Make Me a Mixtape is a segment where we interview artists and have them make a mixtape of seven songs based around a particular scenario, explaining why they chose each song. This week, we chat with the Rochester-based garage-surf rock outfit Harmonica Lewinski, who present us with seven tracks that would put them in the right state of mind to compose a horror film soundtrack.
Photo by Shawn Beechner
Rochester's own unconventional outfit, Harmonica Lewinski, released their 10" record Human BBQ last year amidst the pandemic. The latest effort gives the fuzzy psychedelic traditions of surf rock a chilling twist that's drenched in reverb and wacky effects. The group has never been afraid to show off their playful side especially on the pounding opener "Sleeper Cell." From the vintage vocal filters on the spooky organ-driven "Yellow Fever" to the warbling synths and hyper-distorted bassline on the instrumental "Panther Beat," the new album envelops listeners into a shadowy atmosphere that's perfect for a misty October evening.
Harmonica Lewinski will be showcasing their latest effort for the first time this Saturday, July 3, at 8:00 p.m., with the avant-pop showman Beef Gordon at the Abilene Bar & Lounge. The group also has a new lineup consisting of guitarists Joe Bushen and Docks Bushen, bassist and keyboardist Luke Bushen and drummer Anna Liebel (still no harmonica player) and plan to play new material that was previewed in their latest episode from their series of informal live rehearsal-style home videos.
As the band describes, their music aims to "set a vibe, evoke a mood, [and] ooze with style." With quite a few instrumental songs in their catalogue, Harmonica Lewinski allows their soundscapes to speak for themselves, and even their vocals are treated as an instrument before any emphasis on lyrics. Their spooky ambience and focus on instrumentals inspired the scenario for their mixtape. If the band were ever bestowed with scoring a horror film, these are the tracks that would serve as their main inspiration, putting them in the right headspace. Leave a nightlight on and vibe to the strange sounds of these freaky picks.
Freaky Jams by Harmonica Lewinski
The Ventures — "Fear"
"This is the rare Ventures song that doesn't sound like the Ventures. Known for their tight '60s guitar instrumentals, they took a turn for the weird on the 1964 record Ventures in Space—a wild, exotic, and creepy sounding record. This track is aptly titled 'Fear' and I know our band has at least one song directly influenced by it. Probably more. The organ stabs it's way through the opening theme, dripping with dread, muffled bass enters with hazy chimes, each repetition layering more urgency and swelling to a disembodied siren song signaling your doom. Your mind starts to swim, mouth feels dry, your spine tingles. Keep repeating: It's only a song. What's that feeling? It's FEAR."
Suburban Lawns — "Baby"
"There's just something about Su Tissue. Something unsettling. Like if David Byrne and Squeaky Fromme had a love child. Or maybe like if one of the twins from The Shining locked the other one in the basement and then started a rock band. I first became aware of her when I saw the video clip of the Suburban Lawns classic performance of 'Janitor' and was immediately captivated. Linked here is the track 'Baby,' a Beefheartian banger. It rips. I don't think anyone knows what happened to Su Tissue. If you find her let me know. Or better yet, don't."
Joe Meek and the Blue Men — "I Hear a New World"
"Hypnotic robo-calypso on this track from studio god Joe Meek and his merry Blue Men. I don't know the whole story on Meek but he was a producer who pioneered and elevated recording techniques like sampling and overdubbing, and used the primitive studio equipment of the '50s and '60s to create futuristic sci-fi soundscapes. Each line in this song gets repeated three times, an off-kilter but alluring echo. I'm not a numbers guy, but so much rock music form is based on 2's and 4's, so I appreciate hearing something that shoots 3's."
Nash the Slash — "Swingshift"
"I first discovered Nash the Slash during the beginning of the pandemic. I since have acquired his entire discography on vinyl. Nash was the electric violin player in Gary Numan's band, but his solo stuff is where it's at. Here's the clip for 'Swing Shift,' but also check out my personal favorite track, 'Womble,' a nine-minute analog electronic nightmare that would be perfect for setting the horror soundtrack mindset. Nash also pops up in 'Roadkill,' a lost Canadian classic rock 'n' roll film. The protagonist and her companion see Nash play at a bar and the companion storms out of the club.
'I don't trust people who put bandages on their face' he says.
'It's was just an act.' She responds.
'IT WAS AN ACT OF VIOLENCE AND YOU LOVED IT! YOU LOVED IT!'
Suicide — "Space Blue Bambo"
"Time for some Suicide. Perhaps my favorite band, they rewrote the rules of rock 'n' roll with distorted drum machines, bent keyboards, and zero guitar. And only two members at that—vocalist Alan Vega whose 'singing' is a tightly wound ball of menace, and the sinister Martin Rev behind the organ. Their propulsive protopunk anthem 'Ghost Rider' would be an obvious choice for this mixtape, but I've been obsessed with their early rehearsal demos and this gem unfolds with a fuzzed out organ bassline over a spooky samba beat. Enter bursts of what might be saxophone, but is probably just malfunctioning electronics. Sounds like a cocktail lounge band that got it's fingers stuck in the socket."
The Raybeats — "Tight Turn"
"The Raybeats made '60s inspired garage rock surf instrumental music but through a 1981 no wave lens. Here's the opening track from their debut album, Guitar Beat, which is a timeless classic. This band spun off into so many other bands. Jody Harris was in the Contortions. Pat Irwin ended up in the B-52's. And bassist Danny Amis started the Los Straitjackets, now featuring legendary guitarist and Rochester treasure Greg Townsend. Tight turns indeed."
Warm Drag — "End Times"
"Warm Drag is a current band I've been digging over the past year. Their music sounds like their name, smoky L.A. noir vibe with killer production. This track is a slow burn, it really starts cruising after the two-minute mark as the mix spirals out of bounds—crashes of dub echo and twangy tumbleweed guitar over pummeling beats. Total mood music. Sounds like something that would come on the radio in Natural Born Killers as Mickey and Mallory flee the desert, snake-bitten and bent on mushrooms. We've all been there before, right?"
Stream Harmonica Lewinski's mixtape below.