By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
Some may use prefixes such as "progressive" or "stoner" to describe the music unleashed by Black Mountain. But the Vancouver quintet is, above all else, a rock band. Its list of influences (Zeppelin, Floyd, Sabbath) reads like the required listening from School of Rock, and any track on its 2008 Jagjaguwar release In The Future would make for a bitchin' level on Guitar Hero. Keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt was gracious enough to turn down Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" in the band's van stereo to discuss Black Mountain's new record, drugs, irony and violence.
B-Sides: What was Black Mountain trying to accomplish with In The Future?
Jeremy Schmidt: We just wanted to make something that really felt like an album in that classic sort of sense, with a narrative from beginning to end. That was really the only criteria; the rest just kind of developed as we went. We had no intentions of making it a double album.
How do you feel about being labeled a stoner-rock band?
It can be good or bad, and usually it's boring. It just insinuates this monolithic, kind of heavy, masculine, riff-oriented thing. I like that element and it exists in our music, but there's more going on than that sonically. Things like Amber [Webber]'s voice and the keyboard arrangements aren't what come to mind when people think of stoner rock. I guess it just depends on what people think the limitations of that genre are.
When a band like Wolfmother plays a '70s rock riff, they get labeled ironic, and when Black Mountain plays a '70s rock riff they don't.
That's because we're not being ironic.
Is there any element of irony in your music?
No, I don't think so. Having that sort of "ironic distance" is necessary for certain people, but we don't feel that way. You eventually just come to terms with what you like, and that's what you do. I certainly see some of the folly in classic rock and progressive rock, the sort of grandiosity of it in its heyday. It can definitely be looked upon as kind of funny, but I think it produced really good music — and the musical elements of it we delve into, we really like. It's like part of our soul. Whether it's regarded culturally as ironic or frivolous, it's stuff that we relate to on a profound level. I think even at the outset those bands had a sense of humor about what they were doing, but there wasn't a cultural identity for that sort of humor in music at the time. But now — with the benefit of hindsight and there being this large body of rock music that's considered historical — people can approach it in a different way. I guess it's just part of living in a postmodern life.
You toured with Coldplay in 2005, which seems like an odd bill. How did the crowd react?
I think they were fairly indifferent for the most part. I mean, it was a Coldplay show so we were kind of a minor distraction before the "real show" began.
People can get pretty violent if denied their Coldplay.
There were lots of people texting their friends while we played. Asking them if they got parking, I guess.
Who would win in a fight: Led Zeppelin circa 1973 or Black Sabbath circa 1973?
Probably Sabbath, they're just a little more working-class bruiser dudes. But who knows, maybe Led Zeppelin are tough motherfuckers, too. Maybe John Bonham would just kick the shit out of everybody. It's hard to say, but I think I'm going to go with Sabbath.
Then who would win in a fight: Black Sabbath circa 1973 or Black Mountain circa 2008?
Oh, Black Sabbath would definitely kick the shit out of us. We're wimps, man. They would beat our asses and proudly proclaim that we are not real stoner rock. We are art fags, and we're dead.— Ryan Wasoba
9 p.m. Friday, March 21. The Bluebird, 2706 Olive Street. $10 advance, $12 day of show. No phone. www.myspace.com/bluebirdstl.
Ace of Spades
St. Louis native Black Spade recently moved to Brooklyn and inked a deal with Om Records. But on his new album To Serve With Love, the rapper/producer drops enough herres and therres in his verses to clear up any doubt about where he's really from. In fact, Spade often makes a point to remember his roots: The former Soul Tyde member employs a strong St. Louis supporting cast on Love, enlisting contributions from Wafeek, Rockwell Knuckles and Gotta Be Karim, to name just a few.
Other than Spade's unmistakable Lou accent, however, To Serve With Love sounds nothing like stereotypical St. Louis hip-hop. The two-part opening song (which is also the album's title track) sets the tone for what's to come. The first half is dominated by an abrasive, space-age electronic beat and discordant singsong vocals. It's a little bit N.E.R.D., a little bit OutKast and a whole lot of his own style. Part two is much more subdued: It opens with some self-conscious vinyl crackling — presumably there to make things sound suitably retro — a heavy dose of sampling and a little bit of spoken word, followed by an extended Spade verse that's typically low-key, profound and concerning his love life.
The addictively catchy "Actioneer" is the highlight of the album. A cascading synthesizer beat, keyboards and Spade's Cee-Lo–inspired singing drives the song, which is a fusion of soul, hip-hop and nothing I've ever heard before. The sing-along–friendly hook — "Don't you want to be an actioneer?" — asks a question that proves to be one of the albums biggest themes: What's a man got to do to get ahead in the game? Using an unorthodox song structure, Spade only drops one verse sandwiched between a handful of hooks, but the rhyme is hot enough to carry the entire song. He raps at one point, "You got knowledge and they call you insane/They say, Change your style up, and it fucks with your brain."
Though the nineteen-song album probably could have used some pruning (an entire three-minute track devoted to other rappers he likes — "the geniuses that inspire me" — and another called "True Friends" that consists entirely of shout-outs and inside jokes that feels superfluous), there are enough heaters on the album to put Spade on the map nationally. Here's hoping he keeps his feet planted right herre in his hometown.—Keegan Hamilton
8 p.m. Friday, March 21. Vintage Vinyl, 6610 Delmar Boulevard, University City. Free. 314-721-4096.