Saint Maybe: Psychedelic Patti Smith and Bob Dylan Compatriots Hit the Highway
When writing about Things As They Are, the debut LP by Tucson psychedelic outfit Saint Maybe, for my 10 Best Things I Heard in 2012 column, I noted the album's sprawling, wide-open desert quality: "[It] sounds like the space between Phoenix and the Old Pueblo. It feels like a late-night drive, the radio tuned to some far off AM station playing a psychedelic Van Morrison B-side you've never heard."
Songwriter Oliver Ray says that about sums up the record's windswept ambiance. "It seems to stretch across a lot of distance," he says, taking a quick break from roasting beans at his coffee shop in Tucson, Café Aqui. Not long after our conversation, the band announced a West Coast tour, outlining dates with Patti Smith (Ray is a veteran of Smith's band), Don't, Blind Divine, Gabe Mintz, The Low Hums, and others. The tour includes a stop at Crescent Ballroom, on Tuesday, February 12.
"I like it," Ray says of balancing the life of a coffee roaster with playing music. He says the dual disciplines "somehow inform each other." Opening the shop while recording the LP also helped -- or in some ways forced -- Ray to subdue some of his nitpicking tendencies.
"I'm kind of a perfectionist when it comes to things," he says. "I'll have projects that I don't think of as perfect, so I'll never let them go."
Luckily, he let Things As They Are go. Opening with "Everything At Once (And More)," an out there garage rock barnburner Anton Newcombe would kill to have written, the record explores Dylan-esque folk on tracks like "Houses For Ghosts" and "She's Alright" (no coincidence -- drummer Winston Watson played in Dylan's backing band), blue-eyed reggae/fuzz rock on "Delicate Prey," and desolate country noir on "Everything That Rises."
Bolstered by an all-star Tucson cast featuring J. Fen Ikner (Seashell Radio), Craig Schumacher (Neko Case, Calexico, Iron & Wine, Animal Collective), singer/songwriter Tracy Shedd, Tommy Larkins (Richard Buckner, Giant Sand, Jonathan Richman), and more, the album is an expansive, old-school rock 'n' roll LP, pressed to swirled grey-and-red vinyl by Fort Lowell Records, which invokes traditional rock traditions while never falling into rote classicism or hackneyed revivalism. Tough trick, but expertly pulled off.
"We've done a couple sessions over the past few years," Ray says, noting that the band would slip into Schumacher's Wavelab studios whenever extra dough was available. "We selected a bunch of material from those sessions to work on."