Before his late night set at Austin Psych Fest last Thursday night, Joel Gion didn't know what to expect. Playing with Collin Hegna, Dan Allaire and Rob Campanella, his bandmates in Brian Jonestown Massacre, the sold out show in downtown Austin was beyond what he ever imagined.
"They were a great bunch of kids who hung out 'till 2:30 a.m. for the show," he says. "It was great and they were really responsive. It was the first time I had people up in the front singing the lyrics, which is what we're accustomed to with Brian Jonestown shows, but now they're doing it for my music. It was super fun."
Gion is known to many as one of the longest tenured members of Brian Jonestown Massacre. The percussionist is probably most recognized for his role in the 2004 cult documentary Dig! a film he says is one of the last true moments in rock. Looking back at his role in the doc, he can't help but laugh.
"They're probably thinking who were these crazy motherfuckers," he says with a chuckle. "You can't really live that way in rock 'n roll and can't just get arrested. You don't know anyone who is doing that now or who is worth knowing because it ain't happening. It was the last time no one gave a flying fuck."
With BJM Impresario Anton Newcombe now living in Berlin, Gion has spent the past few years working on his solo material. He released his first EP in 2011 and last year, put out his first full-length, Apple Bonkers, on vinyl via The Reverberation Appreciation Society and the cassette version was distributed and released by Burger Records, who also put out early BJM material that had never been made public.
Co-produced with his BJM bandmates, Gion would write the songs and the trio would help him flesh out the material. Unlike the neo-psychedelica that BJM is known for, the percussionist points to the album as being a "genre-hopping record" that features elements of shoegaze, psychedelica, alt-country and even post-punk. As his first solo album Gion wanted it to represent his history before he could think about moving forward as a songwriter.
"It was a kick in the ass for me to be part of this scenario and not do it all myself," he says. "I started writing tunes and was digging what I was doing, so I sent the guys some demos and we ended up making a record I'm really proud of."
Though working with BJM has been more difficult because of Newcombe living in Europe, that doesn't mean that the band is slacking on its releases. Musique de Film Imaginé was released a few weeks ago and Gion says that Newcombe has a batch new material in the works, or at least that's what he's been told.
"Revelation was one of my favorite albums we did," he says of BJM. "He's in a really good creative spot and we're all doing stuff. We're playing bigger crowds every time and they get younger every time, so something's going right here."
Recently Gion has been listening to Brazilian music–in particular the period between Bossanova and Tropicália movement–and is inspired by the sounds that emanated from that era. He points to this time as being "kind of traditional and kind of trippy" as something that speaks to him that's going to be reflected on his next EP that's slated to be released in September. That release, Gion says, will be percussive heavy, which shouldn't be a surprise to longtime fans.
"It makes sense," he says. "I have players who can play that music and I've been doing it for a long time so I"m in a really happy spot musically and it's very liberating to do my own thing."
Joel Gion plays with Levitation Room at the Constellation Room on Wednesday, May 13. For tickets and full event info, click here.