In Advance of Next Week’s Show at the Beachland, Black Mountain’s Frontman Talks About the Band’s Retooled Lineup

click to enlarge In Advance of Next Week’s Show at the Beachland, Black Mountain’s Frontman Talks About the Band’s Retooled Lineup
Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR
Black Mountain’s Stephen McBean moved from Vancouver Island to Victoria, British Columbia, when he was 10 years old. Originally fascinated with rock acts such as Kiss and the Bay City Rollers, he discovered punk rock in Victoria and hasn’t looked back even if Black Mountain leans more toward psychedelic rock than punk.

“Right before we moved, I bought my first guitar, and punk and new wave appeared on my radar,” he says via phone from a North Carolina tour stop. On the road in support of its hard rocking new album, Destroyer, Black Mountain performs with Ryley Walker at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21, at the Beachland Ballroom. “[In Victoria], there was a scene, and I got to make friends and do shows at an early age. I’ve heard stories about how Cleveland [had a good music scene in the '70s] because it was between Detroit and New York and got bands like the Stooges and Television and that spawned acts like the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu. Victoria was like that because it was on an island. I don’t know if people were a little bit weirder or more isolated, but most of the underground punk rock was more left field than the music coming out of Vancouver, which was more rock-oriented.”

McBean played in a variety of punk acts before forming Black Mountain with drummer Joshua Wells in 2004.

“I can’t speak for everyone but for me personally every band had been a natural progression and involves getting more proficient,” he says. “After hardcore in ’86 and ’87, the next thing to gravitate to was thrash metal. It was a bit more technical but was still fast. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, I liked a lot of the Touch N Go bands that were still heavy, but your mind was getting opened to different sonic possibilities. I know at the beginning of Black Mountain, I wanted to revisit riffs. Before that, I was more into songs and lyrics. There were different elements that came together. There’s weird artiness and metal.”

The band released its self-titled debut in 2005 and followed it up with 2008’s In the Future. Shortly after the release of that album, McBean moved to Los Angeles.

“It was a quick decision,” he says of moving to Southern California. “I had the opportunity to go down there because I knew some people there. Everything in my life pointed to moving there. When I was younger, I was more fascinated with San Francisco. I like that it’s close to the deserts. There are mountains and hiking. It’s got a cool, weird history that hasn’t been erased much. It’s started to get erased now. The Troubadour and the Whiskey and the Rainbow Room are still. Laurel Canyon is still standing.”

McBean says Destroyer started to come together after he wrote what would become its opening track, the British New Wave of Heavy Metal-inspired “Future Shade.”

“Things started to attach themselves to that song,” he says. “The chord progression and vocal melody of certain songs like ‘FD’72’ are at least 10 years old. I might have thought the lyrics [to ‘FD’72’] sucked, but when you’re searching for songs, sometimes old ones come back.”

McBean says learning to drive inspired some of content of the album, which is named after the 1985 Dodge Destroyer.

“I did finally learn to drive and because of that, I got to experience of driving to music,” he says. “Prior to that, I was always walking around with headphones on listening to demos or song ideas, so this was a new thing. It did have an influence.”

The band cut some of the album at its “jam space.” The group would record up to a point and then send the track to band member Jeremy [Schmidt], who’d add keyboards.

“Once we hit that phase, it became apparent it would be the next Black Mountain record,” says McBean, who retooled the band’s lineup and added new members Rachel Fannan (Sleepy Sun) and Adam Bulgasem (Dommengang, Soft Kill). “We weren’t sure at first because of the shifting of members. We just wanted to make a record and see what happens. For all the new people, everything was fresh to them. When you’re in a band with different people for a long time, everyone gets to know each other’s tricks. With new people, it can be exciting because you have no idea what they’re going to do.”

One album highlight, “Closer to the Edge,” features a bit of spoken word and trippy keyboards at the start.

“Me and Jeremy [Schmidt] had discussed a reoccurring theme that would reappear on the album in some of the lyrics,” says McBean when asked about the track. “I believe the lyrics came out of a joke that was about being not right on the edge but playing it safe.”

The drums and synths come together nicely at the beginning of “Licensed to Drive" and provide a solid groove that escalates as the heavy Judas Priest-inspired guitars kick in.

“Adam [Bulgasem], who’s in the live band, plays on that song,” says McBean when asked about the track. “At the beginning, I just wanted to do something for 12 measures. I had those riffs. Then, when I sent that to Jeremy [Schmidt], it was the same thing. I told him, ‘Here’s 12 measures of drums without anything.’ I just wanted him to do something to it.”

McBean says the recording process was really “pretty spontaneous.”

“Some of the people [who played on the album] were only in town for a few days,” he says. “We’d record a bunch of stuff and weed through it, which is nice. I think with the record before, we did preproduction and writing and jamming and all that. For this record, we bypassed the preproduction and went right to recording to see what was good and what sucked. I like both ways of recording. The tough thing is that with the demos, you get the most spirited version. It might not be perfect, but it will have little mistakes that bring a certain life to that version. And then when you try to recreate a mistake, it’s really hard to do that.”

McBean says the live show has become “pretty banging.”

“It’s a good mix of the new record and stuff from all the other records," he says. "Revisiting the old material with the new people is really fun. We want it to be a band thing, and it’s fun and different because there are different people up there. Most of the concertgoers have been pretty thrilled.”

Black Mountain, Ryley Walker, 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $18 ADV, $20 DOS,

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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