Earlier this year, we introduced you to Black On Black, a three/four piece from Lawrence, Kansas. We hailed their first two releases, and now we’re back with an interview, and some praise for the third, a 5 song EP titled Get On With It.
The band’s musical style doesn’t stray far from their previous releases, but you wouldn’t really want it to. Black On Black have managed to craft an original, fresh sound in a land of sunshine-laden-banjo-folk and synthesized pop — a sound that latches on to your ear and refuses to let go. While Get On With It tops out just around twelve minutes, it still manages to fill the visceral gap that most modern bands haven’t been able to.
I could go on and on about how these guys possess an energy that has otherwise been lacking in a lot of what I’ve heard recently, but let’s just honor the band’s very Antiquiet-friendly work ethic and get right to the point.
You guys are a tough group to scrape up information on using the internet. Other than a few influences on your Facebook page, there is little revealed about your identities. Given the unspoken rules created in MySpace days, almost requiring each band member to have a novel of a bio, it was shocking to see you all so anonymous – and also pretty impressive. Have you purposefully kept faces out of the mix or is that just how the cards fell?
Any level of anonymity isn’t purposeful at all. It’s just that any energy we would put into that stuff could probably be put to better use writing songs or something. The image thing is just not what it’s about for us… and our back-story is not compelling enough to write down. We feel like labels and PR want an image to help fill out your profile and make you more marketable. And honestly a lot of these indie labels are just as bad or worse than the majors. We don’t have cool hair or handlebar mustaches or a pleasantly quirky thrift store look. Whether or not you think we look the part is irrelevant to us. This is not a product in our eyes. Everything you see and hear from this band is done by us and if the music isn’t enough for you then you probably don’t get it.
Your facebook lists you all as “Johnny, Aaron, Wade, Jason.” What instrumental duties are taken on by each member? Is there a lead songwriter or are you a band that writes from their jams?
Wade: guitar/vocals, Aaron: bass/backing vocals, Johnny: drums/backing vocals, Jason: drums/backing vocals. Johnny is our original drummer and lives in Austin now. Jason is our newer drummer and he lives here in Lawrence. Our shows are basically split between the two of them based on availability. It’s a way to keep the gears greased and the ship moving forward. I (Wade) am staunchly anti-jam, so no, we don’t jam. We write songs. I write the majority of the material on guitar at home, demo it, and send it to everybody else. Aaron does the same on some songs that began with bass lines. When we get together we basically arrange everything in a loosely democratic fashion.
How and when did you all come together to form Black On Black?
Johnny and I were actually in another band together that was dying a slow death. I was so full of frustration and abbreviated energy that I felt like I was loosing my mind. Before the end of that band I floated him the idea of doing something completely different together that was less meticulous and more visceral; Something that unapologetically took fistfuls from our childhood influences and was built on sweat rather than patience. Anyway we formed the band in the spring of 2012 as a two-piece but realized quickly that there was no substitute for bass so we convinced Aaron to get on the train. He’s an accomplished musician and has a large part of the same cross-section of influences as we do so it was an easy fit.
Your releases tend to be shorter in length, 5 or 6 songs, yet they sound sonically complete. Is the length usually a result of feeling finished, or do you mentally set out to only put out a handful of songs at a time?
Basically we don’t have the patience to record a full album. This band is just about staying loose and making our own rules. We don’t want to wait for anything. There is a tremendous amount of urgency in what we do. Not really to try and “make it” in the industry as much as just trying to take a hold of life and make as many memories as possible. Anything worth doing is worth doing right now and at full volume. No back burners. We write 5-6 songs, we record them, we release them. It’s that simple. We usually write 2-3 songs at a time so that if anything feels like a sticking point on that particular day we just move on to another song.
Your songs typically bathe in distortion, is that a result of your influence or a way to create a thicker sound? I know I’m always drawn to distortion because it just makes me feel different than something “clean.” It’s a more authentic, live sound. Is it the same for you guys?
We use distortion and fuzz because it feels right. We use the sounds we use for the same reason you turn the heat up when you take a shower. You can get clean with a cold shower, but when you get that hot sting is feels real. We turn up because it’s what needs to be done.
Speaking of live sounds, do any of you have a preference between studio and live work? Or are shows vs studios apples and oranges?
We are a live band. We feed off of performing. Everything else has to conform to that aesthetic. We write songs that feel good to play live, and we record songs with the goal of making them sound as live as is reasonably possible and with as little ornamentation as possible. We don’t want our fans to have buyer’s remorse when they come to a show.
So you obviously have plans to go on the road with your new material?
We do. We’re hoping to do a two week Midwest and west coast run in the summer.
Your previous releases, Let’s Get Cynical and Help Yourself are both up to stream and download on your Bandcamp, do you plan to do the same with Get On With It, or will it be up for purchase?
Get On with It will be the same deal. Completely free online.
And touching on that: In an age where artists are fighting about pennies with Spotify or Pandora, why did you choose to put your work up for free?
There are a lot of people much smarter than we are trying to figure out the new music business model. They haven’t figured it out yet, and we’re not waiting until they do to make shit happen. We aren’t going to make any money selling our records online. We aren’t big enough for that to matter, so all it ends up doing is driving a stake between us and our fans. When we started the band we asked the question, “Would you rather have $100 or 100 fans?” The answer was pretty obvious.
Was the process of making this album any different from your releases in the past? Did it end up coming out how you all planned, if not, how did it change?
We made Help Yourself and Let’s Get Cynical on a budget of about $150 combined and we recorded them in our practice space with shitty mics. Get On With It was made on a budget of about $300 in a garage loft out on a farm but with great mics. That’s about the only difference. All songs were recorded live in about three takes. It came out better than we planned I think. I love making records, but I think I can speak for the band that the real payoff is playing them live.
I’ve heard good news about a strengthening music scene in Lawrence, some even go as far to call it “the next Seattle,” is that something you feel too? Does that have any effect on you as a local band?
It’s hard for me to comment on the scene here. I don’t really know what the hell is going on around here. Every time I think I’ve got some aspect of it figured out I’m just proven embarrassingly wrong, so I’ve pretty much just given up. We are a band of outsiders as far as this town goes, so we might be bad representatives of Lawrence anyway. What I will say though is that as far as I can tell both Lawrence and Kansas City bands work hard. There aren’t any handouts here. We are all swimming upstream together. As far as the Midwest goes I think Lawrence bands have it pretty good. We are in a state that doesn’t support the arts or have any interest in progressive thinking at all for the most part, but we are in a college town that is full of fresh ideas, youthful energy and historical rebelliousness. We love music and art and good beer in Lawrence, but we also have a sort of blue collar work ethic that can be lacking in a lot of creative communities. In Lawrence at least, well done is still better than well said. That’s actually kind of where the title of the new record comes from. Nobody owes you anything. Nobody is going to pat your little bottom and write you a fucking check. So now what? Get on with it.
Are there any other Lawrence bands worth mentioning for our readers? Free press, they’ll love you.
Johnny and I pretty much like the same stuff. We really like a band called Muscle Worship that play this heavy post-rock mathy stuff, and a band called Up The Academy that is just grade A garage rock. This band called Major Games is a sort of wall of experimental punk thing that I love. They are all forces of nature live. Although they’re broken up I’ve always loved Coalesce too. We also really like this KC indie-rock band called The Caves, a pop band called Middle Twin, the singer-songwriter known as Arthur Dodge, a new lo-fi punk band called JOCKS and their sister band Mouthbreathers, a two brother rock explosion called Jabberjosh, a hip-hop dude called Approach, and of course The Appleseed Cast. Still love them. Aaron is more of a traditional punk purist. He really likes the bands Hipshot Killer, Iron Guts Kelly, Circle Of Trust, King TP, and The Rackateees. Jason says he only likes the bands he’s in.
Excellent.. And finally (this is a very serious one) with the holidays coming up: white or dark meat?
Black meat… Of course.
Get On With It will be available to stream and download on November 1st. You can find the new EP and the band’s previous two, Let’s Get Cynical and Help Yourself on their Bandcamp. Also be sure to follow them on Facebook for up to date information on shows.