The Black Angels
By alexander laurence
The Black Angels formed in May 2004 in Austin, Texas. They are much like a
modern version of psychedelic bands like the 13th Floor Elevators and The Velvet
Underground. They invite their audience to “Turn on, tune in, and drone
out.” They really blew the audience away at SXSW this year. Since then there has
been no turning back. They released their first album Passover (2006). It is an
amazing document. They recently hit the west coast and left us wanting more.
They are off to play some festivals and dates in the Midwest. But they will
return to California in October 2006. I got to see them at Alex’s Bar in Long
Beach, and the Troubadour. I spoke to a few of the members before the show in
The Black Angels are:
Nate Ryan: bass/guitar
Stephanie Bailey: drums
Christian Bland: guitar/bass
Alex Maas: vocals/bass
Jennifer Raines: Drone Machine
Kyle Hunt: guitar/bass/drums
Brian Jones: manager
AL: How did you all meet each other?
Kyle: I am the newest member in the band. I met Christian, Nate, and Alex. I
have known Jennifer from before she was in the band, from around Austin. I met
all the rest of them at a party or maybe it was one of y’all shows? It was at
Eric Wofford’s house. He is the guy who recorded the album. He has bands play
at his house. He has a lot of birthday parties and stuff. We met and got
along really well. I ended up working on the album, Passover. They asked me to
join the band after that.
AL: What were you doing, Alex, before you formed The Black Angels?
Alex: Christian and I had been playing in bands for years. We were trying to
get these little bands together for years. One was called Orwell. One was
called Black and Green Scarecrows. We were really influenced by Syd Barrett. It
was that sort of stuff. We were always creating music together. We thought:
“Man, we should just be in a band.”
AL: Did any songs carry over from the early bands?
Alex: No. We started off fresh. Every band had different people and sounded
different. The first song we wrote was “Drone.” That was the only song that
carried over at all. Once we got together with all these people, this new group,
the sound started coming out. All the influences were there.
AL: I watched that video with Anton Newcombe at South by Southwest in March
2006. Then I saw the show last night. Are you always making up songs on the
Christian: It’s not always like that, but the first song we play is always
different. We are playing “Snake In The Grass” tonight. We like improv. It
depends on how we feel.
Stephanie: When we are backstage, we say, “What are we going to play?” And
we say “We’ll make it up as we go along.” We add different parts.
AL: You like to switch instruments a lot too?
Alex: Yeah. Everyone has a cool style I guess. Everyone can play the bass
guitar. We want to bring all that into the music. It’s all in the realm of our
AL: How do you write songs in the band?
Jennifer: It’s different every time. Sometimes Christian will bring in a
guitar riff. We will go into practice, and we will develop the song, and put our
parts in. We can watch it evolve. Sometimes Alex will write some lyrics, and we
will write a song a round it. Sometimes he will write lyrics after. Sometimes
we will be jamming and the songs will form. We will try to remember the good
stuff. 98% of the time we will forget it all.
AL: How did you go about recording the album?
Christian: Eric Wofford produced the record. This guy, Dave Cooley, who lives
out here in Los Angeles, mastered it. Eric did most of it on tape. It wasn’t
a Pro Tools job. We tried to have the songs down before we went into the
studio. We did it all in this place in Austin. It was right by the river.
AL: Did you make some stuff in the studio?
Stephanie: Last time we were in the studio, I just started playing this beat
on the drums, and Alex started singing something. The song is different now
than when we first played it in the studio. But we play that all the time.
AL: The band started in May 2004. What was the reaction to some of the first
Alex: We started playing around Austin. One of the first places was Trophy’s,
which is a little bar there. Everyone liked it. Most of the first shows was
just our friends. It was like that for a year. Then when we played SXSW 2005
for the first time, it was the turning point.
Stephanie: We played a KEXP show really early on too.
AL: Do people get jaded in Austin because there are so many bands?
Christian: It’s big enough to have a lot of different shit going on. But it
is small enough to where like everyone supports the other bands. We have a lot
of friends in other bands.
Alex: Also another turning point was when we started getting active and doing
things, instead of being lazy and waiting for things to happen. Like you
said, there might be a thousand bands in Austin. How do you set yourself apart? It
have to actually do stuff. We moved in with each other. That was another
turning point. All these things happened that helped the band have forward
progression and momentum. At some point there was the point of no return.
AL: Have you played a lot of shows?
Christian: Yeah. I think we have played 105 shows in the past year. It has
been non-stop touring for a while. We had members in the band before who didn’t
want to play more than a show a month.
Alex: We had to be active. Those guys are long gone. It’s like the
entertainment business is moving at a thousand miles an hour. You have to move at two
thousand miles an hour. Everyone is always doing something. Everyone is always
moving on to the next technological thing.
AL: What are some of the other bands that you have played with?
Alex: We played with Pink Mountaintops. They are fucking awesome. We played
five or six shows with them.
Stephanie: Pink Mountaintops are my favorite band right now. I like Hopewell.
AL: What is the song “The First Vietnamese War” about?
Christian: What we doing with that song was to compare the old times with the
new times. We don’t learn from history. The same thing repeats itself over
and over. The song is a story about a soldier who is a deserter from the army.
Alex: We are not a political band. We have political themes in our music. We
are not going to convert a bunch of people to a liberal point of view. We care
about the human condition. That is the most important thing.
AL: You might seem to have some dark themes in your songs. Does the band have
a sense of humor too?
Christian: I think so. We are like happy people. We are joking with each
other all the time. But music is also something that we take seriously.
Alex: Music is our outlet. It’s where our dark side might show.
AL: Is there any general religious or philosophical ideas with the band?
Christian: We were all raised going to church. So we all known the Bible.
Alex: We are like students. We are observing things in the world. We are
always learning. We don’t have a strict foundation.
AL: Are you playing a lot of festivals this summer?
Alex: We are playing the Hedgpeth Festival in Wisconsin. We are playing Block
Party in Seattle. There is also the Bleeding Kansas Festival.
AL: I have never heard of some of these festivals.
Alex: We are playing with The Flaming Lips and The Secret Machines.
AL: Do you have any favorite movies?
Christian: My favorite movie is Apocalypse Now.
Alex: I don’t have a favorite movie. I like documentaries.
AL: What are shows like in the Midwest?
Christian: Chicago was awesome. Nebraska and Detroit were so-so.
AL: You play in Texas all the time? Is it a good place for The Black Angels?
Alex: Not really. We have a hard time playing there. When we go to Houston,
people are not into this type of music. We are doing a bunch of shows with Blue
Cheer. It’s the first time they have played in a long time.
AL: I didn’t know Blue Cheer was still together.
Alex: We are going to do five shows with them. I think it’s two guys from the
original band. We are going to go through Texas and Oklahoma.
AL: Are you going to step it up for those shows?
Christian: You know it.
AL: If you guys do really well, you are going to blow them off the stage.
Alex: It’s going to be crazy.
AL: How do you make a setlist for a show?
Christian: Last night was different. We choose a new set for every show. When
we played the KEXP show we did the slower material. We did more of the mind
AL: People do get hypnotized in the audience. They look vulnerable. They look
open to suggestion.
Christian: It’s all mind control.
Alex: Like last night, you were asking if we were going to play for three
hours. If we had time we would have. But they had to close down the bar at 2am.
So it goes. Maybe later we will have more time to experiment.
AL: Are you going over to Europe soon?
Alex: Yeah. We have a record coming out there. It’s a seven inch single of
“The First Vietnamese Wear.” It will have a new song on there too. It will be
our first release over there.
Christian: We are going to put golden tickets in the single.
AL: What do they get if they win?
Alex: Lifetime pass to the shows? That would be cool.
AL: You always have David Bowie or Charles Manson on the list? They might
show up? I saw a funny name on there.
Alex: David Bowie was possibly going to come. Our manager is named Brian
Jones. Obviously it’s not the guy in the Rolling Stones.
Christian: It’s the real Brian Jones. It’s not that real Brian Jones. People
don’t believe that is his name. I knew Brian before the band ever started. We
both knew him from before. We didn’t have him involved with the band because
of his name. He was into the same sort of music.
AL: I think you are up here. It’s time for the sound check.