Friday, March 10, 2017

Interview with the Amazing Below Blackstar

Patricia Lockeman / Catch the Groove Photography.

Band Members:

Jason: guitars, vocals.
Gerard: guitars.
Debra: bass, vocals.
Jessica: drums.
Christopher: guitars, vocals.

KA: I recently got to have bit of a chat with Below Blackstar's vocalist/guitarist/keys, Christopher Standard Time

KA: Christopher, thanks for your time.

 BB: I appreciate it, thank you.

KA: Your album, Below Blackstar, Bowie inspired?

BB:No, actually, despite how much I love Bowie. The band name is really old, and comes from nights hanging out down in Austin, Texas.

KA: OHHH... what were those nights like? I love descriptions. Paint me a picture...

BB: Can I describe that time and place without incriminating anybody? But seriously... there was a rotating group of people at a rotating series of locations, and you never really got going before nightfall. Everybody's out doing their thing, either playing at the parks under the sun, finishing up with work, or grabbing a bite, whatever, and when the sun finally goes down, the curtains closed and that's when night has truly fallen. It didn't even need to be anything wild, but when you're all creatures of the night, you can rest assured that you'll be going strong until daybreak. Sometimes you spark up a bonfire on somebody's property, or you all get into your best gear before a night at the industrial haunts... some of the best moments were when there are about thirty of you cramped into somebody's tiny shit hole apartment, and everybody does a little time on Burton Drive. There were a lot of mid-mornings and late afternoons when you'd wake up and have to step over a lot of sleeping people, some drunk or what-have-you from the night before, some tired from having sex in the bathroom while keeping other desperate to use it, and a small handful of you stay awake because there's an immortality and an honesty in the conversations that happen as the sun rises (fortunately, modern sunglasses allow vampires to walk through the day). I'd be lying if I said I didn't wake up next to strangers a time or two, or that I didn't stay awake listening to stories the old guys would tell, some of whom were strangers that you might never see again. One of my personal musical influences was the result of a chance meeting at a party thrown by an entire apartment block (seriously, people were jumping off the roof into the swimming pool); I'll never forget Luke, and in the five hours I hung out with the guy, he taught me so much about music. I never knew anything else about him, never saw his band play, never ran into the guy again, but the lessons he taught me stick to this day (and dude, thank you for the Cowboy Junkies).

So, somewhere in that mess of humanity lies the story of the name, "Below Blackstar".

KA: I like that.

KA :These days, it's always others describing and labeling bands. How would you describe your own sound?

BB: I used to jam with a bassist who came up with the idea of being "neo-Texan", which he described as a modern-day/dystopian cyberpunk-cowboy in a neon wilderness. He thought Below Blackstar's music worked as a soundtrack to that imagery, and it led to us referring to ourselves as "Halo Tex-Hex Punk Floyd Sad-bastard Music". If you pick it apart, it's an apt descriptor.

KA: "Punk Floyd", I dig it. A fan of Pink Floyd?

BB: I'm a massive Floyd fan. I have every piece of music they've ever put out, and I love it all, equally. In fact, 1975's Wish You Were Here is my favorite album of all time.

KA: You're based in Seattle. Were you inspired by any 90s grunge bands?

BB: I still really love Sunny Day Real Estate, but I don't think they're grunge.

KA: I loved them in the 90s, too. I think they were the forerunners of "Emo" (giggles)

BB: So I've been told, but Jeremy Enigk doesn't think so. I like to think of it like this: Jon Thor Birgisson once said that Sigur Ros wasn't so much "post-rock" as "pre-something else". Besides, being too close to a scene can be detrimental. Some of the best musical advice I received was from a veteran Seattle musician who was entrenched in the goth scene: "Don't become a part of this scene, or any scene - if you do, you may find it really difficult to escape those labels."

Maybe it's best to just do your own thing and leave the labels to someone else.

KA: What is your favorite platforms for tube, Spotify, iTunes, Pandora, or?

BB: I really like Bandcamp - it's a great platform that allows artists to reap a majority of the profits of sales of their music and merch - which is becoming the new normal. You can chase after cool stuff based on their tags, too. It forces you to be patient, which is key. I've discovered a lot of great music by going down the Bandcamp rabbit hole. They recently donated their proceeds to the ACLU, as well, and that's an important cause these days.

KA: How has social media benefited your band and others?
I think we've reached people who might not otherwise have access to us. It's crazy to have people in Ottawa, Canada, and in Sydney, Australia, tell us how much they enjoy our music. If used properly, social media is an amazing tool and not just a drama factory.

Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram?

KA: Do you guys tour, or just do the local thing for now?

BB: The goal is to tour at some point, but we'd like to make smart decisions about it. For now, we're focusing on Western Washington and will expand outward as the weather becomes more conducive to travel.

KA: Where in Washington do you plan, where can people find your gigs?

BB: We are really loving Bellingham right now. There is some crazy good music in that town! When I want something a little unusual, a little more artistic, I listen to Bellingham bands. They've been really accepting of us as we try to build there, so we're grateful.

We're also a member of Soniphone Records, an eclectic collective based out of Everett. We're slowly opening up to playing in Everett, but the schedule hasn't worked out quite yet.

We also want to play Arlington, Bremerton, and give Tacoma a little love. Wenatchee and Ellensburg should also have music, and we've got friends in Spokane, including Below Blackstar's original lead guitarist, so we definitely want to go over there, too. There are projects on Bainbridge that bring music to the island, and we're interested in that, and of course, we've also gotta play on the home field right here in Seattle. Now, if we can just get Band in Seattle to call us back so my mom can watch... ha!

KA: Do you prefer that you have a mix gender band?

BB: There are a lot of ways to answer this... how much time do we have?

Let me start by saying that a good musician is a good musician, and if you have chemistry with that musician, then how they identify should be irrelevant to the process of making music. Of course, this is also reality, and everything I've just said is an oversimplification.

One of the tenets under which Below Blackstar operates is that everything that CAN be a resource IS a resource. For example, there are lead and backing vocals on Under a Concrete Sky that are obviously performed by a woman, and those songs happen to work best with that tone and timbre. We feature male vocals and female vocals in the group, and sometimes some things work well for some stuff, and some for others. A mezzo-soprano is not a tenor or falsetto, so in this example, a woman can provide something that a man simply, physiologically cannot (traditionally-speaking).

Whenever one of our women has departed and we've had to go looking for new members - and in this band, bass has traditionally been anchored by a woman - dudes will respond with this horrible shit about how they can sing in falsetto, and somehow that's the same thing as replacing a woman's voice in the lineup. The answer is usually a diplomatic, "a falsetto is not mezzo-soprano", but the reality is that such answers really upset me; I mean, you've basically just minimized the existence of women artists, and I'm not okay with that. Go fuck yourself, asshole.

There was an article that came out after Prince passed away about how he spent his career mentoring women. I remember reading it and wondering exactly how I fit into this equation in my own way (though I would NEVER even consider that I would be on par with Prince, ever). I remember how many women influenced ME in one way or another... why shouldn't Below Blackstar have women in the group? Everybody always ever brings a different perspective, so why wouldn't the female perspective be equally as important?

Besides, I've never been the traditional "dude", and as a result, the band has never been traditional. In that way, then yes, I prefer having people of many walks of life in the group.

All of the women with whom I've ever played music are very, very special to me, even though I don't really know some of them anymore... even though I might not be on good terms with some of them.

KA: Does your mood inspire your creativity?

BB: I think so. I once read this thing about how action creates inspiration and not the other way around. I guess the mood that spurs on the action really highlights the mood of the work.

KA: Where would your dream gig be at, who would you open for?

BB: I really love my bandmates. Any job where I can be on stage with Jessica, Jason, Debra, and Rabbit is my dream job, whether it's at a cool house show or headlining Glastonbury. They keep the dream alive.

KA: What kinda people does your music seem to attract?

BB: Lately, we're getting a lot of younger listeners, people who haven't reached 21 and have found us through word-of-mouth. It's cool to know that people love music enough to go searching for it.

KA: Where can people find you on a FridaySaturday night?

BB: We're trying to meet new people and see new bands, so we're out and about in Seattle, Everett, or Bellingham, and checking out more non-traditional venues.

KA: I recently went into the studio to record an album and the vibe is very important. What are YOUR studio necessities?

BB: As long as there's coffee and a cool diner, nearby, I'm pretty sure we'll survive. Breaks are important when you're doing twelve-hour days in the studio, or you might go stir-crazy.

KA: Breaks are insanely important. Lighting, too. And I SO agree with the caffeine!

KA: Describe your music with 6 different adjectives

BB: Cinematic, intricate, visceral, haunting, communal, and vulnerable.

KA: Awesome!!

KA: You got a sample lyric to show off?

BB: "So is this over now?
I just cannot believe
the mark of painted flesh,
the storm clouds in your eyes,
the glance I steal away,
so softly spoken and
still here breathing..."

KA: Brilliant!

BB: Thanks! Lyrics are where I excel, and I'm not shy about it. I've been writing all my life, so I figured I should put that talent to good use.

KA: Do you write music or lyrics first?

BB: Stevie Ray Vaughan used to say that  the music didn't come FROM him, but THROUGH him. I think songs write themselves, and a lot of factors contribute to how songs want to express themselves and ultimately take form. Our song, "Goldcrank", is a fine example; I'd had the title for a long, long time before I had words or music or anything, but it was such a moving title - with its own history - that I knew needed each spectacular words and music to match the feelings it was feeding me. I think it took about a year to complete, sometimes scrapping a chord here or a quatrain there.

KA: With so many bands to choose from, get on this cyber soapbox and tell readers why they should check you guys and gals, out.

BB: Pete Carroll says that you shouldn't be the best at what you do, you should be the only one doing it.

When you see us live or listen to our recordings or watch our videos, we want you, dear listener, to become a member of the group. This isn't just our band, it's your band, and YOU are important to this process. We want you to feel the same things we do: we want the sweat that drips off our noses during a performance to be the sweat that you wipe away when the lights go down and the song peaks; we want the tears that we shed when trying to figure out a lyric or an upbeat be the same tear you shed when those words or beats hit your soul; we want the blood that courses through our veins to flow in tandem with every beat of your heart. We want you to hear yourself in the music of Below Blackstar, because if you like loud music, quiet music, slow music, fast music, long songs or short songs, screaming or crooning, electric or acoustic, we are all of those things, and all of those things are us and you, too. You're a human being with a vast palette of experiences - we hope we're the soundtrack of your humanity.

Click HERE To Get Their Tunes On Bandcamp!

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