For modern psychedelic freaks, Ricky Maymi should need no formal introduction. As a co-founder of drone behemoth The Brian Jonestown Massacre and BJM spin off The Imajinary Friends, Maymi has been riding the forefront of the trippy music resurgence since it first started bubbling back to the surface in the early ‘90s. But Maymi’s body of work runs much deeper than The BJM, who he still tours with, encompassing Chinese indie, Dadaist soundscapes, and Beyond. He’s worked with The Church’s Steve Kilbey, The Wild Swans, and too many more to count. The Bay Area native comes from a colorful family including Grateful Dead members and international businessmen specializing in illicit goods. His life remains colorful, as he’s become something of an international man of mystery, dividing his time over three continents.
Maymi was kind and patient enough to thoughtfully answer a series of fawning, intrusive questions.
There’s a rumor your father was an associate of George Yung, the, um, businessman who penned the autobiography Blow with its classic Johnny Depp film adaptation. Care to set the record straight on that?
It is not a rumor; it is a fact. They worked together.
It must have been incredibly creatively stimulating and free growing up in the Bay Area in the ’80s/early ’90s. Did you find it artistically nurturing as a kid who was obviously destined for the realm of the arts?
It was. Not only did I have my Uncle Vince as an influence, but also my Uncle Ed Dorn who was an early member of Zolar X as well as The Pushups. A Mabuhay Gardens favorite.
Ed was an early mentor to The BJM and Vince helped out in many ways. He bought me a bass amp, funded a trip to the UK to shop the early BJM recordings which became Methodrone, and he played on the Smallstone album as well as the Tipsy album, Uh-Oh, with me. It’s Tim Digulla’s band from The Imajinary Friends.
This “Uncle Vince” was Vince Welnick of The Grateful Dead and The Tubes. Did Vince have an influence on you as a child? Were you close to him?
Yes, Vince and I were very close. He was a massive influence. He and Ed were like fathers to me. Neither of them had their own children and my father wasn’t around. They exposed me to Bowie, Be-Bop Deluxe and Bill Nelson, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Roxy Music, T.Rex, Television, The Velvet Underground, The Stranglers, XTC, The Left Banke, and a-million-and-one ‘60s bands.
What bands did you play in before you co-founded The Brian Jonestown Massacre?
None worthy of any mention.
When did you first come across Anton and the original BJM crew? How does such an awesome monstrosity go about falling into place?
We met in the Lower Haight near the end of 1990. He wanted to start a band. I introduced him to my friend Travis Threlkel. They started recording together and I joined up with them days later.
When The BJM first started kicking around San Francisco in the early ’90s, what was the scene like at that time? What were you up against? It must have been a lot of funk rock stuff like Primus and their ilk.
The scene was full of joke bands, funk rock bands, and a bunch of nobodies who had record deals and were convinced they would be the next U2 or something. None of them ended up going anywhere.
How insane was it to be a card-carrying member of The Brian Jonestown Massacre in, say, 1991? What was an average day like?
We took a lot of LSD and worked on music every single day. Anton would often cook us dinner!
Your original tenure in The BJM covered what could be called their “dream pop/shoegaze” age, namely Methodrone and Spacegirl and Other Favorites. You ducked out before Take It From The Man!, when the band went in a more ’60s revivalist direction. Were you dissatisfied with that direction at the time? Why did you bail on The BJM in 1993?
A few of the later more ‘60s sounding songs were actually a part of our alter ego Electric Kool Aid’s set. Travis and I left because we wanted to do something a bit more unhinged. We had outgrown the music we were making at the time. We were not yet 21 when we left.
You jumped straight from The BJM to The Imajinary Friends and put out that amazing Lunchtime In Infinity album on Bomp! Records. Listening to that record now, you guys sound so liberated and fresh. What was that time like for you and for your new band? How did that come together?
It was a complete reaction to everything we had been doing up to that point. We were encouraged to start the band by Graham Bonnar, ex-Swervedriver. He played on Methodrone and Lunchtime In Infinity, which was the NME headline when he left Swervedriver. He got of the tour bus for a sandwich and never came back.
The Imajinary Friends never toured. Was the concept for that band to be a studio entity only?
We played gigs in the ‘90s in SF, but never toured and it’s unlikely we ever will. It isn’t a creative process and that is primarily what that group is interested in.
In 2017, The Imajinary Friends put out a great self-titled record, your first in many years. From the surrealist cover art down to the droning atmospherics, this is some truly heady, searching material. Even though it’s been 25 years, it feels like the logical follow-up to Lunchtime. Did you guys have a 25-year-plan for the band?
I wish I could say that we did!
Psychedelic music is having this massive moment, with all these huge psych festivals all over the place. There are certainly a lot of great bands, but a lot of it sounds rather studied, getting bogged down in carbon copy revivalism. There isn’t a lot of soul to some of this material. As a seasoned psychedelic warrior, is this what you are addressing on that Imajinary Friends track “Sick Of Psych”?
Yes or No: Are Tame Impala psychedelic?
They were…I know those kids from around Fremantle as my son lives there. They are lovely and I really admire them!
You jumped back in with The BJM in 2003 after playing in The Imajinary Friends, Smallstone with the amazing Jeff Davies, and Mellow Drunk. Things must have drastically changed from the early hand-to-mouth days of your first tenure, at least once DIG! came out and all the attention, both good and bad, that came along with it. It wasn’t long after you re-joined that you guys were selling out large venues across the world, which you still do to this day.
I came back as an employee, which was fine by me. We were touring the world!
I’m of the opinion that this latest streak of BJM records, we’ll call it The Berlin Years, are the strongest of the band’s existence. From Aufheben right up to the self-titled one last year, this might be the best later career run of any long-lasting band. Would you agree with that? Do you enjoy sprinkling this stuff in with the classics when touring?
Yes! The first demo tape, Pol-Pot’s Pleasure Penthouse, is still my favorite though.
What do you see in the future for The BJM?
Just more of the same, really. I am beside myself that the joke has run this far! Ha! I’m grateful and humbled to be a part of it and that it has come to mean so much for so many.
One aspect of your life that is fascinating is your deep involvement with, and sincere belief in, the underground rock scene of China. You run this fantastic blog, faroutdistantsounds.com, with hundreds of far out Chinese bands to check out. You help promo these bands in the US and get them tours. You even play in one yourself, the interestingly-named Baihu. How have you become so deeply involved in this scene?
I’ve got a great friend in Melbourne named Julian Wu. He’s Chinese-Australian. I always stay with him and one time, in 2012, I was there when he had just returned from a trip to China visiting family and he returned with a suitcase full of CDs of Chinese underground/indie bands. I needed to get my hands on that stuff as I am a collector of many different kinds of music and this fit my interests perfectly. I go record shopping everywhere on tour so I know a lot of indie shop owners. I knew I could help sell this stuff around the Western world. I was put in touch with Maybe Mars, the label. I struck up a deal to sell their music and promote their artists, set up tours of North America, the UK, and Australia. They started bringing me over to produce some of the bands, and the rest is history.
There’s been a few haters when it comes to Chinese indie. Didn’t Alan McGee say “There’s no such thing as Chinese rock”? This seems like a really closed-minded Western elite attitude, does it not?
I was truly shocked at that! You are correct. Some people just refuse to believe it and it really shows their ignorance, their racism, and their elitist attitudes. There are a lot of closed-minded people in the music industry. Go figure.
Alright, give us five Chinese bands/artists to check out right now.
TOW (Yang Fan)
Skip Skip Ben Ben
There is a small but very hardcore worldwide cult dedicated to the dreamy and shamanistic sage known as Steve Kilbey of The Church. This is someone you’ve collaborated extensively with. I would consider myself part of this Kilbey cult. I even own his tarot deck. I’ve been listening to your David Neil – The Wilderness Years album and these could have been The Church songs and even might be stronger than some of The Church’s material at that time. It’s really dreamy and hooky stuff. How did you meet him? What was it like working with him? And are you still in touch? Sorry, I’m a massive fan of the man and need to know. He’s kind of mysterious, after all.
He and I have known one another since 1990. I met him in San Francisco at one of his solo shows at The Paradise Lounge, where I had to hide in a broom closet until the doors opened because I wasn’t old enough to be there. He signed a bunch of my records! We became close friends in 2004. Started playing together in 2006. We performed together in many different settings. The Church (in the US, UK, and Australia), The Refo:mation, The Triffids’ tribute to David Mccomb concerts, with GB3 (Glenn Bennie from The Underground Lovers), Steve’s solo shows for the Painkiller album and, finally, touring David Neil in Australia and New Zealand. We haven’t been in touch that much since though we are in contact. He and I were the best of friends from 2004-to-2012.
You seem to live pretty much everywhere; California, Australia, maybe even Beijing? What do you consider to be your home base or are you simply a Man Of The Earth?
Planet Earth. When people ask where I live, I say, “the airport”.
What should we be on the lookout for from you in the near future?
I’m doing another album with Liverpool’s The Wild Swans later this year. The follow-up to 2011’s The Coldest Winter for a Hundred Years. Also re-issuing the Mellow Drunk catalog on vinyl through Tip Top Recordings, starting with our final album, One Thousand Lights, which originally came out in 2008. I’ve also curated a compilation of my uncle Ed Dorn’s music from his SF band The Pushups. That will be released on HoZac records in 2020. There is talk of a Baihu tour in China this coming January. BJM tour in 2020, Wild Swans tour, Mellow Drunk dates, and hopefully more Imajinary Friends recording.
Many, many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions and for producing so much great music. Best of luck with all of those things and I look forward to hearing them. Namaste.
Thank you very much for your interest, Dan!