On their last U.S. tour, somewhere in West Texas, the Myrrors stopped to fill up the van and grab some snacks. Waiting at the cash register, viola player Miguel Urbina made chit-chat with a stranger in line. "I told him that we were in a psychedelic band, and he asked me 'oh, are you melting, man?'"
Urbina chuckles. "Just because I mentioned psychedelic music, some dude at a gas station Dairy Queen assumes I'm on drugs."
Seated around a four-top at the Silver Lady, nursing beers on a Friday afternoon, the other three members of the Myrrors—singer/guitarist Nik Rayne, drummer Grant Beyschau, and bassist Kellen Fortier—smile and nod knowingly at this anecdote. As otherworldly as their music may sound, in person the Tucson quartet acts remarkably down to earth. "I feel like we're goofier than people expect," Fortier admits.
Some bands have their whole careers mapped on before they've ever played a note. And then there's the Myrrors. Since Rayne and Beyschau started making music together in high school, they've been quite content to let matters unfold organically. "We didn't have a vision when we started," Rayne says. "It was very informal." A decade later, little has changed in that regard.
Take the band's line-up, which has not only seen members come and go over the years, but also expands for select gigs. Most recently, multi-instrumentalist Ryan Cones has augmented the Myrrors' live show with additional guitars and keyboards. "Throughout the band's history, Grant and I have just gravitated towards personalities," the singer says. "We find friends who play instruments and work with that, as opposed to looking for really specific musicians.
"Because we've gone through lots of people, we're always finding new ways to adapt our songs. With this combination"—he gestures around the table—"we spend quite a bit of time at rehearsals trying to figure out how to make this or that particular song work with just four voices. That's nice, because it helps keep material fresh."
Their approach to making records has been equally unselfconscious. Following the relatively straightforward sound of 2008's debut Burning Circles in the Sky (and a hiatus of several years), subsequent albums Arena Negra and Entranced Earth saw the band embrace an increasingly improvisational approach to composition. That changed yet again for when it came time to start work on the new Hasta La Victoria.
"In the past we'd start from scratch and see where things went," Rayne says. "This time Grant and I both brought in some ideas that were already bubbling around in our brains and worked on those. So this one was a little more of a construction than an improvisation."
Bookended by a pair of epics—hypnotic opener, "Organ Mantra" and the climactic, fifteen-minute "Hasta La Victoria"—the 37-minute album boasts an array of timbres: harmonium, soprano and alto saxophone, bouzouki, and wood flute. Other instruments on the record originated in India or the Middle East, including a 72-string hammer dulcimer known as a santoor, and the droning tanbura, long-necked string instrumental essential in Indian ragas.
Hasta La Victoria also finds the band embracing the studio as an instrument in its own right for the first time. "Usually we don't really do anything beyond mixing and adding some reverb," Beyschau says. "This time we messed around with more weird stuff," including tape loops and tracks played backwards.
Just as important to the overall impact of Hasta La Victoria are the sounds you don't hear, particularly guitars. According to Rayne, that's one more creative choice born from circumstances rather than deliberate design. "Once a song had reached a certain point, and I was thinking, 'okay, what am I going to do on the guitars?' I often realized I didn't need to add guitar because the spaces had already been filled by other instruments."
Something else you won't hear too much of on the Myrrors' latest: lyrics. But that doesn't mean the band has jettisoned the political convictions of earlier selections like "Warpainting."
"There's a lot of pretty brutal shit going on right now, not only in the U.S. but anywhere you look," Rayne says. "This album is largely instrumental, so that's a move away from explicit political content, but there's always a strong emphasis on collective action. The title Hasta la Victoria is meant to emphasize not giving up in the current situation, and to celebrate and promote the need to band together against the darkness, and reawaken the need for political solidarity."
The Myrrors have tried to reinforce some of those ideas in concert by experimenting with blurring the divisions between artist and audience. "At one show we had a bunch of little instruments, flutes and percussion, and we asked the audience to play along," Rayne says. They even pointed a microphone into the crowd, so audience participation would be audible, but nobody joined in. "It's hard to bring people out of their comfort zone at a show ... they're used to being passive listeners."
Of course, the Myrrors can act passive in certain regards, too. Take their nonchalant attitude towards social media, including a Twitter feed that hasn't been updated since last September. "We don't share pictures of our lunch on Instagram," Rayne admits. "I don't care to curate our image, or share too much information about the band, which is why we've abandoned most social media platforms. I feel like the music should speak for itself. It doesn't matter what we're doing in our off time."
Alas, nature abhors a void. With minimal information about the Myrrors available online—especially in the band's earliest days, when songs from their self-released debut started popping up on YouTube with no context—some fans have constructed their own narrative based on the band's songs and their self-chosen descriptor "Sonoran Trance Music."
Those misconceptions, discussed at length in last year's Tucson Weekly feature ("Shaman Sham: Behind the alluring narrative of The Myrrors' desert psych mythology abroad," June 23, 2016) still strike the band as amusing. Rayne admits to having a love/hate relationship with artists that consciously construct a mythology; he's more ambivalent about overseas fans that expect his band to perform in hooded cloaks or animal-skull headdresses. "I feel like that's become part of our brand, almost a selling point, but at the same time it's pretty ridiculous.
And really, is it any worse than having strangers assume you're tripping balls while waiting for your soft serve cone? Urbina thinks not. "I sometimes wonder if I'm actually pretty content to have people construe us as mystic desert shamans ... especially if it furthers their enjoyment of the music."