Elephant Stone:
The TVD Interview

We talked with psych-pop favorites and innovators of “Hindie Rock” Elephant Stone, in the hot summer sun of Austin Psych Fest—well, actually in the cool comfy rocking chairs of the Artist tent—to discuss the band’s latest self titled record, their US tour with The Black Angels, and well, vinyl.

Vocalist, bassist, and sitar genius Rishi Dhir and guitarist Gab Lambert spill it all in the TVD Interview.

Recently, I asked the band SUUNS this same question since you guys are both from Montreal. Is there a psych scene coming out of Montreal?

Rishi Dhir: Montreal is funny, it’s been so conditioned by Arcade Fire and the Arbutus Records scene. I can’t say there’s a big psych scene in Montreal. No Joy is kind of shoegaze-y, Besnard Lakes are shoegaze-y, I think Suuns are probably the most “psych” band in Montreal.

Yea, they’re kind of a totally different monster…

RD: Yea, the stuff they’re doing… no one else is doing that. It’s not pop. We do pop, we’re a pop band.

You guys do pop so well. You do a great job of integrating some psychedelic aspects, but at the heart of it Elephant Stone is a pop band. 

RD: It’s funny, I posted a video on our YouTube account and someone commented that us, The Black Angels, and Tame Impala are their hope for music right now. One guy writes “Yhese guys are nothing like Tame Impala or The Black Angels, this is shitty pop music.” I posted back, “Yes, it is pop music, so what?” Some people are so closed-minded. Tame Impala is pop music too. I posted the video so when I replied to it was my name, and this guy is hiding behind a pseudonym, so he knows it’s me responding to him. It’s funny how trolls like that work.

I saw you guys play with the Black Angels and the Allah La’s at the Vic in Chicago, and I have to say it wasn’t the kind of crowd I would expect to see at that kind of show. Everyone from hipsters to cowboys to guys in backwards baseball caps high-fiving to their favorite Black Angels tunes. 

RD: It’s called cross-over man, haha…

Gab Lambert: I met some people at one of the shows on tour and they didn’t know the Black Angels and they asked me so what is this, is it “hard rock?” They’re not wrong really. In a way it is hard rock, but just not in an ’80s way. That’s where the crossover is too, it’s not only aesthetics and lifers, but people who love rock n roll.

The Black Angels are gaining lots of popularity.

RD: I remember when they put out their first record, they gave me the EP, and it I knew it was different. Songs like “Young Men Dead” and “Second Vietnamese War”, they spear-headed the whole thing. It’s funny to see them now.

Your latest self-titled album came out on APF’s Reverberation Appreciation Society Label, how did you get hooked up with Christian Bland’s label and those guys?

RD: Years ago I played SXSW with my old band, The High Dials, and we were supporting the Brian Jonestown Massacre for all of SXSW. Christian and Alex were at the gig and they saw me playing sitar. They spoke to me after and we just hit it off. We started talking about psych music and Sgt. Pepper and stuff like that and they started the Black Angels shortly after that. I remember they credit that show, seeing BRMC and seeing the Warlocks, as being the bands that really pushed them to start the Black Angels.

I kept in touch over the years and recorded with them and then last year they lost a member so I toured with them all last year playing bass guitar and sitar. They’re like family now so it’s pretty casual playing with them. I’ll probably be playing sitar with them tomorrow too.

How long have you been playing sitar?

RD:  I bought my first one in 1997 so 16 years now.

I’ve been playing guitar since I was a teenager but I cannot even begin to wrap my head around the sitar, all the pegs and strings, and the way you sit when you play it, resting on your foot. It looks so complex but you do it so effortlessly. 

RD: Yea that’s the traditional way to play it, and I’ve been conditioned that way so it works for me. It’s good, I don’t have to wear shoes on stage, although some places are so dodgy.

Has traditional Indian music been an influence all your life, is it something you grew up with?

RD: Growing up my mom was a really good singer and she would sing around the house. Indian music and Bollywood are pretty closely entwined so I grew up with that. My oldest classical music memory is my parents having Ravi Shankar live at the Monterey Pop Festival on vinyl, and I always used to see that around the house. When I got older and moved out I took that record with me. I still have it to this day.

Ravi Shankar changed everything. Even before the whole Beatles explosion he was collaborating with a lot of western musicians. It was such a small niche thing though. I don’t think people really took the sitar seriously though, they just looked at it as another sound to add. Something kind of kitschy.

Like Brian Jones’ sitar on the Stone’s “Paint it Black?”

RD: Yea exactly, it was something kind of kitschy. I love it, but it just stopped at one point…maybe we can bring it back.

I was in the middle of describing you guys to a friend of mine right before you went on at The Vic a few weeks ago, and I was saying how Elephant Stone has this amazing psych pop sound that gets broken up by these great sitar solos and chants like in the song “A Silent Moment,” and that happened to be the song you opened with that night.

I think that mixture of pop music meeting traditional Indian music is really what makes you guys something special in the psychedelic music scene. 

RD: I think so too, I remember when we were doing this record, I wanted this album to be as psychedelic as we could make it. All the songs start off as pop songs, but I remember “A Silent Moment” was a big thing. We got the guy to come in a sing the breakdown and afterwards Gab and I knew it transcended anything we had done before, it was pretty heavy.

That’s great…was this record a big shift for you guys?

RD: No, I think it’s pretty much along the lines of the last record. The last record went under the radar because we didn’t tour much and it was only released in Canada. I’m really proud of that first record, but this new record was a bit of a change. It was much more live, just the four of us playing, with minimal overdubs. We were just in our prime making this record, it can only get better.

You do a lot session work on the sitar as well… (Rob Campanella of the BJM walks over at this point.)

RD: Mostly with friends and stuff, Hey Rob! But yea, I played sitar with this guy, I played with BJM, we were touring with The Horrors and I did some demo tracks with them. I’m kind of picky, I have people ask me all the time but I just play with bands I like mostly.

I saw some video of you and the Brian Jonestown Massacre from last year playing “Supersonic,” it blew me away and that was just a YouTube video.

RD: I got goose bumps from that, it was a great vibe on the stage.

You said you were probably going to make an appearance with the Black Angels—are you playing with anyone else at Psych Fest? 

RD: The Night Beats were asking me but I don’t know if it’s going to work out or not. I was supposed to do a solo sitar thing today but I haven’t heard yet.

When did you guys get into Austin? Did you get to check out the first day of the fest?

RD: We got in Thursday, my family flew in though so I spent Friday with them. We were going to come to the Fest but our daughter passed out and was throwing a hissy fit so we didn’t want to deal with that. haha.

You’re no stranger to Austin—you’ve played Psych Fest before right?

RD: This is my third year. This is the first year with the band actually, but I played last year with the Black Angels. I spend a lot of time here.

Is it a nice change from Montreal?

RD: It’s a small town so it has pretty relaxed vibes like Montreal, better weather though.

Yea the weather is definitely better, we came from Chicago so I can relate—and you guys were just in Chicago a week ago, so you know what I’m talking about.

RD: That whole tour, winter was following us.

Back to Austin though, who are you excited to see tonight?

GL: Deerhunter, Os Mutantes…

RD: I saw them and it’s just not what it was. The thing about the old ’60s bands playing now, it’s just not the same. I’m always a bit disappointed. We toured with the Zombies before, and it was really cool. They did really well but at the same time things had changed.

I thought of catching them when they came through Chicago last year but then I heard their new album and like you said, it just wasn’t quite the same. 

RD: I think they’re playing a cruise now, with the Moody Blues and the Alan Parsons Project. But the cool thing about it is they don’t need to tour, they’re doing this because they love it.

Agreed, Odyssey and Oracle was enough to cement their legacy in music.

RD: When they play Odyssey and Oracle stuff live it’s incredible. Rod and Colin just a capella are amazing. Great band.

What are your plans for the future?

RD: For the summer, we’re going to work on some new material and we’re planning a North American tour in the fall, September or October probably, and then hopefully Europe next year.

Are you guys going to headline this tour?

RD: I don’t know, us and the Allah La’s got along really well and we haven’t gotten out to the west coast yet so we’ve been talking about that. The west coast would be really good for us if we found the right band to tour with, and it might be the Allah La’s.

Before I leave you guys, give me three of your favorite records that you’re still spinning on vinyl. 

RD: It would be Revolver, All Things Must Pass, I dunno, man… on vinyl, that’s a tough question. I’m boring, I’ll go with the White Album.

Two Beatles and one George Harrison record you can’t go wrong there. 

RD: Your turn Gab.

GL: Ones at home that I have on vinyl? Actually one of the albums I’ve listened to the most in the last few years is Bravery, Repetition and Noise by The Brian Jonestown Massacre. That’s one of my favorite records. The reason I really like that one is when we were on tour together I did merch for them and they were selling so much that at the end of the tour they gave me a bunch of stuff including that record. It’s purple vinyl, it’s really beautiful, it’s the one I’ve played the most. I gotta say My Bloody Valentine, Loveless. The last one would have to be Power, Corruption and Lies by New Order.

The band’s newest LP is available through their official website or through Austin Psych Fest label The Reverberation Appreciation Society in all formats, including cassette. The gorgeous 180-gram vinyl comes housed in a hand screen printed outer sleeve, making it look as good as it sounds. Be sure to check out Elephant Stone this summer on their 2013 US Tour, their live show cannot be beat.

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