The Black Angels | Politics and Psychedelia

prof_blackangels_smNate came up to us at a show one time in Austin and wondered if we needed a bass player and we said we didn't, so we sent him off. He came back to our show later that month and asked again and we said, "OK, you can come play bass with us." He actually recorded with us the next day.

 

 

 

 

The Black Angels' music plays like a scene from Apocalypse Now, surrounding you with throbbing drones of distortion and all the isolation and fear war connotes. Plenty of reverb, thumping toms, and the psychedelic howling of lead singer Alex Maas guide you through an atmosphere of conflict and confusion. In a world where decisions are made in black and white, the Black Angels explore the gray areas, challenging dogmatic leaders of past and present while managing to never sound preachy.

The Angels pull no punches as they soberly weave tales of past conflict, while not-so-vaguely hinting that the past repeats itself. It's fitting that their retro-fuzz, so inspired by the sounds of Vietnam-era rebellion, has found itself relevant again during the world's next sinister war.

I sat down with the Texan sextet (Maas, Christian Bland, Stephanie Bailey, Jennifer Raines, Nate Ryan, and Kyle Hunt) as they continue to tour in support of their debut album, Passover.

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How'd the band get started?

CA: Alex and I have known each other since we were ten. We grew up in Seebrook, Texas, and he and I just always enjoyed playing music. We played for about two years together with a lot of different people. We probably went through about 50 people before we stumbled upon the right combination. In May 2004, Stephanie joined and the Black Angels started. Then Jennifer joined shortly after in June, and we played as a four-piece for six months. Then Nate came up to us at a show one time in Austin and wondered if we needed a bass player and we said we didn't [chuckles], so we sent him off. He came back to our show later that month and asked again and we said, "OK, you can come play bass with us." He actually recorded with us the next day. We were a five-piece for our first tour out west and our first tour out east; Kyle joined at the end of 2006.

What's been the best/worst thing about touring so far?

NR: [Finding] cures for boredom. Also, when you stay out there, you don't have to try to get in the mode of touring, you know? Everything's so mobile right now. We have all of our stuff in bags. It's pretty simple. We stay simple.

I see you're headed back to Europe mid-summer. How does Europe stack up to the States?

AM: European crowds got our music a lot better, or it seems like they understood it…

CA: As an initial impression, like the first time we sing it…

Why do you think that is?

AM: I just think they're more connected with good music—

CA: Yeah. I think they're more open.

AM: —or similar music, not good music.

CA: What kind of music do you think it is that they're more into?

AM: I think that there's more—

CA: —openness to that that '60s vibe.

AM: Yeah.

Do Americans connect with an anti-war message any differently than the Europeans?

AM: That hasn't been a problem; if anything, we've been praised for talking about stuff, those important things. It doesn't seem like you would, but I guess not a lot of people are talking about it.

Is your music intentionally political, or is that just what happened to be on your mind when you were recording?

AM: I don't think we set out to make a political record. The music just brought the lyrics out. It just kind of happened.

Who writes your lyrics?

AM: We collectively write them. On Passover, I wrote a lot of the lyrics, but would always bring them to the group for help, and different direction.

You and George Bush are from Texas; do you feel like you're surrounded by Bush-lovers there?

AM: Yeah…I mean, we support George Bush.

CA: [Laughs]

KH: He's not really a Texan.

CA: Pretty much the whole state is supportive of George. The sign entering from Oklahoma to Texas says "Proud home of George W. Bush." It's kind of funny.

AM: And then a Black Angels sticker on there. [Laughs] I think it's changing, though. I can tell by going back to Clearlake, our hometown, a lot of people are having a change of attitude. It's kind of an "I told you so" kind of thing. People are starting to see the light. He's got terrible approval ratings, you know?

Is there anything markedly different about these new songs?

AM: No; I think they still sound like Black Angels songs. They sound kind of like pieces of flint flying off of Passover.

NR: We've been changing up instruments, which has kind changed up the sound of the songs.

AM: They're a similar vibe.

CA: I mean, we're probably always going to draw from the same influences, so we're naturally going to sound similar. But I don't think its Passover Part 2.

AM: Yeah, it's not like that.

Are they recorded?

CA: There's 13 done.

AM: Thirteen recorded, but we want to get back in the studio, 'cause we got a lot of songs that [still] need to be recorded…a lot more songs. I don't know how many; tons.

Who does your artwork?

CA: I do some of it. I did the album cover with our old manager and the EP cover, but the newest design…is done by a friend out in San Diego.

AM: Tim Clark is his name.

What have you been listening to?

NR: I've listened to lots of old blues. I just got a Skip James record that's pretty cool, and Howlin' Wolf.

CA: I've been listening to a lot of Greg Ashley. He's the guy from the Gris Gris; [they're] amazing. That might be my favorite modern band right now. [It] reminds me of early Pink Floyd. It's just madness.

KH: There's no bass drum. It's weird; you don't miss it, though. When you see them live, you don't go, "Where the hell's that instrument?"

Last time I saw you, Christian mentioned something about looking for a new label. Does this mean a new album is on the way?

AM: Yeah.

CA: Probably a new label. More than likely the second album won't be out on A Light in the Attic, which the first one was.

It's widely written you're influenced by the Velvet Underground. Are there any others you'd like to pay tribute to?

AM: Tons of stuff…

CA: One of my things is probably Bob Dylan and his lyrics. Just the way he writes.

NR: Clinic.

AM: Yeah, Clinic. There's a lot of Clinic in the way we write. Just the way they phrase things.

Speaking of the Velvet Underground, Nico's displayed on your bass drum and on your website. Does she have any significance to what you're doing?

AM: Personally, I think [Nico's] awesome. The first time I ever heard it, I couldn't tell if it was a guy or a girl singing. [She] just sounds like an androgynous, Germanic woman. To me, it seems like she an icon of the '60s. I like how she sang for Velvet Underground. It looks cool, too.

CA: I think she died too young, so we're helping her memory live on.

You've recently been getting much more exposure, with journalists calling you "something to watch out for." It seems like the media is anticipating something big. What do you see in the future for the Black Angels?

CA: Continuous touring. We'll continue to spread the word, as far as we can. We'll keep recording.

AM: We'll dig deeper and deeper into our souls for music [chuckles] until we're just completely disposed.

KH: I want to go to Japan.

AM: Yeah. To keep touring, go to different countries.

CA: To play for as many people as possible.

AM: To travel the world.

CA: Hopefully open up people's minds at the same time. | Glen Elkins

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