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The Black Angels' Alex Maas talks psych-rock and learning from Roky Erickson

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Opening for Roky Erickson is Austin psych-rock ringleader the Black Angels. This is the second time the Black Angels have supported Erickson on tour, the first being in 2008. A conversation with Erickson is a screwball spiral of answers, so Angels' lead signer, Alex Maas, helped shed some light. We called him at his Austin home.

The Pitch: On your new album, Indigo Meadow, a lot of songs refer to war and gun violence. These seem like important themes.

Maas: Since the early stages of our band, we were always kind of writing about things that are important to us. Selfishly, at the end of the day, we're trying to be pleased by our music because if we aren't satisfied, how can anyone else be. That's the approach we take. Our music has always been about things we care about, whether it's a sappy love song or how someone feels when they get back from the war.

I understand you have a Roky Erickson cover album that you're selling on tour?

Back in 2007, we were invited to listen to some of Roky's material and get in the studio and make a record with him. The idea was kind of to take these Roky Erickson songs and make them sound more like 13th Floor Elevator songs. That project kind of lost steam, but we have some songs from those sessions that we put on a split 7-inch that we're going to be taking with us on tour.

It was really difficult to learn the material from Erickson's catalog for a lot of reasons. Roky's attention span in the studio was, like, 20 minutes. We never fully made it through a set before we went on tour with Roky. It was almost like training for a marathon: You run like half a marathon, but you don't run the whole thing until the day of. I make it sound like pulling teeth, but it was a great experience.

What kind of influence has playing with Roky had on your music?

For me, the biggest thing I took from it was even more validation and confirmation that music was therapeutic. ... Before we started a practice session, it would be hard to communicate with him. You'd ask him a question, and the answer wouldn't be congruent with the question. You could tell that his mind was in other places. But after we played music for 30 or 45 minutes, Roky became very clear. You could look into his eyes and tell that he was with you in conversation. The music entered his mind and got his mind working in that direction.

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