|Following a review of their
debut album Passover, the Book LA caught
up with Austin newcomers The Black
Angels during their tour stop at the Troubadour.
Rolling through cities faster than tumbleweeds in the high desert,
they have captured the hearts of Indie Rock fans and critics alike.
With a wall of sound and politically charged lyrics, the live experience
reveals a band which doesn’t fit any mold: whether trading places
and instruments on stage, or reinventing their songs from one stage
to the next, and occasionally, the ghostly shadow of the Lizard King
can be seen dancing on the walls besides them. This simply isn’t
the Rock band you know. Discover now in their own words some of this
tribe’s great spirits: Alex Mass
(Vocals, Bass), Christian Bland (Guitar,
Bass, Vocals), Nate Ryan (Guitar, Bass)
and Jennifer Raines (Drone Machine). Other
members Stephanie Bailey (Drums, Percussion,
Guitars) and Kyle Hunt (Drums, Bass, Guitar)
BOOK LA: What’s
in a name ?
Alex Maas: Nor
hand, nor foot, or any other part belonging to a man. More importantly
what does a name say about your parents? In our case it reflects
and embodies an archetype of musical culture and religion, crossed
with elements of ethnic origin. The Black Angels
Nate Ryan: The name, taken from
one of our favorite Velvet Underground songs, leaves people with
a lot of varied first impressions. Some people assume that we're
a metal band. Others with religion based prejudices would assume
that we were a group of drugged out devil worshippers. Its interesting
to see the response.
What is the true cost of war ob civilian
life in the Middle East? In 2004, Michael Franti
embarked on a personal journey with his guitar, a few friends armed
with camcorders, to meet the man on the street in war torn Bagdad,
the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The documentary “I
know I’m not alone” is pieced together from these
encounters, without CNN or Fox logos, unfiltered, unscripted, often
naïve but always honest in exposing one truth: people are suffering.
There’s no award wining cinematography here, and Franti never
positions himself as a protagonist and always remains the observer.
He plays his guitar wherever he goes, and scenes of the 6’5”
dreadlocked giant walking down Gaza streets followed by bouncing
children are joyful, until you see kids on hospital beds having
lost their limbs to explosions. Then you choke and forget to breathe.
Beyond the despair, all who speak remain hopeful that one day peace
will prevail, while soldiers just want to go home. Critics will
likely dismiss the documentary as a simplistic view of a very complex
issue. It is. And therein lies its power. Michael Franti is a successful
musician, not a documentary filmmaker, nor a politician. Stepping
out of bounds and potentially putting himself in harm’s way
in the name of peace is an act of courage. Out of this journey comes
the music of Yell Fire! (Anti),
where Michael Franti and Spearhead deliver their most inspired work
to date, blending Rock, Hip Hop, Blues and Reggae, each song an
anthem, a rally call that could also belong to Marley, Bono or Springsteen,
tossing a pebble in an ocean of indifference. A futile exercise,
unless it triggers a tsunami.
If Keane played guitars, they may sound
a little like Muse, whose third album
Black Holes and Revelations (Warner
Bros) will send adrenaline down the bloodstream of Art Rock fans,
while Eclecticism-ism aficionados will scream: “Genius!”
justifiably so. Every discernable influence behaves like an electron
on orbit around its atom, and the album reaches critical mass when
Frank Zappa’s guitars kick Prince’s Funky ass while
getting a Freddy Mercury make over. While the stunning Sci-Fi themed
package opens like a stargate to other worlds, the politically charged
lyrics become a metaphor for our earthly drama. Speaking of drama,
the video for “Knights of Cedonya” is a hysterical tribute
to 70’s movie kitsh with winks to Westworld, A Fistful of
Dollars and Logan’s Run. And that’s how Muse do their
isn’t yet another UK indie band. Think of it as a comedy act
with guitars. Bang Bang Rock & Roll
(Downtown) is so funny that the music, as brilliant as it
may be, is forced in the backseat. This “Monthy Python as
a rock band” tackle the most important issues of our time,
namely sex, drugs and Rock and Roll. A massive creampie in the face
of any would-be rockstar who has ever taken himself seriously.
There’s little to no information
floating on the web regarding German band Couch,
which really leaves the music of Figur
5 (Moor Music) to speak for itself. A refreshing proposition
actually. The album is instrumental and if you’re searching
for obvious references, you’ll navigate somewhere between
Joy Division and Air, with a more progressive industrial flair.
Its mood is broody, where amidst the progressive structure and the
precision of the arrangements, lies the raging desire to break loose.
Is it an intended metaphor for a dehumanized modern world? In the
absence of vocals, the music still conveys a powerful sense of story,
like an abstract painting inviting its audience to generate a personal
experience by projecting their own psyche onto the canvas. Experience
Also from Germany, Klee
(taking their name from expressionist painter Paul Klee) continues
its infatuation with 80’s New Wave, picking up the torch were
New Order dropped it. Songs in German and English on Honeysuckle
(Minty Fresh) will rouse your teenage soul with catchy melodies
and pop hooks. Vocalist super cutie Suzie
Kerstgens plays the part of the bold ingénue, sensual
and ethereal, whose delivery would have you believe that positive
existentialism is the only remedy for all the bleakness in the world.
Here’s a teenage daydream you don’t want to wake up
may no longer be left out of the British “Neo Post Punk Revision
slash Invasion” of the past three years. Their second album
News and Tributes (Vagrant) introduces
a pop element missing from their debut which favored style over
content. The recipe produces sure fire hits that chomp at the heels
of Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs. Furious like Punk Rock, jittery
like Disco-caine, with a New Romantic swagger reminiscent of Duran
Duran’s early days: it’a five course meal served in
a power bar. British invasion? With bands like Futureheads, who’s
and Separation (Vertebrae), SF based Halou
visit the crossroads between 80’s Ethereal Goth (Cocteau Twins,
This Mortal Coil) and 90’s Trip Hop (Portishead, Sneakerpimps)
with a vastly improved sound. In addition to the lush production,
their passion for creating moods shifts from intimate spaces to
cinematic landscapes, from heartbeat to industrial machinery. Not
only has Halou found a path on which to expand, but they reinvigorate
a genre that has been feeding on the carcass of an old glory. With
this new blood, its future holds a bright promise.
In the making of Night
Moves (Reincarnate Music), Lisa Papineau
sang, played synthesizers, cymbals, saxophone, Fender Rhodes, bells,
arranged it, and featured her own (excellent) photography and sleeve
design. Almost a one woman show, if you excluded drummer Julien
Tekeyan. Positioning herself in the company of chanteuses like Beth
Orton, PJ Harvey, Beth Gibbons (Portishead) or Esthero, you can’t
pigeon hole her into the Trip Hop genre. Rather, she’s that
cool singer you’ll discover unintentionally on the stage of
your local watering hole, affected by her lush voice which must
be savored like a rich wine or a summer afternoon spent on warm
grass. Her cool factor is undeniable, and with her styling far removed
from any pretence, she’ll make a believer out of you. From
her sleeve to her tunes, Lisa Papineau is a full package.
Sampling the musical flavors of the
world over electronic beats is hardly a novelty, but consider that
Toby Marks, a.k.a. Banco
de Gaia has been at it for 15 years, making him a pioneer
of the genre alongside the Future Sound of London and the Orb. Farewell
Ferengistan (6º) invites the listener to leap from one continent
to the next, following a loose thread based on a political undertone
condemning globalization and its threat to local folklore. It’s
a double edged sword really, because the sampling process is also
one of assimilation. The rhythms shift from Tribal to Techno, and
occasionally dissolve into vaporous ambient soundscapes. Vocals
are just one more color on a rich palette and never dominate other
elements. Even on a lone acapella piece, the voices are clearly
used as instruments. Marks’ audio collage is designed for
the wandering mind who longs to get lost, for the sake of a trip
Elysium for the Brave (6º) is a
testament to the many roads she has walked on. Born in Iran, raised
in India, she was introduced to Western musical culture when she
arrived in Los Angeles in 85. Her first band Vast
made a name for itself on the World Music circuit, and the ethereal
purity of her voice has long been thought after, resulting in collaborations
with Crystal Method, the Japanese drumming ensemble Kodo, and Tweaker
(AKA Chris Vrenna formerly of NIN) to name a few. She more recently
formed the band Niyaz, with two time Grammy nominee producer/Remixer
Carmen Rizzo, which debuted at number one on I-Tunes’ World
Music charts. Rizzo is present also on Elysium, as is Dead Can Dance
collaborator Jeff Rona, film composer Tyler Bates, Trey Gunn and
Pat Matelotto of King Crimson, and the classical violinist Kiavash
Nourai and Loga Ramin Torkian. Comparisons with Lisa Gerard (DCD)
will surely abound, as Azam also plays the hammered dulcimer. This
culturally hybrid sound that is nothing short of blissful and the
arrangements reveal a deep study of both oriental and western musical
heritage, meticulously crafted into a multi-faceted jewel. Singing
in English for the first time, Azam’s voice is a syren’s
call beckoning the soul to leap into realms of infinite beauty.
Elysium then becomes more than a record. It is heaven.
Don’t mistake Nouvelle
Vague’s genuine artistry for a marketing gimmick. It
is true that founding duo Marc Collin
and Olivier Libaux shamelessly
plunder their record collection in search of the favorite songs
of their teenage years. But the metamorphosis that ensues displaces
the post punk era and rewrites history to relocate the songs on
a beach in Rio, a Jazz cave in the Parisian Latin Quarters, or a
in a hammock in the shade of a Jamaican palm tree. Part deux in
this experiment, A Band Apart (Luaka
Bop), is clearly emboldened by the success of the first album, not
only in the choice of songs (U2, Echo and the Bunnymen, Buzzcocks,
Blondie, Yazoo, Billy Idol, New Order, etc…), but also a production
taking unexpected detours: the cinematic Bela Lugosi’s Dead
transforms Bauhaus’ signature song into a new classic where
haunted organs replace jazzy guitars. Visage’s Fade to Gray
aches with melancholy through the drone of an accordion is, punctuated
by the sparse note of a xylophone. Singers Phoebe
Kildeer and Melodie Pain
return, with the addition of Silja
and Gerald Toto, a newcomer on
the French music scene. A brilliant follow for a band who eventually
will have to consider writing their own material. Additional tracks
are available on I-Tunes and on the Limited Edition release.
Always expect great things from Ubiquity
Records. Expect great things from Quantic.
Brighton (UK) based Will Holland’s
fourth solo album An Announcement to an
Answer (Ubiquity) , follows the critically acclaimed Mishaps
Happening with an ever broadening world approach to groove. Quantic
recorded musical impressions on his laptop while gigging around
the world, from Puerto Rico to Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia. The
album’s sophisticated blend of Jazz, Funk, Soul and Hip Hop
also features Portland based MC Ohmega
Watts, Noelle Scaggs of
the Rebirth, Tempo (Candella All
Stars), alongside Puerto Rican trumpeters Major
and Javier Marrero. A beat cool
enough for mojito sipping hipsters, and tasty enough for Jazzheads
to give it the nod. Everybody around the pool: this the official
announcement to a funky summer.
For questions or submissions email
How did the band come together ?
Alex and I grew up together in Seabrook, TX. My dad is a preacher
and his dad owns a world renowned plant nursery, Maas Nursery. We've
been making music together since we were kids. I went off to school
at Florida St University to study advertising and to do track and
field (high jump) and Alex went to Texas State University. In 2002
he and I met back up in Austin where I was going to school at UT
to get my masters in Advertising . In May 2004 he and I met Stephanie,
who was an English major at UT at the time. Jennifer (from Gun Barrell
City, TX) joined us in June 2004 as the dronist. Nate (from Southern
California) joined in Nov 2004, and Kyle (Plano, TX) joined us most
recently in January 2006.
Nate Ryan: I had been doing different
projects with different people and then I caught the Angels at Beerland
in Austin. They were only a four piece then (no bass) so the sound
was really raw and stripped down. After hearing their set once I
had already written parts to several of their songs. I walked up
to Christian after the show and asked him if they wanted a bass
player. After the first practice we were in the studio the next
day recording tracks for Passover.
Jennifer Raines: I actually met
Christian on Myspace. They did not have music up yet, and he asked
me to be The Black Angels' friend. I responded back with "Are
you just trying to get hot girls to be your friend on this thing?"
He responded with
„That's rather modest of you, but you just had good taste
in music.” So I laughed and we began hanging out, till one
day he said, „Hey, if I show you a few things on the keyboard,
would you like to play with us?" I was kinda scared but said,
"Yeah I’ll try." I think we rehearsed three times
and had a show.
What sounds or bands have influenced The
Black Angels ?
Nate Ryan: We've
all been influenced by similar bands like the The Velvet Underground,
The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, The Doors, The Beatles, Bob Dylan,
Spacemen 3, Jesus and Mary Chain, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The
Warlocks, Syd Barrett, early Pink Floyd, the Verve and many others.
Also the sound of insects, factories, war, guns firing, explosions,
strange sounds in the night that inspire fear for no known reason,
trains, buildings falling, the song of the poet who died in the
gutter and air raid sirens.
Your Texas hometown, due to festivals
like Austin City Limits and SXSW seems to have become the epicenter
of Indie Rock. Are you integrated to any particular scene. What
is Austin like when there isn’t a festival in town ?
Alex Mass: If there
aren't festivals going on, it's something else. A marathon, peace
rally, biker rally, gay pride walk, animal appreciation day, Willie
nelson's birthday bash, Museum openings, tattoo conventions…
Dang, the whole town is cultural Mecca. It makes it almost impossible
to be apart of one particular scene. Who wants that anyway?
Nate Ryan: Austin is a great place
with an amazing heritage of music. The festivals are lots of fun
but it's somewhat of a misrepresentation of what life is like here
the rest of the time. There are so many different bands functioning
in such a small area that it really makes for an eclectic music
scene. But that being said, we don't really feel a part of a particular
scene at this point. There aren't any other bands in Austin that
we relate to musically. It doesn't feel like any one else is coming
from the same place.
War is a strong theme in many of your
songs, often vivid storytelling rather than a message. Does your
personal experience inform your lyrics ?
Have you or someone you know been affected by war ?
Alex Mass: Our lyrics
are a reflection of our experience. We like to learn from history,
and that often comes through. My uncle was in the army, I have friends
fighting in Iraq. The Cold war has effected how we were raised by
our parents. Know what to do in case of an air strike, never talk
on the phone about things you don't want the government to know
about. A sense of paranoia and suspicion looms over us like the
daily shadow from a Texas Live oak.
Nate Ryan: War affects all of us
on a personal level. Members of our generation, friends, cousins,
siblings, lovers are the ones dying and acting out the will of a
handful of decision makers in power. The tendency is to forget this
or to make the situation far removed from everyday life. By putting
the situation into a song, the imagination can take over and bring
the reality to an immediate and personal level. People, are dying
every day for reasons that a majority of the world does not believe
in. I guess we feel an obligation, whether conscious or subconscious
to shine a light on what makes it personal for everyone.
Christian Blands: We have several
friends who have been killed in the American war overseas. It seems
we don't learn from our history. We lost the war in Vietnam, and
now we are repeating history in Iraq. We spend our time by the shore
observing the stupidity of it all.
Jennifer Raines: My cousin was
actually a Marine in Desert Storm and I remember a tape he sent
to us telling us goodbye in case he did not make it back. It was
the scariest thing I have ever heard. He was whispering goodbyes
as bombs were going off no more than 10 feet away. As far as what
we choose to write about its not something we sit around and think
about its just something that is important going on that people
need to think about.
Live, the band swaps instruments and sometimes
vocals around. How do you decide who will play what for each song
Nate Ryan: Usually
someone will bring a riff or lyrical idea and it will inspire a
song. We just listen or follow a gut instinct to tell us which instrument
needs to be played. Whoever has the idea for the bass line generally
plays the bass and so on with the other instruments. We'll experiment
with a song for as long as it takes till it feels right. Sometimes
that's ten minutes or sometimes it's a month playing the song to
figure out the right instrumentation and structure for the song.
We like to keep things fresh so a lot of times we'll play a song
live and let it develop there which gives it a cool dynamic.
On stage, your songs really seem to take
a life of their own. How much room do you leave for improvisation
Nate Ryan: It really
depends on the night. If we are feeling it we'll let it go as long
as we want.
Christian Blands: We improvise
more along the lines of Syd Barrett, rather than along the lines
of a 'jam band'... that's just boring..
Any memorable gigs ?
SXSW of 2006 was cool. We got to play the Little Radio day show
slot for Brian Jonestown Massacre because the members were stuck
in an airport. Frontman Anton got up on stage with us and we jammed
one of his songs, 'Feel It' for about 15 minutes. It was pretty
surreal sharing the stage with one of the people we take so much
of our inspiration from.
Any interesting anecdotes from your life
on the road ?
Stopping at Fort Sumter when we passed through South Carolina to
go to Florida was cool. We're all into history so we always stop
at cool historical markers along the way.
There are rumors of Ghost stories surrounding
the band. Tell us…
I have heard things in our house at night, gone down to investigate
and nothing is there, but a gives me a really eerie feelin..
Raines: Apparently someone was murdered here in the 70's.
At night you can hear someone walking around downstairs from 3:30
until 4 am. It's pretty strange. Nothing too scary has happened,
it seems to be a peaceful spirit..
What’s next for the Black Angels
We plan to continue touring the USA through the end of 2006. By
early next year we hope to make it overseas to the UK, Australia,
and Europe. We also have 7 songs from our new album done. We'd like
to have it all recorded by the end of September so that it can be
out by early Spring 2007.
Words and photos: Marc Goldstein (www.myspace.com/mar©). Make Up: Jennifer
Noodleman. Shot on location at the Troubadour, W.Hollywood. Special
thanks to: Chris Estey at Light in the Attic records. The Black
Angels and their manager Brian Jones. Francis Ten.
The Black Angels online:
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