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'Gay Neighbors' Make Psych-Rock For A New Age

Jamie Day

Psychedelic-rock in its late 1960's heyday was an attempt to enhance and replicate the effects of psychedelic drugs.  It was also a reaction to the social and political turbulence of that era.  Aesop Adams and Aaron Dooley of the Bloomington-Normal based psych-rock band Gay Neighbors see a correlation between the late 1960's and today.

"I feel a blossoming of creativity is going to come from all this tension," said Adams. "I'm glad people are getting in touch with emotions, as there is a lot at stake right now with health care and other issues."

Dooley believes music can be a vessel for changing minds,  pointing to the non-structured jams Gay Neighbors often employ.

"There has to be a rhythm, but we like to be a little free with it.  Drummer Travis (Ralph) is great at changing up the rhythms.  He keeps it ascending and going to new places.  I really like when music, lyrically or not, sonically invokes feelings.  People assume you're taking drugs with your music when you play psych-rock, but to me the music itself is the alteration," said Dooley.

The band's just released (Dec 2016) album "Primordial" turned out about the way Adams and Dooley envisioned. And though Adams said they would like to emphasize the vocals on future albums, there was a purpose to keeping to the vocals low in the mix on this album.

"I like the washed-out vocals. It gets people deeper into the music," said Adams.

And those washed out vocals have an escapist, murky feel that get at the disconnection many young adults are feeling.

"I certainly long for a simpler time," said Adams.  "We're definitely techno-infused."

Dooley feels opportunities for young people aren't the same as they were in decades past.

"I totally understand the importance of school and education," said Dooley. "But I feel a lot of people my age are disillusioned with that notion.  I know a lot of people who have gone to college, got a major, and found it hard to find a job.  A lot are falling back to living with their parents.  People feel their dreams aren't as achievable.  Playing with this band and just doing music ... that has brought me fulfillment."

Adams said the name "Gay Neighbors" isn't intentionally provocative, but more an extension of the bands attitude and approach toward the music. 

"I've always been a fan of bands that had an element of humor or randomness dissociated from the music itself," said Adams. "A band I really like is the 'Mothers of Invention.'  Their name has that one-off sort of feeling."

Roughly four years ago, the band was just Dooley, Adams, and drummer Dylan Freed.  At the time, the three lived within a block of each other near Illinois State University and would jam frequently at Dooley's house, which he said was the only one tucked away on Mulberry street.

"So our music would be pretty loud," Dooley said as Adams jumped in.  "We kind of lived next to some kids who would throw parties and be disrespectful."

Dooley recalled an incident when he chased someone down the street after a window was kicked in while home alone one night. 

"It may have been the dude, but some dude got tackled.  It was a whole confusing situation, I felt like a monster," laughed Dooley. "When I came to terms with everything, I was like 'what just happened?'  I guess for lack of better word, they were 'bro-ish the years we were living there."

Adams added "They were like frat boys that didn't have a frat house. And so to them, we were, I guess, the 'Gay Neighbors.'"

Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.