Pacific Range rides the wave of cosmic Rock 'n' Roll
By Nick Mitchell Maiato
With a sunshine daydream double LP, High Upon the Mountain, tucked under their collective arm, Pacific Range is the latest among the burgeoning crop of indie jam bands indebted to early ’70s West Coast psychedelia—what Gram Parsons once dubbed Cosmic American Music—to lollygag happily out the gate in full tie-dye.
Formed in 2013 while studying at Chico State, the band eventually settled in LA and were the first signing to Curation Records, the nascent label founded by fellow cosmic cowboy Brent Rademaker (Beachwood Sparks, GospelbeacH, et al).
We sent fellow indie jammer, guitarist and songwriter Nick Mitchell Maiato (One Eleven Heavy), to talk to guitarist/vocalist Seamus Turner and drummer Nate Ward about the band’s influences, their new record and being in a jam band under COVID conditions.
Nick Mitchell Maiato: It’s a tough time for your debut album to come out. No touring due to COVID-19. Devastating wildfires across California. How are you fellers doing amidst the chaos?
Seamus Turner: We are doing okay. Like every other conscious being on this planet, we are trying our best to keep ourselves healthy and prioritize the issues the world is facing at this moment in time.
NMM: You met seven years ago while studying music at Chico State. Tell me about that? What kinda stuff were you studying and how did you connect musically and figure you were in the same zone?
Nate Ward: Chico State is kind of unique as a state school, in that they offer a Music Industry & Technology major. We were learning ear training, piano, music theory, music law and about how the industry works.
A lot of the students were kind of your classic “band kids.” I think we felt slightly alienated from that. We were more into classic rock, blues, jamming—music more based on feeling instead of charts.
I just remember seeing [Seamus’] tie-dye shirts and more laidback demeanour. We DJ’ed together at the college radio station and our tastes were similar. Plus, we’d bump into each other at the skate park, farmer’s markets and the same local shows. One jam together was pretty much all it took to become friends.
Nate Ward in the studio for the High Upon the Mountain sessions.
NMM: How important was your move to LA in terms of developing as players and forging connections with likeminded heads?
ST: The difference between a big city and a small town is that there is more music happening in a more populous place. I was born in LA, so it was easy to navigate due to the familiarity of growing up here, plus the friends that I made in college and that whole experience really made me aware of what I had left behind.
NMM: How did you come to hook up with Dan Horne as producer and how important was it to you that he was connected to the whole Grateful Dead world (both via his contribution to the intermission music at the Dead’s 2015 Fare Thee Well shows, performed by Circles Around The Sun and released as Interludes for the Dead, and via his tribute band Grateful Shred)?
ST: We had been going to shows and my bud Clay was in numerous bands with him along with recording their two albums (Mapache). So I met Dan Horne through Sam and Clay. There was one night when we were playing an after show for Dead and Co. at a small venue (Lot 1) on Sunset near Dodger Stadium. It was super hot out and must have been 100 degrees that night. There were a lot of people outside and Dan yells through the door, “Play Swap Meet!” That’s the song that caught his ear and I think made him want to record us.
NMM: Is that how you came to meet Brent Rademaker (founder of Curation Records and bassist/vocalist in cosmic country band Beachwood Sparks with whom Horne had also played pedal steel) or did you already go back a way?
ST: I had met Brent before I had met Dan. I came down from school on Christmas break and was asked to play his Lonesome LA Cowboy night with Mapache that night. It was just me and an acoustic guitar at the time. I think since that moment Brent was keeping tabs on the music.
Seamus Turner (guitar and vocals) and bassist Cameron Werhle.
NMM: What about Duane Betts (son of Allman Brothers’ guitarist Dickey Betts, who guests on High Upon the Mountain)? How did that collaboration come about and did it shape your own playing in any way?
ST: We met Duane Betts through our friend Matt Diamond who puts shows on in Malibu. At what used to be the Malibu Inn, Duane hopped on stage for a jam and we eventually asked him to be on our album. He plays the lead guitar on Comin’ After You from High Upon the Mountain.
NMM: Why do you think there’s been such a significant recent focus on people making what Gram Parsons once called Cosmic American Music or what they’re now calling indie jam or whatever? You know, the Dead are more popular than they’ve been in decades. What’s going on?
ST: Gram Parsons is a big inspiration. I was turned-on to his stuff around the first time I heard Beachwood Sparks. But, I grew up listening to the Dead. It was always around because my parents were big Deadheads and had lots of bootleg tapes. Also, we would have all the neighbourhood kids over and my parents would put the Grateful Dead hour on the radio on Friday nights. There has been a resurgence in popularity due to Dead and Co., I think. What makes our band unique is that the music is coming from an organic place with many different musical backgrounds. We are not trying to sound like anything but rock ‘n’ roll and to put a good time on for the people listening.
Interview continues below
Turtles and Tugboats
Illustrator Brian Blomerth discusses the art of High Upon the Mountain
How do you capture the visual essence of cosmic psychedelia? Some mountains, an ocean, a tugboat and a turtle in a sailor hat are a good start. Pacific Range tapped illustrator Brian Blomerth to set the mood for their latest LP High Upon the Mountain. Here’s what he had to say about the experience.
Heads Lifestyle: How did your cover art gig with Pacific Range come to be? Were you already familiar with the band?
Brian Blomerth: I did some work for Grateful Shred/Circles around the Sun. I believe they and Pacific Range share a member or two. I dunno... I was just down. Didn't really have to think too hard about it.
HL: What did the creative process look like for this job? Did the band come with a specific concept or were you free to just do your thing?
BB: They asked for like mountains and ocean... and this is what that kinda looks like from me. Got a couple of my standard critters. I draw that turtle with a sailor hat a lot. Because without a little hat, a turtle always feels kind of bald so it's nice to throw a little hat on him. I always wanted to put a little tugboat on the cover of something in the distance, so finally got to do that.
I draw that turtle with a sailor hat a lot. Because without a little hat, a turtle always feels kind of bald so it's nice to throw a little hat on him.
HL: How does the music of the album influence the art you created? Did you immerse yourself in the music before creating the illustration?
BB: They sent me the music and I like it—real riding along kind of music. The solo on Sending it is sick. I kind of think the turtle on the front is listening to that. He's floating along.
HL: There's a definite stoney vibe in the artwork you created for High Upon the Mountain—lots of mushrooms and little happy animals. Is the dreamlike quality of your work a result of cannabis?
BB: Ha! Ha! No, I actually never smoke weed—too many questions about my life arise. There are little critters and mushrooms everywhere if you are looking for ‘em. I dunno, people always think my drawings are dreamlike. I kinda think everything sorta looks like that.
NMM: You jam out a little bit in songs like Nothing Else More. How far do you take that when you play live? Like, how long do the jams go and how outer limits do they get? You get into deeper modulations much or do you tend to stick with a tonal centre?
ST: We like to go farther out when we play live. Improvisation is a huge part of what we do. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances we have not been touring. Nothing Else More is my favourite song to play that's on the album and we like to take it to different places, maybe to an even more abstract realm when we jam live. Plus, our good friend Jade Castrinos is on that song which elevates it to a new level vocal-wise.
NMM: A lot of the first-generation jam band heads—David Nelson, Jerry Garcia, et al—weren’t able to go very long without wanting to drop the electric instruments and polish their bluegrass chops. You ever feel like messing with that stuff? How far back do you go in terms of roots?
ST: I need to go back and brush up on my flatpicking. I love bluegrass; it’s what I first learned and took lessons in at the Blueridge Pickin’ Parlor on the fiddle. One day it would be great to get the acoustic side of music happening again. That’s the root of a lot of what we do. Most of the songs we write start out with a pen, piece of paper, and acoustic guitar.
Keyboardist and guitarist Stewart Forgey.
NMM: I’m assuming that the title High Upon the Mountain aligns you with this publication’s readership, if you see what I’m saying? What cannabis products are you ingesting and what’s their relationship to your approach to music making?
NW: Yeah, I think there is a little bit of a double entendre there. We mostly just keep it old school with flower. During the quarantine, we did experiment with some butter, which was fun. I think it fuels the creative process, opens up the mind and helps some of the jams go deeper than they normally would. It helps with the writing, too, and finding inspiration.
NMM: I’ve talked to around six musicians this week who’ve each said variations on the same thing: roughly, I’m working on 2022/23 at this point. I see you already have a couple of what I assume are socially distanced shows in the calendar, but beyond that how do you see things going? Are you still pumped to get out there and be a touring band or are you looking at it as a different kind of beast from here on out?
ST: Playing live shows for us is what gives us purpose and other people purpose. It’s such a reciprocal feeling. Hopefully our country can get it together and we can get back to playing shows in 2021. Until then, we will record and work on our chops. We just want people to feel safe and have fun. It’s been frustrating for all of us along with the rest of the world. Music is a therapy for people, and they need it just as much to keep their sanity, as we need it to keep ours.
NMM: Thanks for taking the time to do this and congratulations on the album. It’s fantastic and it’s been on constant rotation in the car. All the best with it.
ST: Thank you and much love to you all.
High Upon the Mountain available on Curation Records will have an official USA re-release on Oct 16th. Find it Everywhere!
Follow them on Instagram at: @pacificrange
Listen on Spotify
A lot of influences went into the creation of High Upon the Mountain. Pacific Range drummer Nate Ward handpicked a selection of tunes that influenced the creation of the album. Listen to our custom Pacific Range-curated "Pacific Range Mix" on Spotify.
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