Monday, January 9, 2012

Interview with Black Ice

If you've been sleeping on Black Ice, now would be a good time to wake up. Since the release of the Oakland, CA band's "Eve" EP in March 2003, Black Ice has consistently produced daring, innovative and smart Gothic/Post-Punk music, as evinced by albums like 2005's "Terrible Birds" (in a better world, the song "Elixir" off this would be a Goth party-starter standard alongside the Banshees' "Spellbound", the Cure's "A Forest", or the Sister of Mercy's "Temple of Love") and 2007's "Myopia". 2010 saw the release of the Ice's latest and most complex work to date, "Before the First Light".  Stevenson Sedgwick, Sköt B, and Miss Kel of Black Ice were kind enough to answer, via email, some questions I had for them about the new record. Enjoy!

AKITD: What was the general mood of the band after returning from tour in Europe in support of "Myopia"? Had Black Ice been well-received overseas?

Stevenson: The European tour was amazing! Definitely the best shows we have had anywhere, Paris probably being the highlight. We were amazed at the response and were very happy to get to meet so many fans and friends face to face and play with some great bands, like Tchiki Boum, Cercueil, Nastro ...

AKITD: "Before the First Light" had a slightly longer gestation period than Black Ice's previous releases. Were there any particular obstacles or problems the group encountered during its composition?

Stevenson: Mostly just time constraints during this period made it harder for us to get together, chief among them being the fact that 3/4 of us became parents in the last few years.

Skot: "Before the First Light" was the result of the band going full circle to our beginnings and becoming a studio project again. As Stevenson said, most of the band had become parents and we were one member short after the European tour. So, we went back into my studio instead of the practice space. We went back to the textural compositions we had first set out to achieve. In-between the 2 albums we had self-released a CD-R EP "Block Ice"

AKITD: Musically, the new album picks up where "Myopia" left off, with even more experimentation directed at song structure and length. "Before the First Light" rewards repeated headphone-listening as well, as there are so many interesting industrial-style percussive flourishes buried in the mix ("Farewell Prize" being a good example of that). Compared to the more straight-forward deathrock production on the earlier "Eve EP" and "Terrible Birds", this album sounds as if the band had decided to take full advantage of the studio. What was the song-writing process like for the new album, and has this sound been difficult to recreate live?

Stevenson: "First Light" is definitely and very consciously a "studio" album. We really thought about production and what instruments/arrangements would work for each track, rather than everyone just playing their instruments. The music was things we had come up with individually, as well as a lot of live jamming that Skot and I did, some of which made it all the way to the final tracks. Personally, it was probably the most enjoyable album to make. We have played a large amount of the album live and it has worked but it has been very challenging. Very long set up times, way too much equipment on stage and a lot of tweaking to get things to sound right, juggling instruments, etc. Plus we were doing it as a four piece instead of five. Definitely has been stressful.

Skot: Yes, there are lots of layers in the mix. Some sounds you may never even notice even with repeated listens. We weren't dedicated to guitar and bass as much, so there was a lot more freedom in coming up with these songs. Stevenson and I would constantly come up with ideas on my 4 track and we would sift through the tapes to find the "gems". Live shows turned out to be quite a challenge...especially in small clubs where sound quality was an issue. Stevenson and I were trying to have 4 arms to pull it off.

AKITD: What were the reasons behind the self-release of the "Block Ice" EP? Was the EP intended as a stand-alone piece or as a promotional device for the upcoming album? Are there any plans to reissue it?

Stevenson: Just for fun, really. The idea of having something very limited plus having the format of an EP, which allows you to put out more esoteric stuff, such as "Block Ice Machine" was appealing. Plus doing it ourselves meant a very quick turnaround, which is always gratifying.

Skot: Yes, pretty much for instantaneous gratification. Why not do it, right? We had some songs together, it had been a while since the release of Myopia and at that time were had started to play some live show again. We had another self-released CD-R, the "Signals" EP, which we released before Myopia. So these might see the blinding light of day again...

AKITD: Lyrically and musically, the new album is very dark and seems to capture the exhausted mood of a world on the verge of economical and ecological collapse. At the same time, the complexity of the musical material adds adds elements of hope and inventiveness to the mix. Was that a concept the band was consciously grappling with?

Stevenson: Well, the semi-title track “Before the Dawn” to me is definitely about exhaustion and specifically waking up at 4 A.M., exhausted and not able to go back asleep. Those of us whom became parents in the last few years are very familiar with this state.

Skot: I wouldn't say an "exhausted" mood but this album should create a means for escape and creating a feeling of otherworldlyness. Musically, I feel, that we weren't thinking so much about the live performance and the energy that goes into a live performance. We were more in our comfort zone...which is apparently a dark place.

AKITD: What were some sources of inspiration for the lyrics and for the stylish packaging of the CD?

Miss Kel: My lyrics are a codex. they come from many different places, experiences, observations of the world and people around me, and my imagination. This album, as well as about half of the songs on Myopia, were not meticulously planned out like they were when we were a newer band (I.e. Eve-EP or Terrible Birds). The idea that I always have behind my words is that they evoke something in you - that is not to say that they should always make you feel comfortable or that you precisely understand what is being said - but that a story emerges that creates images for those listening to the music.

As far as the photography and packaging goes - I wanted to run with a more "filmatic" feel and look, rather than creating drawings and mixed media pieces like I did for Myopia. When creating the concepts for the imagery (as I did not do all of the photography myself) were intended to hint at ideas of the past and leaving on a journey.

AKITD: What are the band's plans for 2012?

Stevenson: We are working on a few releases that we hope to have out this year. The first is simply making EVE EP available digitally along with a few bonus tracks - there is a whole generation - sadly - that doesn't know what vinyl is. The second is a collection of rarities - compilation tracks, EP stuff, unreleased material, maybe something live. We have TONS of stuff, so we are very excited about this and this will be a quality release, not just a bunch of leftovers. Its going to take forever to go through all of it, but we hope to have this out by the fall.
Skot and I are also hoping to at long last release a compilation (Volume I) of Strawberry Trip Monster, the deformed sister band of Black Ice, featuring a number of guest musicians.

To learn more about Black Ice, click on the following links:

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