By Alex Roberecki
To describe the music of Black Mountain is to create a paradox. They are a band currently creating music based on the music from the past that was meant to sound like it was from the future. Their songs are epic musical journeys that create psychedelic soundscapes, sometimes lasting well over the ten minute range. With all that extra time, each song has plenty of room to grow, develop and resonate in your mind. Their signature sound of atmospheric synths with a hard rhythmic edge is present throughout all four of their albums including their latest album titled, IV. IV is the band’s first full length album in almost six years, following up 2010’s Polaris Prize nominated Wilderness Heart. This time around the conflicting elements are intensified between female and male vocalists, Amber Webber and Stephen McBean. McBean’s intense voice is matched by Webber’s soothing hypnotic wale, reminding the listener of a young Grace Slick.
In their time spent apart, the five constant members of the band have been quite busy with a vast array of side projects. During this time, each member has been able to grow and expand from Black Mountain, only to return to the studio with fresh ideas and more experience. The first single, “Mothers of the Sun,” was originally composed by synth master and keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt on his side project called Sinoia Caves. When brought to the band it was reworked from an atmospheric synth piece into a hard hitting nine minute rock arrangement. It includes a mesmerizing guitar lick courtesy of Stephen McBean and hypnotic vocals provided by McBean and Webber.
Towards the end of February I got a chance to talk to Jeremy Schmidt about creating music, videos, his love of non-worldly sounds, and scoring films.
We started off by discussing Black Mountain’s writing approach.
“It is a very collaborative process with one member coming to the rest of the band with some chords and words.” Schmidt conveys. “We like to follow the whim of the song; we do not want to force anything.”
They are fond of exploring many different arrangements. Often dissecting or exploring the song, just to reassemble it into something completely different. Schmidt and the band will often brainstorm many ideas and spent quite a bit of time in the studio editing parts as they see fit.
When their new album was finally out of the recording stages, Black Mountain created a video to enhance their first single, “Mothers of the Sun.” They created a video with a retro feel, lots of symbols, smoke machines and costumes. It was set on the side of a black mountain (where else), where two scraggly prisoners are trying to escape a hypnotic prison. I asked Schmidt about the process of shooting such a trippy video.
“The process was decidedly untrippy. We started shooting early in the morning on a constructed studio stage, in front of a green screen which was all new to us. We submitted ourselves to the whim of the directors; let them unravel us in whatever way they saw fit. They had a pretty cool vision.”
When we started talking more about synthesizers, I asked him what made him want to start to play the analog instrument.
“I mainly approached playing music based on sounds I was interested in and trying to find a way to get them. In the 70s and 80s synths were really just emerging in the whole vernacular of music, film and TV, you were hearing all of these electronic sounds that just became part of the environment. I was always enamored with those sounds. As a kid you did not really know what they were, or where they came from. As you get older you discover that they are actually discrete instruments. So I set about trying to find a lot of these situates that I really liked. I would scour Pink Floyd liner notes and Tangerine Dream sleeve notes, learning the names of all these instruments that created these magical sonic universes. It was a gradual demystifying process for me from when I was a kid.”
I discovered that he was inspired by the synth driven movie scores of the 80s. He told me he got a chance to create an eighties themed soundtrack a few years back for the Canadian cult thriller, Beyond the Black Rainbow. He created a soundtrack only using the synth, that heavily references horror scores from that decade. I asked him what the experience was like, as he was now creating for a visual source rather than creating for a rock band. He explained:
“I’ve always gravitated to writing something more cinematic or atmospheric. I feel like that’s my role in the band, though for this film it was a different discipline. For Beyond the Black Rainbow, I was always working on my own, looking at someone else’s picture trying to incorporate my music and his film. The director left it pretty open. He wanted my own sensibility. He let me do my own thing. So I was able to indulge my own interest. When I saw the rough edits of the film it had a John Carpenter influence to it, and an Italian sort of yellow. Kind of the same stuff I was plugging away at over the years. Listening and playing soundtracks to movies when I was growing up.
In Black Mountain, even if it’s in a different context I still do believe that there is room in this style of music. In rock really anything is up for grabs. You can assimilate anything in a rock context.”
Like a combination of everything?
“Well not necessarily, it would be like when you combine every colour of paint, you’ll just get a sludgy brown. Which could also be good, if that’s what you want? You could call it a maximal brown.”
With Black Mountain currently on a world tour, be sure to catch them when they roll into town on May 15th at the Pyramid. Also, if you were to purchase their new album IV, you must prepare yourself for yet another epic psychedelic journey through space and time.