“It’s basically like a therapy camp where we would have huge discussions about our experiences that would last like eight hours.” During a recent conversation, Rex Costello is busy telling me about ayahuasca rituals. He describes the experience as a cross between the the feeling of universal oneness and the agony of shitting and puking on yourself.
Psychedelic swirls with a light crunch best describes the new track “Desert Queen” by Ecstatic Union. The band, started by Rex Costello, was originally intended as a side project. However, over the years, it turned into his main outlet of music. They are on their third release, an EP coming out this year. His influences range from Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Violent Femmes, to the African psychedelia of The Funkees, William Onyeabor, and Freedom Family.
“I had a girlfriend who’s this German, gypsy minstrel woman and she was big into ayahuasca. She was down for everything and Germans are definitely known to be masochists,” says Costello jokingly.
The ayahuasca, Costello says, led him back to his native Catalina Island. “After that is when I went to Catalina. It wasn’t a conscious thing. Once I got there, I realized that I needed to come home,” says Costello. He and his band partook in 7 ayahuasca ceremonies, 7 san pedro ceremonies (another type of cacti psychedelic), and also coca ceremonies where they would chew coca leaves and talk about their drug induced experiences. Despite the intensity of the ayahuasca immersion therapy, he feels the experience is one the most amazing moments of his life.
Costello was raised in Catalina and OC. For college, he went to Naropa University which was founded by both the famed beat poet Allen Ginsberg and the controversial Tibetan buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa — who was known as the crazy wisdom monk. Growing up and being involved in that new age environment was beneficial and Costello was influenced by Alan Watts, Ram Dass, Terence Mckenna, and mysticism. The influence is apparent due to the first track of their EP that includes a sample of Terence Mckenna. However he also saw shady opportunistic side involved.
“When we are so focused on the crystals, a certain type of meditation, or amplification. It’s like a drug feel. It’s like how high can I get instead of how can I be a good person and be present,” Costello says. “Then there is a very materialistic aspect to it, where people are just running a business. Like ‘I’m a channel that can tell you whatever you need, give me $1000 dollars.’”
“I did appreciate a lot of elements of the culture, but it can be delusional,” Costello says.
Growing up, Costello was influenced by his schoolmates Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin, back in the day he was a roadie for them. They would also do shows at Mikal Cronin’s house, where he would throw these huge parties with bands. “The garage rock scene in Orange County was super liberating,” Costello says.
This long journey led him to Ecstatic Union and the song “Desert Queen.” The song was created during band rehearsal. They began talking about their friend Anna Christie and all these girls they knew that lived out in Joshua Tree. “One of us said ‘Desert queen’ and we had this Velvet Underground kind of feel going. So I formed something off the energy of what we were talking about,” Costello says. Lyrically he wanted to create a mythology about around the character of the desert queen and inoke the beauty and magic of the earth and the desert.
“One of the first lines is ‘Her arrow is going to purify me’ and that’s formed around the astrological sign that she’s a sagittarius. Months and months later, my girlfriend and I get together and she happens to a sagittarius and she’s from the desert. She’s from Arizona,” Costello says. “[Lyrically] the EP is a very unified and sensual perspective about life. The pain and the pleasure is all part of it.”