No Place Like Home: Birds of Maya’s Guide to The Phildelphia Music Scene

Philadelphia psych-rockers Birds of Maya released their fourth album, Valdez, via Drag City on Friday. It’s their first new release since 2013’s Little Big Chief and was actually recorded back in 2014. Time has done nothing to dull its luminous bursts of fuzz-heavy guitar, to tame its wild, pounding drums or to soften the howling vocals, and its raw garage punk rumble sits just as comfortably alongside the likes of modern psych-heads OSees and Ty Segall as it does with its seven-year-old contemporaries or indeed the genre’s mid-60s progenitors for that matter.

Birds of Maya have been deeply imbedded in the music scene of their home town, Philadephia, since their inception in 2004, and they’ve given us a guide to what’s happening in the City of Brotherly Love.

What makes Philly a special place for music and bands?

For its size, Philadelphia somehow remains small. There are tons of bands and different scenes that you’ve never heard of and won’t really be heard outside of the city. It feels like music exists here as an expression and not a business endeavor. Bands come and go regularly and the ones who are lifers don’t get famous or make money from it. They play because it’s what they do, and it’s like their role in a larger community.

Is there a scene or a sound that you would describe as being specific or special to the city?

Marshall Allen keeping the Sun Ra Arkestra going feels like a very Philly specific thing. Can’t imagine that being the same anywhere else and they’re such a beloved part of this city’s musical tapestry. The overlap of different worlds is pretty great here. It doesn’t take many leaps to get from the Arkestra at the park to the psych show at the record store to the warehouse noise show. It feels like one thing and we are fortunate to have it all.

Give us a quick history lesson – who are some of your favourite Philly bands of the past?

Strapping fieldhands, Bardo Pond, Sun Ra Arkestra, Lee Morgan, John Coletrane, McCoy Tyner, Ween, The Sickidz, Jack Rose, FOD, Caterpillar, Dead Milkmen, King of Siam, Clockcleaner, Stinking Lizaveta, Watery Love, Hoagie Jungle, Jerry 420 and Megajam Booze Band… to name just a few.

And who should we be looking out for right now?

Some still going like Strapping fieldhands, Bardo Pond, All of the many Richie Records endeavours, Writhing Squares, Urideath, Hypnotizing Chickens, Honey Radar, Mesh, Tin Horses, Blues Ambush, TVO, too many to mention.

Where are your favourite places to play/see bands in the city?
It changes so frequently and post-covid it’s especially hard to say. As far as on-the-books venues, Johnny Brendas and PhilaMOCA are still kicking. Our last show before COVID was at Jerry’s, that place is a blessing. DIY spaces are hard to keep track of. They tend to change from year to year based on leases and if they get shut down. But broadly speaking, our favorite places to play are outside, warehouses, galleries, basements… basically DIY spaces.

Independent music venues in the UK have been under threat, first from rising costs and developers, and more recently as a result of the pandemic and lockdown – how are your local venues coping?

Several venues boarded up for good. The ones that were able to continue offering food and drinks to go managed to stay afloat. Seems like the venues that made it through are coming back full force in the fall with packed calendars. The rising costs and developers has really put a squeeze on this city in terms of rents and cost of living. A major theme of this record has been a kind of honoring of a time before this latest push of gentrification that gobbled up most of the open spaces where we used to play and turned them into condos for rich people.

Aside from the bands, who are some of the local music heroes working to keep music thriving in Philly?

Jacy Webster of the Philadelphia Record Exchange (and Strapping Fieldhands) is a gem. He’s kept that place around since the 80s and it’s a real institution. Fire Museum keeps the freak music coming and Ars Nova Workshop puts together amazing jazz and improv shows, often in unique locations. Chris Forsyth bought 2 buildings and built out practice spaces and a show space called Jerry’s. A pretty incredible and ambitious feat that has helped deal with the scarcity of practice spaces and provided another venue for interesting music. Moor Mother is everywhere these days but she is really blurring lines between art/music/activism/poetry in unexpected ways. Yoni Kroll has been documenting live music and doing some great music journalism for years. He and way too many to mention DJs of WKDU that keep Philly music alive on the airwaves. Jeff Zeigler and Emily Robb have completely different kinds of recording studios but they’re both doing a lot of great stuff. Richie Records and Siltbreeze continue to curate a great catalog of stuff, the myriad of brave souls who continue to put on guerilla shows and raves under bridges and out on piers… and a million other people we are forgetting!

Check out Birds of Maya’s Philly playlist below:

Bardo Pond – Shadow Puppet
They are a legendary psychedelic institution in Philly. Incredibly rich textures and slow movements. Ben was playing drums for them pre-covid. 

Writhing Squares – Geisterwaltz
Sweethearts and mindmelters from two self proclaimed prog nerds. Dan and Kevin showed up at a Spacin’ show in Lehigh Valley many years ago. Then we started seeing them everywhere and eventually Dan started playing in both Spacin’ & Purling Hiss. Their new album is their best yet.

Sun Ra / Arkestra – Angels & Demons At Play
Still making beautiful noise under the direction of Marshall Allen. Absolutely magical to experience live.

Dead Milkmen – Dean’s Dream
We grew up with Big Lizard in my Backyard. Years later we started playing with The Low Budgets around town and got to meet and hang with Joe Jack Talcum who played keys for them.

Strapping Fieldhands – The Author In Her Ear
Jangle shanty rock. Confusing and beautiful. Sounds like it’s not from here but also not from anywhere. Another longtime institution.

Yuzo Iwata – Gigolo
Haunting and spacious guitars. We were fortunate enough to catch Yuzo’s last show which was at the Philadelphia Record Exchange. Tom Lax put this one out on Siltbreeze just months before Yuzo passed away in 2018.

Urideath – ‘Ight Note
This is a sick bedroom sludge solo project of Uriah Killinger, Jason’s 21 year old son. He grew up living with us and having to sleep through Birds of Maya and Spacin’ practices, not to mention Mike recording early Purling Hiss albums in the next room over. He’s been playing and recording in great bands since he was 12.

Heavenly Bodies – The Breeze
Ashley and Dustin Burrows, two siblings who live down the street came out of nowhere with this band. Heavy and strange and loud. Fun live too.

Honey Radar – Tick Tock
Always pleasing sounds from these guys. Jason Henn’s solo album is great too. Sounds like if Philadelphia and Ohio were the same place.
(This track is not on the Youtube playlist, listen below)

Lee Morgan – Search for The New Land
Ben’s favorite trumpeter and he also grew up in Kensington, a few blocks away from our original stomping grounds.

Mark Feehan – What If… Aliens?
Mark is our favorite barback at Johnny Brendas where we play quite a bit. He’s played in a ton of great bands like Harry Pussy and Tawain Housing Project.
(This track is not on the Youtube playlist, listen below)

Jack Rose – Kensington Blues
Our fiend and legendary finger picker who passed too soon. He was an enthusiastic supporter of ours which really felt like something meaningful.

Vapour Theories Breaking Down The Portals of Hell
John and Mike Gibbons of Bardo Pond. Shimmering vibes. It’s going to be great to see them in the sunshine and open air when they play with us this week at our record release show.

Birds of Maya’s new album Valdez is out now on Drag City Records. Order now on vinyl or digital download.

Follow Birds of Maya on Facebook / Instagram

Interview by Paul Maps
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