[MUSIC: Interview] The Black Angels
The whistles and bangs of fireworks can be heard down the phone line as I talk to Alex Maas. It’s July 4 in Austin, Texas and The Black Angels’ singer is taking a break from festivities to talk about the progress on the follow-up to 2010’s Phosphene Dream, and his band’s upcoming appearance at the second instalment of Harvest Festival.
Debuting in 2005 with their self-titled EP, the quintet have established themselves as one of the leading lights in American psychedelia across three albums and a handful of singles and EPs. Beginning recording sessions in January, the band has, to date, 30 tracks under consideration for inclusion on their next release. As Maas explains, having an abundance of tunes to choose from is a blessing. “Any time you’re in a creative moment you sit there and you just try and document everything, you just let it spill out and then you take a step back and think, ‘OK, what’s this? What’s that? How do you make sense of all of this?’ That’s kind of the spot that I’m in right now,” he says. “I believe in every single one of these tunes. We’ve been sitting here trying to work out our top 15 or top 20, and it’s tough. You kind of look at your songs as little pieces of yourself.”
The most recent Black Angels release came in the form of the Record Store Day 7-inch ‘Watch Out Boy’/’I’d Rather Be Lonely’. Both tracks stepped away from the garage rock sound that was prevalent throughout Phosphene Dream, and in its place listeners heard a softer, more introspective side to The Black Angels. Maas says that what they’ve written during the current sessions shows another side of the band again. “You evolve as a band and you evolve as a person, and I want to continue to grow,” he explains. “If you listen to Revolver and Sgt Pepper’s, there’s a lot of evolution in there. If you hear these [new] songs, it’s going to sound like The Black Angels – take that however you want to take it. When I listen to these songs, it has this feel to it and it’s hard to describe. The songs that we released on Record Store Day were a different direction but to me, they still had our touch on them. The songs that we’re working on now sound completely different to the songs we released on Record Store Day, and I want to continue to put out things that are new and interesting, for people who give a shit about
With so many great songs to choose from, a double album hasn’t been ruled out. “We’ve thought about that a lot recently, because we have so much material. If you look at a record like Siamese Dream or you look at a record like The White Album, every single song on there is great,” Maas says. “[But] if you’re putting out 30 songs, it’s very trying. For one, it’s difficult in terms of, what are you going to play when you go out on tour? Are you going to play all 30 songs? Do you play your five favourite then your five favourite from the last three records? I don’t know.
“I don’t know if, realistically, that makes a lot of sense,” he continues. “Not only from a touring perspective, but if you talk to a businessperson they’d probably say that’s a bad idea – not that business should interfere in that at all. What I do know is that I want to give people who give a shit about our music the best songs that we have available, and then not make them wait as long as they did for this next record, if they are waiting…” Indeed, the lengthy gap between Black Angels releases is something that Maas really hopes to curtail in the future – but it’s a tricky venture for all involved. “One thing I’d like to be doing with our band is to be releasing something every three months,” he says. “That’s going to be really difficult on the people that work for us and it’s going to be kind of difficult on us, and it’s going to be hard for people to keep up with it – but I just want to get it out there, even if it’s for free.”
While there’s no concrete release date yet for any new Black Angels recordings, one thing that is a definite is the group’s appearance at Harvest Festival in November – the second time the group have visited Australia after touring mid-2011. The Black Angels are no strangers to festival curation themselves, having staged Austin Psych Fest in their hometown for the past five years, and Maas is happy to be a part of the Harvest bill. “I’ve always wanted to see Beck and never have. I know it’s the obvious thing to say [but] that’s an artist I would love to work with. He’s such an active player. He’s transcended time with his music. If you listen to his drumbeats and his samples and his vocals, just his concept of songwriting is great. I’m looking forward to seeing our friends The Dandy Warhols too. The lineup’s insane – the people who are behind the festival obviously have great taste!”
With: Beck, Sigur RЧs, Ben Folds Five, The Dandy Warhols, Liars, Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane, Santigold, Grizzly Bear, Beirut, Ozomatli, Fuck Buttons, Chromatics and more
Where: Harvest Festival @ Parramatta Park
When: Saturday November 17