The phrase “stoner rock” is a catch-all term that in 2019 seems to be liberally applied to any music in the rock or metal genres that has a slight psychedelic edge. We've seen it applied to bands as diverse as O.C. sand-and-surf rockers Fu Manchu, San Diego jam-out wizards Earthless and the Motörhead-on-steroids Bay Area metallers High on Fire.
While it can be argued that the term is a bit overused, the fact remains that if you are a rock fan who craves deep dives into psychedelic atmospherics and hard-driving, fuzzed-out riffs that are likely generated by a small group of folks in a garage somewhere, the “stoner rock” tag is where you turn.
The sounds of yesteryear that served as the building blocks for today's stoner rock is the focus of the Brown Acid compilation series, released by Hermosa Beach rock label RidingEasy Records. The newest installment, Brown Acid: The Eighth Trip, comes out this week and is the latest effort put together by RidingEasy Records label founder Daniel Hall and Lance Barresi, owner of Highland Park retail store Permanent Records. They dig deep into the record stacks to uncover the hidden gems of 1970s heavy psych and proto-metal that, for one reason or another, have been lost in the bins of not just the most devoted rock collectors but sometimes even the bands themselves.
“When you ask me to explain what Brown Acid is, I just say that there was a lot more going on than Hendrix, Zeppelin and Sabbath,” Hall says over beers at the York one night shortly after Barresi closed up shop at his store down the street. “I think it's classic fuzzed-out rock guitars that are psychedelic to the point where you can tell people were on drugs when they were making it or intended it to be listened to while on drugs. Woodstock had passed and the flower-power stuff was done, but it was a little too early for punk, so this was what happened in the interim. It took these records getting made to get heavy metal to where it was at in the late '70s/early '80s.”
While Brown Acid demonstrates a similarity with the fabled Nuggets and Pebbles compilations of the past, Barresi was inspired to explore the darkest reaches of the record-collecting spectrum by a constant need to refurbish his playlist for weekly DJ nights at the Old Chalet in Eagle Rock (previously known as the Black Boar), which he has been curating since 2013.
“My vibe has always been to dig for the deepest cuts and find the rarest records with the wildest sounds,” Barresi says. “The records that I wanted to play are so hard to find that you are more likely to get a copy from guys that used to be in the band than you are on eBay or Discogs.”
Exploring the list of bands featured on the Brown Acid series, sometimes the only Discogs listing for a given band is the self-released single that served as the master for contribution to the compilation. Some of those listings still don't even exist after Barresi has dug up the record. One such example featured on The Eighth Trip is the psychedelic shred of “Please Don't Run Away,” a lost 1972 single by Austin rockers White Rock that Barresi found last year at an Austin record convention.
“The description on the vendor's paper sleeve said, 'Unknown Texas hard rock band that played with Purple Sun, Josefus, etc.,'” Barresi says. “I went to Google them and there was no information online at all. In 2019, there was this record from 1972 that just appeared out of the ether — no one had ever heard it, and it's fantastic and it sounds like the MC5 on steroids.”
As the head of RidingEasy Records, Hall is the man negotiating with these bands to be included on the Brown Acid series. Many of them feature musicians who long ago gave up on the concept of “making it.”
“This is how the typical call goes,” Hall says: “'You want that? I did that when I was 17 years old. That was the first thing I ever did! How did you find me?' There are such a crazy variety of stories. We talk to people who now live in the most pristine part of Malibu, and there's people who are freaking out about getting $21 in royalties from the comp. It's a very broad span. But they all have one thing in common: For some reason it just didn't work out.”
The stories of how things just didn't work out for a band, only to be found later by the Brown Acid series, can sometimes be as incredible as the music itself. One such example is Zebra, a rock act formed in Fresno that released one single in 1969. The band relocated from their hometown to Studio City to record what was to be their debut album, but as they were about to finish recording, the producer who brought them to town died of a drug overdose. The album was never mixed or mastered, save for the one single. The A-side, a cover of The Beatles' “Helter Skelter,” was featured on Brown Acid: The Fifth Trip, and the B-side, an original titled “Wasted,” was featured on The First Trip.
It is due to such stories and backgrounds that Hall and Barresi — both in their late 30s, younger than all of the bands featured on the Brown Acid compilations by at least three decades — sometimes have to work hard to win over the bands they want to spotlight, or even find them to begin with.
“The hardest part [of doing the Brown Acid series] is finding the guys in the bands,” Barresi says. “There are a lot of things that I would love to include but we can't track down the bands, and even the heaviest collectors don't know who was involved on it.”
“We get a lot of folks who are older and skeptical of everything involving music and business,” Hall adds. “A lot of these guys got ripped off back in the day, and being ripped off was maybe the cause of them not having success back in the day.”
Having now released their eighth volume in the Brown Acid series, it is getting easier for Barresi and Hall to win trust with the bands they contact. There are also times where bands will come calling with more music after a track is featured. The leadoff track of The First Trip, a catchy, heavy ripper by Long Beach rockers Zekes titled “Box,” led to Barresi being contacted about other tracks that the band recorded at the time but never released.
“Lance has pulled some wizard shit,” Hall bluntly says. “We'll find out some of these guys cut a whole other record that never came out. And then you hear it and say, 'Holy shit, that's fire.'”
“The guy at [Beverly Hills Record Company, defunct Culver City record label] said, 'I also have an unreleased Zekes reel,'?” Barresi says. “I bought it sight unseen. I didn't even have a reel-to-reel player. Daniel's uncle had to convert it for us.”
While the Brown Acid series is now a biannual benchmark of the RidingEasy Records calendar, it is not the only focus of the label. Since forming the label in 2013, Hall has focused on a strong variety of acts such as Swedish sludge masters Monolord, Cincinnati garage metallers Electric Citizen and an upcoming release from L.A. skate-punk act ZigZags. These bands and more will be the focus of Saturday, April 20's Psycho Smokeout, a daylong celebration of modern heavy rock taking place at Jewel's Catch One, put together in conjunction with Psycho Entertainment, the promoters of Psycho Las Vegas.
“The whole thing was booked in five days through text messages saying, 'Hey, do you want to play in Los Angeles on 4/20?'?” says Hall. “We're not a stoner-rock label, but I'm a pot smoker and I would definitely say that people who like to smoke grass would like to listen to a lot of our music.”
Hall does add this personal opinion: “I actually dislike the name 'stoner rock.' I don't like adding micro-genre names to anything. To me it's just rock & roll.”
Brown Acid: The Eighth Trip comes out Saturday, April 20, on RidingEasy Records. Psycho Smokeout also takes place Saturday, April 20, at Jewel's Catch One.