Cop your copy of 'Live from San Francisco' here.
Austin psych rockers The Black Angels have steadily delivered some of the most aggressive and innovative music of the past decade—and they've done it with guitars. Earlier this year, they dropped Indigo Meadow, their fourth record, a swirling LP that sounds kind of like the year 1974, but only if you tossed 1974 in a blender and lit that blender on fire. The band's music, despite coming from a "traditional" rock setting, manages to dodge the trappings that so much generic guitar rock falls into these days. They channel something darker, something intangible, something that makes you wanna just turn your head and say, god damn.
Back in May, the group delivered one of its best performances in San Francisco—and did us a favor: they recorded it. Below, you can exclusively download and listen to the three song EP. It's called Live from San Francisco, and for the lack of a better description, it fuggin' rocks. We also chatted with the band about what live music can do, and what it's like to get a bunch of shit stolen by a friend while you're on tour.
Live from San Francisco
1. Indigo Meadow
2. Evil Things
3. Broken Soldier
Noisey: What's up?
Christian Bland: My guitar and amp were stolen two months ago, and tomorrow’s the liberation day. I get to go to the pawn shop and actually get my guitar and amp, so I’m excited for that.
Alex Maas: It’s so weird that people find those at pawn shows.
Wait, what the fuck?
Christian: I know. Our projectionist, Bob Mustachio—who also plays drums with me in our side project—had a roommate staying with him two months ago, a roommate that was all friends of ours, and he stole a bunch of our stuff and was easy to track down ‘cause he took it to the pawn shop right next to his house. But we couldn’t get it right away. Well, we could’ve gotten it right away had we filed charges against him, but we were friends, and his dad contacted us and was like, “Can we just please deal with this?” And his dad sent us the money. We had to wait 60 days for it to—I don’t know what that rule is, I guess it has to sit for 60 days if it’s pawned. We were on tour when he did this. He thought he was gonna be able to pawn the stuff and get it back before we came back.
What all did he steal?
C: He stole a Moog synthesizer and my Fender Jaguar. Those, he pawned. He sold one of Bob’s amps and a custom made pedal that I had. He sold those straight up. And the Yamaha amp’s gone. Bob was able to buy back my pedal for $100.
So have you beat him up yet?
C: Right?! The whole scenario—there’s a lot of crazy stuff that went down. Shortly thereafter he left Bob’s house, didn’t take anything with him, just kinda left the stuff except for the stuff that he stole, and then they found out he was working the door at this speakeasy place and they went and tried to rough him up, they beat him up, and then he was involved with all these bad people and they were saying they were gonna go after Bob and then those people who said they were gonna go after Bob found out that he was stealing money from them too. So he fled the scene, he fled back into Wichita, and apparently he’s in rehab now.
When did all this take place?
C: This happened early June, and then the other stuff went down shortly thereafter. When we were gone in Australia—and he thought Bob was gonna be with us for the entire tour which took us from Australia to Europe—but Bob wasn’t coming on the European trips because these were festival shows so he couldn’t do projections. So he came back early, unbeknownst to this guy. And when Bob got back, all his stuff was gone.
Damn, that’s crazy. At least you got most of the stuff back. How was Australia?
C: It was awesome. Four cities—we were in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and then we did Perth for the first time. Sorry, third time there.
How do Australians take to psych music?
C: They love it.
How’d you like Australia outside of playing music?
C: We went to the beach, which was amazing. It was awesome.
A: Every day that you take off you have to pay for the entire band—food, and lodging for everybody, so it’s difficult to take vacations when you’re on tour. It’s expensive.
Let’s talk about the Live in San Francisco EP. Tell me about where it’s come from, how you’re feeling, how this is separate—what this does differently than your last record.
C: First, it’s exciting. It was from the Fillmore, this last time we played there, and it was the first time we sold out the Fillmore. And that's one of my all-time favorite shows we’ve ever had.
Did you go into that show knowing it was gonna be recorded?
A: I don’t think I knew. It might have been mentioned. I remember getting there and they were like, It’s gonna be recorded. We were like, "Oh, shit."
What's a live record do?
A: It’s less perfect sounding. It’s got that human element when you play it live. We pretty songs differently live—sometimes we’re quicker. The fact that other people are there watching, that voyeuristic aspect.
C: We’ve been wanting to do a live thing for a while, so it’s exciting to finally be doing something.
Why did it take you so long?
A: I don’t know. ‘Cause we’ve been recording live shit for a long time.
C: We have tons of live stuff recorded. Brett [Orrison, engineer], who has the place where we’re recording right now, he has the capability to record out front, so he has done a bunch of shows in the past. He was on tour with us when we toured with Roky Erickson, he recorded that stuff. So eventually… who knows, maybe there’ll be some full-length live album, a greatest hits or something, that we comb over all the live stuff, figure out which recordings sound the best. This is a little preview of what it’s like live. But when we record in the studio we’re all laying down our parts at the same time to track the song and then if something needs to be perfected, we’ll go back and do it. But for the most part the way it sounds on the EP is the way we do it.
Do you feel like there’s something else that happens outside of the fact that it’s live or raw? What can a live record do that a studio record can’t do?
C: When I’m playing guitar I add different things that aren’t on the recording. I mean, the recording was almost a year ago now, and when we play it for a year, I’ll figure out little areas where I can do something a little extra on guitar or I’ll come up with a new part that I think sounds cool and I add that in.
Music with guitars has gotten kind of dull and stale in the eyes of a lot of people, myself included, especially with the other types of music happening right now.
C: I think one of the reason why I play that music is ‘cause that’s the kind I grew up listening to—the Beatles, and Beach Boys, and oldies kinda stuff is what I started with. We want to bring that style into the present day and keep it going and push it forward. The way we do that is experiment with different instruments, new effects that they didn’t have back then. There’s definitely a place still for guitar-driven rock that turns me on.
Alex: The genre’s been around for a while, but the idea that it’s just brand new different group, different time, different technology, and all the music that we have available at our fingertips, we can go any direction that we want. Technology has enabled bands—not just our band, but other bands—to dig deeper and go into darker nooks and find weirder shit to be inspired by. Even electronic music, they’re digging rare pysch records out of garbage bins. It’s not all psych based, but listen to new hip-hop and it’s getting weirder and weirder, that psych element. People are exploring more. Making guitar driven music with real instruments, it’s kind of an older trade, like you were saying, but there’s something cool about that, something cool about going back to the basics and lugging your gear into a venue each night and tuning it up. It’s like making a sword when everybody else is fighting with guns and then you’re crafting that sword and you’re making it with your hands and you’re using heat. The process of it, it’s fun to us.
C: Yeah, if you think about it, when guitar driven rock started coming about in the '50s and '60s, it’s really only 60 years ago. I think there’s a lot more exploring to do within that kind of framework. For me it’s fun to buy old organs and push them into the future. Use them now in ways they never could’ve imagined in the olden days.
What can psych rock do that other genres can’t? What’s that dark element? What does that let you accomplish as an artist?
A: The darkness of psych is trickling into other genres. It’s not just the darkness that’s exploratory realm that these bands and these people are taking, though. But psych music does have a dark element. I don't know exactly why it exists, maybe because it’s kind of foreign. But there’s happy psych music too. For us, it’s an outlet. We’re not really angry people in real life, or sad or depressed or anything, but it’s a good outlet to go into that weird unknown world. And it’s safe to go there, you can just pop out whenever you want. I don't know why it’s trickling into other music. I think people are just getting more bold and wanna explore new places that they haven’t gone before.
What do you feel like that spookiness or weirdness, what is that? What can you create for the listener with that?
A: There’s a really strong emotional response, I think, to creepy and spooky. There’s a strong emotional response to happy, also, but spooky’s a little bit different because you don’t exactly know where it came from. And it’s like, Fuck, that came from the dark, but I don’t know what else is back there. In the happy kind of world, it doesn’t really matter, ‘cause everything is great. But that unknown, unsettling thing, Christian and I have talked about how if a song for us if you get chills while you’re playing it, if it kinda freaks you out while you play it, where you picture yourself in a fuckin’ like some really scary situation or a death scene or some scary scenario in a movie, or if you can rob a bank too, it makes a good song. If you can get chills from it, if you can make yourself freaked out, you can know that other people will get freaked out by it too. But I think going back to that darkness having a strong connection with the audience, it definitely exists, and I think doing that and then having other elements that are less dark that are kinda floating around the track, that dichotomy is an interesting dichotomy that we kinda touched on, whether it be a prettier harmony on a really spooky bassline or guitar part. That’s kind of like how the world is. It’s spooky and it’s kind of pretty all at the same time. But if you can pull that off, it’s an interesting thing to deal with. The definition of music is the ability to control sound. So if you’re doing something like a necromancer, really dark and evil, controlling that sound, I think people are like “Oh wow maybe these people are dark” or something, but it’s not true. It’s not really the case for us. We’re attracted to that kind of music.
You've said in interviews that you're not the best musicians. What does that mean?
Alex: I think it comes from not coming from a true musical background, or true musical theory, and learning it on your own, and having more of the—not to be cheesy—but the primitive way that tribes would make music. Who cares what you're doing technically? You can miss a lot of soul and emotion if you're worried too much about technique.
Christian: If it feels good, we just do it again. Saying we're not the best musicians is true. Most bands can play circles around us technically, but that's not what we're trying to be. Some of the most interesting painters don't paint a person's face verbatim. We're just trying to find that spooky spot.
Is there anything about which you feel misunderstood?
Alex: There are a lot of stereotypes that come with being a musician. Christian and I didn't set out to make music in the beginning. I think we both wanted to be professional baseball players or something. [Laughs.] We both fell in love with the idea of making music and the way it made us feel. We weren't playing guitar since we were five years old or anything, and at some point you have to be, like, eh, who cares.
Christian: We just want to make music that's relevant in like 2055.
Alex: Some of the coolest things that happen for me is when someone interprets a song in a way that's completely different than I intended. Writing with an open-ended mentality allows such a wide range of experience, no matter who's listening. It's like what the Beatles did. But you can't say, "I'm going to write timeless music." You hope that would happen, but there's no formula for that.
What's the weirdest thing that's happened to you on tour?
Christian: At some point, everything becomes normal. Some of the weirdest times I have is getting involved in conversations I can't get out of. That's always really awkward. I'll be talking to someone and I'll realize they're, like, wasted.
Alex: It's strange when you find out after a show that Lou Reed was out there watching.
Do you guys party on tour?
Christian: You can't really party all the time like Eddie Murphy.
Alex: It's a tough thing to do, man. You just end up tired. Super tired all the time. I remember the first few times we went to New York City, we'd go out after a show, go to bars, go out after the bar, and come back. Christian's wallet would be gone, my phone would be destroyed, my credit card would have, like, dog bites in it. No one would know where we were. You can only do that so many times.
Eric Sundermann sucks at playing the guitar. He's on Twitter — @ericsundy