Shaman Sham: Myrrors

Behind the alluring narrative of The Myrrors’ desert psych mythology abroad

There's been a tendency for music fans to take the first two facts they learn about The Myrrors and mash them together.

First, the band plays heavily experimental psychedelic music. And second, the band is from the desert. From those basics, audiences during the last year—particularly in Europe—again and again concocted their own picture of The Myrrors, who found a highly imaginative and overly mystical reputation had begun to precede them.

"It's like people's first response was 'It's these guys out in the desert making weird music.' People keep trying to call us shamans, and we just laugh," says frontman Nik Rayne.

As the latest in a long line of Tucson bands that have found significantly greater popularity elsewhere, The Myrrors spent much of the past year on the road in support of Arena Negra, the band's otherworldly breakthrough album that combined free jazz, drone sounds and strange sonic textures gathered from as many unusual instruments as the band could find. After playing psych festivals in the U.S., The Myrrors toured Europe for the first time last October and November, connecting with enthusiastic audiences who'd developed their own ideas about desert psych rock.

"That image was never something we intentionally tried to cultivate. It's something that got put on us in the beginning," Rayne says. "There definitely is an underground legacy of this weird psychedelic music here in Arizona, but it's always been on the fringe.

"I was blown away by the scope of our popularity outside the U.S. In countries like Greece, we were playing these packed shows."

The Myrrors even connected with longtime fans who had watched the band evolve from the more straightforward rock band that released Burning Circles In The Sky in 2008 to the esoteric, boundary-pushing musicians who signed with Beyond Beyond Is Beyond Records for the release of Arena Negra.

"We had a lot of people saying they'd first heard of us in 2008 after our first album and never expected to see us," Rayne says. "When we came through, they'd been totally blown away that we still exist."

Beyond merely existing, The Myrrors are thriving, with the May 27 release of Entranced Earth marking another significant step forward for the band. Built with a mindset toward greater nuance, the record is at times both freakier and more subtle than Arena Negra, drawing some influence from minimalist composers Tony Conrad and Terry Riley.

"We wanted to represent more sides of the band, fit more distinct elements onto the record," Rayne says. "The last one required more time to find our bearings. We didn't have as much time to think things through, which was OK. This time, we've figured out, more or less, our identity as a band."

The band has had a fluctuating lineup since reforming a couple years before Arena Negra, but tends to keep to the core of Rayne on vocals and guitar, Grant Beyschau on drums, Miguel Urbina on viola and Kellen Fortier on bass. Beyond the usual guitars (six- and 12-string), the band fills out the carefully textured sound with flourishes of organ, harmonium, saxophones, flutes, clarinet, bells, looped effects and even bulbul tarang—an Indian stringed instrument.

Often, the songs on Entranced Earth seem to move on two separate planes. There's the trance-like, droning undercurrent and the swirling chaos above, with a particular power and tension created in the space between those contrasting aspects.

"Our modus operandi by default has been to lock into grooves and experiment and improvise on top of that," Rayne says.

Again, The Myrrors excel when it comes to long songs, with the title track reaching nearly nine minutes and "Invitation Mantra" clocking in at just under 12 minutes.

"It just happens that way. They all generally evolve out of jams of some sort and some just lend themselves to more long-form exploration," Rayne says. "We're not a pop- or single-oriented group, so putting together shorter songs is something we challenge ourselves with."

But the band is already growing more comfortable on this record with shorter songs, with the relatively direct and contained groove of "Liberty in the Street" serving as a counter-balance to the jammy excursion of "Entranced Earth." Neither song works as well without the other, which comes from a more sophisticated, intentional approach to building the album as a whole.

"I personally always think in terms of the album instead of songs," Rayne says. "Once we have the bones of a lot of things, I think about how they can all fit together and get some narrative flow in terms of the feeling."

Rayne writes the lyrics afterwards, to fit the music, and it's in that realm that the desert influence becomes more a part of The Myrrors' aesthetic. Just like with the music—jamming until a cool riff or musical idea comes out, the lyrics start as stream of consciousness, generally in response to events or things Rayne's been reading (recently the late Norwegian eco-philosopher Sigmund Kvaløy Setreng), and then build on phrases or words that capture his attention.

"This album takes on ecological issues," Rayne says. "Most of the songs The Myrrors have released are political in some sense or other, some more direct than others. Right now, we're living in chaotic, intense times globally, not just in the U.S. So there's been a lot more on my mind in terms of big-picture issues."

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