Interview with Xerox Feinberg and Trip Thompson from The Prefab Messiahs

It was a pleasure to conduct this interview. The Prefab Messiahs are a great band from the Boston area (Massachusetts/USA). They're back with their new 10-track album Psychsploitation Today, released on CD and cassette (via Lolipop and Burger) and also as a unique 35-minute "video album." One word about this album: Sublime.  

Thank you so much for accepting this interview. First of all, would you like to introduce the band please? 

Xerox Feinberg: The core of the band has always stayed the same: myself — songwriter, lead vocals, and guitars; Trip Thompson — bass guitar, assorted sonic FX and vocals; Doc Michaud — guitars, keyboards, electronic squawking, and vocals. We've gone through a few million drummers over the years, but for this album we benefited from the advanced skills of Mattyboy Horn on percussion and vocals (and sax on "Last Day on Earth").  

How did you come to choose the band’s name?

Xerox: It basically materialized in a blinding drunken flash several decades ago. From the first, it seemed to speak to the egomaniacally delusional pretensions of any attempt to make ambitious rock music and influence pop culture, which—believe it or not—was always one of our goals. 

Trip: It was also a commentary on popular advertising figures like Ronald McDonald—figures that we probably referred to as something like "the friendly faces of corporate fascism."  (And still would!)

How was the new album composed? 

Xerox: Since we're now scattered across the Eastern US, the album came together as an experimental studio project. I wrote a bunch of songs and laid down the basic guitar and vocal tracks with Matt the drummer (who lives near me in a small house next to a cow pasture). After sharing that around we commuted a bit between Boston and New York City and Pennsylvania to add backing vocals and assorted production elements. Doc created guitar and keyboard parts and sent samples from Memphis. I pulled it all together in my primitive home studio and kept adding more layers and fussing with it until we all considered it to be "done."  

Psychsploitation Today is really good, and the sound is different than your other albums, no? More psych-rock than garage sound? What’s changed between Devolver (for example) and now? 

Xerox: I think it's definitely the band's most fully realized creative effort. We were finally able to completely control the recording from start to finish. We're all older and (a bit) wiser and play better than we did when we started, and times and technology have massively changed. It was important to us that the final sound be an honest evolution from our earliest stuff. Because of the production quality and process, I think of Psychsploitation Today as sort of our Sgt. Pepper or Smile album in comparison to the earlier work. 

Trip: Any two albums recorded over 30 years apart are bound to differ in some significant ways. But I do think that we've stayed true to our themes and to our open approach to creatively combining garage, psych and power pop.   

In 2013, Burger Records reissued Devolver. It was spectacular! 27 tracks! Tell us more about it.  

Xerox: Trip pulled the tracks together mostly from live shows in the '80s. It was originally released in '98. It's basically the sound of four young guys mucking about in their own isolated, obscure, alternative rock 'n' roll universe. 

Trip: Except that the term "alternative" (or even "indie") wasn't even used for music back when we recorded those songs! We were winging it...combining our interests in '60s psych-pop with the emerging punk & new wave of the time—in a scrappy, learning-curve way. In addition to the live tracks, there were a few lo-fi studio efforts—including "Desperately Happy" and "The 16th Track."  

In 2015, you suddenly came out with an album of all-new music called Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive. How did that come about? Was it the same band members as today?  

Xerox: After a couple of reissues came out in 2011/2012, we reunited to play a series of shows and the energy and response was really invigorating. It seemed our original music had become so obscure and odd that people actually finally wanted to pay some attention to it. It got me thinking about trying to do some of the music we never really got a chance to make, and I was able to suck the rest of the band into the project. Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive was basically recorded live in a small studio in Cambridge MA in about a week. A great guy named Nick (who insisted on calling himself Ned Egg) was the drummer on that one. Otherwise, it was the original band again this time around. 

Trip: Well, we all agreed that the 2012 shows were a blast and that it would be cool to have some newer material to have for the next time out. So none of us needed much convincing! We had some friends record us (Doug Tuttle, ex-MMOSS and Jesse Gallagher, ex-Apollo Sunshine, Lilys), and we did the final mixes ourselves.  

If you had to choose only one track from Psychsploitation Today, which it would be and why? 

Xerox: I was trying to create a wide-range of songs and vibes on the album, so it's hard to say. I think "The Man Who Killed Reality" is a nice weird mix of '80s new wave, '60s psych-pop and 2018 political statement. I'm proud of what it says in general. For the sake of the world, I honestly think it deserves a couple million more views!  [7100 right now—not too shabby!]

Trip: As the "psych-est" member generally, I'm quite drawn to "Gellow Mold"'s got an interesting mix of textures, and the tempo is cooled off enough to let them coalesce well.  

Tell us about your upcoming projects (concerts and maybe new single or album?). 

Xerox: We hope to play some shows or festivals. We'd like to play the whole album with the videos behind us and make it a real audio-visual 'Happening' event. 

Trip: We're going to start a new cycle of songs...releasing them every few months, and probably eventually compiling the best of them into the next album.  

Apart from music, what are your other passions?

Xerox: In my supposedly real life I'm an animator and cartoonist. That's why I was obsessed with making original animated videos for every song on the album and then editing it all together into one big video movie

Trip: Music takes up a lot of my passion time, but I'm into social justice and animals (two cats at my place). Film and good TV too (like Black Mirror). I work at a university library near Boston.  

Your favorite moment during the creation of a new album?  

Xerox: Just the long, often agonizing, general process of hearing and seeing something go from a "vague nothing" to an "actual something." And getting some positive feedback and encouragement from other humans on planet Earth. 

Trip: I like when the mixing phase starts, because then you really start to hear the songs coming together into their unified wholes.   

Tell us the most beautiful song that you ever listened to? 

Trip: That's a hard question to pop on a garage band, haha. I'll say "Glass Menagerie Fantasies" by our pal (& former guru) Bobb Trimble. 

Xerox: The most beautiful song that I ever listened to...? Ha! I don't know. Maybe it will be our next single. (Not that I'd bet on that.)

 Interview by Julie Aras