Tim Presley’s music — uniquely Californian in its casual eccentricity, drug-high beauty and feeling of permanent vacation — finds its natural setting in Big Sur. Stoned and crooked guitar riffs fitfully match the serrated rock cliffs. The misty redwood forests offer a portal into an ageless past. Here, the connection between unruly coastline and psychedelic rock seems obvious.
We’re at the Woodsist Festival in Big Sur, where Presley has just finished a set with his band White Fence, whose bizarro version of 1968 rivals only Ariel Pink for acid-bleary best in L.A.
Over the last half-decade, the Bay Area native broke from fronting the Dangerbird-signed Darker My Love and found his stride by stepping out of time. Freed from the need to rawk hard enough to earn airplay on KROQ, Presley opted to get weird, writing thrift-shop, hallucinogenic pop that’s always one button off.
Cloistered in an Echo Park apartment, his monastic tendencies and jangled vision paid off in the form of six White Fence albums over the last five years — plus a 2012 collaborative album with L.A.’s garage-rock Caesar, Ty Segall. Presley also founded the label Birth Records to release the mesmerizing debut from singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt. His latest endeavor is Drinks, a new band formed with Welsh transplant Cate Le Bon.
“We both had a couple tunes and I figured it would roll the way me and [Segall] did it,” Presley says, near the entrance of the festival, held at the Loma Vista Gardens.
Clad in a blue bomber jacket, he’s smoking American Spirits in front of a cactus crown so big and ripe that it looks as if it’s about to start sprouting peyote seeds.
“I had this Patsy Cline kind of song and [Le Bon] has the best voice that I thought would be sick on top of this country song,” Presley continues. “So we demoed it and she had a couple tunes too, but we were like, ‘Fuck that shit.’ We both make songs, let’s do something different. Let’s start a band, make it exciting and not obvious.”
Drinks finds the dual guitarists and songwriters fusing as one, kicking out drone jams about inscrutable dogs, mescaline organ chants to summon the illegitimate spawn of Arthur Lee and Nico, and Krautrock that sounds made to self-destruct.
The album is slated for release in August on Birth/Heavenly Records. First single “Hermits on Holiday” supplies the album title, as well as a de facto band bio: two shut-ins finding unusual light in one another, music and excessive amounts of coffee.
“It was really natural and unforced,” Presley says of the sessions that occurred last year at a downtown L.A. rehearsal space. “There was no pretense. We weren’t writing ‘country songs’ or ‘psychedelic songs.’ We wanted it to be completely organic and in the moment. Whatever came out of our heads was what we did.”
Presley pauses for a second, apologizing for the cliché. He’s too self-aware not to know that the same thing is parroted by hundreds of musicians each year. But he’s gifted enough to sidestep musical redundancy.
In the case of Drinks, the originality stems from the unique juxtaposition of a Bay Area ex-punk, who grew up on Crass, The Grateful Dead and Too Short, with a Welsh folk-rock optimist whose chief reference points include Super Furry Animals, Disney cartoons and U.K. post-punk rarely heard outside Cardiff, Wales.
“We wanted keep it dry and simple and go against the grain,” Presley says. “No frills.”
It’s a partnership that can be straightforward and beautiful or severe and unpredictable — beholden to its own weather patterns and topography. If it doesn’t catch you on first listen, you can always drive up the coast.
[An L.A. native, L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com, follow him on Twitter and also check out his archives.]