While some artists get their inspiration from personal experiences or relationships, Mind Spiders frontman Mark Ryan draws from science-fiction stories. When he finds a weird tale he likes, he'll take some aspect of it and write a song around it, using whatever equipment he has lying around his home recording studio in Fort Worth, Texas.
"It's not that overt," he says, noting that the themes can be more subliminal. The newest Mind Spiders record, Meltdown—which came out earlier this year on Dirtnap Records—sounds like a mash-up of garage-rock and music beamed down by the Curiosity Rover from the newly named Bradbury Landing on Mars.
On the intensity scale, the album registers somewhere between the psychedelic escapades of Ty Segall and Jay Reatard's sonic hangover. But underneath the distorted guitars and garage-punk hooks, there's a lurking presence that's slightly sinister-sounding.
That's no accident. As Ryan explains, the name "Mind Spiders" is inspired by a short story by Fritz Leiber, a prolific sci-fi writer in the mold of Philip K. Dick whose books are mostly out of print.
"Basically, in the story," he says, "there's sort of like this thing not-from-Earth that invades people telepathically. It's this malicious being that's trying to destroy humanity and take over the Earth."
"Sounds like Mitt Romney," I say.
"I think the spiders win," he replies.
That's bad news for Planet Earth, but in the universe of Mind Spiders—who'll play at Eleven in City Heights this week as part of Awesome Fest 666, a sold-out, punk-oriented music festival—the battle rages on. Some of the songs are from the Mind Spiders' perspective while others take the point of view of their human combatants. It's not quite a concept album, but it's loaded with spooky motifs that are seductively sci-fi.
The result will leave you feeling like you just woke up on the sofa after a sci-fi marathon—a bit out of sorts and unsure as to which world you've awoken to.
Mind Spiders formed when Texas punks The Marked Men, for whom Ryan sang and played guitar, broke up in 2010. He started searching for something else to do, but he wanted his new project to be completely different.
"I'm tired of writing about all this introspective bullshit," Ryan says. "I just want to write about fun stuff that I'm into."
Mind Spiders began as a solo project, with Ryan writing and recording all the records himself. But when he got invited to play live, he was compelled to put a band together.
For Meltdown, Ryan wrote and demoed the songs during an ice storm, and he brought in musicians from the thriving underground music scene in Denton, which is home to the University of North Texas and is more punk-rock-friendly than nearby Fort Worth.
Ryan recruited a keyboard player, a bassist, a second guitarist and two drummers. One is from The Marked Men, the other from High Tension Wires, yet another Denton band that Ryan plays in.
The most distinct songs on Meltdown have long instrumental sections. "Fall in Line," "Skull-Eyed," "Join Us Now" and the epic eponymous conclusion "Meltdown" feature heavy distortion and synth effects that bombard the imagination, leaving it cold and numb. It's almost as if the ice storm that isolated Ryan while writing the songs seeped into the record.
That would make "Meltdown" the time when everything thaws and this cold, frozen world breaks apart, right?
"It's pretty literal," Ryan says. "My friend Jeff, who I played in The Marked Men with, was living [in Japan], kind of near where the tsunami hit. I was worried about him, and that was on my mind."
With so many of Mind Spiders' band members involved in so many different projects, it's rare that everyone can coordinate their schedules and hit the road. That makes their show at Eleven a rarity. (However, the Mind Spiders will have a new 7-inch coming out soon.)
The show also marks Awesome Fest 666's sixth year (hence the 666) of showcasing a diverse array of underground punk rock. Though it mostly features bands from the West Coast, it also offers a great opportunity to see bands from far, far away—including a few from that desolate alien place called Texas.
You can really feel that desolation on the video for the Mind Spiders song "Wait for Us," which nails the band's high-concept, low-fidelity vibe. Directed by Jason Reimer, the video is about a lonely radio operator who lures the pilot of a spacecraft onto his planet. When the pilot wanders inside, the radioman pulls the old switcheroo and takes off in the pilot's vessel.
"Wait for Us" is eerie and unsettling, like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone. Ryan plays the radioman; his moodily lit studio—loaded with monitors and covered in plastic— serves as the transmission station. And do I even need to say that Texas is the planet that no one wants to go to, and that all the sane people want to escape from?
Didn't think so.