Q&A – Black Mountain Talks UMS Headline, Hotboxing Military Tanks and “Biodigital Jazz”

Canadian rock band Black Mountain is as unequivocally-cool as they are quirky. Founded by leader Stephen McBean after he parted ways with his band Jerk With a Bomb, Black Mountain has grown from its past punk, stripped-down sounds to an all-inclusive psychedelic rock experience that the band has fondly coined “biodigital jazz.”

Although members have come and gone, the band now stands at a solid five —Stephen McBean, Jeremy Schmidt, Arjan Miranda, Rachel Fannan and Adam Bulgasem. The group just released Black Mountain’s fifth album, Destroyer, which serves as an homage to leader McBean’s milestone of finally getting a driver’s license (more on that soon.) Although the group varies in age and career experience, they’re happy about the current makeup. “It feels like a band, as opposed to people just playing stuff,” McBean said of his group. “Me and Jeremy, when we were discussing continuing the band, we were like, well, it needs to be a band. We jammed for 10 hours yesterday in that room (Mighty Fine Productions Studio), and everyone was like yeah, do or die.”

Before Black Mountain headlines the stage Friday night at Denver’s prized Underground Music Showcase, 303 Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with the band and discuss everything Black Mountain. Below is an edited version of that conversation.

303: Touching on your new record (Destroyer), there’s a cool description on your website comparing it to the feeling someone gets when they first get behind a wheel. Can you explain more about how that sound comes across on the record? 

Jeremy Schmidt: I’ll let Steve (McBean) explain that because he just learned to drive. (Band laughs.) He can tell you how good it feels.

Stephen McBean: Living rock vicariously through the steel wheels, I guess. Just re-experiencing life for the 50th time, over and over. I don’t know. We didn’t plan to make a “road rock record,” but I guess we did. We’re OK with that. We spent a lot of time listening to music in vehicles, helicopters, tanks. It was kind of our tribute to wild youth past. 

303: You’ve listened to music in tanks? 

SM: I’ve made out in tanks, I’ve listened to music in tanks. There was a tank in my hometown — it was the ’80s, so rules were a little less — things were a little less strict. So you could actually crawl inside the tank and hotbox the tank and make out in it — and you know — get a 7/11 big gulp and raid your parents’ liquor cabinet, and put an ounce of everything in there and go in there with the new Quiet Riot and do some groping. And feel awkward. 

JS: Non-military use of the tank.

SM: It’s still there, but they welded up all the entrances. You can’t get in there anymore.

303: You guys are playing the Underground Music Showcase. What are your thoughts on what “underground music” is? Do you reject that label, or accept it?

JS: Music that dwells in the subterranean zone is how I would define underground music — literal sense. (Band Laughs.) Not in a tank, that doesn’t count. It has to be under the surface of the earth. Underground music is music that deviates from the norm, in some way. I don’t even know if there’s much of a distinction between underground music and mainstream in the same way that we grew up with. It’s changed quite a bit.

SM: Most underground music nowadays kind of just sounds like mainstream music from the ’70s. So it’s good music.

303: What’s the experience like playing a festival like this — where people flood in to see a variety of different bands — versus when you’re playing a show and you know everyone is there specifically to see you?

SM: Sometimes it’s really stressful and boring, and sometimes it’s totally amazing. We definitely like playing outside, so there are things to look out at like mountains or condominiums.

303: How is it stressful?

SM: It’s usually just hectic. Sometimes it feels like you’re going to the mall.

303: A couple of you have jumped on (joined the band) this past album. What’s it been like joining the family?

Adam Bulgasem: A huge honor. A joy. I’ve been listening to this band for over a decade. It’s super fun to play some of my favorite songs then collaborate and create new stuff. 

303: What do you guys hope that people get out of your performance? 

Rachel Fannan: Magic. Yeah, magic. Getting transported into a different place. 

JS: If not magic, at least a magic trick that’s well executed to trick you into thinking you’ve been transported. 

RF: Sort of like Tron — where you’re playing a game and all the sudden you realize you are in that game.

303: Do you guys have any goals for this performance in Denver?

RF: Start a cult.

SM: We’re actually..we’re shifting things around a bit — trying some new things. A few more instruments on stage. This will be the debut of some extra instruments on stage — where things stand and sit.

303: What are the extra instruments? Or is that a secret?

SM: What do you think? (To Arjan Miranda) Is it a secret? (Miranda nods.) Someone’s gonna be standing there like, “This is pretty good,” then something will pop and they’ll go, “Whoa, mind blown, where did that come from? Must be the new blood.” 

Black Mountain will perform Friday 8:30 – 10:30 p.m. on the Showcase Stage at Goodwill. More information and the complete schedule for UMS can be found here

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