If you're looking for someone to credit for the psych-rock renaissance, it might be Alex Maas. Singing for the band the Black Angels, Maas has taken audiences on cosmic sonic journeys since 2004. But though the Black Angels' home base of Austin, Texas, is now a hotbed of psychedelia, that wasn't always the case, Maas says. "There were some shoegaze bands in Austin when we started, but there had been no psychedelic bands since the '60s," he explains. "Austin was more of a bluesy, Stevie Ray Vaughan scene."
Maas grew up in Seabrook, Texas, with adolescent dreams of becoming a baseball player. Not until he was in his 20s did he settle on becoming a rock star. "Piano was the first thing I picked up," he reminisces, "since it doesn't hurt to play like a guitar does when you first play it." Then he picked up the fretted monster, and "after a while," he says, "I started craving that pain."
Maas was performing around Austin in folk bands when he got a call from childhood friend Christian Bland about joining forces. They decided to take their sound in a trippier direction and were in heaven when they discovered no other band had staked a claim to the name "the Black Angels."
Beyond creating a sound that harked back to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Maas cofounded the Austin Psych Fest. Soon copycat psych fests began popping up in just about every major city. "We knew it would be big," he says. "No one else was doing anything to bring all these like-minded people together."
One of Austin Psych Fest's headliners was Roky Erickson, singer of the '60s Texas psych legends the 13th Floor Elevators. Erickson also lives in Austin and eventually entered the Black Angels' circle. "He would come to our house and teach us how to play all of his songs that he wrote in the '60s," Maas says. "Each song came with an amazing story." The Black Angels were so smitten with Erickson they decided to tour as his backing band, an experience that brought its share of difficulties. "His management wanted us to also play his songs from the '80s, which gave it a weird feel," Maas recalls. "He hadn't played live in a while also, so he would jump from riff to riff and verse to verse, and it was hard for us to keep up." More fulfilling, Maas says, was the last tour that brought them to South Florida, when both the Black Angels and Erickson played their own sets.
The Black Angels' current tour with Black Lips takes them to Revolution April 17. It will see the Black Angels lean heavily on their newest record, Death Song. Not specific about influences, Maas says everything in the world inspired the album. "There's so many inputs to art — the fears, the good things. If you analyze the record, you'll hear it's a tour on how to survive Earth if you landed from another planet."
Though the Black Angels will undoubtedly create new music in the future, Maas says he's taking a share of 2018 to play some side projects. He has another band, Mien, which he describes as "dark, industrial, and trippy, but not in a psych way." He also has a solo album he hopes to release early next year. This spring, though, he'll take audiences on a long, strange trip with the Black Angels.