and there.

9. Considering how off predictions are for the future, care to make some wild ones for 2048?

KT: I would hope that with technology eliminating more and more work functions, world governments will do the right thing and adopt forms of universal basic income so that a large swath of the population doesn’t fall through the cracks. It’s tempting to guess that there will be hands-free brain-interactive Web 6.0 or something… but how to avoid brain cancer would be a big question with that—as well as not getting your head hacked, or not being able to shut out Big Brother.

XF: By 2048, I predict The Prefab Messiahs’ Facebook page will have over 2000 Likes.

Psychsploitation Today is available now on cd, casettte, vinyl and bandcamp on Burger and Lollipop Records

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