As for who discovered Konrad, I believe that honor belongs to Mike Ascherman, one of the mostly east coast vinyl collectors who coalesced around their interest in psych records in the early 1980s, gradually expanding the search to embrace all manner of private press and outsider music, psychedelic or otherwise. These were the gold rush days, the early recognition of the primacy of the handmade in records, the handmade cover, the home recorded blast from the fringe.
Without a doubt, psychedelics lend themselves to an atemporal, long view of art. That is to say, taking mushrooms can only improve one’s chances of discovering, ahead of its time, music with something resembling the clarity of hindsight.
The appeal of outsider music seems obvious in retrospect, but hardly anyone in the Reagan era knew or cared about the thing we now call “private press.” The term for artist-financed records made outside the label system for most of the 20th century says it all—in those days it was called a “vanity pressing.”
It wasn’t vanity that compelled Konrad to make his 1982 album Evil, which manages to blend cosmic grandiosity and working class sympathies in equal measure. Konrad ends the record with an plea for world peace sung from outer space, and clearly wants the world to listen to what he has to say, but you never get the sense he actually expects that to happen. He comes off less as an ego tripper than as someone with an impossibly large heart, almost childlike. Once you get past the cover, there’s absolutely nothing menacing about Evil.
Sometime around 1987, Ascherman found a copy and decided to investigate. He wrote about it in the comments section of a post about Evil at the present day mafioso collector website Waxidermy.
The copy I found in a local NYC store had a business card for the label inserted under the shrink wrap.
I called and spoke to the label owner, Barry Konarik. He was friendly and spoke at length about Konrad’s music, though he told me no personal info about the man. He never really talked about the lyrics, but only about how Konrad was making dance music… To that point, he had only released Konrad’s music (the LP + 2 45s), but waxed poetic about a forthcoming cassette-only release, an album by a nephew of Jim Morrison. He didn’t divulge the nephew’s name or any other info except that it was to be an album of dance music.
It seemed that our conversation always led back to dance music. No info about who Konrad was, why he was dressed in satanic-looking robes or what any of the lyrics meant. Just it was about dance music.
As we wound down, I ordered a box of the LPs and a few of the 45s. At the agreed upon time, a man showed up carrying a box. I asked if he was Barry. He said there was a picture of Barry in the box. The only picture in the box was the photo of Konrad on the cover.
It would be two decades before anyone else contacted Barry Konarik about his music. No one knew where he was. Aside from Ascherman no one even knew his real name. Enjoy The Experience author Johan Kugelberg obtained a copy from Ascherman in the early 90s and played it for anyone who would listen. Interest snowballed, with copies eventually trading hands for as much as $300 apiece. All the while, people wondered what it all meant. No one knew why the album was called Evil, and no one knew what to make of its fixations on alien intelligence and the importance of synchronicity as described in the track “Only A Matrix.”
Konarik saw the Waxidermy post and on the afternoon of December 23, 2008 did something quite unexpected—he posted his phone number in the comments section and invited fans to “give me a yell and let me know that you are a konvert.”
That posting would change Konarik’s life forever. After a quarter century of carrying a sense of failure and regret not uncommon with artists who thought they might just set the world on fire, pre-Internet—Konarik spent the rest of the day answering the phone and talking to fans and/or people looking for cheap copies to grip and flip.
I was one of the lucky ones who got through, and struck up a relationship with Barry, and eventually was given the chance to bring Evil back into the world and revive Ethereal Sequence. In 2012 I met up with my good friend and album co-producer Niels Alpert in Boise, where Konarik now lives, and shot the video below premiering here at Dangerous Minds.
This is a guest post by Douglas Mcgowan, proprietor of Ethereal Sequence and Yoga Records, and the producer of I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990. The restored and remastered Evil is out now and distributed by Light In The Attic. The limited edition first pressing includes a bonus 45 of additional tracks.