Ten Cent Pistols
At the root of the best psychedelic music lies a basic blues-rock discipline. Long before it became the house band for psychedelic philosophical inspiration, The Grateful Dead was a solid rhythm and blues band; around the same time, Lobby Loyde dropped a tab and sprayed his Purple Hearts riffs through a kaleidoscopic lens. And strip away the madness, mania and psychosis of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and you’re left with a set of impregnable blues riffs.
Alex Palmer, guitarist and vocalist with local psychedelic blues band Ten Cent Pistols agrees that the symbiotic relationship between blues and psychedelia remains an important aspect of the band. “Absolutely,” Palmer says. “I really couldn’t ever shake it. The bare core of my playing is all blues.”
Now a five-piece band, Ten Cent Pistols’ origins go back to its genesis as a two-piece blues-rock outfit formed by Palmer and his twin brother Owen Hughes. Palmer and Hughes had been playing together since they were in primary school. “We had a Jimi Hendrix cover band, and we also played some Green Day,” Palmer recalls. “I’d grown up listening to a lot of Beatles and Elvis, and my dad used to play a lot of soul. Mum said to me recently ‘I can still remember when you were five years old, and you asked me to buy you a Miles Davis record’,” Palmer laughs.
By their teenage years, Palmer and Hughes had decided to start a ‘real’ band, taking its name from the Black Keys song, Ten Cent Pistol. As a fledgling two-piece with a love of the blues, the inspiration was entirely appropriate; it also had an allegorical aspect as well. “We just thought it was a bad-arsed name,” Palmer says. “We wanted to have a name with ‘pistol’ in it, so that worked as well. And I suppose it’s also a good metaphor as well, with all the cheap guns that are around the world.”
Eventually Ten Cent Pistols broaden out to a four-piece, and then a five piece, with Owen moving off drums to keyboards. “We wanted to go from a bare bones style, and build it up to something bigger,” Palmer says. “We did it more organically. It was always the plan to get bigger musically. It’s like blues progressing through time.”
Palmer admits that he and Hughes have a strong telepathic bond on stage and in the studio. “It’s really telepathic because we’re twins,” Palmer says. “It’s really intuitive. When we were playing as a two-piece, we could always change the beat just on a whim.” When it came to changing the line-up, the twins’ musical and fraternal relationship didn’t present an obstacle for the other members of the band. “Our guitarist, Sam, really clicked in easily,” Palmer says. “Everyone has locked in really well.”
A debut album was recorded in 2010, followed by the Ten Cent Pistols EP in 2012; another EP, Vultures, was released earlier this year. While Ten Cent Pistols’ live show has indulged the classic elastic psychedelic style, Palmer says the band has been more disciplined in the studio. “When we used to play live, it used to be a lot more loose,” Palmer says. “A song like Line Up Your Troops was about nine minutes, but when we went to record it for the EP, we chopped it down. When we were playing live, we’d get more into a groove and a flow, and we improvise a bit more. But now when we’re playing live, we stick to how the songs sound on the EP,” he says. On stage, Palmer says he hopes the audience “feels good”. “That might sound like a shitty answer,” he laughs. “I suppose we hope there’s a sense of danger, but also a warm embrace as well.”
This week Ten Cent Pistols play at Yah Yahs, an event that will operate partly as a fund-raiser to help put the band’s new album out on vinyl. With Owen Hughes about to head over to Mexico for a couple of months, Palmer will start some groundwork for the album, embarking on a first round of recording in preparation for Hughes’ return. “I think the next album will have a bit more of a psychedelic-electronic element,” Palmer says. “It’s a little bit trippier, a bit groovier. We’re progressing forward, but we’re still blues-based.”
Despite being born around the time that vinyl was declared a dying medium – a prediction that has thankfully been proven to be as exaggerated as Mark Twain’s famous analysis of rumours of his own demise – Palmer says he’s long maintained a fascination for the wax recording format. “We had heaps of vinyl around us growing up,” Palmer says. “In fact, the first blues record I ever heard was a JJ Cale record that I found on vinyl. The sound on vinyl is warmer. And I like the idea of our album sitting in a pile of other vinyl records,” he laughs.
BY PATRICK EMERY