Black Mountain talk about their first album in six years

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Vancouver-bred band Black Mountain is back with a new album for the first time since 2010. Its members have by no means been laying low, some taking on different musical projects with other bands or working on solo endeavours. But finally Stephen McBean, Amber Webber, Matt Camirand, Jeremy Schmidt and Joshua Wells are together again and in fine form with IV, the follow-up to their last LP Wilderness Heart. A fusion of sounds previously visited by the seasoned super rock group, IV throws listeners into another dimension running parallel to classic rock. Psychedelic to its core and polished in its manic rugged format, Black Mountain is in the middle of a full tour spanning from Europe to Canada to the States. IV hit Canadian store shelves on April 1st and we got a chance to talk with co-lead vocalist and guitarist Stephen McBean in a phone interview from Los Angeles before he left on tour.

“You get tired sometimes, but it’s one of those things,” said McBean of the tour life. “You get to have amazing travels and meet fun-loving people and play really loud rock and roll to them, and it’s just fun.”

Black Mountain will be on the road until nearly the end of July, and are briefly in Canada for some shows after a handful of stints in Europe.

“It can get crazy—we’ve been known to have quite a good time on the road,” McBean reminisced. “Sometimes you get sick and you kind of have to mend your body amidst the party and it can be tough. Places like Italy are fun because of all the food and the great wine. They’re constantly pouring wine down your throat, which is great. Usually it just happens when you’re in a town where you have a few friends that you haven’t seen in a while. You have a few drinks and there you go…off into the night.”

Having been a part of one band or another since the early eighties, McBean is no stranger to the Canadian West Coast music scene, and looks forward to the quick stop in Vancouver at the Commodore Ballroom this coming up weekend on Saturday, May 21st.  

“Playing Vancouver is always really special and the Commodore is special to play at because of its history and the sound there is really good,” McBean said. “I think it’ll be a fabulous night.”

While the group now has friends all over—some of its members having toured many times both with Black Mountain and with other bands—there is something about being home that brings out a unique kind of show.

“Sometimes your hometown is the best but also the hardest,” said McBean. “If you’re playing somewhere in Scandinavia you don’t really know anyone; if you have an off night it just gets you down. But when all your friends are there staring at you, you need to really make sure you bring it or they’re going to call you a fool!” 

IV is really some of the group’s best work to date, and the product is an alien-like musical beast. This fact was well realized by musician and eclectic artist Chad VanGaalen, who created the music video for the group’s newest single “Florian Saucer Attack”. The video is in McBean’s words, “a cool cycle of life alien little movie.”

Never shying away from using Webber’s thrillingly powerful voice—easily comparable in essence to that of Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick—IV portrays a mature confidence that comes from musicians that know what they are doing and know that they do it well together.

“We felt that when we made this record we were quite ready to make it and start playing music together again,” McBean said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to close your eyes and roll with it. I feel like it was quite fun and easy to make this record. There’s a certain confidence—but we’ve been around for quite some time now.”

Black Mountain recorded the new album primarily with producer Randall Dunn in Seattle, making this the second time McBean had worked with him and the first time for the band itself.

“We’re good friends and it was the right place to be. He’s a passionate character who knows a lot about music and synthesizers and heavy guitars and also folk,” said McBean of Randall. “All the different stuff that he records is all over the place but also bound together well. I guess you could say that people who are really passionate about music are kind of outside the scope of the world looking down on you. It’s weirdo music and it was a good fit. He stretched things out, made things a little weirder and took some chances.”

It is true that IV exudes dark dreamy sections interwoven with hard, emotive nostalgia-based rock and roll…making it wonderfully weird. McBean even quotes Kraftwerk as being an inspiration, showing that the group knows no creative bounds.

“Weirdo music is kind of my favourite,” McBean said. “Back in the seventies there was a lot of pretty strange music that a lot of people had access to. We’re interested in reaching as many people—my mom even likes some of our songs, it’s cute.”  

McBean and Webber’s harmonizing is key to the group’s success, along with an underlying vibe that says ‘fuck you’ to contemporary pop rock. Black Mountain’s writing and performance style is extremely reminiscent of sixties and seventies rock, and yet their personal brand of weird is modern enough to be exciting on its own.  

“We’ve kind of always been a little off on our own,” said McBean of Black Mountain’s place on the Canadian music landscape. “Maybe when I was younger I was more a part of a specific scene. Now, sometimes you’re in a black metal show, or sometimes you’re in a folk show, or a psychedelic DJ spinning night. We used to tour a lot with bands like Ladyhawk and Destroyer. Just rockers, just dirty rockers.”

And members of Black Mountain are still very much dirty rockers. Commodore concertgoers will get a chance to see musical grit that was evident at the birth of the B.C. band, but is now seasoned and definitive. The group reissued their debut self-titled album last year on their tenth anniversary as a band, and the journey back in time was fond and even creatively productive for them.

“You have little sparks of memory flashes back to ten or twelve years ago about the records you were listening to,” McBean said. “The band formed out of making that first record; we hadn’t actually played a show as Black Mountain. No one had heard of us and no one had heard the songs. There was just an innocence to it and it was nice to revisit. A little of that innocent pixie dust may have floated into the new album.”