Black Mountain time
By J Cummins
Being a full-time music hack, I get a ton of new music crossing my desk every week. Sadly, it is all too rare when a record comes out and completely blindsides me. The Black Mountain debut is one of those records. Headed up by ex-Jerk With A Bomb and current Pink Mountaintops singer-songwriter Stephen McBean, Black Mountain cooks up a heady brew of swirly psychedelia, Sabbath stomp, Curtis Mayfield groove, Velvet Underground innovation, and Pink Floyd’s proggier side. Despite having such a wide array of influences, Black Mountain remains in focus at all times possessing a signature sound that is all their own. Heads Magazine chatted with the soft-spoken and prolific McBean.
Heads: Have you been surprised by the amazing reviews your record’s been getting?
Stephen McBean: Yeah, when we finished, it was like we had a mild panic attack. We started wondering if we should’ve went to a real studio and second-guessing, but we gave it to the label and they really liked it, so that kind of made it feel like we did the right thing. I wasn’t really expecting people to listen to the lyrics or anything and I guess people like it so that’s satisfying.
H: You’re in the Pink Mountaintops as well as Black Mountain. When you write a song do you realise early on which band will get the song?
S.M.: I kind of do that now. I did the Pink Mountain record before Black Mountain formed so that was easy. Black Mountain started because there were all of these Jerk With A Bomb songs leftover so it was easy to separate the two. I think all of the songs that ended up on the Black Mountain record could’ve made it on the Pink Mountaintops record. Now that both bands have evolved it seems pretty obvious to me when I write a song which band is going to do it.
H: What is the fascination with mountains?
S.M.: I don’t know. I just had this dream that Jerk With A Bomb changed its name to Black Mountain. Jerk played a show after that and I woke up the next day and still remembered the name so I wrote a song called Black Mountain and it just stuck. I guess it’s cool because then our record gets stocked next to cool bands like Black Flag and Black Sabbath and Pink Mountaintops gets stocked next to Pink Floyd too so that’s pretty cool.
H: Black Mountain has been described as more of a collective then just a band. Do you get inspiration from the revolving door policy?
S.M.: Yeah, definitely. I mean, Black Mountain has turned into a real band but the collective is not just music. A lot of our friends do art and photography and they’re part of our little collective as well. It’s really inspiring. It’s not even really a collective, it’s just us hanging out with our friends and it just stems naturally out of that. Vancouver in the past two years has just experienced an explosion of art of all kinds. Whether it’s making clothes, music or people putting on art shows, and the bands here are just really great. Right now in Vancouver there is a whole group of kids that will go see local bands. There are a lot of local shows where they’ll be between 300 to 400 kids there.
H: Do you think this is a positive backlash to kids being overexposed to teenage divas and prefab pop stars?
S.M.: Oh yeah, kids aren’t as dumb as most major labels and media would have you believe. We are currently watching popular music in its lowest form right now. I was just watching the Surreal Life and Flavour Flav from Public Enemy was one of the housemates and it just broke my heart. I think Public Enemy was one of the most important bands of the late eighties, early nineties. You know from It Will Take A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back to a reality show with Charo?
H: You have sung “We can’t stand your modern music/we feel afflicted” (Modern Music) and “Lemme holler against the pop star dream” (No Hits). Are you angry about the current state of music?
S.M.: I don’t know. Those are just the words that come out. These are bad times musically. Even trying to find real punk rock has never been harder. Like the bands on the Vans Warped Tour, you can’t even find a real punk band there. I think it’s just the culture that is celebrating mediocrity. We are overexposed to media now and that can never plant a seed for good music. When I was growing up, I didn’t even know what any of my favourite bands looked like and I didn’t want to know. I just loved their records. Now we have actors making records and we are stuck in this celebrity culture and it’s just weird.
H: We are also having things like Fox News being a right wing pundit and putting a spin on the war in Iraq. You have sung, “Set us free and overthrow your war machine” (Set Us Free) and “Nobody likes your fucked up plans of shooting up some foreign land” (Faulty Times). We have never been fed more propaganda and the U.S. has never had a worse commander-in-chief. Is it important for you to sing these songs in such heady times?
S.M.: Well, I would never consider Black Mountain a political band and I don’t like to preach but I think when you see civilisation hanging on by a thread you are obviously affected and it will come out in your songs. We just finished touring the States and it was weird. I didn’t meet one single person that voted for Bush. During the election I was watching John Kerry talk and I was like ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ I mean he has this entire arsenal of stuff to work with and he’s talking about his Vietnam medals. It was really a choice of lesser evils.
H: You’ve also sung, “Let’s smoke some kill” (Faulty Times) so you must be a pothead and being from Vancouver how could you not. How long have you been smoking pot for?
S.M.: I guess the same as everybody else, since my early teens. Back then it was the pre-skunk days and was mainly hash, Columbian Gold and occasionally the red haired pot. Now it’s the B.C. bud leafy green—it’s kind of sticky and purplish green. I usually get the same stuff every time. Some is a little bit more “wheelchair” then others but it’s definitely better than most bud I smoke when we’re on tour. I don’t know why B.C. hydro is so world-renowned. I guess we just take a bit of extra care. Whenever we’re on tour and mention we’re from Vancouver, people will always talk about our bud.
H: Is it hard for you to find bud when you’re on tour with the U.S. War on Drugs still in full effect?
S.M.: I wouldn’t say that it’s hard to find. It’s just that it is so fucked up down there you feel a little weird walking around with a bag. Places like Texas, you definitely don’t want to be driving around with a bag.
H: How are the pot laws in B.C.?
S.M.: Cops will just turn a blind eye to pot and usually just take it from you if you’re caught. They do bust grow ops all of the time and they have this special police division called “the grow busters” that work with Hydro B.C. and are busting people all of the time. I guess you are getting into a more organized crime element there too. We had a pot café for about three months before it was shut down but I think there is another one that is pretty low-key so it should go for a while. They really stopped charging people for just having a joint because it would clog up the judicial system and was a waste of taxpayers’ money. I would say that personal use has been decriminalized but not officially. I mean it does grow on the planet, what the hell do they expect?
H: It also seems that everybody on the West Coast are more bong people while people on the East Coast are more joint people. Are you your typical West Coast head?
S.B.: Definitely, I love my bong. I just love the preparation and that blast you get from a bong.
For more Black Mountain info go here.
This article first appeared in Heads Vol.5 Issue 036 - May 2005
Stream Black Mountain here:
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