When Rob Fitzpatrick got together with the guys in The Black Angels to form The Reverberation Appreciation Society, he never dreamed of what it would become. In it’s original incarnation, it was a collective of like-minded music fans who shared a love of a style of music that has been categorized as “Psych Rock”. Their first showcase in 2009 at South By Southwest was well attended and much talked about. In recent years, the genre has wildly popular and the Austin Psych Fest is preparing to host it’s largest festival yet from April 26 through 28th, with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club amongst headliners. Sania and I talked to Rob Fitzpatrick about his role as curator of Austin Psych Fest 2013 and much more.
Todd: What’s your official title?
Rob: I’m one of the 4 partners in The Reverberation Appreciation Society, which is Christian Bland, Alex Maas, Oswald James and myself. In that regard I guess I’m also the talent buyer / booker, managing partner, web developer, art director etc. I wear a lot of hats. We’re all great friends and creative partners, so it’s a very democratic group… we make sure everyone has as much a hand in things as they’d like to (or have time to in the case of Alex and Christian, who are quite busy with The Black Angels).
Todd: Can you talk about the formation of the Reverb Association Society? How’d it come into existence?
Rob: So this group of friends had always been at the core of creating the festival, and in 2009 we realized that we wanted to do more than just Austin Psych Fest, and so we had to give the entity that does those things a name. So the 4 of us were having one of our meetings, and inspired by entities like The Committee To Keep Music Evil, The Psychedelic Research Lab and others with interesting, kind of mysterious sounding names, The Reverberation Appreciation Society came into being. The name is in homage to “Reverberation” by the 13th Floor Elevators. We liked this idea or image of a secret cult.
Sania: The first edition of APF was in 2008, with ten bands. When you started, what was your vision of what it would become? I can’t imagine you thought it’d grow into a 3-day outdoor event!
Rob: When it all started, we were pretty happy to just throw a party and create a little scene under the umbrella of SXSW. But after the 2nd year, we had decided that the festival could be on it’s own weekend. For me personally, once I had gotten in to the inner workings of it all, I knew we could do it bigger and better. And the scale of the bands on our wish list have always been pretty huge. Psychedelic is a pretty expansive term – Portishead, My Bloody Valentine, Butthole Surfers, The Flaming Lips etc even Radiohead. – all these bigger bands have always been on our wish list. So there’s still room to grow without booking outside of the niche that is really the core of the festivals identity I think.
Sania: This years’ festival is the biggest yet. Have you considered going to three stages or thought about what the next stage in the expansion of this event will be?
Rob: We’re actually doing three, this year. The sound at the stage right by the river has to cut off early, and we also wanted to have a space where projections are possible all day, we’ve ended up creating a 3rd stage this year that will be in a large tent. But we’re using the extra stage time to expand the multimedia aspect of the festival, bringing in some short films and other surprises. That’s really the next step for us – doing things better, not necessarily bigger. We’ve always wanted the festival to be a really amazing visual experience, complimenting the audio experience. It feels like we’re finally at the point where we can bring in the people and resources to bring that to fruition. We’ll see.
Beyond that visual component, just making the overall experience as great as it can be will continue to keep us motivated to grow in ways beyond just increasing the scale. People come not just for the music but to be a part of a community that truly spans the globe and no matter how big we get, that feeling will always be at the festival, because of the people who come to it. So moving forward for us is to really present a unique and interesting experience for attendees and represent our ideal event in terms of programming, sustainability and being… good stewards of the festival in a sense, it’s a responsibility and honor that we recognize.
Todd: Australia?! How did that come to be and why there, instead of England or another city in the US?
This is still in the works, but it is happening and we’re very excited. We have friends and Australia that wanted to do this with us, and after doing our homework on it (demographic and market research, looking at competing events, thinking about how rad Australia is) we decided it was a brilliant idea. We are also working on an event in Angers, France for Fall 2013, and it was another similar situation – the right people and the right opportunity. Another consideration is that there’s already a Psych Fest in the UK and in US cities like LA and Chicago etc. – so we didn’t want to just kind of arrive and be perceived as … trying to plant our flag or something I guess. In the cities we’re looking at branching out we’ve been invited by people who do events there already and it feels natural.
Sania: For people who’ve never been to Austin, it’s hard for me to explain why the city is so musically diverse and accepting. Can you explain why Austin has become a focal point for psych rock?
Rob: For many it’s where it started. Austin is known for it’s lakes and rivers, which for much of Texas are unique. This is because there (was) a huge aquifer in Austin just below the surface. The city has been, for a very long time, a beacon for cultural progressives in the area for a long time. Austin had the unique privilege of being the seat of power in the state and the largest and arguably most culturally important university in the state (sorry Aggies), so some interesting and creative people have been coming to – and staying in Austin for a long time. That kind of unique environment creates a place where creative culture can thrive. There’s big ideas floating around, and there’s people who have the time and the capacity to take interest in them. And it’s self perpetuating, those ingredients led to more creatives moving there, more of them finding a way to make a living creating. And that’s why you see this thriving music, film, technology, arts, entrepreneurship culture in Austin. There’s a kind of cultural water table that allows creativity to thrive, that’s been built up over time. And much of the state – and the world – is not like that. So it attracts a certain kind of person, who digs art and music and participates in it.
But the roots of psych rock in Austin are of course with bands like 13th Floor Elevators, The Golden Dawn and others, who grew up in a time where the city itself did not embody that kind of creative energy or progressive acceptance – but they carved it out, picking up on very new ideas that found root in the counter-culture in Austin, and they were in a place where it could catch a little foothold. And it wasn’t easy, smoking pot was a serious crime, and anything that went against the norm was… well it attracted a lot of negative attention, and that famously did not go well for The Elevators. This was the South of the mid 60s.
So there are really heavy psychedelic rock roots in Austin, and the creative culture continues to thrive there, so there was a place for Austin Psych Fest.
Todd: To what extent does Christian remain involved in the festival?
Rob: Christian remains a partner in the festival as a creative director and producer of the festival. He’s still very much involved, but the festival has grown beyond what the 4 of us can handle, and The Black Angels have grown as a band to the point that Alex and Christian often have to help guide things from a distance. A a big fan of the band I wouldn’t have it any other way – it would be a shame if we had to wait longer for a new Black Angels album beacause they were too busy dealing with the fest. What’s great about them touring all over is that they play a lot of festivals and bring their perspective – ideas on how to do things better etc. to the table.
Sania: Getting Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to headline this year is quite a coup. Have they been on your wishlist for a while?
Rob: Yeah for sure, I think since the beginning. it’s pretty interesting to me to book a festival vs being a fan in the crowd, because I now realize how much of it is just luck and timing. A lot of the bands on this year have been on the wish list since the beginning. Clinic. Tinariwen. Boris. Having The Moving Sidewalks play has always been a hypothetical we’ve thrown around. It was pretty unexpected – they haven’t played in over 40 years, but we thought it was possible.. maybe. And it happened. So there’s a lot of hope for that list
Sania: Who are you excited to see this year, that is perhaps flying under the radar for most people?
Rob: That’s tough. The entire lineup will be under the radar for many, but a few that might be below the radar that I’m excited for are Goat, Dead Skeletons, Kaleidoscope and Suuns, among so many others. It’s always great to see the bands on our label play to the large crowd at the festival too. But of course, I’m very excited about the entire lineup – otherwise the bands don’t make it on there.
Todd: I envision the process of choosing bands is different than some festivals. Do you take submissions from bands that want to play?
Rob: Well first we start with our wishlist, which has grown and grown over the years. We could book the festival just based on that pretty easily, it’s a list compiled by all 4 producers, we all add to it each year, and that’s what guides the programming. We do take submissions, but only in the sense that I do my best to read all the emails that are sent to me. I get thousands of submissions each year.
Todd: On a personal level, I’m always fascinated by the process of finding new music. Particularly for people who are “in the business”. How do you find new bands and do you listen to other genres beyond psych rock?
Rob: It’s pretty hard to filter though it sometimes, so I look to some of my favorite music sites (Aquarium Drunkard, Surfing on Steam, Ongakubaka, Gorilla VS Bear and a few others come to mind from my bookmarks – I also check bigger sites like Pitchfork and Spin etc to see what new stuff people are excited about). I also like to ask other musicians what they are excited about – who blew them away on tour etc? Beyond the buzz or playing cool music, this is a live music event so we want to make sure that any band playing puts on a great show.
I listen to a lot of stuff, but a lot of it has perhaps a psychedelic vein running though it – and since it’s become my job to know what’s going on in the world of psych I spend a lot of time digging through new releases from artists on our programming radar. Outside of that I listen to lots of classic rock, like 50s, 60s, 70s. I like some folk and old country. I love classic reggae. Not too much new electronic or DJ stuff, but I do like Flying Lotus and a few other producers who are doing some cool shit. I don’t know… I like all “good music”. That to me means it’s something that is artful. One thing we’ve decided when programming the festival is that we are free to define “psychedelic” how we want, and I like the “soul manifesting” definition. I think any music I’m into could be described that way.