Texan cosmic cowboy shoe-gazers, Black Books, have returned this spring with ‘Cheer Up’ – an EP you should be sure to dive in to after perusing their entertaining interview with Last Day Deaf below. Featuring orange hued recollections, a VMA moonman, and coffee addictions mixed in with album talk, it’s a read that’ll get you in the mood to listen to their entrancing‘In The In’ single.
How did hanging out, playing some music, and drinking a few beers in a garage turn into Black Books? Tongue-in-cheek, how do you think the orange color of the garage influenced your band’s trajectory?
Mike: This is a decade ago, so bear with me, but I recall the orange hue in Ross’s garage having this mid-’70s vibe. Plus, I think he had this ‘70s standing fireplace in there. (Am I making this up, Ross?) Anyway, it all hit me as welcoming but also mildly eccentric, as if Ross had this other side to him that he didn’t announce to people. It fit in perfectly with the music, which was like this unannounced guest that just walked in.
Ross: I had realized that my favorite color wasn’t blue as I had professed for twenty some odd years; it was orange. This was significant in a way because it marked the beginning of a period of basic self-reflection. So, I painted my garage walls orange. That’s also the time I decided to play music again. So, the orange walls in a way were the beginning of the band.
It’s been three years since ‘Can’t Even‘s release, how did your cathartic ‘Cheer Up‘ EP come to evolve during that time frame?
Ross: The batch of songs that made the EP are reflective of who we are today. Time doesn’t heal, but it allows the room to move on. For me, I was in a pretty sad place three years ago, and today I am in a much better spot, so the music is just naturally going to follow that. We love writing music and we don’t really take time off from that, so over the course of three years, these are our favorite ideas put into 4 songs.
‘In The In’ is quite the single, and I’ve already been playing it far too much. Could you share the story behind this track and how it was recorded?
Mike: My recollection is ‘In The In‘ is one of the tracks that went through the fewest iterations, and we keyed into the feel we wanted from it very early on. Kevin composed the breakdown, this cathartic release that is pushed further outward with Ross’s “no way” vocals turning from a whisper to a scream.
Ross: The verse idea and foundation of the song flowed out quickly. In the weeks that followed, we were hitting our heads against a wall on the chorus, so we sat down with an acoustic guitar and found a melody that felt good strummed quietly. Later, Kevin was messing around on the piano with some complex chords and it really sounded exciting, so that had to be in there somewhere and later became the big moment after the chorus. I remember trying all three parts together in the practice room and they just worked banging through it at full volume.
So, give our readers the details on your informal set at Counting Crows vocalist Adam Duritz’s New York high-rise! How did this ‘long story’ come to be?
Mike: Well, it was a long December, and we all were led to believe this year would be better than the last. (Sorry.)
Ross: Mike… you didn’t…
Mike: I believe the story is this music blogger was really into us and happened to be good friends with Duritz. When we threw together this in-and-out tour in NYC in 2014, he invited us up to Duritz’s high-rise. I remember us sitting outside of the building, looking at each other to see who exactly was going to head up there and knock on this guy’s door. We headed up the elevator, maybe it was me and Clarke, and saw there were about 6 or 7 guys already inside hanging out. It was early, and Duritz was holding court at a dining room table near the kitchen, clearly hung over. I sheepishly made my way over to him, sort of stood there like an idiot, continued walking past him and put down some music equipment. Later Kevin, Ross, and everybody else came in, and I don’t think any of us actually ever said a damn thing to Duritz. The blogger guy was there, so we just sort of hovered around him and talked to other people hanging out in this famous guy’s high rise. Duritz was totally cool about it; he seemed to enjoy the company. We played a couple songs, hung out maybe a little longer, then moseyed out of there. We played another gig as part of the CMJ Festival where I saw Duritz again. I passed by him in the hallway and still didn’t say a damn thing to him. So, in the very off chance you’re reading this, thanks Adam Duritz for graciously opening your home to us and being very hospitable!
Clarke: Giada Laurentiis showed up randomly for a bit and I vividly remember thinking my mom would go gaga right now. A VMA Moonman was near a sink and couldn’t help but pick it up. It was for Counting Crows ‘Mr. Jones‘ music video.
Ross: I used Adam’s restroom, which was wallpapered with framed gold records, and remember him making Bloody Mary for everyone that was sitting around playing music. I gave Giada a hug and her fur vest was the softest clothing I’ve ever touched.
If you could describe the following tracks in 5 words or less, how would you describe ‘Crybaby’?
Ross: Suburban heartbreak R&B.
Clarke: Scary libidos at Margaritaville / Mar-a-lago
Ross: Half assed well-intentioned improvisation.
Ross: Swimming hole rope-swing nostalgia soundtrack.
Ross: ‘Can’t Even‘ decoder ring.
Favorite track thus far? Quirky one that you still love but think is questionable?
Clarke: After we finished the self-titled album, we were offered an opportunity to have a new song considered for the soundtrack for an upcoming movie in a popular tween film series. You know, the kind of soundtrack where it’s all new songs from various bands? Real ’90s era soundtracks like “The Crow“, which we all had growing up and loved. We were writing at the time but focused on just one song to finish and record for that timeline. The song ‘Like You Best‘ is overly moody and sums up youthful insecurity quite well, so that was the song we went with. I forget how long it took us exactly, but I loved the expedited process, positive synergy, and roll-with-it mentality we took with that song. It didn’t make it on the soundtrack, so we put it out with another track that was omitted on the self-titled.
What other forms of art influence your musicality? Whether it’s books, films, or painters you’re fond of?
Clarke: I got my education in studio art & printmaking, so having a mindset & admiration for the multiple and layering has influenced my musical output.
As a flashback to the beginnings of the band: is the home brewing operation still in existence? What kind of creations are being made 10-ish years on, if so? Also, Coors Light Vs home brewed?
Ross: It was fun making some homemade stuff, but other people do it much better and leave it on shelves for us to grab and go. I really enjoy craft beer, but my fridge is usually well stocked with Miller Light or Coors Light. They are just so refreshing.
Who is the coffee addict and who’s the closeted Britney Spears fan? This is the question none of your fans asked for, but obviously want to know.
Ross: Not sure about daily intake of all the guys these days, but I drink coffee all day long and move to beer at dinner. Kevin is always down for a fresh pot – he might drink more.
Mike: Kevin is the coffee dude. Homeboy throws down on that coffee brewer. My awareness of mainstream pop music has expanded considerably since letting my 6-year-old daughter watch YouTube, but I can’t say Britney Spears has even been on the periphery so far.
What is a Black Books gig like from your perspective and how do you think audiences respond?
Clarke: We have been playing music with each other for a quite a while, some more than not. I hope when people see us together, they can sense that.
Mike: Each gig is different, both from the setlist and the vibe. We’ve had raucous shows, chaotic shows, focused shows. Anywhere from 10 to 3,000 people have watched us play at one time.
Ross: I think it can throw people for a loop if they don’t know what our music is like. We play very loud cathartic music that can be taxing at times in the set. It’s not really party music for the most part; it asks you to allow yourself to feel something for 40 minutes. The music seems to work when the audience agrees to hear us out. Some nights, whole crowds are down to take that ride with us and sometimes it’s just a couple folks. You can tell in their face if they’re connecting with it. I guess either way is fine, but the former of the two is way more fun.
Can we expect any live dates in the near future? What’s up the pipeline for Black Books?
Clarke: We’re always writing, so a plan to record another full length in 2020 is our big target. It’s hard for us to get out of the Austin area for a great length of time, but we’re always looking.