Kicking It Old School, Baby; An Interview with Guy Keltner of Acid Tongue

If you are looking for a band that has their influences deeply rooted in AM-radio soul, folk, and psychedelic rock, look no further.  Acid Tongue is here to give you the fix that you have been looking for all this time.  Composed primarily of Guy Keltner and Ian Cunningham, the duo was raised by parents that used spiritually-driven parenting techniques and were exposed to mind-altering substances during their teen days.

Acid Tongue’s debut LP Babies (released on October 13th via Freakout Records) is the culmination of the band’s approach to modern psychedelia.  The album in its entirety is full of blue-collar American soul, yet still offers some modern sound.

We recently got in touch with Keltner to talk more about ‘Babies’.  We also talked about the constant evolving of the lineup, his influence, and so much more.

The band just wrapped up a round of UK shows.  What was playing overseas like for everyone?

The European and UK crowds are crazy. We get a lot more love out there right now, and I think there are several of reasons for that. First, there’s the American aspect – we’re kind of a wild, untamed group of people in their eyes. They devour American pop culture and any opportunity to catch American music is a bigger deal. There’s also a lot more local and state support for venues under 500 capacity. A lot of these venues get tax breaks and stipends to help support emerging bands. This pays for our hotels, accommodations, etc. Overall, the crowds dance a lot harder, party harder and are really generous and supportive. We definitely go out dancing until sunrise at every opportunity, and there’s a lot of those opportunities in Europe.

I saw the lineup has constantly changed throughout the band’s existence.  Is the current lineup destined to be together for the long haul?

In the beginning, there were a lot of personnel changes due to constant touring, plus my drummer Ian has a four-year-old and has to be a daddy as much as possible. I think we’ve finally hit our groove, though, and this lineup with Ian (drums), Alessio (bass), and Jason (keys), will be the most consistent moving forward. We vibe really well and it feels like a group of brothers. In December, however, I’ve got this great band from Austin, The Mammoths, backing me for a Southern tour while these guys take a breather. Touring can be really exhausting.

Based out of Seattle, what would you say is the biggest misconception about the music scene?

People get the idea that Seattle is made up exclusively of bands that play grunge, folk, rock, etc. For such a small city tucked away in the NW, it’s easy to get the notion that this is all people do up there. There’s a ton of diversity within the music scene, though. Great electronic and experimental bands like Newaxeyes and Zen Mother, some fantastic hip-hop like Gifted Gab, Jarv Dee and Nach Picasso, and loads of genre-less bands that would kill me for even trying to pigeon-hole them. The musicians in Seattle are lucky because it’s easy to find your niche in the city and get a boost from the many organizations like STG and One Reel that will book these small local acts on huge events like Bumbershoot and Sasquatch Festival. The trick is to break out of the bubble and hit that national circuit hard. As supportive as the city is, it can also give bands hindering egos, limiting them to hitting the same 5 or 10 venues around town for what feels like an eternity.

What would you say was the moment that sparked your interest in wanting to be a musician?

I honestly don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to play music. I started playing piano at five and got a guitar when I turned ten. I played my first gig at the Kirkland Teen Union Building when I turned 12. I still feel a bit like that pre-teen Guy when I do some of the bigger festivals and events we play these days.

I hear so many incredible vintage rock influences within your songs.  Take for example the rocker “Humpty Dumpty”.  What was it about those soulful, psychedelic bands from the 60s/70s that really spoke to you?

The 60s were the pinnacle of great soul and r&b music. I was raised on a heavy diet of this stuff, a lot of the influence comes from childhood – i.e. the title ‘Babies’.  Those old soul records were the blueprints for how I play guitar and interact with a band as a frontman. I draw a lot from other acts too, like Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, Michael Kiwanuka, and Lou Reed. This whole thing is one big dumpster fire of Americana and classic rock.

The band did some experimental therapy in a Mexican yurt.  What would you say was the main takeaway after your experience ended?

I lost the ability to take anyone seriously. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream.

What’s the story behind calling your full-length debut Babies?

I wanted to write something truthful, something that isn’t being said these days. Most psychedelic bands are hiding behind a wall of reverb, I don’t know if they are embarrassed by their own voices or if that’s just en vogue right now. The mainstream pop acts are hustling sex and drugs and a lifestyle of fantasy. People don’t connect with fantasy. ‘Babies’ is about cutting through that fantasy to the real issues: puberty, first romances, and all the messed up things you dealt with as a kid. I’m literally inserting nursery rhymes into songs about sex (“Humpty Dumpty”), lamenting about how lazy I am as a boyfriend (“If I Really Loved Her”), and talking shit to my vanilla-scaredy-cat wussy friends that won’t take any chances with their lives (Dive). There’s a lot to digest in this record, and at the same time, I’m just singing about how mundane everything is.

Babies’ was recorded during the 2016 election.  How much did this turbulent period of our American history come into play?

I wouldn’t say it directly influenced the lyrics or song structures, but it definitely set a tone while we were recording in the studio. There were days we’d get so pissed off and upset at the news that we’d need to shut our phones off and just focus on creating something beautiful. I’m definitely a more cynical person after this whole process, but I’m still optimistic that humanity is worth saving.

 

How long was the writing process for the full-length?

Most of it came together pretty quickly, some of the songs written days prior to the sessions. A couple tunes though, namely “Dive” and “Friend Like You,” I’ve been kicking around for a couple of years and have been performing live for about as long. The trick is to grab a guitar and my iPhone as soon as lightning strikes. If I’m lying awake at 4:30 a.m. and humming something, I have to get up and go into the living room and lay it down in a voice memo, otherwise I lose it. I think there are a lot of great songwriters out there that don’t realize how fragile a melody is when they are on to something.

 

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