Roger “Roky” Erickson’s influence extends decades, influencing both contemporary rock and our understanding of mental health. His collective discography and output is staggering and his quirks make him kind of like the crazy uncle your parents reluctantly invite to family dinners. Our conversation turns similarly odd at moments, as he discusses calling in movies to his favourite Texas radio stations and the “tin shacks that you can practice in” littering the Austin landscape and operating as his creative spaces.
The 13th Floor Elevators were Erickson’s first major band, and the act that coined the term ‘Pyschedelic Rock.’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” is a garage rock staple recorded in 1966 and since used in many films and commercials. Featuring an electric jug player and Erickson’s trademark howl, the track also shared the title of a documentary filmed in 2005 about Erickson’s career. The film sparked a renewed interest in the 13th Floor and lead to Erickson performing Elevators songs in a tour with Okkervil River in 2008.
“I haven’t talked to (the Elevators) in a long time,” Erickson laments. “Though they just wrote me a letter. We don’t really keep in touch. After we made our albums we just went our separate ways.” Their separation was in part due to the difficult and unstable years that followed their albums, marked by trouble with psychiatric institutions and the legal system. Brought up on charges of possession of marijauna, he pleaded not guilty by insanity and received Thorazine and ElectroConvulsive Therapy, remaining in the state of Texas’ custody until 1972.
After being released from mental care Erickson claimed to be possessed by aliens, changing his name to “Blieb alien,” and forming The Aliens in 1978. His new band exchanged pyschedelia for shock rock, released another minor hit with “Two Headed Dog,” and made the scariest Halloween party soundtrack. “We’re playing the Continental hotel in Austin, Texas,” he informs me, “We’ll be doing something spooky I guess.”
Although he has since changed his mind about being possessed by other forces, peculiarities remain. “I’ve been watching the cable and listening to the radio stations a lot, mostly soft rock on KUG,” he describes of his seemingly normal pass times, before candidly seguing. “I call in and request them to play Time Warner films sometimes though.” This seems like a prank until he discusses related activities on tour. “We have this big bus and we listen to a lot of video tapes. We had this one called Border Town.”
Erickson’s newest album, 2010’s “True Love Cast Out All Evil,” bookmarks another 14-year hiatus from releasing material. Performed with the Okkervil River band, the songs have mellowed and feature great folk song writing. “It’s a real familiar one,” he says of it, “I love that album. We listen to it in the car a lot.” Yet, he’s been playing with Hounds of the Baskervilles instead. Like many others, they showed up at Erickson’s door desperate to be taught, “They introduced themselves to me. I don’t have much work to do to make em do what it does.”
Despite a lengthy career, Erickson’s been playing many cities for the first time and getting out to new fans across Europe and North America. “I’ve only ever been to these border towns,” he reveals about Canada, “You get to a little shop and get some trinkets and that’s about it.” Before he hangs up, Erickson warns me “be careful, be careful!” Wise words, as it would be careless not to attend his first Vancouver performance.
Roky Erickson performs on November 5th at the Electric Owl as part of the Fall Down/Get Down Festival.
By Mathieu Youdan