As a self-proclaimed fan of Terence McKenna’s lectures and Rick Strassman’s DMT studies, with interests ranging from modern physics to religion and cosmology, Sturgill Simpson is not your average country singer. The lyrics of the opening track to his latest album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, prove as much:
There’s a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane
Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain.
Tell me how you make illegal something that we all make in our brain?
Some say you might go crazy but then again it might make you go sane.
Whoa, what? Sounds an awful lot like DMT. And not just the lyrics, but the whole track has a psychedelic vibe, complete with echoes and a spacey Mellotron. Psych-country has been done before, but it’s never been as explicit — nor, I’d argue, as catchy. So what’s this album about?
“Really, the record’s just about love,” Simpson said in an interview with NPR. “And even though there are some pretty blatant references to certain naturally occurring entheogenic compounds on the planet, I wasn’t really saying, ‘Hey everybody! Go out and eat 10 grams of mushrooms and you’ll understand life.”
Asked to elaborate on love as the album’s central theme, Simpson explained:
Well, in “Turtles,” for instance, there’s a line: “Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, DMT, they all changed the way I see / But love’s the only thing that ever saved my life.” I think there’s a lot of negativity in the world that stems directly from belief. And I think the main purpose, or at least from my observation and what I’ve learned about myself — I used to be a pretty negative, angry, self-destructive human being, and once you get to the root of why those things are taking place, it helps you to understand a little bit more about things you see on the news every night. I guess all I was trying to say with the record is just we should just be nice to each other.
An admirable goal, but do the songs live up to the hype? This non-country fan thinks so! See for yourself in the trippy music video for the opening track, Turtles All the Way Down.
The album is quite a departure for the artist, whose earlier records tread closer to traditional country. What accounts for the change? In another NPR interview, Simpson says:
I just reached a point where the thought of writing and singing any more songs about heartache and drinking made me feel incredibly bored with music. It’s just not a headspace I occupy much these days. Nighttime reading about theology, cosmology, and breakthroughs in modern physics and their relationship to a few personal experiences I’ve had led to most of the songs on the album.
Dr. Rick Strassman’s book The Spirit Molecule was extremely inspirational,as were a few recent highly visionary indie films and a lot of Terence McKenna’s audio lectures. The influences are all over the place but they culminated into a group of songs about love and the human experience, centered around the light and darkness within us all. There have been many socially conscious concept albums. I wanted to make a “social consciousness” concept album disguised as a country record.
And as for the tripped-out music video?
The video is a tightly budgeted attempt to capture or represent a visual simulation of that idea. After some correspondence with Dr. Strassman and Andrew Stone at www.cottonwoodresearch.org I was introduced to visionary software artist Scott Draves, creator of Electric Sheep. After a few emails and hearing the music, Scott was generous enough to offer his assistance with the project. A friend of mine, Dex Palmer, knew some pretty tech-savvy kids at Cineshot Productions that I enlisted for the chore of filming and editing this thing.
Can we expect more spacey albums from Simpson in the future, or something totally different? “Someday,” he says, “if I ever get to a point where I find that I am repeating myself, that’s when I’ll know I’m done.”
If you like what you can hear, you can buy Sturgill Simpson’s psychedelic country record, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, here.
Simpson also featured on a recent episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. Check it out:
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