Don’t expect to hear much of Psychic Dancehall after this. They’ve probably broken up already. I think it happened an hour after we me.


Photography by Cochi Esse


Don’t expect to hear much of Psychic Dancehall after this. They’ve probably broken up already. I think it happened an hour after we met, as they left their first live show to what else but ‘Hit The Road Jack’. This was never meant to be full time job; it wasn’t even meant to be heard.

Charles Rowell – also of San Diego garage band Crocodiles – met daughter-of-a-Sex-Pistol and then member of The Slits Hollie Cook years ago. Transatlantic relationships can be a pisser, though, and this one wasn’t made any easier by two musical schedules that rarely synchronised. Somehow they made it work, and in 2010, with The Slits having disbanded after the unexpected death of lead singer Ari Up, Charles surprised Hollie with an apartment for them to live in in San Diego. It rained every day they were there, so they would listen to Scott Walker records by day and frequent a local “wonderfully odd” gay bar called Redwing. “We’d go there all the time,” says Charles. “It was pretty seedy, like a local bar – your base-level clientele that were all cross-dressers and drag queens. It’s nice. Kinda Lou Reed-ish, Culture Club-ish. We fit in really well there.

“They made us feel absolutely welcome. When Holly walked in everyone was like, ‘Oh my god’,” he says in a tempered camp squeal. “It wasn’t only her appearance that all the girls and guys liked, but when she opened her mouth, the British thing, they were just like… wow! It was incredible. So we ended up doing a lot of karaoke there every night, and the bartender developed a crush on me. It was great. It was like a family for a while and we developed a lot of relationships there.”

“We got a cheer once when we walked in,” laughs Hollie. “And I actually cried the last night that I was there.”

In the daylight hours, Charles and Hollie had started to record songs together in their closet, with a guitar, a keyboard and a laptop. They began with a cover of ‘Long Lost Lover’ – an obscure old reggae song by the even more obscure old reggae group Love Joys – but Redwing now gave them new inspiration for their own material. And so that became their Californian routine – listen to records until the local, seedy dive bar opened, walk in to applause, flirt with the drag queens, karaoke, home, write a song about it.

‘Dreamers’ – the duo’s slurred, no-fi album that’s out now on local indie label Art Fag – encapsulates it all. It constantly sounds like a slow, endless party, largely due to Charles’ heavy-headed baritone bur, clearly inspired by Walker and another favourite of his, Leonard Cohen. It feels unkempt, rundown and grotty, like a neon sign with some of its bulbs blown, and yet it is strangely glamorous and oddly seductive in its own contentment. Like most of Lou Reeds’ records, it’s proudly sleazy, and when Hollie sings over the hissing drums and rudimentary keyboards it’s momentarily completely wholesome.

Comparisons to both Crocodiles and The Slits are easily made (‘A Love That Kills’ does sound a hell of a lot like Crocodiles’ ‘I Wanna Kill’, covering ‘Long Lost Lover’ is a classic Slits move), and that’s partly why ‘Dreamers’ is released as the work of two anti-hero aliases – Dorian Wartime and Sylvia Innocent.

“First of all, we wanted to keep it a secret,” explains Charles, “because we didn’t want it to be released or anything. These are closet recordings, which are ambitious because we were making it and wanted it to be good, but there was no idea about it becoming a band or a thing that we wanted to make into a product or anything, so when [Art Fag founder] Mario asked us to release it, we thought why don’t we not divulge who’s done it, why don’t we create some names and make it an artefact, so for people who didn’t know, they’d just pick it up and read these names and think, ‘who is Dorian Wartime?’ It makes it a bit more special and stops people from thinking she does this and he does that.”

US magazine Interview blew the whistle on Wartime and Innocent, admittedly with the band’s permission. “They said they wanted to do an interview but they wanted to reveal who it is,” says Charles, “and I like Interview magazine, so we just said OK. Then I saw things online saying they sound like The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Slits, and that they knew who it was but they weren’t going to say, and that kind of annoyed me, so at least a respectable magazine could set the record straight.”

Besides, Charles and Hollie – who now live in London where it only rains every other day – don’t plan on continuing Psychic Dancehall anymore than they initially planned to release their home recordings. Like their visits to Redwing that inspired their seedy, Suicide-on-downers songs, the whole project longs to be temporal; a concise moment in time; an artefact, as Charles puts it.

“It really does capture a very specific and memorable moment between us,” says Hollie, and Charles agrees. “When we’ve talked about it I’ve tended to fall on the side that it should be this thing that happened and then that’s it,” he says. “We just went out at night and got inspired and wrote some songs. But it’s encapsulated in time and in a period, and we can remember all of the songs and when we did them and what we were doing, and that’s great, and that probably fed into the fact that it’s as interesting as it is. It was completely uninhibited.

“We did an interview where someone asked us what we’re going to do next, and I was like, ‘I don’t think there’s going to be a next’, because it doesn’t seem right. I like the idea of it being an artefact. If you do another record you fall into that thing of comparing it to the first record, and I don’t think we need to deal with any of that. It’s a pure thing at the moment and I think it should stay that way.”

By Stuart Stubbs

Originally published in issue 35 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2012

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