Badass is rare to come across nowadays…

But where The Velvet Underground & Nico came to a close amidst the din and clamor of The Black Angel’s Death Song, a murmur was heard and a seed sown. Steeped in those juices of tradition, with a hint of Wayne’s World and an unmistakable likeness to Eli Cash’s Wild Cat… Wild Cat… you’ve got yourself a damn shot

We spoke with Christian Bland, Alex Maas and Nate Ryan of The Black Angels…

Interview by Era Trieman

 

You’ve collected some pretty exciting equipment on stage. Could you give us an overview?

C: The guitars that I own are based after John Lennon, whose my main obsession (chuckles) just behind Syd Barrett, but that’s one of the reasons why I like to use Rickenbackers. I have a Epiphone Casino, he used that too. We also use a McCartney-style Höfner violin bass, just trying to base things on the Beatles, cause they’re the ultimate!

N: I’ve got a Fender Jaguar from the sixties, a lot of surf dudes used those, just really twangy and thin sounding. In some interview Bob Dylan spoke of reaching a mercury thin sound, that’s what I try to get, mercury thin…

A: Kyle picked up that Rheem at a garage sale real cheap, for just a hundred bucks. Later he found out that the Velvets used to play it… if you’re going to talk to someone about gear and you’ve got a few hours to spare, he’ll talk to you no end.

 

How would you say the live set merges the new tracks within the older ones?

A: I personally feel it’s a good mix. We’re evolving as a band – it’s where we are now. As you play them more and more you start to own the tunes…

N: Playing live a lot has created more of a congruent sound. At first there were some differences to overcome, just trying to find the right tone and feeling, but eventually some kind of line is drawn through it.

 

Phosphene Dream is much more succinct than the previous albums yet tracks like Yellow Elevator #2 manage to pack a punch in just over four minutes…

A: That’s perhaps the main difference between this record and the other ones. Though a lot of the ideas on this record had been going on beforehand for like a year or two. So for us to gage whether it sounds different to anything else is hard to say, because we’re involved in this drawn out process day by day. There’s a cumulative aspect to song-writing, there’s definitely something. Talking about the link. The link. The link… (trails off indistinctly)

C: I mean the last track on Directions To See A Ghost is almost twenty minutes long – that’s half the new record.

 

How do you go about constructing tracks like the aforementioned Snake in the Grass or You in Colour?

C: At the time we all lived in a house together and we had a jam room. We’d live there at thirteen hundred McKinley, someone would just yell upstairs and we’d practice together, find a good groove, sticking with it and forming it into a track. That’s basically where the album came from.

A: We were a little more disciplined about practices.

 You In Colour

Could you tell us about The Reverberation Appreciation Society?

C: That’s the group that started Austin Psych Fest. There are four of us – Alex and I then two of our friends, Rob Fitzpatrick and James Oswald. It pretty much grew out of that but has since become its own record label and we’ve released three LPs and two DVDs so far … it takes up a lot of time and usually ends up on the other’s shoulders!

 

You’ve been involved in the curation of Psych Fest for the past few years, where do you see it going?

A: We’ve been pretty busy recently, travelled maybe seven or eight months out of the year so this guy Fitzpatrick has been pitching in like a maniac, but as it’s getting bigger and bigger you have to add more personnel, which is the hard bit. Who do you add? Who are you going to trust? Whose motivated enough to do it? Sometimes we don’t even feel motivated to do it, but Psych Fest thing is kinda like a beast that has grown on its own through people who are interested in it. It’s become something of its own.

C: Next year we’re teaming up with an Austin entertainment company called Transmission, they’re gonna help facilitate more of the behind the scenes stuff. I mean ultimately what we wanted to do was just to choose the bands and do the artwork, posters and websites. But along with that comes the logistics: arranging the backline, organizing the place…

A: cleaning porter-potties.

 

And you find that rewarding?

A: The porter-potties? At the end of the day, you put this shit on, you put the shit together and then you clean the shit up again at the end of the night, so it is rewarding in a way!

C: Having to pick up all the cigarette butts on the last day… We rented this old fifties power-plant from the city of Austin that had been abandoned since 1994 and the lot is now set to be turned into condominiums. We put a three thousand five hundred dollar deposit down, only to be retrieved if the place was completely clean. We were warned there mustn’t be one single cigarette left on the premise…

A: The cleaning crew that we ordered never show up. So Christian and I set about cleaning the entire goddamn place up, literally cleaning poop up.

 

Originally it was set up to be in conjunction with SXSW. What impact would you say SXSW has had on the Austin music scene?

A: It’s created this kinda thing where people know Austin as a music town. We felt SXSW was something we had to separate ourselves from: we needed to create our own identity separate from that, because it’s so big. It’s so massive it overshadows everything

N: The first two years were held the weekend before, mainly out of financial reasons. We would try to figure out which bands were coming over and try to ask them to come a couple of days earlier to play our festival. After that bands were flying in and would leave before SXSW, so the third year we figured lets just make it into our own thing, do it a different month, say April, and it’s become just that! Next one is gonna be really exciting with Jonestown Massacre, who we’ve been trying to get since the beginning.

What kind of impression did touring with the Brian Jonestown Massacre leave on you and which is your favourite BJM record??

A: They are so prolific. Just thinking about how many albums they put out is bewildering…

 N: I’d say Thank God For Mental Illness, the more acoustic one.

C: Also Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request, that’s a good one. That was the first thing I’d heard that was holing from the sixties sound whilst bringing it into the modern context, that’s really why I wanted to start a band.

 

Has the 13th Floor Elevators’ legacy remained strong in Austin or would you say your involvement in revamping old demos has somehow resurrected a following?

N: Roky (Erickson, frontman of the 13th Floor Elevators) is pretty important to the music scene, I mean most people know about Roky. Some are familiar with the Elevators but they’re mostly people in the know about garage rock and psychedelic music. Otherwise it’s not really known. I don’t think we’ve necessarily done much to restore the Elevators, maybe we have, I hope we have.

C: I mean as far as Austin goes, there’s a statue made out to Stevie Ray Vaughn, granted he died young so that’s probably why, but there’s really nothing at all dedicated to Roky, people don’t recognize the 13th Floor Elevators, at least as much as they should. It’s kinda sad too because if he were to pass away, I mean god forbid, but when he does, he’ll be honoured something like that…

A: It’s weird how that works, posthumous recognition. When you die you become famous but while you’re alive, who cares?!

 

As fellow Velvet Underground admirers, what was your response when you discovered Lou Reed was collaborating with Metallica?

C: I could not believe that, I saw that on the cover of something or other… it made me ill…

A: (interrupts) that’s actually the first I’ve ever heard of it, but it sounds just like some business venture. It’s probably actually a good money-making scheme… from a monetary standpoint. But as a lover of the Velvet Underground it seems very weird (mumbles trailing off). But I guess he can do whatever he wants to do… whatever he wants to do.

C: Alex and I got to see Bo Diddley towards the end. He was just rapping! So just as Lou Reed is collaborating with Metallica and Bo Diddley died rapping, I just flush those things out of my memory and listen to the basics.

 

The bass opening to Black Grease would slot right into any BRMC record. Could you put into words the feeling of performing that track in front of a wild crowd?

A: It just feels like we’re covering a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club song. Nah, I’m just kiddin. Of course we’re all big fans. They’re another of the originals that got me into this.

C: The self-titled record is what changed my perspective on things, though Howl, was great too, but I think overall they’ve evolved and changed

A: Just to go back to the question, how does it feel to play Black Grease in front of a lot of people? That’s a good question. It’s a track we’ve played for quite a while, probably every single night on tour. (With utmost sincerity) It’s about returning to that magical place where the song was first created and actually engaging in it. When you play a song every night its like retelling a story over and over and over, and unless you can actually go back to that it’s origins then it almost feels like you’re just going through the motions, and so for me personally it’s about finding that beauty where I was, where we all were in our lives, that’s where I try to go.

Black Grease

I love the harmonica part on Blood Hounds On My Trail. Any more harmonica parts lined up on the new material?

N: Oh yeah yeah, harmonica is great, but we never really played it live for some reason, we don’t have enough people. Jennifer, the original keyboard player, was usually the one playing harmonica but since we lost her… we’re still trying to learn.

 

How was it being asked by Jim Jarmusch to perform at All Tomorrow’s Parties in NY?

A: That was crazy, just nuts, the fact that he even knows who we are, it’s kinda whacked out, it’s an honour obviously!!

 

Your music has featured in various television and film bits, but if you were to compose a soundtrack for any filmmaker of your choosing who would it be?

N: I think if Kubrick were still alive… that would be unreal. Unfortunately he is not. Maybe David Lynch?

 

The subject of war is frequently tackled in your work. Why is it quite so pertinent to you?

C: Well it’s cause we’re reincarnate warriors… Haha I’m serious!!

A: Wait, what did you say? (menacingly)

 

Why is it so close to your heart?

A: Well for me it’s a significant topic. It seems like history keeps repeating itself. Here we are again, sending soldiers into war for a cause that we don’t all truly believe or even comprehend. To me it’s just an obvious problem with our culture, I’m talking about American culture, this apathy, it’s weird, you know we’re at war, we’re expending lives, billions of dollars on violence, but what are we even fighting for? People don’t think about it, they just go along with it. A lot of people back home go to war for money, when you come back you receive $40,000, you just sell yourself.

C: I remember sitting on a plane beside a soldier who was heading to Iraq and he was complaining: ‘oh man, I gotta go back there, I’m leaving my wife and home…’ and I asked ‘so why are you going back?’ and he just said ‘man, the money is so good!’ it’s just the money!