We don’t clock it, but each movie trailer of gruff narration declaring “in a world…” is playing a small psychological trick. Those three words offer a buffer between the viewer and the movie, introducing the possibility that this isn’t our world, but safe travel through an interdimensional portal to an alternate one. But what if the film never existed, only the musical score and soundtrack? Would we still feel safe? Or would one without the other feel alarming and supernatural? Here to test our paranoia of mirror worlds, multiverses, living simulations, and occult portals is the funk and AOR band Psychic Mirrors. For the Los Angeles—by way of Miami—band, the movie is inconsequential to the Motion Picture Soundtrack. Now two “motion picture soundtrack” concept albums deep, with no films in existence (or at least in this existence), the mythos of Psychic Mirrors conjures cult film scores of the most hauntingly funky grooves ever laid to wax. This is the bizarre, esoteric world of Psychic Mirrors.
The band’s chief composer and frontman Mickey de Grand IV recognizes the absurdity of their concept albums, and even the vanity of sometimes making himself the main character, but he maintains that no one in the band is being too serious about their conceptual world-building, even him.
“I like telling stories that are an allegory to my life and to the things I’ve experienced,” Mickey says. “Sometimes, it will be a far-out thing, something that is true, but outlandish. It’s this LARPed-out, exaggerated version of my real life and everyone in the band’s life.”
The LARPing (live action role playing) leads to tales of cabalistic underbellies at music conservatories in which coeds have sexual affairs with the supernatural. The band’s full-length debut, 2016’s Nature of Evil, purported to be the soundtrack to a lost cult film in which an undergrad composer at a Miami conservatory school finds herself caught up in a Miami Vice meets Rosemary’s Baby nexus of terror. Five years later, the band returned with Ophilia, a rom-com soundtrack about a down-and-out composer played by Mickey, and also named Mickey, who gets a gig at a failing TV station and falls in love with his co-composer. With Ophilia, the dedication to the conceit grows knottier, stranger, and more surreal as Psychic Mirrors devolve into songwriting hacks.
Leaning into the band members being characters in the Ophilia movie—think 1980s Troma films—the songwriting is intentionally referential to popular soft rock and AOR of the era. The earwormy remnants of Toto, Steely Dan, Genesis circa Duke (minus the proggy stuff), Sade, and even curveballs like Boy Meets Girl are part of the “movie band’s” limited abilities. There’s a weird feeling that “Slow Motion Mary” is a demented “what if Michael McDonald and his band were zombies” rework of McDonald’s “I Gotta Try,” but it’s mostly not. Hearing Franki Valli and the Four Seasons couldn’t possibly be that obvious, right? The feeling it gives is so familiar, but phantom, that the album becomes one big Mandela Effect. No, no, the point is: Mickey and the gang are that second rate, and the TV station only has a budget for knockoffs. The referential songwriting is silly, postmodernist, original in its unoriginality, defines simulacrum, it’s comical…and it’s genius. And none of it comes as a sacrifice to Psychic Mirrors’ cryptic identity. The hack shtick erodes within each song as the band mutates their idols into radioactive offspring. We didn’t hear hints of Phil Collins’s “Misunderstanding”; it was only the triumphant fireworks of Psychic Mirrors’ “Y.R.S.M.U.”
Ophilia hijacks expectations, especially for those expecting funk in the follow-up to Nature of Evil, for an expansive genre hopping story without escaping the cryptic realm of Psychic Mirrors. Even “Screenshots of You,” in its dream-state, barbershop-quartet structure, feels squarely in the band’s weirdo comfort zone. And yet, Psychic Mirrors never lose the thread of a rom-com predestined for sappy moments and a happy ending. Mickey is falling in love, and with each pining falsetto and power riff, the music accents his story. Ophilia rides the lows and highs of courtship; his stomach is in knots (“Why does it matter because you’re the only one I’ve been dreaming of / Thinking of”) on “Gables by the Sea,” and the woman takes the lead on “Thunderstruck” to affirm his advances are welcome (“Tellin’ you straight / Straight out the gate / Gonna give you my time / ’Cause I’m falling in love with you”). Simply put, the record never stops being freakishly romantic and fun.
“The fact that I would make a whole record about myself is so pompous and vain, but it just cracks me up,” he says. “The songs are personal. The stories are personal. But it’s the duality of it, I guess. We’ve got a foot in both doors. We’re more sincere than not.”
It can be tough to accept the seriousness of Psychic Mirrors when the members use aliases. In fact, each member feels in-character—might be the cowboy hat, 3D specs, silver teeth fronts, and Slash-esque hair draped over Norwegian black metal face paint—especially on a one-hundred-foot promotional billboard mounted on a roof in Chinatown, Manhattan—a thing that actually happened (a major flex for a group that puts out records on their own imprint, Amnisia). The sincerity can be difficult to locate in the music when the Channel 11 WSKN interludes offer commercial jingles for network sitcoms. But it’s there and always has been.
Nature of Evil is both a menacing, funky score to a cult thriller and an allegory to the real-life trauma of a home burglary leading to a best friend’s murder. “That record was hell to make,” Mickey told me in 2019. “Literally hell. My best friend got murdered in my crib with my gun.” On The Shaky Experience podcast, he spoke of another incident of a different roommate experiencing a non-life-threatening, self-inflicted gun wound during band practice.
After the incidents, Mickey moved into a shed behind his friend’s house in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami. Addicted to sugar, Mickey would record day and night. And without air-conditioning, the one hundred degree Miami heat and humidity would damage the equipment. He’s off sugar now, living in Los Angeles, and working behind the scenes in the studio with artists like Denzel Curry and SZA, but that one-eighty begins with a dark past, stamped by Nature of Evil.
Hiding pain in allegorical art has always been part of Mickey’s creative process. Before Psychic Mirrors, he made narrative cassette recordings for friends that he called Story Hour tapes. Inspired by Troma films more than anime, one of the tapes’ protagonists is a downtrodden Japanese saxophone player who feels like a loser, until he inadvertently unlocks a door to a galactic shogun and the story unfolds. With Psychic Mirrors, that same seed translates into soundtracks to imaginary films; the loser returns in Ophilia as a composer who finds love. For collaborators like Peoples Potential Unlimited (or PPU) founder Andrew Morgan, who distributed the first Psychic Mirrors 12-inches, and Randy Ellis of CQQL Records, which released a 45 with Mickey de Grand IV, the cult following feels as though it’s glommed to the band since the first single, “I Come for Your Love,” in 2011.
“Mickey has created the PMCU—Psychic Mirrors Cinematic Universe—without making an actual film,” Morgan says. “Just adds to the mystique.”
That mystique began with PPU distributing the “I Come for Your Love” b/w “The Witching Hour” 12-inch single after the self-released version on the band’s former label, Cosmic Chronic, failed to move units. Randy Ellis was a devoted follower of everything PPU, and Psychic Mirrors piqued his curiosity. Was this another musty garage discovery of unfulfilled dreams from the ’80s by PPU, or was it something new? Even with some of the answers, Ellis continues to be enamored with their mystery.
“These days, we are overloaded by instant information and gratification from whatever we like to consume as music fans,” Ellis says. “Musicians and bands now are encouraged to share everything possible to create all this extra ‘content’ to allow your fans and followers instant and constant access. In doing this, artists are also diluting their art.”
Ellis views the control that Psychic Mirrors places over the presentation of their art as running counter to modern expectations. The otherworldly portals, the narratives, hints of a Mandela Effect, even the billboard in Chinatown, it’s all a spell cast on us. “There is a lot for a listener to read into and ponder,” Ellis says. “Why did they do this? What does this lyric mean or reference? When can we see them live? Are they gonna make a movie for real? Et cetera... Even the band members have aliases they use, so who are these people, really? I think that level of mystique and lack of explanation truly drives a cult following.”