Ancestors | Interview with Justin Maranga

Some may argue that psychedelic rock is a thing of the past, when mushrooms abounded more at gigs than on any chef’s cuisine, a style of music tied down to a specific era that is condemned to extinction when the last remaining dinosaurs like Pink Floyd (the inclusion of The Who and Yes here is questionable for debate) take their final breath.
Lately, however, there are a handful of new acts whose exploration of psychedelic elements makes it damn difficult to accept the former thesis that easily. Take for instance Ancestors, a five-piece from Los Angeles whose two full-length records released until today, are deeply engrained in 70’s psychedelic and progressive rock, yet played with 90’s vigor and verve. Despite their moniker and their infatuation towards bands like King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Hawkwind, Ancestors reject the term retro and rightfully so since they pick up the torch carried out by the aforementioned acts and merge it with later day influences like Neurosis and Kyuss.
António Matos Silva took a ride towards re…erm old flavoured psychedelic and progressive rock journey and quizzed vocalist and guitarist Justin Maranga about the inspirations behind their latest work ‘Of Sound Mind’.


First of all, thanks for the interview and most of all for two great albums! Two LP's and two hours of pure rock. Where do you get the inspiration?

“Typically our inspiration really comes from playing music with each other. We’re all big fans of each other as musicians and writing together is an inspiring process in itself. It’s exciting when one member of the band comes in with an idea that we can build off of. Of course, in addition to this, we’re also inspired by the world around us and the music that we listen to. I think that every musician derives some form of inspiration from the music he or she listens to and from the musicians that he or she looks up to."

Do any of you have musical formation or you just learned for yourselves?

“I’m pretty sure that Jason is the only member of the band with any formal training. I took a handful of guitar lessons sporadically some years ago, but I’m mostly self-taught.”

With songs clocking more than 10 minutes, I have to ask: you guys go straight to the studio and jam through or do you plan the composition?

“The songs are very planned out. On ‘Neptune With Fire’ there was a lot more jamming (although the skeletons of the songs were written beforehand). However, ‘Of Sound Mind’ was very deliberately planned out. All of the solos were improvised, but the structures of the four long compositions on the album were heavily planned out and written. The shorter interludes were mostly improvised.”

Do you have any kind of conception behind the two albums? If so, could you give us a little enlightenment?

“Both albums have concepts. Each song on ‘Neptune With Fire’ was an allegorical story of the internal psychological struggles of two immortals through war, celebration, remorse and revelation. ‘Of Sound Mind’ is a much looser concept. The album posits the idea that the internal struggle of finding one’s self is reflected in society’s struggle to find a sense of self. The idea is that within one person there are several people, a notion that most people can reconcile, but which a schizophrenic cannot. Similarly, society is a unit made up of different people with a common goal, but different ideas about how to get there. ‘Of Sound Mind’ addresses the parallels between the two, among other similar themes.”

Listening to ‘Of Sound Mind’, I dare saying that you guys are Pink Floyd and Blue Cheer fans. Am I right? Which other bands were influent on your musical growing?

“We are definitely Blue Cheer and Pink Floyd fans. As a band our influences are culled from various life experiences and assorted music that creeps into our collective subconscious. However, we never set out to sound like anything specific. When we write, whatever comes out naturally is what you hear when we record.
Individually, as a guitarist, Freddie King, Dickey Betts, David Gilmour, Link Wray, Alex Lifeson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Django Reinhardt, Herb Ellis, Duane Allman, Eddie Hazel, Alvin Lee and Mississippi John Hurt, among others, have all been big influences on me.”

How did you got involved in the music scene and how/when Ancestors started as a band? My idea of the American music scene is that bands just pop like mushrooms.

“Most of us have been playing in bands for a long time. I’ve been playing in various bands since I was about 13 years old. Ancestors formed when Brandon, Nick and I decided to jam with each other a few times. The jams felt very natural, so we started playing shows. We quickly bored of the formula and decided to add an organ player and another keyboard player to add more layers and texture to the music. The band started in 2006.”

Tell me about the critical and public reception of ‘Of Sound Mind’. Do you note any differences between this and ‘Neptune With Fire’?

“It’s hard to say what the public reception has been. It seems remarkably positive, but it’s hard for us to say. The critical reception has been incredible. It’s been just as surprising to us as the reception was for the last record. We’ve been particularly surprised at the attention we’ve been receiving from Italian press.”

Between two albums, can you tell some differences in the band? Do you feel more mature, you change your record methods...?

‘The band is definitely more mature. When we made the first record, we were a very new band. We hadn’t played many shows (and in fact, we had never played a show with our organ player). The new record was much more of a reflection of our desires as a group, rather than individuals. The first record was initially written as a three piece. Of Sound Mind was written as a wholly collaborative process by all five of us, and as such, we feel like it has much more depth.”

I want to ask two things. First, do you feel that the American music scene is over-populated somehow? Second, how are the governments/cities politic for culture? Is there enough money, facilities...?

“There are definitely a lot of bands in the United States. But these days, there are a lot of bands everywhere. I don’t think that the music scene in general is over-populated, but I do think that each individual genre tends to become over-saturated with bands that all sound basically the same.

There is definitely not enough support from the federal, state, and local governments for arts and culture. We always hear about other countries like Canada and Sweden that actually support artists. It’s pretty much the opposite in the United States. It’s very, very difficult to be a working musician or artist in the United States, and damn near impossible to live on the profits.”

Finally, what are your plans for the future? First the USA and then...the World?

“We’re playing Roadburn Festival in Holland in April and we’ll be doing a short European tour leading up to it. Hopefully that will be the first of many and just the beginning of our world domination haha.”

António Matos Silva

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