Roky Erickson: True Love Cast Out All Evil

In our April issue, Robert Baird talks to Okkervil River’s Will Sheff about his recent collaboration with Roky Erickson, the wild-eyed frontman for the famed 13th Floor Elevators.

We learn that Erickson has traveled a long way—through jail cells and mental institutions and break-ups and bad trips and toothlessness—to be able to release this album, his first in 14 years, provocatively titled True Love Cast Out All Evil. We learn that Sheff, as producer, intended the album to be a work of authenticity, rather than an “over-reverential museum treatment.” And we learn that Erickson tends to be a sort of private, reticent individual.

That was enough to get me interested in the album, which I purchased this past Saturday, as part of the Record Store Day festivities.

And I’m glad I did, and I suggest you do, too, because True Love Cast Out All Evil is more than an album, is a journey, is a philosophy, is a prayer, is a look into the heart and soul of a man who has lived a life, long and full, and, through that life, has come to a few conclusions about what it means to love.

I woke up this morning singing “Goodbye Sweet Dreams,” and I’m listening to it now, as I type. It opens with some gentle feedback, which soon turns into a simple single-note pulse, which in turn is accompanied by arpeggiated chords on an acoustic guitar, and is soon thrust into a rolling storm, Erickson singing to the wind:

I once had a heart
Could not be told
But now these dreams
Have grown so cold

Goodbye sweet dreams, goodbye sweet dreams
Goodbye sweet dreams, goodbye sweet dreams

Bleak stuff there, but in True Love Cast Out All Evil, much like in life, fear and hope walk side-by-side. In “Bring Back the Past,” we hear Erickson confessing: “I only pray that I don’t fall / I want to understand.” In the title track, Erickson reminds us that “Love has its time—all the time, all the time.” And in “Think of As One,” which opens with muted chords, slowly wrought, and the earthy sounds of congas and guiro, before building into a bright scene of crystalline guitar leads, swaying trumpet, and a deep, soulful groove, Erickson, in his most endearing, human voice, teaches:

Your living is my music
Your deeds are your song
My needs are that music
My needs are that song

Think of,
Think of as are
Think of as are
Think of as ours

This is beautiful, heartwarming stuff. Erickson reminds us that the simple act of living, of being strong and true, is enough to breed more life, is enough to connect us, hand to hand. “Your living is your giving,” he sings. And then, over a cascading refrain, like a Stax classic:

One is one, another is another
Your father is your father
Your mother is your mother
Your sister is your sister
Your brother is your brother
One is one, another is another

You are you, she is she
He is he, I am me!

It’s sort of silly and entirely brilliant: Things are both simple and profound to Erickson, and he likes it that way; in fact, it could be no other way. Throughout True Love Cast Out All Evil, we are confronted with sound collages and archival recordings from Erickson’s time spent in a mental institution in the early 1970s. We hear the sounds of birds, crickets, and human chatter mingling with acoustic guitar and song, weaving into and out of the 12 tracks here, sometimes rising over the music—voices from the past, Erickson’s old demons struggling to resurface; never quite able to endure his heavy faith, they are pushed back to the darkness, Erickson enabling only brief moments to share time in the sun: “Devotional Number One” opens the album, while “God Is Everywhere” closes, both pieces reminding us that life is long and hard, but, because we are not alone, everything is as it should be and we are better for it—a gentle message, delivered beautifully.

For more information on Roky Erickson and Okkervil River’s True Love Cast Out All Evil, visit the official website or go to Anti Records. For a time, you can stream the entire album at

Trey's picture

I trust there is no electric jug on this album, or if there is, it is graciously brief. I purchased some 13th Floor Elevators, and love the music, but the jug leaves me cold. Trey

Steve Dollar's picture

It's funny that he's grown his beard back and looks all freaky/Manson-y again. WHEN he toured post-documentary release in 2006, he was clean-shaven and pretty damn cheerful looking. GREAT album ... and the "dark" Roky image sure lends itself to the vibe. Even though the overall message here is one of healing and triumph.

Trey's picture

And now for something completely different, a link to a cool power pop band from Lake Charles. different musically, but there is a free mp3 album download available for your email. I am waiting till I get home to download it, but I am quite intrigued by these lads. Check em out Stephen.Trey