Article by Robert Stinson | Photos by Lorenzo
Riding on the cusp of a 1960â€™s sound wave, The Loonsâ€™ melodic instrumentals juxtaposed with Mike Staxâ€™s impassioned vocals harkens back to the days of paisley, free love and mind-altering psychotropic drugs. Their third release, â€œRed Dissolving Rays of Light,â€ blends an array of eclectic tracks that are full of metal guitars, harmonicas, tambourines and riveting lyrics, which enliven the senses and leave you wanting more.
Mike Stax is the publisher of Ugly Things Magazine, a fanzine that is dedicated to the preservation of rare archival footage and interviews from influential, underground, psychedelic bands of the â€˜60s. We caught up with Mike (Lead Vocals), his wife Anja (bass/ backup vocals), and their guitarist Marc during a gig at the Soda Bar in North Park.
You guys have been a mainstay of the San Diego music scene for many years. What are some of the most significant changes youâ€™ve seen in the music industry during your tenure as a band?
Mike: Within the music industry itself, itâ€™s very hard to sell recorded products like vinyl and especially CDs. The sale of records was something that bands used to concentrate on, but now, people download music for free. Playing live becomes more important in a way, but again, there are a lot of clubs that donâ€™t pay, so youâ€™re also playing for free â€“ there are less ways of making money. In a way, this is a good thing because it weeds out the assholes, you know? So the only bands that are successful these days are those that are genuinely passionate about their music. If you want to get rich quick, this is definitely not the profession you want to get into.
What prompted you to take a hiatus? What was the motivation behind your return to the spotlight?
Mike: We were prompted to take a hiatus because of pregnancy (group laughter).
Marc Schroeder: My wife got pregnant around the same time, so Iâ€™ve got a five year old, and Mike and Anja have a five year old as well.
Anja: I didnâ€™t think it would look too cool to hold a bass in front of my big belly.
Mike: We took a couple of years off until the kid was old enough to be babysat. It was cool and it worked out because everybody in the band was in a similar situation with their kids. There was a mutual understanding between all of us. It would have broken up other bands, but we managed to stay together.
Marc: Thatâ€™s been one of the cool things about it because weâ€™re all on the same stage in life and we all have the same goals, creatively speaking.
Considering that you take many of your cues from â€˜60s psychedelic bands mixed with angst from the punk rock movement, are you happy with the way rock has evolved or do you miss the days of impassioned, politically driven bands?
Mike: For me, I feel like rock peaked in the â€˜60s and I think a lot of people would agree with me on that. I draw inspiration from the bands of that era and weâ€™ve tried to come up with something thatâ€™s just as good. As it is, the deck is stacked against us. Back then, everything was new and artists were creating sounds that had never been heard before. Now, weâ€™re in a postmodern world where everything has been done, so anything you try to do is just another spin on something that has come before. I donâ€™t feel like weâ€™ve ever been a politically driven band. We have a very simple philosophy of thinking for yourself and always questioning authority.
What is your songwriting process like?
Mike: We do a lot of different things because everybody in the band contributes to the songwriting process. Generally, someone brings in an idea and we bat it about a bit in our practice room. One of the guys might come in with a chorus and Iâ€™ll take it home and write lyrics. Then we play with it a bit. We experiment with different things; weâ€™ll have an acoustic guitar track and then add the different instrumentals. Other times weâ€™ll do a completely live recording.
Marc: The process is very organic, which Iâ€™m really grateful for. It lends to our creativity and we donâ€™t have to worry about not having enough time in the studio.
Anja: Plus, we donâ€™t have a lot of big egos in the band. Everything we do is collaborative.
What are some memorable highlights that youâ€™ve relished from your years of touring overseas and in the states?
Mike: Playing a gig in Spain is definitely a highlight of our professional career. We went there during a three day weekend. We played 45 minutes for 1,500 people, then partied our asses off and came home. We left on Thursday and were back to work on Tuesday. So by the time we finally sobered up, we were like, â€˜Did we just go to Spain?â€™ Plus, weâ€™ve always had a great time playing at the Casbah. Tim Mays has been a big supporter throughout our tenure as a band. It helps to have the top club in San Diego as our home base.
Anja: Plus, weâ€™ve played with some pretty incredible bands, like The Monks in New York, which was huge for me because Iâ€™m such a big fan. Weâ€™ve jammed with The Pretty Things and a lot of our heroes from the â€˜60s.
Speaking of collaborations, The Loons have worked with Clinic in the past. Could you talk about your friendship with the band?
Mike: Clinic got in touch with us because Ade from the band reads my fanzine, Ugly Things Magazine. He got in touch with us and we became friends. We came up with the idea to cover one of their songs while they cover one of ours, and we put it out as a forty five. We picked out one of their singles, which we felt had a real â€˜60s, 13th Floor Elevators sound to it, and we did it pretty straight. But, they took one of our songs and completely turned it on its head. They made a mentally psychotic thing out of it. It was a real treat to work with them.
Our Associate Publisher has been a big fan of Ugly Things Magazine for years. Could you talk a little bit about your experiences as a rock archivist?
Mike: Throughout my life when I got excited about an album I was listening to, I would turn my friends onto it. From this, I started my fanzine because I wanted to spread the word and share the kind of music I liked. The whole archivist thing came about because Iâ€™ve tried to track down some of the more obscure bands from that era and run their stories as no one else was doing it. Iâ€™m very passionate about giving these bands their due because it seems like all the rock history books are written about the groups that sold the most records and made the most money. These days, singles are judged by how many downloads or YouTube hits theyâ€™ve had â€“ this isnâ€™t necessarily the mark of quality.
As you may know, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding medical cannabis and our own city council making it close to impossible for dispensaries to operate within San Diego County. Do you have any opinions on the matter?
Mike: Well, all of this is just a slow process towards legalization. There will be a lot of battles along the way, but Iâ€™m really proud that California is on the cutting edge of cannabis legislation. We are the testing ground for the whole movement. There will always be people who are afraid of this because they fear it will corrupt kids.
Anja: Plus, the government is missing out on a lot of tax revenue while countries like Holland benefit from all that extra money.
Mike: An injection of common sense would tell anyone that. Itâ€™s obviously less dangerous than alcohol and I do believe that legalization will be a reality. Back in the â€˜60s, people would be thrown into jail for 30-40 years over a few joints. So weâ€™ve come a long way.
Check out Mike Staxâ€™s fanzine Ugly Things Magazine at: