Few musicians have tuned in and then twisted the musical zeitgeist as much as Mayo Thompson. Red Krayola, the main conduit for his music, is arguably rock’s longest running underground band. Founded in Texas in 1966 as a psychedelic group, Red Krayola made the most outlandish freaked-out sounds of the time seem tame by comparison.
Thompson and Red Krayola have continued to confound labeling ever since. To pinpoint a particular sound or style that sums up the group’s numerous records is virtually impossible. Experimentation is Krayola’s hallmark, but it is not the noisy or alienating kind. Thompson pushes the envelope playfully. Sometimes, it can take the helter-skelter form of angular post-punk. On another album, Thompson harkens back to his roots as a Texan hippie and Red Krayola become a far-out acoustic group.
A better gauge is to consider the rotating members that have made up Red Krayola over the decades. In the 1970s, Thompson collaborated closely with Pere Ubu, borrowing members of that band for Krayola recordings, and for a time, he was even a member of the influential Cleveland, Ohio-based outfit. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Thompson lived in England, where he was a key player at the U.K.’s Rough Trade label during its heyday, mentoring groups, such as The Monochrome Set and Scritti Politti, and sculpting that label’s distinctive avant-pop profile. It was weird stuff too, but also listenable, much like Red Krayola’s output at the time. The Raincoats’ bassist, Gina Birch, and the Swell Maps’ drummer, Epic Soundtracks (both bands were on Rough Trade), were regular Krayola members.
Returning to the United States in the early ’90s, Thompson gravitated toward the Chicago post-rock scene, which was already highly influenced by his music, and for his subsequent Krayola tours, he would enlist Chicago scenesters such as Tortoise’s John McEntire and Gastr Del Sol’s Dave Grubbs.
Thompson’s current touring band — George Hurley of The Minutemen and Firehose on drums, and Tom Watson of Slovenly on guitar — has more punkish roots, but that’s not to suggest what they will sound like. Red Krayola is way too unpredictable — and interesting — for that.