Philadelphia’s Ecstatic Vision are all about getting locked into a groove. It’s a familiar feeling for guitarist/vocalist Douglas Sabolik, who had previously slung menacing, rhythm-heavy guitar lines with metalcore outfit A Life Once Lost. His latest project can be just as blisteringly loud, but Ecstatic Vision taps into a more psychedelic headspace, pushing the paisley swirl of distorted guitars and a soul-soaking whirr of a B3 organ deep into your third eye.
Their recently-delivered debut LP, Sonic Praise, is just as joyous as its title implies. The five-song set is a stoned-out celebration bringing together influences of Hawkwind and Fela Kuti, globe-trotting field recordings, and gruff-but-good hearted lyrics about freeing your mind. Sometimes, as the album’s potent opening blazer “Journey” explains, this means just chilling out and reaching “an astral plane where our herb will suffice.”
Sabolik spoke with Northern Transmissions over the phone from his Philadelphia home, enjoying a caffeine buzz as he dished on the band’s beginnings, ousting negative vibes, and all the “weird shit” that gets thrown onto an Ecstatic Vision record.
Northern Transmissions: Hey, how are you doing? How’s the day been so far?
D: What’s happening today? Well, I’ve just got my coffee and I’m waking up. Just getting started, pretty much. And we’re kind of gearing up for tour. We leave in about a week.
NT: How did you go from being in an Ecstatic Trance [the name of A Life Once Lost’s final album] to having a more clarified Ecstatic Vision. What led to you playing this kind of music?
D: It’s more about just playing the stuff that I enjoyed listened to–I’m a DJ as well, so I spin a lot of stuff that sounds like Ecstatic Vision, or where we get our influences from. It was about doing a band like this when there wasn’t necessarily a scene for this for that kind of stuff. But it seems like it’s the right place/right time now.
NT: Do you find you’re playing with more modern bands tapping into the same kind of style?
D: I see awesome kraut rock bands in a lot of different towns. As far as heavy psychedelic bands right now, I haven’t seen anything that’s really that psychedelic. A lot of times I see these bands that are starter rock. I’m sure they’ll pop up, maybe I just haven’t come across them yet.
NT: So how are you tapping into the psychedelic sounds. There are a lot of heavy, syncopated rhythms on Sonic Praise. I guess you’ve mentioned that you’re influenced by Fela Kuti and the Afrobeat sound.
D: That’s a part of it. But just with the sounds in the background, behind our music– there’s a lot of stuff going on in the background that I don’t really hear in any other stuff. That’s where we get our psychedelic sound from.
NT: What were the conditions behind starting the band. Not to keep bringing up the past, but how soon did you start this after breaking up A Life Once Lost [in 2013]?
D: I started writing this record before A Life Once Lost broke up. Even our last record hinted at this kind of stuff. But A Life Once Lost had been around for 14 years– you can’t just change your sounds. Or, you can at least try and change it as much as you can and hope members of the band feel comfortable with it. I was already starting to do this and was and just keeping the other band around if those guys wanted to do shit or not. But I’m really hungry and driven to play music, and I wasn’t really getting that vibe as much from the other members, so that’s why i was already getting started doing this [Ecstatic Vision]. When [A Life Once Lost] broke up, I already had half of this album written.
NT: Was it daunting to cross over into something new and start over?
D: Maybe some people paid attention, but it’s not like this band had all these fans immediately. We built our fanbase from the ground up, and it’s still very small. I bet you 90 per cent of the people that knew the old band don’t even know this one exists. We’re going after a different demographic of people, and it’s very refreshing. A Life Once Lost was started when I was 16 years old. I don’t know what you were doing when you were 16, but I’m sure you probably wouldn’t want to be known for it now. For me, this is a chance to be who I am now, and to prove to myself that what I’m doing now is worth something. I didn’t necessarily care about big tours or big albums.
NT: There’s a lot of positivity to the album. Life gets you down, but you’ve got to “look to the sky,” as you say in “Sonic Praise,” and push forward. Have you always felt this way, or is this, too, turning a leaf?
D: I would say it’s turning a leaf. I think it just comes with being happy with yourself. Maybe if you’re not totally stoked on where you’re at in life, you’re more negative about what other people are doing. I think it’s just a growing up thing as well. I went through a good amount early on, as far as music goes. Maybe [now] you have a different attitude towards people that are helping you out. Being older, I would never disrespect that. The people who are there on the ground level, the true lovers of music, they have my respect always. I would just say that when you’re a younger kid, maybe you have a different outlook. That’s something I’ve definitely worked on. I still struggle with negativity, but I try to overcome it.
NT: The songs on Sonic Praise are plenty epic, with lots of extended jam passages. Do you ever get lost in the songs?
D: I do get lost in it, to a degree. I would definitely get lost in it when we first started playing. You know how it goes when you first start a band, you play the same stuff a lot! We’ve been playing these songs for a while, though. By the time the [recording sessions are] over , you’re sick of the album, but no one has even heard it yet! So then you have to play those songs for another year. One of the things I would like to do for our next album would be to dig into those longer passages, and not just play part after part after part.
NT: You mean get even further into the groove?
D: I ‘d like to put on a record, hear one riff and then end the record [laughs]. That same riff, but with different things going on over top of it.
NT: Live, do you throw in those organ and sax passages, or do you play as the more trimmed-down trio.
D: That depends what tour it is, or what show. On this tour that we’re doing with Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, we’re bringing out Kevin Nickles, who played the sax on the album and is going to be contributing organs live.
NT: It’s been about a year since you wrapped the recording sessions behind Sonic Praise, can you even think of what’s next?
D: I’ve been trying to get ahead of the curve, as far as writing new stuff goes. It can be a weird balancing act, because we’re not at a level where we don’t need jobs. Luckily, my job really doesn’t ask that much of me, as far as time goes. I do sound and bartend at a local bar called Kung Fu Necktie. But we’re getting ready to go on tour, taking care of life’s shit before we get on the road. That gets in the way. When we’re demoing, I can spend a whole day working on one thing. And then it only gets to where it’s going to be a day or two later.
NT: There are samples streaming throughout the record, almost like the sounds of a Moroccan bazaar at one point. Where are you getting those from?
D: I’m a crate-digger, man. In general, there’s a lot of Gregorian chant mixed throughout, a lot of Moroccan stuff–that’s awesome you pulled that out– and some jazz. There’s a lot of weird shit in there, just whatever fits in the mix. It could be a fucking car just driving by, I don’t know, as long as it fits in.
NT: So what’s in the immediate future for Ecstatic Vision?
D: As far as the tour goes, you can expect us to kill Sonic Praise live with our sax player [laughs]. It’s going to be a pretty psychedelic event. Whatever is going to be our next release, it’s already started. I want to have it done through the winter.
NT: Maybe this is too philosophical, but by going off of some of the lyrics from “Astral Plane”, have you figured out what you’re working for? [The line in question is “Every day we’re working baby every day for what?”] Have you tapped into, essentially, your meaning?
D: Yeah, I know what I’m working for. It sounds dumb, but I just want to have a good time and enjoy the people around me, the community, and the musicians in my life. And I want to try and make something meaningful . Something that stands the test of time.
NT: And what are five albums you’re listening to at the moment?
D: ‘Erupts’ by Truth & Jamey
‘Bloodrock’ by Bloodrock
‘Point Blank’ by Point Blank
‘Zombie Zombie plays John Carpenter’ by Zombie Zombie
‘Ball 7 inch’
Interview by Gregory Adams