Black Angels’ sound is at once retro and modern

Wednesday April 10, 2013 12:06 PM

That The Black Angels have spearheaded a psych-rock revival from their hometown of Austin, Texas, the home of the 13th Floor Elevators, the band at the vanguard of ’60s psych-rock, is not lost on Alex Maas.

But he’s little concerned with the idea that there is some lineage, nor with any notion his band is a retro act.

“There is music we’re inspired by, and we’re inspired by 13th Floor Elevators, a great band that was ahead of its time,” Maas told The Beat.

“But there is a lot of music, and other stuff, that inspires us. It’s impossible to avoid references to the past, but we’re not a retro band.”

One only need a cursory listen to the band’s brand-new Indigo Meadow to hear The Black Angels have taken what’s come before, twisted and turned it, maybe beaten it with a stick, and added some pieces to it, some textures and colors (more on those later), and come up with something that is at once retro and modern.

“I think like a sonic alchemist,” Maas explained.

“We’re always trying to figure out ‘how do we get this sound.’ Like ‘I want my guitar to sound like it’s at the bottom of a well,’ or ‘this needs to sounds like the Antarctic.’ ”

Need another metaphor? How about cooking? Maas compared the way the band writes songs to making soup, with a touch of this and a dash of that, but achieving one unified result.

Maas relates the band’s music directly to colors.

In fact, he said the band has a matrix of colors and a list of songs that fall in each category – “This song is a black song, this is a red song, a green song,” for example – that it uses to build live set lists both in terms of song order and what songs are in and out of a set based on the mood of the members.

“Sounds go into your brain through your ear, and right behind the ear is the limbic system, which is responsible for your imagination, so we just sort of naturally color-code the music as we’re listening to it,” Maas explained.

“Different colors emerge on each record,” he added (note the name Indigo Meadow for a guess at the band’s latest record).

“I hear the band playing music and it brings colors, images, scenes. Those moods then go into the lyrical content.”

Having established The Black Angels’ place on the psych-rock timeline, we return to Austin, the band’s hometown and where it founded and hosts the annual Austin Psych Fest, the sixth of which gets under way later this month.

“It’s like having a child,” Maas said.

“That first year, it just kind of popped out. But you feed it, and it starts walking around and develops a personality and becomes stronger. Now we’re just ushering it around.”

The band’s current tour is a mini-Psych Fest. Longtime friend of the band Rishi Dhir’s Elephant Stone opens.

“I’ve known Rishi for almost 10 years,” Maas said. “He’s an amazing sitar player. We’re really looking forward to this tour.”

 

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