The Black Angels: TAS In Session
Indebted to the Velvet Underground, Austin's The Black Angels have shaped their own style of darkly evocative psychedelic rock, spanning over four albums and shifting iineups.
On the band's latest album, Indigo Meadow, a crisper rock sound emerges on the John Congleton-produced album, stripping away elements of The Black Angels' fuzzed-out psychedelia. Politics also step to the lyrical forefront with topical songs like "Broken Soldier" and "Don't Play With Guns."
The Black Angels are on a lengthy North American tour this spring and will also play the UK and Europe — includeing Glastonbury— in June and July.
Not long ago the band played an acoustic set for The Alternate Side. Watch the videos and read highlights of Russ Borris' interview with vocalist and bassist Alex Maas below and listen to the session this Friday, May 3, on TAS on 91.5 WNYE at 11 a.m., also streaming online.
Russ Borris: ["Don't Play With Guns"] is catchy and its got a weight subject matter. Was that one of the first ones you wrote for the record.
Alex Maas: One of the first songs that we wrote was “Indigo Meadow” and “Broken Soldier.” The lyrical content for “Guns” was created in November of 2011 or somewhere in there. We actually sat down and constructed the song in January 2012. It’s a song that’s always going to be current. It always has been and always will be until we figure out what’s going on. You never know what’s going to be on the record. You just start documenting the music.
Russ: Is it hard to let go of certain tracks?
Alex: Yeah, it’s like picking your favorite child. When you look at all the songs together, you can pick out what’s cohesive and what’s not cohesive. Some things stand out; maybe you want something incohesive. But we just put it to a vote at the end of the day. You’re a democracy.
Russ: The words I’d use to describe the record would be “cohesive” or “focused.” Did it feel like a different recording process?
Alex: The process? Not really. It was the same that we always do. We have tons of ideas and we get together and hash them out. We might take a chorus from another song and stick it on something else and mix/mash a song until we have something we like. But the process wasn’t that much different. The first two records were written in Austin and the third was written in Los Angeles. This last one was written in Torneo, Texas, on the border of Texas and Mexico. It’s another country there. It was a cool facility called Sonic Ranch, 3000 acres and four or five studios on this property. We went out there, stayed for a month and made this record. It was nice to be out there and be engulfed in the music.
Russ: It feels like how these songs come together for you guys. It’s not like, “I had this cool riff on the acoustic guitar and we’ll write some lyrics and we’ll be done in an hour.”
Alex: Songs do come together like that. Sometimes people talk about how songs come together in a dream, they wake up and hear a melody. That happens, but in terms of getting the exact song on the record, there’s more of a sonic alchemy where you have a guitar riff, but it might be better as a vocal melody. Or you have a vocal melody and it might translate better on an organ. It’s trial and error.
Russ: What is it that you guys have learned as a band, not just in the studio, but on the road about yourselves?
Alex: To be patient. Keep an open mind. Know that everything takes time. Any overnight success is very rare. Follow your heart. Russ: Everybody is working towards the same goal. Alex: Yeah, if you vote on things, it makes it seem better. You don’t have one dictator running the entire ship.
Russ: The sound you guys have some say is an acid rock or psychedelic thing. Was that always the love you guys have, the influences. Obviously, there’s the Velvet Underground where the band takes its name.
Alex: Musically, in this country, people come from all over the place. The music that we wanted to create and were most drawn to was the sound from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Whenever we started writing, naturally, that music came out. Most of our record collection was from that era. I grew up in Houston, so there was everything from old country music to hip-hop. The whole gamut. When we first got together, the core records were the Beatles, the Velvet Underground, that kind of stuff. I remember the first time I heard the Velvet Underground, I thought, “Wow.” It was so dark. “Venus in Furs.” After listening to the Beatles as a kid, I heard “Venus in Furs” and was like, “Man, that’s amazing.” It blew my mind. A game-changer for me.
Russ: You have a way of using the effects, on your vocals or your guitar, where things can get a little spooky at times. There’s a little dirtiness to it.
Alex: Haunting and spooky ... that’s a good place to be if you can get there. You can freak yourself out a little bit. But at the same time, there’s something about what the Velvet Underground did that was very pretty. There was that underlying layer of darkness, though, and not in a gothic way. If you can get the chills while you’re playing a song, with your friends, that should be a keeper song.