Will Schwartz… My and Your Latest “Psychic Friend”

I recently got a chance to chat with Will Schwartz, a childhood hero of sorts.  I was a big fan of his Imperial Teen in my middle-and-high-school years (When...

I recently got a chance to chat with Will Schwartz, a childhood hero of sorts.  I was a big fan of his Imperial Teen in my middle-and-high-school years (When I was 17 I saw the band opening for The Breeders and, still being at an age acceptable to request autographs, I had him sign a pack of my cigarettes, which is likely still in my childhood bedroom… He signed it, “Izzy, you smoke – Will.”)  He chatted with me from his parents’ home on a golf course in Palm Desert, California.  Our chat was briefly interrupted by him moving his car for his nieces, as they arrived at the house, and for him to tell family members that he loved them, as they departed the house… It was all quite endearing.

My chat with Will focused on his most recent project, Psychic Friend (who released their debut LP, My Rocks Are Dreams, earlier this year on Dangerbird Records, which is being re-released in an expanded version this Tuesday, August 13th, containing remixes courtesy of brilliantly humanities-inspired electro-poppers YACHT and Gliss, a nearly-as-brilliant band known for a brand of postmodern pop) and also the seeming futility of going to school for almost anything fun, “creative,” or interesting… which rarely yield any kind of financial prospects… something he and I are both very familiar with.

“For this project, it came out of a sort of crisis time in my life, like asking myself, ‘What the fuck am I gonna do now?’  I feel like music had brought me there financially, emotionally, and in every way, and just dropped me off and I just thought, ‘What the fuck am I gonna do?’” Will tells me, going on to say, “I mean, I went to NYU, but I want to make the money and when you have parents who totally support you, you aspire to make them proud, but then you realize you’ve chosen a path that’s kind of the hardest path.”  He also tells me that the finished product of Psychic Friend was a bit indebted to the turmoil within the band, something he’d never experienced with previous projects.

“Making the album was a crazy process.  I’m kind of in a desperate place.  I mean, Imperial Teen has been together forever and we just get along great.  I mean, there would be fights like between brothers and sisters, but it always worked out.  But with Psychic Friend there was a lot of struggle among the members. It’s not like the record is out and it’s so great to have it out and I’m so psyched about the future. It was really difficult at certain points.  It got to the point where we were almost finished making the album and then decided not to play together anymore, but I thought the songs were really great and I got a label.”

Will also tells me that Psychic Friend had practical problems with the post-production part of marketing the album: “There were major SNAFUs with promoting it.  That was the major thing with the press: It didn’t happen.  That’s why we’re re-releasing it.”  But despite all of the problems, internal and external, Psychic Friend experienced, Will’s actually quite happy with their debut album: “I love it. I’m really proud of it.”

Psychic Friend began as one of Schwartz’s previous projects, hey willpower, began to come to an end.  hey willpower embodied the accessible, sugar-coated aesthetic of the ‘80s’ and ‘90s’ most chart-climbing pop and R&B.  Although Schwartz hadn’t exactly become bored with the project, his creative juices seemed to be guiding him somewhere else (both musically and geographically).

“There was just a certain energy around hey willpower and there were these signs telling me that maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.  I’d been doing hey willpower actively and I’d moved to New York City, but was still coming out to Los Angeles to work on Imperial Teen.  I’d come to LA like six times a year and eventually I just moved back.  I mean, I love New York City, but it’s over stimulating at times and I didn’t feel like I was creating the amount of music I could be.  There’s a lot more alienation out here, in LA.  I was in my apartment with a keyboard and I started making these piano sounds with it and they didn’t sound like hey willpower songs.  I was moving in a different direction.”

[youtube http://youtu.be/BhmzQrHx_IA]

The sound of Psychic Friend resembles the timeless and morbidly introspectively sunny-ness of piano pop rock balladry of the ‘60s and ‘70s, accompanied by a slight fuzz of post-punk and contemporary indie pop.  It rings of Will Schwartz at his most sincere.  He tells me, “I love how it’s really poppy, but it’s not all wrapped up in a bow.” Unlike the genre-confined/defined campy fun of hey willpower or the subversively delectable brand of indie pop embraced by Imperial Teen, Psychic Friend has Will exploring whatever sounds just happen to currently catch his fancy.  When I ask him what inspired the sounds of Psychic Friend, he hesitates, before says, “… I think probably feelings of isolation and alienation…” and goes on to admit that he has trouble focusing on any one sound or one project.

“I have been messing around a little bit creatively and musically.  I kind of feel inspired by the remix YACHT did of ‘Once a Servant,’ which makes me kind of want to do something dancier, like Jona does. I feel like I have Multiple Personality Disorder when it comes to making music and it’s difficult in a marketing sense, but I don’t want to do the same thing over and over.”  He also admits to enjoying YACHT’s existentially intellectual take on pop music: “Some of the electronic music that I gravitate toward does deal with Utopia and Dystopia, like Kraftwerk, Stereolab, Boards of Canada, and even Daft Punk.

Although Will Schwartz would seem to be at a headily dark place at the moment, he is excited to move forward, both with Psychic Friend and whatever future projects may ensue.  He’s currently in the process of plotting out a tour and hopes to be in the mid-Atlantic in the next couple of months. We discussed the possibility of him playing a Making Time gig at Voyeur, which peaks his interest quite a bit.  He tells me that he’s played a handful of shows behind Psychic Friend and that there’s a definite angle that the live show is taking on: “I made it more of like a dance show, like the pop side of dance.  That’s what I’m going for.”  He also admits that he wants to be a pop star, and not some simply some mysterious figure regarded as a “genius” of the art world.

“When I make music, my hope is always that a lot of people will hear it.  I don’t make pop songs so three people will hear it.  I want a collective experience of listeners… I want to get picked up by radio and get played a lot.  I want to play the Hollywood Bowl.”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.