On a dark, rainy day in Sydney filled with steam and sweat, it felt appropriate to connect with Austin-based lead singer Alex Maas from The Black Angels.
The band have a belter of a new album, Death Song, out this month (the first in way too long in my opinion). Come get swampy with us.
As far as music inspiration goes, it’s always interesting to hear what you last listened to before finalising your most recent album. So what was it, punk, Turkish folk?
Gosh, I listen to so many different kinds of music, from Damien Jurado, Kevin Morby, to Horace Andy and The Music of Tuva like Ubgashbklar and Trio of Khomuz Players. Our band has so many influences I don’t even know where to start. So much amazing music right now.
Do you haven favourite tips for keeping calm before a show?
Five minutes of ‘quiet time’ before the show and remembering how music is therapy to be shared, not something to be feared. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.
The first international city I ever visited was Austin in 1997. It was the first time I ever saw a proper hip-hop DJ play and people breakdancing at a place called Nasty’s. Austin being such a hotbed of musical talent, have you noticed the scene change over the years? Are you still living in and around Austin?
Yes, we all live around Austin, it’s a beautiful city with so much happening. I love little dives like Nasty’s, they give the city so much charm. I see more and more talented bands that have a ton of focus and drive. I definitely see more and more psychedelia here. Most big bands save Austin for festival plays so it seems like we don’t get as many big touring acts. But that opens the door for lots of local bands to jump in there.
As far as lyrics and music go, are you surprised by the swampy darkness that comes out?
If we reach the swampy darkness, we run towards it with like a moth to a light. I don’t think by nature we are “dark” individuals but our eyes are open to the poisonous and noxious world. So I guess naturally our main output musically may lean towards understanding the darkness of humanity and its complexity.
Having been on the soundtrack to some pretty amazing cinematic shows in the past few years—Peaky Blinders and True Detective to name a few—has this lead to other work scoring films or short film projects? Is this something that interests and inspires you?
It has led to other work and does inspire us. I enjoy making music for film because you make the music once and enjoy it then, in that moment and you don’t have to re-create it ever again. I look at it like the Tibetan Buddhist sand drawings that are only temporary, I enjoy the impermanence. Obviously, their sand drawings are far more temporary.
The cover art for Death Songs and all your other albums—I couldn’t find the artist—is this the same person? How important is album art and backdrops for shows? Have you been working with anyone of note lately?
It’s Christian Bland, our drummer! He is really inspiring to me, he has done almost all of The Black Angels artwork. He likes to listen to the record while we are in the studio and draws inspiration there. He truly is great.
There’s quite a few of you in the group, how collaborative is the songwriting process amongst you all?
It’s pretty collaborative, one person may bring an initial idea in and then we all try to make it better. We always put the song first.
And finally, when are you visiting Australia next?
Damn, we wish we lived in Australia! You guys have California weather but with more grounded people. We absolutely can’t wait to come back. I hope it’s VERY soon.
Thanks so much for making albums that are full pieces of art that I have on repeat.