by Kevin J. Elliott

While the medicinal benefits of Ganglians is still in question, it can be concluded that the recreational use of the Sacramento trio’s debut and eventual follow-up record, Monster Head Room, especially, will induce myriad mirage and psychedelic awakenings. At first, after being introduced to the band via a split with Eat Skull and a quick fix on Woodsist, it was thought we’d all be aligning Ganglians with that brethren: the crud-fi, art-punk, chintzy noiseniks that inhabit the current underground. But in an almost 180 degree contrast, Monster Head Room bears unusually mellow fruit, though still challenged with fits of field recordings and abject production quirks. The band have christened the album as their tribute to naive ’60s acid pop, and that’s about as apt a description as one could give, as throughout these adventurous hippies get the soles of their feet scorched by the sand, with Beach Boys harmonies on “Lost Words” and the Mojave raindance of “Valient Brave.” Add the Laurel Canyon timber-folk and bird chirp of the beautiful “To June” and the warped teen-angel pop of “Try to Understand” that closes the record, and once you get over the trip, you might just be screaming “record of the year.” Perhaps it’s the perceptual diversions they present with such depth or the kaleidoscopic vision that can be seen on their horizon, but, yup, it’s that delicious.

Can everyone in the band introduce themselves?

Well, there’s Ryan Grubbs, Kyle Hoover, Alex Sowles and Adrian Comenzind. Adrian’s the only one who has anything close to an exotic name. Everyone else kind of sounds like chef, maid, and tailor in old towne England.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, would you mind listing the various bands and musical projects you’ve been a part of before the Ganglians?

Ryan Grubbs: Ganglians is actually our first project, though Kyle had some bedroom thing he did with a friend in high school. Also, he and Alex would jam in the attic of Adrian’s old place before I knew all of them. We’re all pretty young, though, 21 to 23. I used to hear them jamming on my way home from work some nights and would actually stop and listen and wonder who the hell was up there and want to play with them. Shortly thereafter I found out one of them was Adrian, who was one of the first people I met when I came to Sacramento. I’m basically turning this into a “How did you form?” question, but I then got a hold of Kyle through Adrian, and we traded tracks we had been working on at home and got stoked on each other. Then I told him I had got asked to play a show based on the tracks I had made at the time, some of which are on the self-titled album. Then Alex and Adrian got involved as well, which was good because being in a band was so much less scary and a lot more fun live than the solo thing. Our first show sounded completely different, of course, with three electric guitars. It was unintentional noise, which got us My Bloody Valentine comparisons that are completely off the map, or maybe not. Anyway, the sound got out of our control and then there was a big car crash outside, which cleared the room, and somehow we still didn’t change our name after that.

And the name? Are you implying that your music equates to a bundle of nerves outside the body?

RG: Well, even when it was just me, I knew I wanted it to be a communal thing. So it had to have a communal name like “Gangzzz” with three z’s. That’s too thug so I had to add something to it like aliens: Ganglians. I think that’s what happened. It was only later we found out it was also a medical term spelled ganglions, meaning a bundle of nerves that forms without any real reason outside the body. Gross, but also mysterious. And it had a psychedelic aspect because they’re neurological and have to do with sense and perception. But yeah, all that was secondary to the fact that it sounded almost mythological.

I’ve read about your experiments with ayahuasca. Can you fill our readers in on what it is and what you’ve experienced with it?

RG: Well I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing all the amazing doorways into other worlds. But yes, love, love, love anything like that. I would rather be “there” than here most of the time. It’s one of many psychoactive plants I can never get my hands on, but future me already has.

How do you feed that into the music?

RG: Much of Monster Head Room was spent trying our best to replicate the angelic tones that drift just above our heads. I know what they sound like. I’ve been bathed in white light and heard them. Groups like the Millennium, Beach Boys and Enya come very, very close, as well as native chants and church choir music, which are much older attempts at the same thing. We tried our best, but you have to polarize that with the nit and grit at our feet as well. Highs and lows, even abrupt moments that throw you into hell or leave you feeling confused.

Thanks for letting me hear some of Monster Head Room. It really sounds like you’re already expanding beyond the debut 12-inch with fidelity and song structures. What did you want to do different with this record opposed to the first one?

RG: Both basically were going on at the same time. The self-titled is what we could produce within our means so it went much faster and was a total blast. Monster Head Room came early on, when our friend Andy said he would like to record us. He likes to record clean, and so we set out to make an honest to god pop album to be listened to on headphones. Acid-taking music, but without all the obvious droney psych trappings. We wanted it to be a pop album with psych undertones, those angelic tones that come from harmonies and ringing melodic guitars. We took the opportunity to do whatever kind of song we felt like, so there’s both over-the-top and understated songs, joyful anthems and introspective ballads. It’s the kind of album where your mother can say “Oh that’s nice,” but your stoner brother will say, “Whoa did you hear that creepy frequency running through that?” I hope he says that.

How did you hook up with Woodsist? How do you feel you connect with the other bands on the label? Is there a common aesthetic? If so, what?

RG: One day late last summer I was hanging out with my friend Patrick playing Mortal Kombat and listening to music, and he told me I should listen to Woods, that it was like listening to Neil Young for the first time. So I did and was jamming it heavily and then literally two days later I got an email from Jeremy of Woodsist asking if we wanted to put some stuff out for his label. I’m sure it had to be positive word of mouth from someone or something, but anyway it was so coincidental and, of course, we were thrilled about it. I really gotta give it to Jeremy for seeking out the people that are a little bit more closeted.

You’re obviously friends with Eat Skull (doing a split with them), and they keep telling me their moving to “gold country” soon, which I imagine is your neck of the woods. What do you think is drawing them towards this part of California?

RG: I think a mutual dislike of Portland is one reason, and just a love of sun, which is enough to entice anyone as far as I’m concerned. We’ve had many conversations about it. Scott of course has his record store to tend to up there. Rob and Rod have family around here. We want them to move down here; every time we hang out it’s always a blast. I hope they do it. I don’t see myself moving to Portland anytime soon. I’m very much affected by the weather. I’ve done my time; I grew up in Montana. Sacramento already has a short, but cold, rainy season and that’s enough for me. It takes more time for some people to charge their batteries, I guess.

Are your surroundings in Sacramento indicative in the music you create?

RG: Sacramento is the city of trees, and our music is a bit like climbing trees and also like slumming unfrequented alleyways in its distant reverb. It’s definitely less frantic as, say, congested L.A. sound. There’s more room to breathe here and less people to bump shoulders with. When I got here there was a lot of noise music.

Kyle Hoover: Growing up here, I’ve always felt that Sacramento as a city has a very neutral vibe about it. There’s certainly nothing notorious about the city. I think about the fact that Ryan being from Montana, the three of us being raised in the surrounding suburbs of Sacramento—it indirectly sets us apart from a lot of what’s going down in Sacramento musically right now.

Deftones or Cake, and why?

RG: I guess Cake, if I had to choose. They have a much more genial disposition, but the dense soundscapes of Deftones are cool. I’m the least Sacramento of the bunch, though.

Has Sacramento been good to you in terms of having a fertile music scene to exist within?

RG: Well, we are lucky to have the nearby KDVS radio station and DJ Rick Ele, but it’s really easy to overplay in a place like Sacramento, and there’s a danger in becoming too content with playing to the same crowds or getting sucked into the stupid dance nights or whatever that are overabundant here. It’s too bad because some of the most amazing shows have happened here. A lot of all-ages venues get shut down fast or are too afraid to host loud music. Last summer my house, the Funcastle, hosted some really legendary and unlikely sets by people with large turnouts. One show in the fall before that being Mayyors, Eat Skull and us, which is where we met Eat Skull. They somehow thought that we were great and wanted to do a split and tour with us. We had only played three shows or something and really felt like the black sheep. But the vibes were so good that night and every band killed and literally shook the chandeliers from the ceiling. Rob’s keyboard had like two keys still on it after their set, with the rest scattered all about the room and stamped into the carpet. The night ended with the janitor of one of the old local theaters sneaking everyone into the place to kick it there. He looks like Tupac and he later got fired.

Fill in the blanks: In ___ I was in 10th grade, listening to ___ in the ___ doing ___ with ___.

RG: In 2000 I was in 10th grade, listening to golden oldies in the diner doing the mashed potato with the twist.

There’s a real tribal, communal feel to the new songs, especially “100 Years” and “Voodoo.” Is that the vibe you connect with when you guys write songs?

RG: Those are definitely two examples of songs we really came into with just a basic melody and conceptual idea and everyone kind of just had their take on it. They also kind of have a narrative running through them too.

I know you mentioned ’60s naive acid-pop in your description of the new stuff. Can you enlighten us more on what you’re talking about specifically?

RG: It’s our version of a ’60s studio album with no actual studio experience or knowledge in studio techniques. It’s our ideals of what would make good headphone music. At the point we were recording all this, we didn’t know if anyone but us would listen to it so we just had fun and basically took the time to put in all the little ideas we had, whether we were serious or thought something would be funny or beautiful—so long as it gelled. Even little things that got accidentally recorded, we dispersed throughout, like Kyle’s stupid giddy laugh or the cat running around the house in heat. A lot of the songs are built on these idiosyncrasies. There’s a lot that might not be heard on first listen unless maybe you’re relaxing and not just looking for a def jam to dance drunkenly to, though we love to do that too.

So what’s next for Ganglians? A tour? Another record?

RG: There’s going to be a tour sometime in the late summer, but most likely early fall, which I really need to get on. We’re doing Smmr Bmmr in Portland, which, if you haven’t seen the line-up yet, you really need to check it out. They really outdid themselves and put together something special. We have tons of new songs we’ve just started working on. I think we’re really hitting our stride as a band and becoming more natural around each other, so look for singles soon on Captured Tracks and a tape of more bedroom stuff on Night People. As we play more shows, we’ll make more songs, releasing them until we can compile them into something.