The first email I received about the new video for The Adventures of the Silver Spaceman (TAOTSS) from frontman Zachary James Ellis said something about a “yurt” with no cell service. When I caught up with Ellis via phone, he told me he was on a retreat, writing songs in Paonia, in western Colorado. With the Rockefeller tree about to be lit, tourist crowds reaching saturation levels, the L train acting like a jilted lover, and a drizzle erasing what few hours of daylight exist at this longitude, we could all be a little jealous.
The new video definitely qualifies as old-school “trippy,” and the music has a more ragged edge than you’d expect from an act being billed as “folk/psychedelic.” It’s less “Denver edibles” and more (welcomely) Syd Barrett.
The new album, Bare Bones Part I: Oxygen is Flowing Although the Bag May Not Inflate is the first of a two-record series recorded at Gravesend Recordings which is part of the Silent Barn (where you can catch the premiere of another Bushwick musician’s film premiere, They Read By Night, this weekend.).
With guitarist Dave Susman, bassist Sam Yield (Haybaby) and drummer Chris Abbadessa, Ellis told me “we just banged it out” in two days, including a couple of songs that sprung out “just sound checking.” He called it “more of a collaboration” than TATOSS’s previous work, and explained that the group would just “jam on an idea.”
While hanging out in Colorado, Ellis is working on a lo-fi project with Nic Lawless, who lives inthe yurt on the property and was “a staple in the Pittsburg punk scene a few years ago of which he barely made it out alive,” according to Ellis. They’re recording “Isolation” by John Lennon and for the B-side, “Isolation” by Joy Division.
Meanwhile, we followed up with Ellis about the record and his New York/Colorado lifestyle.
This record is more stripped down, with fewer personnel than your last effort — do you envision working with a big group again in the future?
The project is always evolving so I wouldn’t say that it’ll never be a big band again, but for now it’s perfect the way it is. We have another record we’re recording in December with this same lineup and who knows how many more. I’ve always been a one step at a time kinda guy with a weakness in long term planning (something I’m working on out here). I love the big band idea but it’s hard to make work unless everyone is on the same page.
I guess if we got to a level where we were playing venues that all had amazing sound or we had our own engineer or something, then I’d want to bring back some strings and maybe horns or something, but for now it’s real hard to get a seven-piece to sound cohesive at a lot of the venues we play. Plus we’ve really honed our sound and gotten so good at playing together.
How’s the existential angst out there?
There’s definitely a whole new set of challenges to grind against and reasons to stay pissed at the capitalist agenda. For instance I’m staying in a tiny trailer right now and I bump my head like three times a day. Sometimes the propane runs out right when I’m about to cook dinner and everything is closed and it’s 16 degrees outside so I sit and eat cold rice. Every bite invigorates the angst.
The search for meaning is real and hard everywhere you go if you choose to make art your priority. I just like the space and time to think about it all and write out that you get out here. It’s literally the polar opposite of New York. One house every few miles, vast open skies, massive mountains. I feel like my mind has the space to explode.
What’s rewarding about your retreats to Colorado? How does it compare to your lifestyle in New York?
The rewards of being out here are definitely in the fruits of its nature. Something about playing music in a yurt with a fire cooking all day and then opening the door to make eyes with a six-point buck in the foreground of a Rocky Mountain sunset truly tickles the soul, as cheesy as that sounds.
It’s totally the Wild West out here. Weed is legal, food is local, there’s natural hot springs everywhere, plus I love the sun and you’re thousands of feet closer to it here. You can really feel it. I’m a pretty big hippie at heart. There’s a lot of sifting to be done to find art that resonates with me in these parts but that’s not really the reason I’m here. Kinda just taking some distance from the bureaucracy and politics of the capitalist center of the world to find my center again. After nearly ten years working shitty restaurant jobs and moving people in my van I just needed a break. Don’t get me wrong everyday I wake up missing the city. All its grit and glory and I especially miss my friends.
Catch The Adventures of the Silver Spaceman at the release show for the new album December 18th at the Gutter.
Bradley Spinelli is the author of Killing Williamsburg and the writer/director of #AnnieHall.