Black Elk

It ain’t all pretty melodies and whiny vocals here in Portland. The flourishing metal and heavy music scene is breeding bands like Black Elk. Noisy, aggressive and well, angry, Black Elk don’t fuck around. The Vanguard met up with the band at their rehearsal space and waxed poetic about Portland’s music scene, upcoming tours and the recording of their debut album released in November.

It ain’t all pretty melodies and whiny vocals here in Portland. The flourishing metal and heavy music scene is breeding bands like Black Elk. Noisy, aggressive and well, angry, Black Elk don’t fuck around. The Vanguard met up with the band at their rehearsal space and waxed poetic about Portland’s music scene, upcoming tours and the recording of their debut album released in November.

Your upcoming show, you’re playing with Fu Manchu, etc., do you think you’re a good fit with those bands?

Erik Trammell (guitar): Well Valient Thorr are friends of ours. So that was the original thing we were stoked about. Fu Manchu is cool as well…

Don Cupuano (bass): Also, Artimus Pyledriver are a fucking rad band. We met those dudes in Seattle and they are super nice. They did a tour with Valient Thorr a few months ago so we met them too. Fu Manchu, I’ve always liked them, through college and all that, I haven’t heard the new album yet though. We’re more looking forward to playing with the other two bands, but Fu Manchu will be rad to play with as well.

ET: Another big thing about this show is that it is all-ages, which is a really cool thing. We don’t usually get to play all-ages shows for whatever reason, so that’s nice too.

Tom Glose (vocalist): It might have something do with that we’re all 30-somethings…

Matt Latorre (drums): Drinking sometimes helps too…

TG: It seems like the younger crew wants to see their friends and people their own age play or whatever.

ET: Not a bunch of drunk old guys.

Well, I like Black Elk and I’m 19 so…

TG: Well, we just haven’t played a lot of all-ages shows. Obviously there is an all-ages scene in Portland, but it fluctuates a lot. Many of the venues are big-ass venues, there aren’t as many little dives.

ET: Well the Food Hole…we love that place but they’ve just been remodeling forever.

TG: And there’s always the house show thing. But we haven’t really gotten into that. I always hear about house shows…which we would love to do, but we never get asked.

I think the house show thing is mainly for friends’ bands; you have to know someone in the house to make it work.

ET: Most of our friends are 30-whatever so they’re not really having their house get trashed anymore. That’s probably the main reason.

What do you guys think of the current heavy music scene in Portland? Do you think it’s growing…?

DC: I think not only the metal scene but also the indie and pop scenes have grown. Portland, since I’ve been here, has gone up and down in waves. I think the wave is coming up with newer places like Rotture, The Sunday Lounge and The Know. It goes up and down and right now it’s on the upswing. Right now there are some really good bands that are getting national recognition for Portland. Even the heavier bands are doing pretty well from it.

TG: When I first moved here eight years ago, there were all these people. Me, him, him and him (gestures at band members) at one point were all transplants who were already playing music and somehow for some reason or another came to Portland. And everyone that I talked to was saying this was going to be the next big thing. Well, kind of. Venues would close and it was quiet for a while. But, I think metal, the whole scene is getting noticed more and more. For a while, you look at the national tours, the big bands from Portland and it’s all pop. Which is no big deal, it’s cool, but why don’t you notice the other stuff that is going on? All these bands…

ET: Just in here, in Surburbia [the band’s rehearsal studio] there is metal bands everywhere.

DC: But there’s also bands like The Shins practicing upstairs and The Thermals right around the corner. They put Portland on the map and it still helps us out when we go on tour, people say, “Oh, you guys are from Portland.”

TG: Well, it’s just nice to see other genres being noticed. Nationally, Portland is recognized for pop or indie music, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s good that Portland is starting to be noticed for all of its music, not just one little sector of it.

You guys released your self-titled album in November, can you tell me about the process of that album and how you feel about it now?

ET: Well, we started in like February of 2005, playing together. And we pretty much just wanted to get it done really quick so we could have a record. We didn’t rush it, but we’re barely even playing those songs live at all. We just wanted to shop it to labels, and the main label we were shooting for is the one we ended up with, which is Crucial Blast.

TG: Well, [the label owner of Crucial Blast] pretty much searched us out on MySpace. And I hear people bitching about MySpace all the time, but it got someone interested in us, and our record put out. And it’s been great.

DC: Six of those nine songs we wrote in two months, because we’ve all known each other for years, but we started playing in February but had a show booked for April. So we said, let’s get a show and put ourselves on a deadline to make a set. So we wrote six songs for that set. Those six songs are on the album along with three other ones.

TG: We’ve all been in bands before and we know all the mistakes you can make. And as we’ve become older, we’ve learned. I moved here originally because the band I was in wanted to get out of our small town we were in. We made so many stupid mistakes and missteps. It was nice to be a band that was like, “C’mon let’s get it going, let’s get a set, let’s record, let’s get to it.” But it’s also hard too because we aren’t in our 20s anymore, people have mortgages, lives outside of playing music, jobs, careers, etc. So we wanted to do it right.

ET: It’s mostly tough for us to tour, because we want to get out there, but we just have a finite amount of what we are able to do.

DC: It wasn’t like we were rushed on this album, but we did write six songs in two months so at first it was fast. Now we have more time to work on it and feel it out.

Do you feel like since you wrote those songs so fast that you’re still happy with the album?

TG: Oh yeah! I’m totally happy with it. But I’ve noticed that with myself I do things a little bit different after recording. They’re still the same lyrics but I add little things. We all do. You record as soon as the stuff is solid, because it’s always going to change regardless; you find ways of doing things better or whatever. [The album] is kind of a snapshot of where we were then, when we recorded it. We’ve been taking a lot more time with the new songs we’re writing.

ET: There is something nice about that urgency of just getting it done. It’s just a nice way to go about it. It wasn’t pressure, but it did light a fire under us, we were excited to start playing.

So what are the songs you’re working on now like?

ET: We already have four done and two more we’re working on. We’ll have enough for another record pretty soon. Which will be shorter, though the songs are a little bit longer.

TG: We’ve already discussed how we don’t want to go in a completely different direction but not really do the same thing that we’ve done before.

On your one sheet, there is this big description of all these bands that you are compared too, like the Melvins. How do you feel about being compared to other bands?

TG: All those people, I read reviews or whatever. We never ever try to compare ourselves to anybody, that doesn’t come from us. We all have a ton of different influences. It’s not even all primarily staked in metal or hard music or anything.

DC: I mean I went to jazz school for four years; I’ve listened to everything. I wasn’t a jazz player going to jazz school, but I learned a lot anyway. All those bands that people compare us to are bands that I hardly even listen to. The stuff that I think we sound like is not what everybody else says.

ET: Which isn’t to say that the bands we do get compared to are bad or anything. To get compared to one of the greatest live bands of all time, The Jesus Lizard, is awesome. We’re not trying to be a cover band, but if you’re going to be compared to bands, that’s a really sweet list.

TG: It’s interesting to see what we get compared to. We’ve gotten Soundgarden, even Jane’s Addiction, Tad, the Melvins is always a popular one. The Jesus Lizard. Which I think comes from the whole David Yow thing. People say, “Yeah, some guy just goes up and doesn’t do melodic singing, just does their own thing,” it’s the blanket reference. And I fucking hate that. People just want to tie up things into neat little packages to make themselves understand it. It aggravates me. Just accept that you haven’t heard anything like that before. But at the same time reviewers have to do that.

DC: For me coming from the East Coast I’d never even heard of The Jesus Lizard; the Melvins I’d heard of but never listened to. Botch and all that, I didn’t hear them until I moved out here. And at that point my musical thing was already mostly formed. When I was growing up, becoming a musician, I was listening to metal. Slayer, Metallica and all that. I think also that a lot of reviewers see what one guy writes and it’s just easier. “Oh look, this guy compared them to Soundgarden and Tad, so that’s what they sound like.”

You guys are going on tour for, what, the next month or so?

ET: No, just a couple of weeks.

TG: We’re leaving March 8 and we’ll be back around March 25. We’re just going down to Texas.

ET: A friend, Nate Carson, is booking tours for us now, so this tour will be good. We’re touring with Giant Squid, which is nice because we’re still low profile. It’s good to have tour mates like that.

As a band playing heavy music, how important is stage volume to your live show? I see a lot of bands these days playing with huge walls of amps, how do you like to frame your live show?

ET: It’s a weird thing, because every club is different. The most important thing is that we can all hear each other.

DC: If I can hear my amp and his [Erik] it’s all right with me.

ET: There is a definite tone and quality to playing at certain volume.

Don: We’re not like Yob or anything that is just excruciatingly loud.

TG: We’re ready for anything, from places with no PA to other places that mic everything. It’s all about versatility.

ML: As long as it’s all mixed well, I’ve seen bands like Torche who were loud but everything’s dialed in, it just works.

ET: It depends on the venue. Some of the places we’ve played have just sounded great.

DC: Like the Tube. It’s a small place, but it always sounds great.

Anything else?

TG: I really like kitties.

ET: That’s actually true.

So should people bring kitties to the show?

TG: No, I don’t think they would deal well with that.