An Interview with The Black Angels: Musical Alchemists

An Interview with The Black Angels: Musical Alchemists

—by , April 3, 2013

Being as passionate about music as I am, I enjoy finding new music to listen to and then getting to learn about the band and their history. With the long line of groups with “Black” in their name, I came across The Black Angels a few years ago after hearing “You On The Run,” and I’ve been hooked ever since. Their newest single, “Don’t Play With Guns,” only reinforced my thoughts that this talented act is different than most. With a late ‘60s/early ‘70s psychedelic sound, this Austin, Texas band is a breath of fresh air in today’s music. Their fourth LP, Indigo Meadow, was released April 2. While the group was gearing up to support this record on the road, I was fortunate enough to chat with lead singer Alex Maas, who also plays bass, guitar, and keyboards.

After learning about The Black Angels through various magazine articles, blogs, websites, and videos, it was a whole other experience getting to know them from a personal chat. In the conversation below, Maas talks about his views on digital media and the impact it has on their music, career, and the effect on the industry. He also discusses what the band’s future will be like with the release of their latest album, along with hot sauce, dream venues, and bling.

I wanted to tell you that the pre-order packages are a great idea. What made you choose hot sauce, a baseball hat, iPhone cases, etc., for the various packages available?

We were just sitting around with our manager at lunch one time and we were just trying to come up with clever ideas. The hot sauce came out first because it kinda came as a natural idea to incorporate. Our friend bought five or six bottles of hot sauce and thought, “Oh man, wouldn’t it be awesome to bring out hot sauce or something?” (Laughs) We were kidding about it at first and then we were like, “We should really do this.”

Was there anything that differed in the recording process on the new album?

I think there was more alchemy involved—more musical alchemy. Like, “Oh wait, try this.” Like making the guitar sound like something else, a bit more of that, and time so we could get creative, you know.

Is there anything you would like to experiment with on future releases?

I would like to explore more world instruments. I’d like to incorporate more organic instruments as opposed to electrical guitar and organ—which are all great—but just like, some weird Turkish flute. If you listen to the song “Indigo Meadow,” there’s this weird flute (imitates part and laughs) that was found in a street market in Morocco.

How do you feel about music in this ever-changing digital era?

It’s kind of a hard thing to always be adapted to, but you always gotta keep your options and your ears open. There’s a fear of being left behind in a technological world and not knowing what’s happening. We grew up in this world and our parents are late and falling behind, and our grandparents are all like (in a Southern accent), “An iPhone? What is that?” Our parents are trying to catch up and we are growing up with our friends developing this technology. So basically, I think it’s easier for our generation to put records out. There’s tons of ways to use the internet to research.

Touching on that, you’ve previously mentioned that you used last.fm to research what songs are played most often to help create your setlists.

Yeah, sometimes we do that. There’s also this site, I think called setlist.com, where I can go and see, “Oh, in Bordeaux, France, we played all these songs.” Yeah, I mean, we can cater to that, but you can also try to do something entirely different. You can go to last.fm and see what’s popular, or you can take people on new journeys. It’s interesting to see how fans will upload setlists and we can see what songs we played in New York City three years ago. It’s super interesting.

These sites can also act as a radio station. Do you think online radio will change the usual radio format, or do you think it will act as a separate entity?

Will it change radio? I think it probably has. That’s a really good question. One way is that radio stations are pushing music onto the audience. The internet sites like Pandora or last.fm are using the pull method; they are allowing the audience to engage in their interests. They could put them out of business I guess, but they need to figure out a way to pay the artists better from those sites.

The gun control issue can be heard in your latest single, “Don’t Play With Guns.” Is there any other issue you think would be too difficult to discuss?

I mean, if you do your research, there is a way for you to blanket the idea. It’s hard in an entire song to educate people on an idea. We try to get people to think about these issues and think for themselves. I think it’s a good starting point.

Do you think more artists should try to express these ideas and encourage their fans to think about these issues in their work?

It’s not up to me to say what other people should and shouldn’t do, but would I like to see it? Yeah, I think we have a social responsibility to talk about these issues. In this cultural revolution, I look at the top 20 and when I hear them talking about bling and boobs (laughs), I would like to see more talk on social issues. I think that’d be great if it happened.

The Austin Psych Fest is a way you get to work with and see several bands that you’ve met throughout the years. Is there anyone you have wanted to work with that you haven’t yet?

Oh man, the list goes on—it’s really endless. It’d be great to work with like David Bowie or any of the artists that really inspired us. The list is really incredibly long.

You typically play small venues and festivals. Do you have a dream venue?

I mean, yeah, if you have some kind of big open ranch or something like The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream. It’d be great to play in a jungle or somewhere like in a monastery.

 

The Black Angels’ new album, Indigo Meadow, is available now. See them at Union Transfer in Philly on April 7, Webster Hall in Manhattan on April 8, and The Bell House in Brooklyn on April 10. For more information, go to theblackangels.com.


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