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Brave Old World 

Mystic Braves went from laid back jamming to starring in the L.A. psych scene

From the bright flowers and wavy lettering of their album cover to the Farfisa organ and trippy guitar riffs that propel their songs, the Mystic Braves are awash in '60s psychedelia.

That vintage sound is partly by design and partly the natural result of the band members' early jam sessions, says singer-guitarist Julian Ducatenzeiler.

The Mystic Braves are pure California—sun, surf, beaches and the neon glow of Sunset Boulevard—and the here-to-there of the band's origin can be summed up in an afternoon's drive. In early 2011, Ducatenzeiler recruited some friends to jam in a space he had in Escondido, just north of San Diego.

"I just had the idea of wanting to play groovy, rhythmic music and I found a few old friends to do that with," he says. "We just clicked and we had likewise musical minds and we started writing songs."

Less than a year later, the band had released a self-titled debut record on Lolipop Records (then as the Blackfeet Braves) and moved to Los Angeles, sharing a house just off Sunset and practically next to the Lolipop record store/recording studio.

"We wanted to play a '60s-influenced groove. It wasn't something we really talked about much. It just happened naturally and developed on its own by our songwriting," Ducatenzeiler says.

Though Ducatenzeiler and the rest of the band—drummer Cameron Gartung, guitarist Shane Stotsenberg, bassist Tony Malacara and organist/tambourinist Ignacio Gonzalez—have gone through phases playing different styles of music, they found shared inspiration in a sound anchored in melodic, psychedelic garage rock.

"I got inspired by some bands of today that were doing it and I got into that whole kind of music, '60s pop and stuff, and then it was off to the races," Ducatenzeiler says.

Around L.A., the Mystic Braves have garnered steadily increasing attention, which began rising with their opening slot for the Zombies last fall. It spiked with an appearance at the Desert Daze Festival just days before the April 29 release of sophomore album, Desert Island.

"Mystic Braves stands at the forefront of a booming L.A. scene," the culture blog LAist said, calling the band "revivalism at its best."

Ducatenzeiler says he sees potential across the vibrant revival scene—centered on bands like the Growlers in Orange County, Shannon and the Clams in Oakland, La Luz in Seattle, and dedicated Southern California labels like Lolipop and Burger Records—and is proud of the comparisons his band draws.

"There's diversity in '60s music. Not all of it sounds the same. We all have different takes on it, throwing our own modern twists on it," he says. "Bands have their own sound. You can say we're '60s music, but if we existed in the '60s, we'd sound different. It's definitely a sound of now, with the reference or the influence back to then. We're writing about things that are happening now."

Desert Island was recorded entirely to tape. "That's what suits the music the most. We're trying to get that warm, old sound. We're doing a lot of things the same way, but in the present," Ducatenzeiler says.

The 10-song album bristles with energy, the guitar-organ interplay setting the time-warp mood from the start.

"It's more high energy, more garage-y and fuzz-driven than the first album," he says. "We put together the songs we thought would fit best. We have a lot of songs and the one thing that's easy for the band is to write songs. If we wanted to, we could record a third album and have it out in a month. We picked the songs that best represent us in this time of growth. Enjoy it and you'll probably see another one coming out in not too long."

The Desert Island title—song and album—comes from Ducatenzeiler looking at the ups and downs of life, the question of whether good and bad can be extricated from one another.

"The whole album touches on positive things in our lives and negative things in our lives, that duality. Everything in this world is either dark or light, good or bad," Ducatenzeiler says. "The song basically talks about how a lot of relationships don't work out or they're not meant to be, but it also sheds a positive light on the subject in the hook of the song. It's about life being good and bad at the same time."

Life for the band now is good, with an April residency at the venerable Echo nightclub in Los Angeles wrapping up just before the band began a nationwide tour.

"Ever since we moved there, we dreamed of being able to do that. We were really flattered that every night was a huge success, packed to the door and a lot of good energy," Ducatenzeiler says from a tour stop in Chicago. "I definitely think we're connected to the L.A. thing. Ever since we moved there it felt like home, like it's where we need to be and where people have accepted and appreciated our music."

Although L.A. is currently the vortex of the resurgence of '60s-flavored rock and pop music, Ducatenzeiler says that as he tours the country he sees kindred spirits in bands like Tucson's Burning Palms, who will open for Mystic Braves on Tuesday at Flycatcher.

"I can't really say why, it's just one of those natural processes of music phases coming in and out," he says. "I talked to these older music nerds recently. They've been around for a long time and they were telling me how psyched they are that us and all these other bands are bringing back the feeling of that time. It's really awesome to be a part of that."

The revival scene gets its own one-day festival on June 28, with Lolipop Records' inaugural Lolipalooza inviting Tucson's Burning Palms and the Resonars to join with the likes of Mystic Braves on 35-band bill at the Echoplex.

More by Eric Swedlund

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