Incubate 2010: Black Mountain Interview

Petra Davis catches up with Jeremy Schmidt - at the time braving the high seas on a ferry bound for the Isle Of Wight - for a joint meditation on mystery, democracy and arboreal structures

Canadian psych rock five piece Black Mountain contend ably that a backward glance can sometimes result in unstoppable forward motion. Drawing on the echolalia of early Pink Floyd, the propulsive rhythms of Can and the hefty riffage of Black Sabbath, Stephen McBean, Amber Webber, Matt Camirand, Jeremy Schmidt and Joshua Wells have released three albums – Black Mountain (2005), In The Future (2008) and this year’s Wilderness Heart – to stellar acclaim from bearded (and boobed) psychonauts all over our small blue globe. This coming weekend, they will play the quite ludicrously excellent Incubate Festival in Tilburg, Holland.

Congratulations on the new record.

Jeremy Schmidt: Oh, thank you!

I wanted to ask about the writing process. There’s more variation here than on the last record – prog-folk tropes on tracks like ‘Radiant Hearts’, your more tried and tested Jeffersonian psych influences, and balls-out riffola on tracks like ‘Rollercoaster’ – and I wondered if that reflected a more even democracy in the band as it stands now?

JS: We do all have our own projects, and different ways of working. Occasionally we’ll all agree on one thing. [laughs] Maybe more often it’s sort of a push-and-pull of ideas. Often disagreeing on things will carry songs into the next state of being. But I think we have a chemistry between the five of us, constructive or, actually, destructive at times. It’s just a matter of throwing everything into the fire and seeing… what burns. [laughs]

I like that you call it destructive chemistry. All chemistry is destructive to some extent. A good friend of mine is one of this country’s leading young biophotonics specialists; her motto is ‘Everything’s flammable… depending on the laser.’

JS: [laughs] Right. There’s often some sort of turmoil in creating art, I guess. Often times, when you don’t see eye to eye, or something you’re working on, if the individuals involved don’t see it the same way, in the end it can be a constructive thing because you end up with something that doesn’t sound like any one person’s vision. It sounds like five people pulling and pushing in different directions. I guess some songs were born out of… [laughs] adversity as opposed to [being] born out of harmonious good times. You’re just in this different world, a whole other world of creative friction, where the results aren’t predictable.

So there’s an element of mystery in the democratic creative?

JS: Definitely. I think if there wasn’t, it wouldn’t be worth it, would it?

I guess it’s sometimes hard for people to see Black Mountain as a democracy in terms of sound because a lot of your work is riff-driven. It’s hard to see something as singular as the riff in ‘Stormy High’ as the result of a democratic process. You know, you see people all the time getting into riffs, they seem to me to be living that singular voice, grabbing onto it with miming and grinding and banging… and I’m not sure they can hear much else at that moment.

JS: Maybe. But actually a lot of stuff I like, it’s the stuff in the background, things that seem maybe like an afterthought, that end up being elements that draw me back to it over and over again. I can see a motorik as a riff, for example. I don’t think all of our songs are ever dominated by one characteristic. If there’s a dominant force, even that is something that changes from song to song.

Surely there needs to be some imaginative consensus for psych music to work, though? You’re all from the same city, three of you work together [at Insite, a facility for vulnerable homeless people] – I wanted to ask about that, actually. I recently read an interview with Joshua where he was asked if working at Insite influenced you lyrically, and his answer was that there was a high degree of escapism to your music. I wondered if that’s where the psychedelic element of the music locates itself?

JS: I guess when people talk about psychedelic music they usually associate it with creating a sonic space that takes you out of the norm, a sonic voyage of some kind, and I’ve always liked that element of psych music… or ‘head music’ as some people call it, where you just sort of get lost in the realm of sound, and you are outside of your physical being. I guess we aim for that to a certain degree – it’s just part of our sensibility. I personally like that kind of music a lot. Certain things that I’ve seen played at a really high volume, Sunn O))) or My Bloody Valentine, just the sheer volume kind of modulates the space you’re occupying, and that creates a kind of psychedelic experience. Then with other things it’ll just be the timbre of the sound that’ll take you there. Or it can be rhythmic things, like with Neu! or something, that sort of motorik trance… Oneida are good at that.

Absolutely. Last year MBV and Oneida both played Primavera Sound and I had exactly the kind of experience you’re talking about… all-enveloping.

JS: I watched MBV from sidestage at the Roskilde Festival and they were great. There were moments when it sounded like being inside a jet engine! It was a really visceral experience to hear that. And it’s not like…musically, it has a lot of sheer power but it’s not aggressive, it’s very sensual. I like music that can be very voluminous and intense but not necessarily using aggressive cliches to achieve that. It’s just pure sensuality of sound.

Black Mountain at Incubate 2010 trailer from Incubate Festival on Vimeo.

Speaking of sensual overwhelm, the organisers of the Incubate Festival, where you’ll be playing this coming weekend, told me you were going to be performing in some kind of ‘nature cathedral’. I don’t know what that is, exactly, but I plan on loving it [laughs]. Can you elaborate?

JS: Oh yeah! We’re playing in a forest or something! I haven’t actually had a chance to look at it yet but I believe it’s in this weird kind of arboreal structure. I like the sound of that. Are you gonna be there?

Yeah, I am.

JS: So we’ll see you in the cathedral of trees! [laughs]


Black Mountain are playing at the Incubate Festival in Tilburg, Holland on Friday. To find out about line ups, tickets etc, please click here.

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