Loony Tunes: The Loons don’t mind being Misunderstood

Retro recording and teaming up with a garage-band legend

The Loons with Glenn Campbell at the Casbah, 2013 (Pictured: Glenn Campbell, Carl Rusk, Mike Stax, Anja Diabolik)
  • The Loons with Glenn Campbell at the Casbah, 2013 (Pictured: Glenn Campbell, Carl Rusk, Mike Stax, Anja Diabolik)

“Although we take our time between albums, the actual writing and recording usually comes in short bursts,” says Mike Stax of the Loons, a PrettyThings/Love/Yardbirds-inspired band extant for nearly twenty years now, with around five years between each album. “In some instances, the songs are written and recorded on the same day, and in others they are road tested in our live set for months before being committed to tape.”

Their upcoming fourth album Inside Out Your Mind was recorded with vintage gear at Earthling Studio in El Cajon over the last few years. “Some songs were laid down live in just a few takes, others were built up layer by layer,” says Stax. “So it’s an album of contrasts this time, much more so than our previous three records.”

“For ‘Head in the Clouds,’ we brought in our friend Heather Vorwerck to play violin and cello, layered to create a string quartet effect, striving for a rich Forever Changes [by Love] type feel. Chris [Marsteller, guitarist] came up with the string arrangement. You can also hear the influence of Arthur Lee and Love on ‘Moon and Tide.’ ‘Silence’ is a stripped-down acoustic song. We put it together and recorded it in a matter of a few hours one morning.”

In addition, “We have a bunch of out and out rockers,” says Stax, singling out “I Don’t Live There Anymore” as “a song excoriating people who wallow in the past, something we’ve been accused of but vehemently deny. We’re always trying to create something new, always moving forward. We just happen to have the good taste to use classic instruments and technology to do that.”

For the March 28 release party at the Casbah, “Our friend Glenn Campbell is flying in from Auckland, New Zealand to play a set with us of songs by his sixties era band the Misunderstood.”

A revered garage band legend, Campbell played on two tracks for the Loons’ 2010 album Red Dissolving Rays of Light, and previous performances with the band took place in 2011 at Bar Pink and 2013 at the Casbah. “He’s one of the most extraordinary musicians I’ve ever played with,” says Stax. “He turns the steel guitar into a piece of destructive psychedelic weaponry, or makes it sing like a symphony orchestra.”

Stax provides some background on Campbell. “The Misunderstood were an amazing band from Riverside. A huge element in what made them so different and special was the fact that Glenn didn’t play pedal steel in the accepted fashion you hear on country and western records; he coaxed a whole new lexicon of sounds out of it, utilizing a fuzz pedal and controlled feedback to make it scream like a tortured soul or sing like an orchestra.”

The group decided to move to England, where their innovative sound might find a more receptive audience. “So in June 1966 the Misunderstood, all 18 or 19 years old at the time, took all their gear and moved to London. After a period of near starvation, they were signed by Fontana Records and recorded a half-dozen utterly brilliant proto-psychedelic tracks. Fontana launched their first single in December, but the group collapsed after their lead singer, Rick Brown, was drafted into the US Army. He later went AWOL and fled to India to become a Hindu monk.”

Campbell went on to play with Juicy Lucy and Joe Cocker, but “Most of the Misunderstood’s 1966 psychedelic recordings weren’t released until the early ‘80s, when I first heard them on an LP aptly named Before the Dream Faded. I was absolutely blown away by the music, and by the band’s story in the liner notes."

"Many years later, I tracked down all of the band members and interviewed them at length to get their full story, which I serialized over four issues of the magazine [Ugly Things]. I found Campbell to be an especially compelling personality. He’s a purist, an instinctive, soulful musician who is motivated solely by the urge for self-expression with no regard for commercialism in any form.”

“The Loons and I identified deeply with that attitude, so when Glenn offered to play steel on a couple of our songs, we jumped at the chance.”

Stax says it’s a challenge prepping two completely different sets for the Casbah release party. “Some of the Misunderstood songs are quite demanding to play, with very precise stops and starts. It’s also important to capture the feel of the original recordings, because that’s what the fans want to hear. We’ve been working since the end of last year on getting all of those songs as tight as possible, as we’ll have less than a week to rehearse with Glenn, who I know has been practicing his parts separately. It’s also a longer set than we’ve played with him in the past, so there are several tracks we’ve only recently learned and never played live before.”

“In tandem with this, we’ve had to rehearse our own set. Fortunately, most of the songs from the new album have been in our live set for some time, but nevertheless we need to be sure we’re at our best.”

All that work will payoff elsewhere besides the Casbah. “The next morning, we leave for England. We’re playing two sets in London on April 3 at the Beat Bespoke festival, one as the Loons and a second headlining set as Glenn Campbell’s Misunderstood.”

“It’s been ten years since our last London gig, so we feel like we have something to prove. We only have that one show, so we can’t afford to fall short. As Wilson Pickett once said, ‘99 and a half just won’t do!’”

In addition to the new album, the Loons are featured in a recently released book, Knights of Fuzz, detailing sixties-inspired bands and including other locals like Shake Before Us, the Gravedigger V, the Morlocks, the Event, Tell-Tale Hearts, Manual Scan, and the Crawdaddys.

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