Trent Houghton, Anna DeWitt, and John Condit are the far out folks that form the Nashville Psych Alliance, a local group of artists, musicians, promoters, and DIYers, that have joined forces to create a bustling community hub for the Nashville music scene and beyond. If you’re looking to get involved with your scene, or build one of your own, take a few notes from this gang. And, if you’re from out of town and looking to hang out, or play a show in Nashville, then introduce yourself to these people and let them open your mind.
Last week, we hung out over some beers on our loading dock on the south-side of town and chatted about the best Mexican restaurants, Reptilians, Transcendental Movements in Iowa, and, most importantly, their growing creative collective, the Nashville Psych Alliance. Tune in to the conversation below to find out more on what they're doing for the community, who’s involved, where it’s headed, and how you can get connected. Stay in touch @nashvillepsychalliance.
"There’s just much more of a like-minded appreciation for the more experimental, psychedelic bands—a little more eclectic—we thought that there was a lack of any sort of central network, or a collective at all, to find this stuff."
So, what’s your favorite Mexican restaurant in Nashville?
Trent: Los Arcos for sure. We thought we liked La Hacienda, but when we discovered Los Arcos, we don’t go there anymore.
John: I like El Amigo a lot. It’s that old gas station. It’s been there for ever. I really like that old taco truck by my house, too. Dude, he rolls a great burrito. He does a good job.
You’re from California, so you know.
Oh, Dude, yeah. I know tubular Mexican food.
When did you move here?
J: 2008. That’s when we all moved here. We all went to Belmont together.
T: We’re all quick friends—hit it off when we all first moved here.
J: Yeah, [Anna] was the first person I met.
Anna: At orientation.
Oh, wow and you’re still friends? I’m impressed.
J: Then [Trent] was one of the first people I met that first night.
A: And now I’m marrying the guy.
How’s that? Working together and dating? Do you guys find it weird?
T: Well, I mean professionally we don’t work together, but we do work on a lot of stuff together. Aside from running the Psych Alliance stuff with John, we do a liquid light show called Silver Cord Cinema.
Yeah! You guys wear the cool jumpsuits.
Yeah. It’s funny. People think it’s because we wanna look cool, but we spill so much oil and shit all over us, so I never want to do that on clothes I actually wear.
J: It’s cool and sensible—It’s like Martha Stewart.
So, where are you guys all from?
A: I’m from Memphis.
T: I’m from Atlanta, originally.
J: Santa Cruz, California.
So, y’all were freshman at Belmont in 2008?
What brought you here? I mean, obviously being from the South you know about Belmont, but how did you hear about it John?
J: Searching for colleges. Living in northern California, too, for music there’s LA and then there’s NY, but I didn’t really want to go to Southern California because I grew up in California. It’s one of my dreams to visit all fifty states and experience America. I wanted to experience something new. At the time, the Nashville music scene was starting to get talked about a little more and I was listening to early Kings of Leon and Be Your Own Pet, some of those Nashville bands, and I was like, “there’s something really cool happening.” Also, I didn’t hear any psych music, so I thought it could be a cool opportunity.
T: I grew up in Atlanta and lived in Oklahoma for three years. I played in a lot of bands out there and I really didn’t have my sights on going to school—wasn’t really into the idea because senior year of high school I was playing in a band that started to tour. But, I quit the band, took up college, and I found Belmont because my sister went to Vanderbilt. I’ve always been involved with booking and promotion to a certain degree. That’s what I do now. I’ve been working with the same booking agency for three and a half years straight out of school, so the music business program drew me here. I just had fun visiting here. I love Nashville.
Dude, that’s great you got a job in your degree. That’s really lucky.
A: Yeah, two hours after his last exam!
And why did you come to Belmont?
A: My closest family is in Nashville. I just had a feeling I wanted to go there. I actually went to a little music camp that my mom and my uncle were teaching at when I was seven. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I was walking down Belmont Boulevard and walked next to this low stone wall in front of Sterling Courts and realized I ended up going to school where I was.
J: And at the time, Belmont was ranked number two Music Business school.
So, you met at Belmont. I want to know more about the trajectory of how you guys got to this point.
T: Well, we’ve been residents in Nashville for eight years and we’ve loved watching the music scene grow, while definitely experiencing its changes. Now we’re all big fans of psychedelic music, we’ve been to places like Austin, TX for festivals and to other markets where we see a lot of this taking off, and feel like Nashville is kind-of on the verge of that. That there’s just much more of a like-minded appreciation for the more experimental, psychedelic bands—a little more eclectic. We thought that there was a lack of any sort of central network, or a collective at all, to find this stuff. I’ll take Penicillin Baby as an example. Talking with those guys, they’ve been doing this for years and they don’t know who to play with. There’s a great garage punk scene, and the Americana guys, but all these weirdo bands...
J: They don’t get covered. You know, they slip under the radar.
T: Yeah. They slip under and they struggle to get booked.
A: If it wasn’t for these guys, I would miss every single show. Somehow, they are just always on point with what’s going on.
Yeah, I definitely keep up with the calendar.
J: We’re big fans of the Reverberation Appreciation Society who's based in Austin.
Do they nurture that scene?
A: In Austin, yeah, definitely. They’re the ones that host Levitation.
T: They’re essentially more of a label, but do so much more than that. We’re not a label; we’re not a promotion company. Essentially, we’re a website that is acting as a hub for music. So, the foundation of it all was to create the website and allow it to grow into this scene.
J: Also a place for touring bands. When they’re like, “Hey, I’m a psych band, who do I play with?” It’s like, “Here. Here’s some bands. Here’s all the venues. Here’s people that do art. Here’s people that do projections. Here’s everything you need.”
T: We try to stay away from seeming like just a club of bands. Basically, we want to make it one central, one-stop shop to find your venues, find your bands, find your promoters.
J: To see, listen, and explore.
T: Yeah, and people to do your posters, people that can shoot the music video—all that kind-of stuff.
A: Places where you can record, where you can get your guitar straps.
T: It’s funny too, because not everybody that we want to incorporate here is necessarily a psych rock band, so there’s still aspects of more eclectic genres.
J: There’s a big thing in the music business that’s classically a lot of the in-between bands, if they’re not totally rock, they won’t get picked up. You can’t classify them. In this day-and-age, popular music is a combination thereof, and more bands are taking it further and incorporating things. Sometimes, there’s that gray area. But there are people making great music.
They need to be heard!
T: It’s been great! The website's not even been up two months, a month and a half.
J: It’ll be two months next week.
T: We’ve had a bunch of artists reach out to us that we’ve never heard of that are incredible! They play a little here-and-there, they’ve got these recordings, but no one’s ever discovered them because there’s never been anything like what we’re trying to do. And touring bands, too. Bands from Portland, we had the other day that we ended up helping out with a show. And other bands looking to come play here.
So that’s what I was going to ask, if you guys have been able to help touring bands.
J: A little bit, but not as much as I think we’d like, yet. But, it’s still young.
A: We’re still local right now, so when it starts growing it’ll become more regional, and national. More national acts will start coming through, or finding out about us, being able to set up their shows through us, us host them.
"I think the time is now. We need to do this."
So, how long has this been an idea? Who’s idea was it?
T: It was essentially John’s.
A: We’ve had the name Nashville Psych Alliance in our heads for years.
J: It’s been an idea I’ve had for a long time, but it was like, “when can we pull the trigger?”
T: It was actually a great day. We went to the Crawfish Boil our friends Cold Lunch Recordings, the Palaver Records people, put on. That was the day we really culminated it and discussed it all.
A: It was like, “John, I think the time is now. We need to do this.”
J: I got a little buzz one night and I ignited a fire and I bought the domain that night. I texted Trent and Anna.
A: And booked a date a month and a half from that time!
T: Yeah! We booked a launch party without having anything done.
A: With no website, no bands, but it all came together.
T: So, John kind-of forced us together to get everything done.
Where was the launch party?
J: It was at the Glass Ménage on July 16.
A: That was a damn good show.
J: We’re working on when the next Nashville Psych Alliance show will be. Trent and Anna are getting married in November and the end of the year is happening. People are starting to get in that mode, so we’re kind-of looking towards next year about a throw-down. Right now we’re just trying to gain internet presence and gain a fanbase—just spread the word about it. Let it grow organically.
T: When we launched the site, we never really saw how the blog format would go, which has been really fun for us. We do what we call a $10 Trip generally every Thursday, sometimes Fridays, where we pick two shows to write about. [We’ve] got photo recaps and what we call the Surreal Reviews. A buddy of ours, Mike Ackley, he is a hell of writer—a really quacked-out guy, we love him—he writes really great shit for us.
J: He’s really wonderful. We’re getting to where we want to have daily blog posts. We’re slowly filtering in our little schedule that we have.
T: Bands of the Week, our short little ten-question interview, with nonsensical questions that are just ridiculous.
J: They’re fun. My thoughts about it are, you’re at work on your lunch break on a Monday and you’re like, “I want something to read,” instead of stare at Facebook.
T: We started doing the Hump-Day Escape, which is a 1-3 minute video of nature.
A: The blog is really, also, other than the website, an opportunity for us to collaborate on a weekly basis. You’ll notice on there that everything that’s been written is by ghost writers.
T: We’d like to get to a point, too, where we have contributions from other people. Right now it’s really just John, and our friend Mike, and I, just writing as ghost writers.
So did the Silver Cord Cinema start first?
T: Yeah, Anna was doing projections for a while. I started doing them with her in June.
A: I was doing it with another gal that got her own show now, too. It just worked out better for me and Trent to be partners. We can practice whenever we want, when we’re at home together. It just works out.
T: We’ve been doing some fun Nashville acts, too. We did Mystery Lights at Exit/ In and we’re doing Mile High Club this Saturday.
So what are some of y’all’s favorite current national acts that you would put into the Psych Alliance rubric?
J: Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Black Angels, Holy Wave, Morgan Delt.
A: I listened to Morgan Delt’s new album five times today.
T: There’s lots of ‘em, man. The Allah-las are coming to town. They’ll be apart of our $10 Trip. Unfortunately, there’s no local openers.
J: Yeah, this week’s might be a $15 or $20 Trip. Some of the shows have been free we’ve been posting about so, hopefully, you’ve been saving. Put it in the piggy bank.
In five years, it’ll have to be $12.
J: I hope that as Nashville grows, we can still keep the $5 show. There is something important about that. The $5 show is a really special thing in town. I really hope that can keep continuing.
A: I think it will. There’s something about Nashville that’s just very DIY all the time. We’ve got venues popping up all the time, people taking on new projects, new bands, performing everyday.
J: Totally, there’s a strong bustling DIY community. As long as that prevails.
I hope that never dies. Are you guys affiliated with WXNA’s Psych Out?
A: No, but they did interview us.
T: Mike just hit us up out of nowhere, was like, “Hey, we got some mutual interests, I’d love to see you guys come in for an interview.”
Yeah! That was so cool, I listened to it that afternoon.
J: I’m trying to get him to see if we can do an NPA takeover at one of his shows.
T: It was fun! And now we’ve turned him on to local things like this band Holy Mountain Top Removers.
What do you guys have looking forward to coming up?
A: Halloween, the 28th with Cold Lunch Recordings at the East Room.
Not to play favorites, but who are some of y’alls favorite Nashville bands?
J: Dude, I thought Commoner was really fucking cool.
T: Well, you know, all of them. Just visit the website.
"We founded this on inclusivity, rather than exclusivity. The term just kind-of stuck in that regard."
So, what is the alliance? Is it just like all the friends and bands?
J: I mean, it’s an alliance.
A: It overarches friends, even.
J: It’s everyone believing in the same thing.
T: People have asked me, “How do I become a member?” It’s like, well, just visit the website frequently. There’s no membership here. We’re all allies in it. The term really stems from our goal to be going into this with open arms. To not try and be a club, not try to be exclusive. We founded this on inclusivity, rather than exclusivity. The term just kind-of stuck in that regard.
A: We’ve had bands that have said, “I don’t really know what’s psych about us, but we’re excited to be apart of it.” Thinking about the definition of psych, for me it’s all of our now music that reaches back a little bit and pulls it forward and makes it new in some sort of way.
T: We see a trend, technologically, vinyl has come back, so has musical influence. 60s and 70s aspects of music has had a resurgence in young, twenty-something or thirty-something bands these days.
A: Not only that, but there is some sort of collective awakening, an enlightenment. There’s a lot of psychedelic science that’s being pioneered by people now because they couldn’t do it back then. In therapy as well, how MDMA can treat PTSD and depression.
Do you think it’s because we’re in this postmodern era?
T: There’s a lot of factors, I think people are sick from what’s been modernized.
A: Or kept from us. We’ve gotten tired of the bindings of what those establishments tell us as truth, and know that there’s so much more. Also, the recognition of the distance between the human body and psyche with nature, too. It’s been stripped from us in, at least, the past 200 years. Even before then if you start talking about religion.
J: The Shaman, could’ve been the most tripped-out guy in the whole bunch.
A: The music comes from that, too. A lot of us have had opening experiences that changes the way we create and produce and what we find in common with each other.
J: Psychedelic music moves you, transcends you. How many times have you been in a mood and you put a song on in headphones and you just need to leave. That’s psychedelic right there. That’s an experience. Doesn't it even matter, could’ve been a Weezer song.
"The psychedelic thing about it was the environment that was created. It was the people, and the free thinking, and what the band stood for, the movement."
Using your definition of what psych is, what’s a counter-intuitive example of a great psych band from the last fifty years?
J: I think the way I could answer that question would be the 13th Floor Elevators. They were the first band to call their music psychedelic music, but if you listen to them it’s 60s rock. It’s garage rock, but they were the first ones to be like, “Hey, we’re not just a rock band, we’re a psychedelic band.”
A lot of the foundations of psychedelic music are in folk rock. If you look at Jefferson Airplane, their very first record Takes Off was not psychedelic at all, it was a folk rock album. Or if you look at the Grateful Dead, their very first album, they were a jug band when they were The Warlocks. I think one of the first psych bands that definitely would not be considered psych at all would be Moby Grape from San Francisco. At the time, they were going to be the pop stars, but some of their music, man. A lot of that scene in the 60s maybe wasn’t psychedelic, but the psychedelic thing about it was the environment that was created. It was the people, and the free thinking, and what the band stood for, the movement.
T: I think to answer your question, but to change it from the past fifty years to the past few years is that you see a lot more of an electronic approach to psychedelic music; almost a counter-action to the dub-step that’s been coming out. It’s very creative and very artful—it’ll put you in this zone. Ten minutes of the same trance that kind-of transforms. Electronic music has found its place in psychedelic culture—there’s been a resurgence of electronic art.
"It just felt like the right time. I just knew that on that day, this is what Nashville needs."
What are some long-term goals?
A: Long-term goals for us: festivals.
J: I would like to have something that I could call my job. And it is a job, but I would like it to be something sufficient and sustaining. I would love to make a vinyl series and put the bands out, someday. But who knows, who knows where it’ll go, how it will evolve.
It sounds like it could transition into this big hub.
J: That’s the goal. The best thing, so far, is that everyone has been so excited about it as much as we are.
T: There’s all these bands that say, “Man, we really needed this.”
A: It just felt like the right time. I just knew that on that day, this is what Nashville needs.
Thank you to the Nashville Psych Alliance for hanging out with us! Don't miss out on what's going on in this city, follow @nashvillepsychalliance and peep their website for the daily calendar and other fun stuff. All photos by NPA and OF.