Black Mountain An Uncertain Future
Published Apr 22, 2016Don't believe a word Stephen McBean says.
Speaking about IV, the new record from his Vancouver-based band Black Mountain, the singer-guitarist admits that, during the writing and recording process, neither he nor his bandmates put much thought into the deeper meaning of their music.
"As you do interviews when the record comes out, you end up making elaborate lies," he admits. "We have an arsenal of quotes that we're shooting off at cell phones every day."
So take with a grain of salt McBean's explanation of the album's origins. Following the release of 2010's Wilderness Heart, Black Mountain's members stayed busy. McBean released albums with Obliterations and Pink Mountaintops; singer Amber Webber and drummer Joshua Wells released their third album as Lightning Dust; and keyboard player Jeremy Schmidt provided the soundtrack to the film Beyond the Black Rainbow under the moniker Sinoia Caves.
Bass player Matt Camirand left the band shortly after Wilderness Heart's completion, and in finding his replacement, the group wanted a collective member, not just a player for hire. A chance encounter between McBean and Arjan Miranda brought the former S.T.R.E.E.T.S. and Family Band member into the fold, providing the creative spark the rest of the group needed. "He had great ideas and it was exciting for everyone," McBean says.
The vibe at Seattle's Avast! Recording Co., where they worked with producer Randall Dunn, was fed by the band's past. The tenth anniversary edition of their self-titled debut was assembled and released during the writing and recording process, and re-listening to that record influenced the tone the group hoped to strike with IV. "The first record reminded us of the innocence of making a debut," says McBean. "There's a certain fun-ness — there are not as many riffs, but more psych stuff, harkening back to the stuff we were probably listening to at the time."
Digging deeper into the past, members "found things in their archives of demos." "Line Them All Up" began life as a Lightning Dust song; "Mothers of the Sun" was originally intended for Black Mountain's second record, In the Future; and "You Can Dream" was pegged for Pink Mountaintops until Schmidt got his hands on it.
In whittling down the "18 or 19 songs" that were recorded with Miranda (ultimately, he was unable to commit long term and the group have since recruited Colin Cowan), lyrical heaviness was given priority and some of the most guitar-riff centred tracks were kept off the record.
In retrospect, that idea of looking back to create the future is one of IV's major themes, reflected in Schmidt's stunning cover art which, among other things, features a Concorde soaring over a pastoral manor estate. "The future was this wild and magical place that you dreamed about as a kid where the Jetsons lived with flying cars," says McBean, who sounds as if he's riffing, making up his latest tall tale as he speaks. "Now, there are no flying cars and there are things like Donald Trump running for president, Bill Cosby is a rapist, Sonic Youth isn't a band anymore and David Bowie is dead.
"But we got cell phones!"