Up the rabbit hole
MindFlowers takes its name from a 1960s psych-rock song, but the band's music favors real life over mind trips
With a name like MindFlowers, it should come as no surprise that this group of local musicians plays songs that are very much inspired by 1960s psychedelic rock ’n’ roll. The name alone, of course, conjures up surreal imagery from the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” In fact, it actually derives from a 1968 song by the same name recorded by an obscure psychedelic group, Ultimate Spinach. The 10-minute song’s acid-drenched guitars and lyrics about “traveling to the center of your mind” makes the aforementioned Beatles song seem like a Monkees pop tune in comparison, actually.
But while the MindFlowers have retained some of the aesthetics of such late ’60s experimental rock music, lead singer Chris Billington keeps his lyrics very personal and honest, forsaking the typical trip down the drug-induced and over-the-top rabbit hole.
“I never really tried to write about a made-up fictional story. I don’t overthink it too much,” Billington said. “I usually write about things going on in my life, stuff happening around me.”
The song “Shells,” for instance, is a straightforward, unpretentious love song Billington wrote about his girlfriend. (“Spending all my time with you. / I think I’ll spend my life with you. / Together we’re walking hand in hand.”)
Musically, he’s also trimmed away all the novelty aspects one often associates with ’60s-era psychedelic rock. Instead, he’s distilled the music to its bare essences: guitars, bass, drums, and creative and emotional lyrics. While the music exhibits a prominent rock edge, it’s also gentle and sounds very much like a throwback to the lighter-than-air backbeat shuffle and moody tones of easier-to-digest mainstream psychedelic-pop bands such as the Zombies and Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys.
Recently, Billington’s also strived to push his music forward in time, listening to more modern indie bands such as Dr. Dog, Ty Segall, Tame Impala and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. OK, yes, these are all bands influenced by the ’60s, but they’ve still served to broaden his musical palette.
“I don’t think we stick to any one genre [now],” Billington said. “I don’t really try to sound like anything. … All my influences are just floating around in my head, and it’s just how I play it.”
Some of those influences are rooted deeper than others. Billington started playing the guitar when he was 11 and discovered psychedelic rock by way of his grandmother.
“My grandmother was kind of a psychedelic collector,” Billington said. “I used to listen to music with her all the time.”
Some of Billington’s favorite music then was the 1998 Nuggets box set, a series of albums compiling obscure psychedelic tracks from 1965-1968. Indeed, before Billington started MindFlowers, he said he made Nuggets-inspired home recordings. By mid-2012 he formed a full band to back him up and play the songs he’d been, until then, recording on his own.
Now, even accompanied by a band, Billington still writes a lot of music in the same way—making demos first and later giving it to the band to learn.
“I’ll have pretty much everything worked out. We usually stick with that, unless it’s a song we all jammed and made together,” Billington said.
Live, the music doesn’t deviate much from the recordings—but that’s OK. On album, the songs here exude a pervasive gentleness that reveals a vulnerability in Billington that’s less apparent at shows.
“It’s an outlet for my feelings, my heart, all that cheesy stuff,” Billington said. “It all comes out through my music.”