The Kids Aren't Alright

Drugs could have saved the world from Black, Black Ocean

Black, Black Ocean

Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center

Drugs have always been linked to mutations and advancements in popular music. Take pot. As early as 1909, the use of marijuana by jazz musicians in New Orleans' red-light district enabled band members to ignore the fatigue brought on by long hours of playing in whorehouses. The psychotropic effects produced by smoking pot can cause music to sound more imaginative and unique, thereby propelling improvisation to new heights by allowing music to be heard and analyzed from an inspired perspective.

On the less-direct branch of the music/drug equation: In 1981, American physicians began prescribing gargantuan quantities of the highly addictive stimulant Ritalin to children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD). Since that year, poor attention span and hyperactivity in children has apparently been on the rise, as America now consumes 90% of the world's Ritalin and stimulant-oriented remedies. When the benefits of these substances became more widely known to the parents of energetic little bastards everywhere, ADD awareness began spreading proportionally, and an entire portion of the population became the "ADD generation." While thousands upon thousands of children have since received the diagnosis, many have not been medicated and celebrate their illness into adulthood by unabashedly raising more and more hell with middle fingers raised in defiance to the medical establishment. The effect that this disturbing trend has had on popular music is evident in the confusing "hyper rock" of today; it's one example of how the lack of a particular drug can induce as much mutation as drug use can. According to Ryan Eason, guitarist-vocalist-electronic-musician for the Denver hyper rock quartet Black, Black Ocean, music works as self-medication.

"We're all ADD kids. We get bored quickly, we need things to keep changing and building and stopping and starting; sometimes we almost kill each other when we write songs, but we end up eating ice cream when it's done." The talk turned on a dime as Eason continued, "We practice as much as we can, except mostly we just end up arguing about whether an army of ninjas could beat an army of pirates. Which is such a stupid argument for grown-ups like us to have. Pirates don't stand a fucking chance. Ninjas!"

A casual listen to Black, Black Ocean turns out to be anything but casual. Punk and indie roots are apparent in the mix and invite the listener to tap toe and pump fist, but sudden rhythmic convulsions and melodic spasms send sinister messages across the synapses and inspire movements that more closely resemble an orgy of drunken cobras. Eason elaborated on the band's tangled web of influences.

"Besides the obvious comparisons to Liza Minnelli and Glen Danzig, I'd say we're some big mess of lots of noise/art punks and a few tasteful hardcore bands from the '90s. Oh, and the flannel dork rock commonly referred to as grunge may have left a stain or two on our sound.... '80s bratty, snot-nosed coke bands. Glam rock and Men at Work probably go 50/50 from that decade. '70s butt rock and other bands that make us wish we had boobs and could hurt ourselves without's all in there somewhere. Electronic music as far back as Kraftwerk has done something for us also; at least it made us try designer drugs, which probably added something."

It's commonly affirmed that ADD rock ensembles rely heavily on bad-ass rhythm sections. BBO has that aspect of the formula locked in place with the teaming of Jared Black and Quintin Schermerhorn abusing drums and bass, respectively. Eason notes, "Jared and Quintin were practically raised as brothers in Denver and started playing music together about ten years ago. They're very good, their brains click to the same beat, and it's a really bizarre beat -- almost frightening at times." With auxiliary guitar duties nailed down by Stephen Till, Black, Black Ocean manages to concoct a heady brew of stomping and tantrum-throwing that threatens to simultaneously cause and rupture aneurysms in the most hardened of rock enthusiasts. They actually make going temporarily insane look like a blast and shift gears between albums as deftly as they do within songs.

"We formed in spring of 2002, made an EP on our own, then made a full length early this year with Pigeon Kicker Records (entitled ¡Operación!); now we have another EP called Vultures for Permanent Fix on Red Triangle Records. Our full-length album includes songs that were written in our very early stages and for several months following. The new EP is more of a snapshot of where we're at now, a very different place than a year ago. If those releases were games on The Price is Right, the full length would be Punch a Bunch and the new EP would be Plinko."

The road threatens to drive BBO even crazier, so some structure and ritual is necessary. "We used to have a big Mountain Dew Code Red thing going on, but that shit will rot your teeth if it doesn't give you an ulcer first, so we switched to vodka, cigarettes and pain pills. Besides extreme sex acts, we don't have any special bonding rituals -- unless drinking a lot counts. We do have certain rituals with Deborah, our Dodge van, such as keeping her shiny and healthy."

Van care may not seem very wild, but rock & roll still rules BBO.

"You'll never believe it, but one of the craziest towns we've ever played is Toledo, Ohio. There's a pretty strong music scene. I'll give the abridged version in case my mother gets hold of this; she still loves me, I think.... So Jared and myself had about eleven too many vodka gimlets because the psychos in that town just wouldn't stop giving them to us, and we decided it was high time to get buck-naked. Apparently -- so I later learned -- Ohio has some sort of law against standing on top of parked cars with your junk flapping in the wind. As soon as we saw the police coming, we both bolted naked through the streets. Jared was saved by the venue owner who let him slip into the back room, and I ended up taking shelter in the car of a stranger parked on another block who understood my plight to free the world of its binding garments. I borrowed her phone and got picked up 30 minutes later, during which time we made out. You, red Cavalier, Bon Jovi T-shirt with ripped off sleeves. Me, naked, drunk and confused...maybe we could click?"

The life isn't for everyone, but it works for Eason.

"We're all feeling pretty good about what we're doing," says Eason with a bit of swagger. "I guess we'll always struggle to write better songs and play stronger live and have a more entertaining live show, but that's the point, isn't it? I'll just say we like to shake our asses and sweat, strangers may get all rubbed up on and we've all hurt ourselves many times."

The lesson to be learned here should be self-evident, and the subsequent message to parents of hyperactive children with musical proclivities hopefully comes through loud and clear: Medicate the brats.

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