Chicago psychedelic rockers The Red Plastic Buddha are back with their second album. Mixing all kinds of sounds and styles into their music including post-punk, shoe-gaze, and 60s pop, with a genius dose of psychedelica poured all over the album they have put out their strongest release so far! Tomatrax had a quiet word with the band’s frontman Tim Ferguson about all things music!
The album title is a reference to Prince Shakyamuni’s path to becoming Buddha, do you consider the album to be of a religious / Buddhist nature?
I don’t know. I think the listener brings whatever they bring to it. Nothing I do is meant to be a path to conversion. I’m just doing my thing and don’t’ feel responsible for how something is received. The songs are my truth at the moment I write them, but I don’t make any claims for understanding anything at all. Maybe my uncertainty could be construed as Buddhist, or even my searching, but at the end of the day, it’s just pop songs.
Do your followings in Buddhism influence your music?
As much as anything, I suppose. It’s part of the lens I’m looking through in my attempt to understand this existence. I guess artists are really just giving their interpretation of things through their art. That search for truth, you know? I think the Buddhist rejecting of certainty appeals to me because I really have no clue as to what is and isn’t truth anymore. And it’s not through lack of trying.
The album deals with much darker themes than your previous works, what was he influence for these?
I’ve got a bit of ‘staring into the void’ about me. I’ve been watching the lack of progress humans are making in coming together and solving the problems we’re beset by (mostly of our own making) and it’s gotten me down. Greed, bigotry, nationalism, fear, etc. Getting older and running smack into my own mortality is also a factor. I had a few deaths, some setbacks. A bit of spiraling on my part, but it’s been a kind of controlled descent. I didn’t want the record to just be a wallow fest though, and I have no interest in turning this thing into This Mortal Coil. It all worked to personalize the eternal human struggle against our own ego/ limitations and that was the parallel I wanted to reach with the title of the record. I learned a lot making this one and I think I’m through the worst of it.
When you take on this job, you don’t really think about the responsibility of it. A lot of dark times in that quest for truth, for something real. And in the end, who is actually listening? Does it matter?
You’ve had a large turnover of personnel over the production of the album, how were you able to maintain the consistency of your sound in the face of these changes?
Well, turnover is just something that is part of this band. The more pieces that are removed and replaced, the more I realize and accept my own responsibility for the whole thing. It’s caused me to take a stronger ownership of what ‘The Red Plastic Buddha’ really is. It makes me incredibly grateful to everyone who is/ has been part of this thing and I have been consistently blessed by the participation and creativity of some amazing musicians. But I guess any consistency comes from the fact that the only piece that hasn’t been swapped out at this point is the songwriter/ singer, who also just happens to be the producer. Still, I can’t give enough credit to our engineer Brian Leach of Joyride Studios. We’ve got a really great relationship and he knows when something is wrong (with the music or me).
When we started recording this record, we definitely started off on the wrong foot. Bringing in Greg Curvey (The Luck of Eden Hall) to re-track the guitars was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done in my life. It’s really important to surround yourself with like-minded people who understand what you’re trying to accomplish.
Important lesson learned.
Was “She’s an alien” based on any real life experiences?
LOL. No, not literally, but it is kind of how I feel a lot these days. Maybe I’m the alien.
You mention Plan 9, is this a reference to the film by Ed Wood?
Yes. I was having a bit of fun with that.
What made you pick Love’s song to cover on this album?
That was a happy accident actually. The Active Listener (who I do some writing for) asked us to contribute a Love cover to a compilation they were putting out of modern bands covering songs from Forever Changes. How could I say no to that?
We had originally planned to include a cover of Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun (Pink Floyd) as part of Songs for Mara, but once both were recorded, I thought the execution and theme of A House is Not a Motel was far closer to the other songs on Songs for Mara. When Arthur Lee wrote this song, he was convinced he was dying. I had a similar thought throughout the course of the last few years and it seemed like a no-brainer to do the swap.
Still have that Pink Floyd song mixed and ready to go, so at some point I suppose we’ll release it.
You’ve said previously that you plan on doing a cover version on each release, do you have any covers planned for your next releases?
Yes. See above. Not really sure what the next record will be like though. We’ve done light, now dark. Probably need to do something different. We’ll see where the new crop of songs take us. I think I still have things to say. Whatever we cover will fit within the overall theme of what we come up with.
If you could appear on any tribute album what would it be?
We’ve been on a few. I think our involvement would really depend on the project and the cause it’s meant to support. It costs quite a bit of money to record something, and people don’t realize that we don’t recoup these costs. It’s pure charity, and although I will always do what I can to help, I really have to be circumspect in what I agree to do at this point.
You’ve been running your own label, have you added any new bands to it?
No, and I’m disappointed about that. I had a great idea with the label, but my plan to release a bunch of music from local groups (Chicago) didn’t materialize. It’s not that the material or relationships aren’t there, but there’s this whole ‘home recording/ lo-fi’ thing going on here that I detest. So many great bands here, so little money spent recording them. The sonic quality is usually shit, I’m sorry to say. I’ll probably be called a traitor for this statement, but I stand by it.
I’ve got a lot of friends in the world wide psychedelic community, and there’s been talk of releasing some things on vinyl for friends, but I don’t know if I can swing the funds. It’s just too expensive to produce product when it’s so hard to get fans to support the artists financially through sales.
Do you ever listen to your own music?
Not intentionally. Sometimes things come up on shuffle, but other than that no. When I hear things I’ve recorded I think of the things I’d change now, so it’s not productive. One needs to let go.
I’m too busy listening to the songs in my head.
What music do you listen to?
Lots of things. I pretty much stay within the tribe these days, with so much new psychedelia hitting the world at once. Some really great things. The Orange Drop, Allah Las, Elephant Stone, Flavor Crystals, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, Heaven’s Gateway Drugs, Frantic Chant, Krol Kleks, La Luz, all things I’ve got recently … I could go on for days. Just some really wonderful people doing amazing things. It’s a golden age.
Now that the album is out what do you plan on doing next?
The path goes on. I guess I’ll follow it a while longer and learn where I’m supposed to be.
Check out the Red Plastic Buddha’s website to find out more!