In 1968, back when Texas’ legendary psych-rock scene was emerging, a young folk musician by the name of Johndavid Bartlett signed a record deal with the Lone Star State’s premier psych-rock label, the Houston-based International Artists. Two labelmates, the 13th Floor Elevators and The Red Krayola, urged the high school student to hit the studio. With help from Krayola mastermind Mayo Thompson, Bartlett went into Golden Star Studio in his birthplace of Houston and began recording his debut album, but the label soon folded, leaving Mother’s Milk in limbo.
After a recent conversation with Jennifer and Robby Rux, co-owners of the Fort Worth indie label Dreamy Life Records (Ting Tang Tina, Chillamundo, Sur Duda), the 70-year-old Bartlett agreed to try to reproduce the album, and on Feb. 27, its 2021 iteration, In Your Dreams, will be released. To help him bring to life his long-thought-lost debut, the Ruxes and Bartlett enlisted the help of Dreamy Life Records signees Acid Carousel, a psych-rock outfit out of Austin.
In Your Dreams will be like Mother’s Milk in many ways but different in others.
“Robby asked if I could reproduce Mother’s Milk,” Bartlett said. “I told him that the tapes had been lost, and I only remembered scrapes of lyrics and almost no melodies. I did remember what I was going for and thought that I could recreate the spirit and sound of what [Thompson] and I tried to do back then.”
Part of that inspiration is the Familiar Uglies, a group of about 50 hype people who showed up at a Red Krayola/Bartlett show and just went nuts. All it took was once glance at The Red Krayola and the Familiar Uglies in action for Lelan Rogers, Kenny Rogers’ brother and the founder of International Artists, to sign the band. “He saw all these people freaking out,” Bartlett recalled, “like regular housewives in the middle of a parking lot in this shopping mall freak out, and Lelan said, ‘This is a freak out’ and signed the group on the spot. They’re a legendary band now. [Thompson] still plays a lot but in other countries.”
Bartlett remembered he had access to so many great musicians when he first began recording Mother’s Milk, including the Elevators, who were in the same studio at the time working on what would become their last record.
“A few months into March of ’68, we were still making the record, and the Elevators started making their final album, Bull of the Woods,” Bartlett said. “We were making it at the same time in the studio. I started participating in the recording process. That year was a very strange year, and IA finally folded in ’69, and I never got my album finished.”
Not long after Robby mentioned the idea of recreating Mother’s Milk, Bartlett met with Acid Carousel in Denton. The singer-songwriter and the band clicked immediately, Bartlett recalled.
“The first time we met, I was trying to teach them the songs, and we did it every Monday for about six months, and by the third week, I realized they knew the songs,” Bartlett said. “The suggestions they were making fit right in with the songs. … We tried to make it sound like it did in the late ’60s and ’70s.”
Along with the band — Gus Baldwin, John Kusmick, and Lucas Magnus Martins — In Your Dreams also features contributions from Ian Salazar, Fielder Whittington III, the Venus Twins, and Jennifer Rux, among others.
The record was produced, engineered, and mixed by Robby and mastered by Matthew Barnhart (Merge Records, Sub Pop, Matador Records) in Chicago. Building up to the release have been a series of videos, including ones for the tracks “Big Lie,” “City Fires,” “Delphi,” and “Riki Tiki Tavi.”
In Your Dreams starts off heavy with “Big Lie,” a kind of atom bomb with Bartlett blaring into the mic: “You’ll never see it coming / You won’t miss it when it’s gone / I could make the story short / I can make the story long / You think you know the answers / You don’t even have a clue / You never asked the questions / And I’ll tell you what is true / It’s a big lie, loud and confusing / It’s a big lie / You just don’t understand!”
Much like the late ’60s and early ’70s, In Your Dreams is girded by themes of revolution and fixing a broken system.
“The music was lost,” Bartlett said, “and so it’s 50 years later and I had the opportunity to revisit the way that it felt to play that music 50 years ago and through the big ying-yang spirit of age between me and the guys in the band, so it was like reliving that time again, but at the same time it was a creative exercise. I wanted that music the way that I wanted it to sound, then to be what we were going for and we got it”