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Black Angels Interview 2013
If there is one adjective that comes to mind when thinking of one of the most prominent neo-psychedelic bands around these days, it’s certainly “productive”. After releasing three full length albums and several EPs, doing graphic design, working on various side projects (Christian Bland and The Revelators for example), establishing a major festival in their hometown Austin, Texas, a change in their setting and touring “in between”, Stephanie Bailey, Alex Maas, Christian Bland and Kyle Hunt please us with the new addition to their canon and presenting this baby called “Indigo Meadow” to a spellbound audience in Cologne’s Luxor. Before the gig I talked to Christian and Alex, each of them taking their turns in pulling my leg, having a great laugh, being fascinated by the word “dichotomy” and, yeah, talking about being productive, just inventing the title for the next album en passant.I'd like to start with this. Acutally, I tried to find something out about it, but I couldn't... You're one man short. What happened?Christian: Oh no!Alex: Nooo, we're five men strong!Christian: But we're one less... What's the word? One of the original members. Yeah, Nate Ryan, we're without him now.So you've got a new guy?Christian: Yeah, his name's Jake, Jake Garcia, Apache. Left handed.Yeah, I saw some videos yesterday. You, Alex, should really learn to play left-handed as well now, so it would look more in line.Alex: Yeah, I agree. That would be craaazy... (Christian laughs.) That would be something!So it just happened like that? You know, you developed into different directions or something like that?Alex: We kind of felt like we'd had a split coming.Christian: Geographically, things weren't working out. We recorded Phosphene Dream in Los Angeles, and then he stayed in Los Angeles while the rest of us went home to Texas. So, that didn't work very well... Alex: So when we wanted to practice we had to fly him in, he didn't want to be in Austin with us, so... that was the main thing. He had kind of a bad attitude towards us for the last couple of years, so we got tired of it.When I finally got time to spend some time really getting into your album I discovered this line, which you'll find on the left-hand side when you open the vinyl, that says "Re-thinking preconceived notions". I really think that this seems to be the main theme on your album, because sometimes there are those catchy tunes, but if you listen more closely, you'll find out that when you go like (imitating someone bobbing their head to a tune), they aren't really fitting to the lyrics. Alex: Sometimes we put a darker lyrical content with a happier melody. It's some kind of a cynical approach. It's not always the case, but we got a couple of those on this record.Christian: We loooove doing that! (Alex laughs.)Alex: We love the dichotomy!Christian: Love did that.Alex: Yeah, Love did do that. (Both laugh and realize they got me lost there...) Christian: Forever Changes? Da Capo? Arthur Lee? Eeeeerm... Alex: Have you ever heard of Love, the band? Erm, nooo...?Alex: Aaaah, you should listen to them! "Love"? Just like "love"? Christian: Yeah. And if not for Love, you would never have heard of The Doors! So... I should definitely do that, then. I felt that just listening to the tunes, really, without listening so much to the lyrics, it appeared to be more cheerful. Is there any reason for that? Or did it just come naturally like that?Christian: Hmmm... I don't know about that. Evil lyrics in nice places. (Laughs.)Alex: That's true. A hundred percent. Well, I've got to be honest with you. There's this one song, and I only totally realized what was going on there when I read the lyrics while I was listening to it. And it disturbed me a bit.Christian (laughing): Which one was it? You're Mine.Christian: Aaaah! (Laughs.) "But it's so sweeeeet!" "Yeah, such a sweeeeet, cuuuuute love song!" and then I was like "Okay, what's going on here?!" (Christian laughs.) Have you been watching too much Hannibal lately, like me?Alex (laughs): Yes. So was there any connection? Alex: No, no actual connection to Hannibal, just, you know, a love story, but in the end the guy eats his lover, whoever that guy is. (Hinting there's no actual connection to a real person whatsoever.) Yeah, I understood it, okay. (Both laugh.) Alex: And then that person is with them forever. I mean, in combination with your sound this is very interesting. (Both laugh.) Yes, so this idea of over-obsessive love that is unrequited... and then he devours her and will be keeping her inside him forever... Erm... that is really sick. (Laughter.) What was it that got you going into that direction? Alex: When we started writing lyrics we just came up with different things.Christian: I think we had recently read up on Albert Fish, so we wanted to incorporate that guy. Check him out. Silence of the Lambs is based on Albert Fish and Ed Gein. Ed Gein is like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. (Pulling my leg again...) Event Horizon. The first and second of the Nightmare On Elmstreet Series being a quintessential part of this dichotomy. Alex: Dichotomy!I really think it's an outstanding song, because the melody is so catchy and it's a bit like a children's song and I was sitting in my car and going like... Christian (starts singing): Aaaall the boys and aaaall the girls wonder where you aaaare... Exactly! And then yesterday I properly sat down and realized what was going on and I was "Oh my God! I'm SO stupid! Why didn't I get that?!" (Both laughing loudly.) Even if you know the language well, if it's not your first language... Christian: Hmmmm! Alex: I think it's connected to what you said earlier, it might sound happy to you, but you're hearing what you want. If you want it to be happy, it's going to be happy. Christian: It's like with the song Telephone. It sounds happy, but there's underlying... Alex: Dichotomies! Christian: Yes! (Laughter) Another song, Holland. There's two things that got me curious about it. First of all, why Holland anyway?Alex (defensively): Why not?I love the Netherlands, I mean... And that's what got me curious. It's not meant pejoratively, like "Holland?! Why the heck?!", but "Oooh, Holland! Why?"Christian: It's a bit about reminiscing about some of our times, walking around in Amsterdam.Alex: And our ancestry. Ancestry? Alex: Yeah, the whole dichotomy! (Laughter.) Good times in Amsterdam... Good times in Holland! And bad times... Ah ha! So there's this one line "I'd rather die than be with you tonight". Ouch. What was going on there? I mean it's like really in your face. There must be a lot going on if you say something like that. Alex: It's true. I think this line is from a song that we wrote several years ago. It's kind of worked its way back into the song. Was there a song on the album that was really a pain in the arse to record? Alex: There was one that we didn't get the tempo right for, but it didn't make the record... This one... (imitating bass line for Christian)Christian: Aaah, the... erm? But it didn't make it. You're not making it, buddy. Bye, bye! Christian: (Laughs) Yeah. We recorded this album in a place called Tornillo, Texas. Sonic Ranch. And we did 16 songs and 13 made it on the album, so there's three equally as cool songs that will be on the next album. They're nice! (Laughs)I read that you didn't want the album to be any longer than 45 minutes. Is that the reason these three songs didn't make it? Alex: Yeah, if it was more than 45, you'd have to make it a double LP or you'd start losing fidelity, because you can only have 45 minutes for a record. 22.5 minutes per side. So it was either adding another song to it and make it a double LP or use these other songs later. So that's what we're doing.So there's a bit of math involved?Alex: Yeah, it was math, absolutely.Christian: Uh huh. Logistics... Now, another thing that quite struck me with your recent album is the artwork. It's so well done. It was a real treat getting the foil of the vinyl, opening it, and then there is this huge booklet with all these great pictures, the whole design is brilliant. What was the initial idea behind it? Christian: To make a children's book, or young adults. I mean, it's pretty much the idea, you know, drawing up the big books with pages that you flip through, read it to each other, view the pictures. I feel like Phosphene Dream kind of started that, this fairy-tale, no matter what's the next chapter. The next one might not be part of that fairy-tale. I think the last picture in the booklet, that's not for children then... Christian: The last one? Ha, yeah. Like "Mommy, what's the woman doing on the man?" (Laughter)So, did you do all of it yourself or did you get some help? Christian: No, the guy that drew the pictures, his name's Matt Cliff. He lives in Ft. Worth, Texas. He and I worked on it together, I did the graphic design and put it all together, but he did all the illustrations and he's a pretty talented artist. Soon he's gonna be painting one of my guitars, doing art on it, like The Fool. You know Cream? Eric Clapton? (Affirmative.) Have you ever seen the guitar that he had? He had it painted by this Dutch art group called The Fool and now Cliff is gonna paint one of my guitars in a similar way, but with art probably from the booklet that you saw. One of the main things is gonna be the face, like... Have you seen the T-shirts out there? The face from I Hear Colors? Yeah, that's cool! And even "simple" things, like the sun and the moon, underline the lyrics so well, it all fits together. As you say, it's like in a children's book, you read it out and then you can point at the pictures that tell the story. Well, in another interview I read that you, Alex, said "I'm fine with us being what we are, whether it be overtly political or completely escapist, because you have to have both of those things in this world. Otherwise, you just have fear." I would be curious: What are your favourite means of escapism?Alex: I'd think of music, reading, you know, going out having a laugh with friends, going outdoors. Christian: Music. It's a time-transporter. Is there a special kind of film or genre, something that takes you to where you'd rather be?Alex: I like sci-fi and murder mystery, Christian likes a lot of history.Christian: Uh huhm.Alex: And for me it's murder mystery, because it just kind of keeps you on your toes, you wanna know what's gonna happen next... But history is very important, obviously. Or anything weird, like some weird films, some documentations. Horror movies. Horror movies are always good. (We chat a bit about horror movies...) Ever since you started out there has always been some anti-war content going on in your lyrics. Now we have this very recent situation with Syria and Europe being involved or not... So, if there was one thing that you could get across to Obama, what would it be?Alex: Stay out of other people's business!Christian: Yeah. It's not about playing the world police.Alex: We have so many problems already at home... I mean, we're gonna get blamed whether we intervene or not, but not once have we ever intervened in a civil dispute and it's come out positive. Except World War II. But it's never worked out. Yeah, "Stay out of other people's beeswax."It's what you say really, it's like him being the number one world police officer... Alex: Yeah, and it's not just him, it's the whole government.Christian: I feel like our government feels like "That's our position". It's kinda like a position "We are the best in the world, so we need to intervene". That's kind of what it seems like.Alex: Not necessarily all of them, but we have our own problems at home. We should first focus on them. I'm quite happy that Germany is staying out of this... Christian: We should also see what our allies think instead of just acting on our own. If our allies are into the idea, we should also think about it. Yeah, so, Austin Psych Fest is getting more and more popular. I would have loved to be there this year, the line up was brilliant. So what was your personal highlight?Alex: Tinariwen.Christian: I think mine was Clinic.Alex: Oh, Clinic was probably mine, too, yeah. (Laughter) I mean, all the bands are good.Christian: If they're on the bill, they're the best bands around. Clinic were really good, grand finale on the last day. Alex: The Warlocks were very good as well, I hadn't seen them for a long time and they kind of blew me away, just their energy, seeing all these songs... We toured with them before a couple of times. Seeing these songs with Bobby's new band was kind of amazing. So the festival has developed a life of its own, really? Christian: Yeah, absolutely, it's a snowball rolling, it really is, yeah. This year it got so big it was almost beyond control. There's camping, it's in a big field, Carson Creek Ranch, 10.000 people can fit in. It'll be there next year. It's nice, it's kind of like a semi-permanent home I guess, for the next couple of years at least, but it's really nice Texas nature around the Colorado River, trees, water, camping,... Alex: ... snakes! (Laughs)Well, there was this interview, I think it was in the context of SXSW and with the guy interviewing you, you made up this sentence, or this story really. "You Passover the Phosphene Dream into the Indigo Meadow and on the way you might get Directions to See a Ghost". Now, how does that story continue?(Laughter) Alex: Ah well, I think everybody dies at the end of the story... It's still years away from now, but... You have to fill in the blanks in between then. Alex: Fill in the blanks in between the story? Between where we got to and the end where everybody dies.Alex: Oh, you can't, you can't do that. No idea yet? Not even from the three songs you've already recorded?Alex: Aah, you wanna know what's next on the new record? Christian: The title of the next record! Anything going on there? Christian: Nooo, nooo, it hasn't come to us yet.Alex: No, we haven't gone on a journey yet to find it.Christian: It might be called "Logistical dichotomy of the retrospection". I think "dichotomy" is the word of the day... Christian: Manual of a fairy-tale... Or time-travel maybe... Both: Yeah, yeah, oooh yeeees! Christian: I like that... (Laughs)I've been watching too much Doctor Who lately... (Laughter) Alex: Directions to a time-travel? Naaah, we have to change the "directions", you already had that.Christian: Hmmm, that might work... No, we need something else, something new...Alex: Something else than "Directions for a time-travel"? "Dichotomy of time-travel"? Thaaat's good! Alex: "Dichotomy of time-travel"? (Laughter)There you go, see, now you've got the next title already! Can you write my name in the booklet?
The black angels Interview (2013)