San Francisco band Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound has an appetite for the grandiose. The foursome with the preposterous name crafts psychedelic rock rich with ambitious guitar solos and clusters of ambient noise. Pseudo-classical composition titles (“Clive And The Lyre,” “The Chocolate Maiden's Mist”) and head-tripping cover art enhance the experience—the group's latest, When Sweet Sleep Returned, features a shark with headlights exploring a colorful cavern. Before the group stops tonight at the Larimer Lounge, guitarist-vocalist Charlie Saufley spoke to The A.V. Club about classic sounds, college radio, and the New York Post.
The A.V. Club: You’ve mentioned that you grew up listening to a variety of stuff—psychedelic, hardcore, and post-punk—what led to pursuing the style you play today?
Charlie Saufley: It was about the right people at the right time. All of us were interested in having a go at playing this sort of music. Jeff [Marshall, guitarist] and I were in a band together that was almost kind of a joke. It was a Motörhead/Hawkwind sort of thing, if you can imagine that. It was hard to take too seriously because we felt like we were gears in a machine of disparate parts. Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound feels more of a single mind. Part of the appeal for us is less making a psychedelic record than we like the instruments and sounds associated with that music. We don’t go over the top with swirling fade stuff and crazy wah guitars, but we do like the sounds of things like 12-string guitars, fuzz tones, old box organs, and Farfisas.
AVC: How much of a role did being from San Francisco play in what kind of music you produce?
CS: Oh, it’s huge. When I grew up, the radio there was so fertile. There’s Stanford, Foothill Junior College, Berkeley, and KOSS—four college stations that were beaming randomness into the air for me as a kid. Also, there were three rock stations that weren’t necessarily ruled by playlists, and there was a lot of great hip-hop too. There was a great indie-rock station that was indie-rock before indie-rock was indie-rock. It was a gigantic musical education. By the time we got around to forming the band, it was a really fertile scene of people influenced in the same way. It has less to do with the influence of, say, the Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane, in some strict sense. The area has always remained a musical hotbed and a pretty open-minded one.
AVC: What do you record to get these sounds?
CS: The one thing that is consistent about our process across the board when we make a record is that a) it’s recorded to tape—no Pro Tools anywhere, just an old-fashion 2-inch tape—and b) the band always records the basic track as a live performance. That imparts a certain sound. It doesn’t feel too tinkered with. The other half of the answer is that we have a soft spot for dreamy, ethereal, ambient sounds. It comes from the actual gear. It’s old, broken down stuff.
AVC: How much of what’s written about the band do you read?
CS: Not a whole lot. I have been reading some just because we are all out on tour. New York Post, which is just a notorious crap rag, did a thing on us and made stuff up. It was hilarious. It was the classic New York Post piece.
AVC: What is the strangest thing that you’ve ever read about the band?
CS: Occasionally, you’ll run into detractors. That’s one of the things I never understood about music journalism: If you didn’t like it, why bother? Although, I do like the idea of music criticism. That’s probably the weirdest thing. No, the weirdest thing is the New York Post. I mean, [she] had me quoting something like, “New York isn’t so tough!” [Laughs.] Did you mean to cover the Mets game and somehow this got mixed up?