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Roky Erickson

Roky Erickson

Interviewed by
Brannavan Gnanalingam
Tuesday 6th March, 2012 9:20AM

Roky Erickson has had a life that could be made into a film – in fact, his life was the subject of the excellent 2007 documentary, You’re Gonna Miss Me. His band, the 13th Floor Elevators, is often credited as the first psychedelic band– and even if that claim is perhaps debatable (Erickson tells me, "I still want to find out what that meant"), the band, with their impressive heyday from the 1960s, was always going to draw attention from authority figures, especially given that they came from Texas. Erickson says, "they did pretty well. The albums were the things that would speak for us. It used to be everywhere, the sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators".

Erickson says, "my brother wanted me to learn how to play the guitar, and I thought I would. I started learning some songs. I started writing songs about things I find fascinating, things of interest." The band’s biggest hit was the classic single ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ (1966). Written when Erickson was only 18, the band became big enough, that Janis Joplin was rumoured to join up to the band. When I ask him about the rumour, Erickson says, "yeah, people understood what I was saying and everything."

Erickson however, given his newfound attention from the Texan police, was arrested with a single joint – facing a ten-year jail term, he pleaded not guilty due to insanity and was thrown in the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Erickson received electric shock treatment, and his condition deteriorated considerably. Erickson says however, "I never wanted to give up music. I have many albums here, but I don't know how I got so many. I don't know how they showed up. It's like somebody gave me to as a gift".

Despite this, Erickson’s status as a musical pioneer was undiminished. A 1990 tribute album entitled Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson featured the likes of Primal Scream, REM, and Jesus and the Mary Chain. Erickson was helped a decade later by his brother Sumner taking legal control of his welfare – and he was able to win royalties he had been owed for considerable time. Erickson says, "I've been doing real good."

His later stuff was also helped along by indie fans. He collaborated with Mogwai on the Batcat EP. "My brother Sumner introduced me to them, and told me that they wanted me to play a song that they had written. Another friend of mine, Billy Sharp, is a guy that plays, and he wanted to know if I would sing a song with him as well." Okkervil River also recorded some of Erickson’s hospital recordings with the excellent 2010 collaboration album True Love Cast Out All Evil. Erickson says of the album, "I like it. It's a good one."

Erickson has a new album of new songs coming out soon. "Most of them are songs that I wrote and I would be playing standard guitar on them. They turned it into something good. We recorded it in a studio here in Austin." Erickson is also visiting New Zealand for the first time to play a show in Auckland on Wednesday night. Erickson says, "I've only come close to it, but I hear it's pretty good." His plan after the tour? "Just to take it easy and everything."


Click here to get tickets to see Roky Erickson live at the Powerstation on Wed 6th March.


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