23 Nov Tan Cologne & Psychic Sink Artist-Musician Interview: Reverence and Resonance in the Land of Enchantment
What makes your collaboration tick?
Lauren Green: We weren’t necessarily looking to start a project, not really… We came together and we were like, “Oh, I like how you play guitar.” There’s some dark, twangy, mysterious elements that we both had intrinsically in our styles and our sound and everything. So that was really cool to see that come together. It was a call and response… I would play something and then she would play something and it would meld together very well. That was just something that kept happening, and we could just play for hours and hours. And we would record when we were doing that. One time, she was out of town and I sent her — it was like three hours — “Here’s this very large file that your computer may or may not play…” But it was just one of the sessions that we had set down in the middle of all the guitar pedals and everything… so that was just something that organically came together, I would say.
Marissa Macias: And a lot of projects kept unfolding with us. We almost got too crazy at the beginning of our friendship and relationship because we just kept thinking of things to do together. And as we’ve been in each other’s lives for five years now… it’s gotten more condensed and more refined and focused. That’s been a gift, because we’ve kind of found our niche, and our awareness of how we create together, or what we like to curate together.
How would you define that niche?
Macias: There’s a lot of subterranean elements to us… I mean, Cave Vaults on the Moon in New Mexico was about a, kind of like a time capsule — an imagined vault on the Moon — but we decided New Mexico was the Moon… because there’s a hum going on in Taos… It actually just happened, but there was a search for treasure that was recently just discovered that was kind of a topic for the last few years. There’s a lot of mystery, and a lot of history that’s been hidden for so long. So we kind of, I think, get into that subterranean, undercover, buried, digging space. But it’s not necessarily morbid; it’s kind of life-giving. It’s like there’s something else there. I would say there’s a subterranean sphere; there’s maybe a little celestial or cosmic, in the sense of we’re trying to connect to a spirit outside of what we can see. And a lot of that has to do with sound. Because sometimes, the communication that we’re best at is just our music. We’re not attached to having our vocals… you can’t really tell what we’re singing. It’s a lot more sound-based vs., “Oh, the lyrics feel like this, this, this, this.”
Green: Yeah, I’d say… that’s interesting. I’d say celestial, while also staying grounded. I think a lot of times when we write, we also have to go outside and like, dig in the dirt and garden, and then we come back, existing between those —
Macias: Light a fire.
Green: — between those two. Those two spheres; those two realms.
What is your generative process like? What comes first?
Green: The interaction and how we compose music together… I’ve never had that kind of relationship of playing music with someone… I would sit down and write chunks of something and it wouldn’t be finished, and then she would write something and we’d come back together and see if they fit together, and oftentimes they would.
Macias: There’d be some strange moments where we’d be working on almost the same… chord, or song, or piece of a soundscape in another room, and then we’d be like, “What were you playing?” “What were you playing?” and then we were like, “Oh, let’s piece it together.” And see if it worked. And actually, there’s a song, New Dune, and that song is totally, totally two different things that actually found their way together, written at the same time. Which is… it’s pretty unbelievable, but maybe not, because we spend so much time together and constantly are having a dialogue.
Green: But I also wonder if it has to do something with the space — vibrationally, possibly. I don’t know. You go into one room, and that’s kind of the chord you pick up or the tone that you hear or feel… we were in a different space when we wrote most of Cave Vaults on the Moon. But yeah, that would be something where I would leave a space and then she would inhabit it and write something, or vice versa, and so it was pretty cool to see that those came together in that way. And I feel like we always start with writing the music.
Macias: Other times where we really are doing improvisational, we’ll sit down and light a fire and… it can come out in one second — or I don’t know, like an hour later, all of a sudden we’re on another level and then there’s something… but we record everything we do, and we listen to it later; like on a drive or cooking dinner, we’ll put on what we’ve created that day. But it’s kind of magical because… we’ll play electric guitar but we both have kind of a different sensibility in how we play, and it’s almost like we were made to play together because I’m a much more tonal one-note kind of guitar playing… and Lauren, she’s got really amazing compositions. And so, we have this way of weaving those together so they’re not competing but they’re complementing, or finding their language and dialogue.
Green: Yeah, I’d say that, too. And if we write that way, we sit, and there’s a lot of looping, it could be just an hour playing a similar thing and you’re like, “Oh wait! I hear something else!” You know? And yeah, like she said, we record everything because you think your mind won’t forget such amazing things that you come up with, but it does.
During our call, I ask them if it’s fair to characterize all of the work they do together as, in some way, a love letter to where they live. It was a rhetorical question, because it’s obvious that’s what it is. All of their output, across mediums, feels pulled directly from their immediate surroundings and surrounding community. In the holistic world they have dreamed together, New Mexico is the Moon — a mutable reflector — tugging on the inner tides of everyone in its thrall. Low-riders are spaceships. Karaoke bars host transcendent communal rituals. The ever-present “Taos hum” becomes a tuning fork for a kind of collaborative intuition.
Who and what are your greatest influences?
Green: We both mentioned our grandfathers. I think because anything they were interested in, they would really research it, get into it. I like that, and I hope that for humanity again. I think that we want it to quickly come to us — whether it be news or knowledge or whatever — and people might find it hard to really dig into something. And we both want to do that. We’ll get obsessed with things… sourdough starters or gardening, grapes, pie, whatever. So I think both of our grandfathers did that… [my grandfather] went on canoe trips with a National Geographic photographer, and made candles, and was a beekeeper, and a gardener, and things like that. And I think that it’s important; it’s important to learn about things as much as you can. To really try to understand, you know? People, or the earth, or whatever it may be.
Macias: Both my grandpas were really amazing men. One [grandfather]: when the L.A. Philharmonic threw out a bunch of violins… [he] jumped in the dumpster cause he saw violas and stuff sticking out, and he reassembled like 20 violins from that. And so he had a meticulous kind of mind and a love of music. The other grandfather was a civil rights activist and a sculptor. He didn’t believe in purchasing material to make art, and he didn’t believe in selling his art, so he did mostly papier-mâché and rock paintings… he’d pick me up in his van, and we’d go to Venice Beach and mix a bucket of papier-mâché and spend the day making stuff on the beach. So they had a very huge kind of shaping of my priorities in life. And it was really interesting because Lauren and I speak about them frequently as being kind of our influence. And it feels good to have a direct influence, because you never really know the history of everybody you… it’s nice to have a personal connection.
Why New Mexico? Why Taos? What brought you here and why did you stay?
Macias: Wanna go first?
Green: You go!
Macias: Okay! My mom brought me to Taos when I was about seven or eight, and we did, we did go to the Taos Pueblo… It’s a memory that was like a forever memory for me, and I remember it just was very vivid. And randomly, I moved here at thirty-one so, twenty-three or twenty-four years later, I came back because I had worked on a book. Part of it was written here in Taos — not by me, but by the other author; it was co-authored by three people. We brought the book as a way of bringing it back to Taos, because the author had passed away, and we had finished the design. The design and 300 pages of… well, it was a cookbook, so recipes. And when I did, I just… I felt like staying. It was, like a potent experience of… staying. So I kind of did two trips back to get my stuff and things, and I was living pretty lightly at that point, so it wasn’t hard. But I just ended up being here and I stayed because it’s one of the most challenging places to be… it gives me so much learning time and growth time and the history here is really important to me… it’s a space [where] I feel a lot of communication with the landscape, and I also respect it as not being my landscape… I think it’s just the challenges that I’ve had here have helped me grow so much, and then meeting Lauren and our work together, here, is also really kind of a channeled experience, and I don’t know if it’s because of the land or if it’s because we have the time to give so much to each other and give so much to ourselves. There’s not a lot of distractions. So yeah, that’s why I’m here.
Green: That’s a good reason.
Green: I was living in Austin, and I had wanted to learn woodworking, I’d wanted to learn some other craft where I could kinda be more self-sustainable and maybe make something that would outlive myself, and use nature to do those things. Whenever I was in other bands and stuff, I would tour, and every time I was in New Mexico, I just felt something. It was like, “Ooh, I just gotta; I gotta see more.” And I had always wanted to live in New Mexico. And I hadn’t even spent time in Taos, but I had found a program at UNM that was just like a two-year woodworking program, and I signed up for it, and found a home on Craigslist or whatever at the time, and just moved here and I’d never been here in my life. I had been to Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and other places throughout New Mexico, and I wasn’t even really planning on staying. And it just… I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with the challenges and the landscape and everything… I have grown so much being here that I don’t… I don’t think I could ever go backwards in any capacity… there’s just still so much to learn and research and to be a part of here that I see myself sticking around for a while.
New Mexico is such a complicated place, such a beautiful place, and there’s so much violence. Roswell is a military installation, and even looking at the Psychic Sink building which was located in a mission, which has its own violent history… when we talk about the desert as a cosmic landscape, there’s an emptiness that’s kind of false, because it is populated, and people have lived there for a long time. Thinking through all of those things, I was wondering how you also untangle those knots and situate yourselves in all of it?
Macias: Okay so, monsoons come in the summertime, right? And when that would happen, a ton of mud would come and fall down. And in that mud, our dog would dig around, and it was washing down flint and arrowheads, like off our roof. That space was, I mean, 250-plus years old, and it was built on this mission land… I think where we parked was actually the old graveyard — yeah, it was… we wrote Cave Vaults — pretty much almost the whole album — there. It was like: I mean, you were living in kind of the experience of colonialism and the changes of it all and the Catholic church bell ringing in your front door, or in the front door of the gallery, and then a very old community that we didn’t wanna disrupt. And so, there was a lot of mystery we wanted to preserve and keep, and not make such a huge impact. I think we made a statement on Instagram which was about treading lightly in small towns, and kind of keeping your footprint pretty low, because we think these places are [and] should be preserved — in the sense of like how they’ve been mangled into beauty… if someone comes in and wants, you know, a cool this or that, or needs the great coffee shop with the pour-overs? You can change a place really specifically and really dramatically [from] looking just like something you left or lived in a previous time… we’d have a presentation or we’d have a little show or we’d have music, [and] almost immediately, we would remove our gallery sign and kind of make it feel like, “Oh, did that happen, or?”… just give it some sort of space. And then we’d wait, like, six weeks to do something again, or three months, just to be a feeling thing, versus, “We’re gonna churn out shows.” It kind of had to speak to us if we wanted to do something.
Green: Yeah, because we weren’t trying to start… a “scene” or anything like that… we just wanted to promote creativity, and if we came across something or someone got in touch with us… but yeah, like she said, we would take the sign down, and people would drive past, and they were like, “I thought your gallery was over here but I couldn’t find it.” And we were like, “Good!” you know? That’s the dialogue we wanted.
“We definitely found our sound together, and now that we have that, we can only go forward,” Macias asserts at the end of our call.
Beyond that, it seems like they’ve found what so many artists seek: Holism with form and praxis, harmony with habitat and spiritual health, and a framework from which to build their body of work. To be aligned rather than on an endless grind is a gift that none of us take for granted. The muse can be elusive. A relationship with inspiration must be cultivated. And so, Green and Macias are growing grapes with plans to make homemade wine, and already at work on what will become their sophomore album.
When I ask about their next project as Psychic Sink, they simply tell me that when things fell into place for it, they’ll know. And just like that, they’re a record label! They’re in the process of releasing Painting Portraits — the sophomore album written, performed, produced and recorded by Hataałii AKA 17- year-old Hataałiinez Wheeler, a multi-instrumentalist musician from the Navajo Nation — on vinyl. Macias and Green may have learned how to take their time, but they’ve also learned how to make things happen.
Circling through hypnotic reversals, “Heretic Porcelain” sonically explores terrestrial responses to a tilted, worn, and skewed Earth. Lyrically, the song centers on inevitable transformations, reactions, and animalistic behaviors. The word “heretic” and “porcelain” are pieced together, merging ideas of lunacy and fabrication of delicate forms. The video for “Heretic Porcelain” is a set of rotating glimpses embodying momentum. Visions of desert high-winds, wild horses, a mother and daughter metal detecting, hot stones vaporizing water, and common depictions of elemental presence. Pieced together to relay transformation in the directness that the action is the action itself.
Cave Vaults on the Moon in New Mexico, the debut record by Tan Cologne, is out now on Labrador Records and available for purchase on Bandcamp. Elements 2 Spirit: “Altar Spaces” is available for purchase in a limited edition (with 50% of proceeds going to the Pueblo Relief Fund) via the Psychic Sink Instagram account. Soundscapes and interviews from both issues of Elements are also available on Bandcamp. Hataałii’s “Painting Portraits” is available for pre-order on Qrates.
As Psychic Sink, they ran an intermittent gallery and events series from 2017-2019, and have just released the second issue of their publication. The newsprint, Elements 2 – Spirit in the Form of Altar Spaces, was curated from an open call to New Mexican artists in the earliest phase of the pandemic. It follows Elements 1 | Earth – I Hope You Like Rocks.