The Black Angels - Interviews - Soundblab

The Black Angels

by Miz DeShannon Rating: Release Date:

So, the last time The Black Angels hit Manchester, one of them literally hit. Nate (Ryan, bass/guitar) had a small accident with the bottom of a beer bottle, which carved not only a still visible hole in the Ruby Lounge dressing room wall, but one in his head too. Luckily for us punters, this was after the gig, and he was safely cared for by the NHS for the rest of the night.

I steered well clear of Nate this time round, and took the safer bet of Alex (Maas, vocals/bass/guitar/keys) and Kyle (Hunt, keys/percussion/bass/guitar) to have a natter with, and Christian (Bland, guitar/bass) for a lesson on American history and miscarriages of justice. But that was after a few beers later on...

Anyway, with their new album Phosphene Dream out on Blue Horizon Ventures now, produced by Dave Sardy, who has produced everyone from Oasis to Jay-Z to Rage Against the Machine and Holy Fuck, we had a bit of a pre-gig natter. With Nate safely under the watchful eye of the tour manager.

Coming from quite a good pedigree as it were, being associated with bands like The Warlocks, Brian Jonestown and maybe more commercially QOTSA and The Raveonettes, what do you like about being part of that scene?

Alex: It's great, I don't know whether its like being part of a scene so much.

Kyle: It's like being part of a community, it's a good community.

Alex: Bands like the ones you mentioned are making like The Warlocks and BJM, these bands are just making timeless music right now, hopefully the kind of music people would be listening to in 50, 60, 100 years from now.

Kyle: I remember our first show in LA, in some upstairs place; The Warlocks were there and BJM and it was just so inviting, everyone was just like "hey, welcome"

Alex: The Airliner, that was it.

Kyle: Everyone was there, and it was just nuts, a big kind of welcome to the club.

Alex: Yea,h that was the kind of feeling. I guess a lot of bands don't have reach out to younger bands like that, they don't always have to be accepting of their music, but the guys have always been really supportive, Anton (Newcombe, BJM) has always been a big supporter of our music, and Josh.

Kyle: Yeah, Josh (Homme) from QOTSA from day one, he just came into our dressing room and hung out, with a bottle of Tequila, he gave me a bottle of tequila and was like, "hey, I like your style".

So despite people reading in the press that everyone is really good mates and it potentially being some big fake news story, there really is the community spirit going on in the US music scene, along the lines Black Mountain coming from their own arts community in Vancouver?

A: Yeah sure there is, well with our music, like the Clean Air Clear Stars festival which is in LA, they do similar things to Austin Psych Fest, they look at similar bands and the sense of community, and we know over here the same people that'd we'd hang out with in the States, we've known people for 10, 15 years, but it's a really cool thing.

Is the psychedelic thing something to do with living in close proximity to the desert or the wilderness (Josh Homme/Kyuss/Desert Sessions) It seems like bands like Black Mountain and BRMC spend their fair share of time wandering about in the desert in their videos.

A: Yeah, it's that whole going back to nature thing. I think its something about being in Texas; Austin has such a psychedelic vibe to begin with. Of all the places in Texas, Austin is the most liberal and probably has the most living hippies still.

K: It seems like there were a lot more hippies back when I first moved there in '97. Now its gone from hippies to hipsters, but they all have hippy parents; they might look like hipsters but underneath there's this major hippy mentality. There's SXSW, which is a strange view of what Austin is really like, because your flooded with thousands of bands and there's hundreds of venues, whereas on a normal basis there's a handful of clubs that you'd go to see a band in, like five or six really great venues. There's Mohawk which is our favourite little home-base, Emo's, right on Red River, there are a few new places and on the east side there's Stubbs and La Zonda Rosa, but it's really Red River you go to hear good music, they've got that kind of vibe.

A: I still think that there's that commercial vibe though, I mean anything is going to do that if it's got to make money and survive. One thing that SXSW is, it's just amazing for the economy. It brings so much money into the community that everybody else doesn't care about the commercialism because that money's there.

K: it's such a big thing as well, as soon as they wrap up they're planning for the next year's already. My favourite model of a successful festival is ATP. We just did the New York one, it was a weekend of hanging out, like rock'n'roll band camp. It was really fun; Jim Jarmusch did this year's so he invited us. The last one we did was Camber Sands here in England, and that was our first experience with it so going into the New York one was totally different. When we did the one over here, it was quite surprising, we all stayed in little places next door to one another - how weird - so when we went to New York, I knew exactly how it was going to be.

A: Yeah, it was like being at summer camp, we weren't staying on the site so we had to travel on a school bus every day. It was so funny, it had a really fun vibe, took me back to being 14 or 15. It keeps it fresh every time with having different people curate it. With Austin psych fest, we even thought 'bout how cool it'd be to have like UNKLE curate something. We're not quite at that point yet but hopefully that could help us get to that next point. But getting sponsorship for a festival, having seen that side of the festival, I've got so much respect for people who do that side of things, it's a full time job.

Is The Velvet Underground your favourite band, seeing as your name and logo are inspired by them?

A: There's a common ground with everyone in the band, we all really like The Velvet Underground, and their music is amazing, whether they were the people we looked up to or thought were totally amazing that's a different thing but the music was something to really look up to. Something was just ominous and dark about heir sound. Nico their singer had that androgynous thing about her. I remember the first time I ever heard 'All Tomorrows Parties', I didn't know whether it as a guy or a girl singing. I think my sister introduced me to them, and from then on I was just really into them and thought it sounded so cool. But if you look at how many bands have been inspired by them its almost becoming a cliché but they deserve all the credit in the world if people are influenced by them. I'm dumbfounded when people don't know who they are.

K: I found a $15 keyboard and thought it was like this weird Japanese 80s thing, and I opened it up and looked inside and started poking around then put it all back together, started doing some research on it and found out it was from 1967, the Reem Mk7, and after poking around on the internet the first things that came up was about The Velvet Underground live with the Reem sitting there so there was not only the musical connection but a weird happening with the keyboard that landed in my world, like fate. Now it goes with us everywhere, my 45-year-old keyboard. I fly it to festivals and have to fix it up and re-attach keys, tweak it here and there. It's quite delicate, but its worth it, the old stuff sounds great.

A: The thing with The Velvet Underground had this kind of music where they made this effortless, amazing sound, obviously Lou Reed was a songwriter before he was in the band, but they just had the vibe that they really weren't trying but the sound they had was amazing.

Who or what are you inspired by, other than things already cited like Spaceman 3 and 13th Floor Elevators. There's an Edvard Munch quote in one of your songs, so art? Politics? Recreational drug experiences?

A: Everything, really everything. Traveling is one thing, family, conversations, everything is an input. It's up to you to make everything an input, that way you don't get bogged down, you don't have to look to drugs for inspiration. It sounds kind of transcendental but if you can just go outside and be inspired by a sunny day, well.

K: Yeah, like today, we're like, "wow, it's sunny in Manchester, is it ever this sunny in Manchester?!"

A: As far as what inspires us; everything inspires does, everything, mysteriousness inspires us, the unknown as well. If we feel good we write about it.

K: And it can be any genre of music too. I mean, sometimes I listen to country, or the old 50s stuff, doo-wop and the oldies. That stuff feels good and it's written well and it can be reinterpreted in many ways. You take loads of fuzz and reverb and it becomes something totally different.

What do you know about ghosts then, how many directions can you see one?

A: I personally never have, I've never seen one before.

K: I had all sorts in my head when I was a kid, that I'd seen a ghost. When I used to hang out with my friends we had this hang out, this little attic thing, and we had it as our club house and for one whole summer we were obsessed with this black glove laying in the road. One of us made this whole story and the rest of us believed it, and we were running around looking for this person, the owner of the glove. But Stephanie is the one you should speak to about ghosts. She had this experience on one trip where she thought our room was haunted. I was so exhausted that I slept right through it, but she said she woke up with a cold chill, and her jacket was hung on this TV that was mounted on the wall which she couldn't reach it was too high up, and she said her toothbrush had been moved around two or three times, and some other weird stuff.

A: I think when I was little I was hypersensitive to the fact that there might be ghosts, and kinda freaked myself out and made myself think that there might be ghosts.

K: My wife Rachel thought that our last house was haunted. It was a 1940s bungalow, tiny little house 780 sq ft, the cracker box type houses that you get in Austin, and all the closet doors had locks on the inside like safe-house style so if you had an intruder you could lock yourself inside there, but I'd never seen that kinda thing before and when I was on tour she said she could hear stuff and see stuff, so to this day she's always saying how she hated that house. It happened in a college too, this college we played in in Ohio.

A: It was apparently the most haunted college in the country or something and they invited us to go and play there.

K: Yeah, apparently someone fell down an elevator shaft and died and there was all this weird shit going on. Everyone we met was like something out of Twin Peaks, we stayed in this house and all these people came over and they had an egg party, just where they made eggs at like two in the morning, and I was asleep in one of the rooms, and I felt this pressure, a bang, right in my chest and I hopped up like there was something there.

A: Yeah, we've never been back there since.

K: We'd freak ourselves out a lot.

Tell us about your baby, the Austin Psych Fest - a few friends have latched onto it over here, and it seems like a really great thing. How come you decided to do it?

A: First of all, we decided to do it because we had met so many people on the road and seen so many cool festivals, so after playing ATP and these smaller festivals, we wanted to throw a party with all the people we'd met, the people from that scene, and so we started booking. We've always booked the thing and since we've had people to help, but the festival last year an the year before that Christian booked the festival, but now we want to make it a bit bigger, so we want our manager to get a few people we've not been able to go after because of money and stuff. But the whole idea was just to throw a party, and have it in Austin so we could invite the bands that we liked. With something like SXSW, you never get to see the bands you want to see so we're being a bit selfish in a way, War Paint, Dead Meadow, Silver Apples; we've been trying to get Clinic for the last three years as well.

What did you think of Simeon/Silver Apples? Simeon was over here a few months back, I'd never seen him before, quite brilliant that synth.

A: He's so way ahead of his time, I can't believe it. I still listen to his songs like 'Oscillation' or 'Contact' and I'm just blown away. I mean this guy was around when we weren't even living. People still haven't been able to touch his music. There are few bands that have touched that sound, it's really something special.

K: Silver Apples and Can, I mean their music is really futuristic.

You've not released many singles; are you believers in albums being a total musical journey?

A: We never really did it because we always knew about EPs. I remember buying the Clinic EP and just thinking that was what you did, you put out an EP. As far as singles are concerned, we never really had anybody release a single and put a lot of push behind it. When we were on Light in the Attic (US label), we'd release an EP and do a press release and everything was, not low profile, but kind of done in that laid back way, but for this record our manager has been saying "we need singles, we need singles!".

K: Don't do an EP, just do a full album, ten songs at least.

A : Then we'd have six songs left over and they can be singles or whatever we want them to be. I mean I've always liked The Beach Boys' approach, and they would put a single out each month. They were just kicking out music. People could take it as though you were stringing the fans along but they'd eventually release the record with all the songs on. But that kind of things means a lot of money, to have that kind of money to go into the studio and just be cracking out songs all the time.

So, what's with the very 'Telephone' song? Quite a different sound, very retro and 60s garage.

A: We've always been inspired by that British sound. I've always loved The Kinks, The Beatles, The Zombies, The Troggs and I think we ant to in the future explore that direction a little bit more, maybe explore tons of different directions.

K: Dave Sardy really pushed for that songs tempo - he liked it a lot.

A : Well, we're into so much different music: trip-hop, hip hop, psychedelic, trance, and it's all psychedelic in some way.

K: We worked with a producer for the first time so we thought we'd push ourselves, and worked our way through over 30 songs, and the ones that stuck and after pre-production with the producer are the 10 that are on the album, so its like finally two fast songs that we play.

A: Yeah, we have a lot of mind-tempo songs that we play, and from a listeners perspective I would kind of want to hear a band like us to do a bit more up tempo stuff, I'd want to see them evolve. I mean we love all the stuff that's on our record, and people are always asking, "how do you feel about the record" and it's like, "well, if I didn't like it none of us would be here touring and none of us would be playing these songs". I like what we've got and that we had the producer to push us to do things that weren't so mid-tempo and push us to do things out of our comfort zone, it was healthy for us as a band.

K: Not everything has to be dark and gloomy!

A: I mean, right here, we never even had a song that was this fast (support act) and it's good to have that variation, especially for a live show, and especially for your fans, especially if you want to reach more people. Accessibility - that's what we're thinking, it's a good thing to have. You don't have to change your sound too much. For instance, we could play 'Telephone' for an hour tonight and people would still be like, "oh, there's that groove", but when you cut it, you can cut certain parts. It makes it more accessible to people and when you play it live you can do what the hell you want, play it longer shorter, faster, whatever, so it's still got that experimental feel.

K: When we made the record, Dave was just like, "okay, what did you just do, that thing you did for 35 seconds, that needs to go somewhere". He made us think a lot faster. It was good; you go on the same journey, you just get there in half the time.

A: He made some things a lot slower too. He went both ways; he drew things out also he just pushed us to do things we'd not done before which was amazing.


No band members were injured in the creation of this interview.

Although Alex does miss his mum and Christian damaged a few ears rambling about American history and various race related injustices at 3am after a whiskey binge. Bless 'em, lovely.



Phosphene Dream (Blue Horizon Ventures, out now)

Austin Psych Fest:

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