A debut album that is sure to go onto warpath upon its release; several dates opening for KMFDM; a killer lineup of horror nerds and metalheads fronted by the legendary Eric Powell… Black December is a band on a mission to remind audiences why we all get into music – to ROCK!
An InterView with Black December
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Eric Powell is a man who needs no introduction; as the front man and machine rock maestro behind 16volt, he has garnered a considerable reputation over the years for his incorporation of mechanical atmospheres and melodic atmospheres with a decidedly hard rock mindset that made that band the stuff of coldwave royalty. Now with Black December, Powell has teamed up with drummer Keith Hirschman to explore an even harder rocking and more organic musical style that does away with the reliance on technology, resulting in the debut album, Vol. 1. Since then, the band has been rounded out by bassist Kimber Parish, and guitarists Bobby “Crowbob” Thomas and Erik Gustafson, evolving into a pure exhibition of in-your-face hard rock that appeals to a wide spectrum of tastes, from pop-friendly melody to aggressive heavy metal that simply must be heard live. With Vol. 1 about to be released via Metropolis Records and the band about to embark on several dates of the KMFDM Salvation tour, each of the band members weighs in on the development of Black December into the tightly knit and utterly vicious rock & roll animal that it has become!
First of all, to get this out of the way, what can you tell us about the demise of 16volt? It seemed like there was an album in the works with some material teased out. Did any of that material inform or influence what we now hear on the Black December debut?
How did everyone come to join the band, and how has your inclusion affected the sound of Black December?
Hirschman: I’ve been working with Eric for years. We’ve become family over this time and had a more than normal share of the same ideas. We decided it was time to start something new together and Black December was born.
Parish: I was referred by a mutual friend in L.A., Dave Corsile, whom I met at horror conventions. See, being a horror nerd does pay off, kids!
Gustafson: I played with Keith in an old band in Texas. He let me know about Black December, and the timing just seemed right. We’d had a good chemistry onstage before and he’d been aware of my various roles such as rhythm guitar, synth, programming.
What was that process like of writing and recording this album, and how would you say it compares/contrasts with your experiences in your past groups?
Powell: We set out from the get go to just be free of classification and habit. We wanted to just write and let the songs dictate their own sounds and arrangements, to flow naturally and not force anything. We wanted this first album to be the introduction of what is to come, artistic freedom. We have a lot to say musically and our mantra was and is to express it openly and freely.
What was it like working with such renowned producers as Marc Jordan and Howie Weinberg? How do you feel their collective history affected the sound of Black December?
Hirschman: It was educational and helped us define what we are today. We wanted to push this sound to be something unique and to do that, you have to find the right people. Howie just happened to be part of the package when working with Marc Jordan.
Powell: Working with Marc was great; he’s a genius. He really helped us open up what we are dong and own it, let it be who it is, and not be afraid to stretch and push ourselves musically – harmony, arrangement, all that stuff. Really, he just took what we did and made us do it better by providing the support and direction to feel okay with being what we are.
Black December’s visual scheme is very striking, relying very much on B&W/monochromatic chiaroscuro imagery. In what ways do you feel this style represents and complements the sound and lyrical content of the band’s music?
Crowbob: There’s definitely a dark-ish theme that is represented visually and audibly. The contrasts complement each other well.
Powell: Yeah, the lyrical content and musical diversity waxes and wanes between hurt, anger, betrayal, disgust, and hope, relief, and clarity. I really wanted the album art to express those things, but within one concurrent lens.
Hirschman: It’s about a band having something that isn’t out there. These days, that is almost impossible to do. We wanted this to be simple; we wanted it all to connect musically and visually. I think once everyone hears these songs and reads the lyrics, it will make a clear statement.
While Black December identifies as a hard rock band, there is still a discernible level of technology being employed; as well, more and more rock bands are utilizing the same tools and tech as more alternative forms like ‘industrial/rock,’ such that the boundaries between them have all but broken down – what are your thoughts on this?
Hirschman: It’s time we just get back to the basic reason we started doing this – to ROCK! We’re not worrying about a laptop malfunction, an MP3 player that someone needs to hit play on before we start a show; we don’t have a need for it in this band. We have three guitarists for a reason, who, might I add, can all sing. The more we work together in this band, the heavier and harder it is going to be to give us any kind of labeling other than bad-ass! It’s all about melting faces!
Powell: Agreed. Melt Faces. With Black December, we aren’t relying on technology in the way we had in the past. Anything we use is supplemental or accentuates the song sonically. The technology is there but if it fails, it doesn’t matter. We aren’t stuck playing to backing tracks; this is a live band in the truest sense.
Gustafson: I think it’s rad that technology has become more pervasive. I love the extra added production sheen that programming can provide. But with Black December, we don’t rely on it.
Crowbob: There”s a lot going on with this music, which can and will be replicated live. Today’s music requires something for the listener to latch on to, other than the standard format of guitar, drums, and bass. The elements brought forth to the sound that is Black December can be looked at in many ways, but to my regards… I think what is going on is organic and part of what makes Black December such a contender in a sea of replication. I would like to see the band referred to as a heavyweight in the future. Just my spin on it
In connection to the previous question, I’ve noticed lately among audiences – both older and newer – a greater imperative to define industrial in a more traditional sense (i.e. Throbbing Gristle and Neubauten), and further distinguishing it from what many have identified as industrial over the past three decades (Skinny Puppy, coldwave, etc.). Is this perhaps, in your opinion, because of this breakdown and cross-pollination of genres?
Hirschman: Just come see us. Then you can form whatever opinion you think is needed. But in the end, we will just be a hard rock band.
Powell: I don’t pay any attention to any of that shit. We are a rock band. I think it’s narrow-minded to have to subcategorize anything. Just listen to what you listen to, like what you like, and don’t worry about it. I don’t pay attention to any scene anymore. To me, if you identify with a specific scene and limit yourself to only that scene specific music, you’re robbing yourself of some great stuff. Industrial, Metal, Juggalo. It’s played out and boring. Go listen to everything and find what you love. Who cares what its classification is?
Parish: It all depends on your point of reference. If someone hasn’t ever heard industrial, they don’t know that it’s industrial. They just know it has a fun riding beat with distorted vocals. I think labels are for cans and people can make whatever art that they please.
Gustafson: Agreed, I feel the need to define and separate is a bit elitist.
Black December is performing several Northwestern US dates on the upcoming KMFDM Salvation tour. Are there plans to continue touring after the album’s release in July?
Parish: If you build it, they will come…
Powell: Yes! They will come. We are doing this first little handful of shows and preparing for a much lengthier run. I really want to get out there and rock this record!
Aside from the financial considerations, what do you find to be the most difficult part of touring these days?
Crowbob: Personal, family, and jobs seem to be the biggest hiccups that make for difficult times on the road in my opinion. I have kept my doors open just to have former members of previous bands close them, usually not by their choice! It’s a vicious cycle that is not for the faint of heart! I myself embrace touring with open arms.
Powell: I am all about touring as well. I am a natural road-tripper. Get me out there and let me do this! The hard part is being disconnected from family and especially my kids. My kids are my world and I hate not seeing them.
Hirschman: I would live on the road if I could. Trying to stay somewhat healthy is difficult. Not doing stupid shit because your day is basically about how to kill time before you play. Getting good sleep is impossible.
Parish: Finding healthy food on the road! Or washing my clothes… both are pretty important.
Outside of music, what sorts of activities and occupations do the members of Black December engage in? In what ways do you feel that they affect or influence your approaches to the band and how you make music?
Parish: I’m a professional freelance makeup artist for film and TV when I’m not playing music… and sometimes a model, painter, FX shop worker; pretty much anything I can do that’s artistic. Music to me is an art, as well.
Hirschman: I own a food truck called ‘X-Marks the Spot’ in Kansas City and in Topeka. I wouldn’t say I’m influenced by anymore than at the end of the day, it’s really about music.
Crowbob: Professional Disc Golfer.
Gustafson: Technology, guns, and videogames.
What sorts of music do you enjoy individually outside of what you create?
Crowbob: Crowbar is by far my favorite band of all time. Biohazard, Hatebreed, Cutthroat, and Madball are some of my favorite hardcore bands that I still jam like gospel. A lot of the messages are in regards to overcoming adversity, which is very motivational to me! I also love older rock like Black Sabbath, Rush, Credence Clearwater Revival, Dire Straits, and I listen to a lot of ’80s as well like The Cure, Depeche Mode, Don Henley, Men at Work, Toto. Some of my favorites of all time – Slayer, Pantera, Metallica, Sepultura, Nirvana, Megadeth, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Venom, Brujeria, Machine Head, Slipknot (old). I could go on for days…
Powell: I like a ton of stuff, from Sia to Slipknot, from Muse to Metallica, from Air to Alice in Chains, Prodigy to Prong; I’m musically schizophrenic.
Hirschman: It’s all about mood. It could be Slayer, could be Sade, could be Travis Tritt; I never know. You can keep the hip-hop though.
What sort of advice or tips would you give to other up-and-coming musicians?
Parish: Same advice I give anyone with a dream – if it was easy, everyone would be doing it! Keep moving toward your dreams and goals, and you will always be accomplished!
Crowbob: Give a 110% percent on and off stage and with everything you do. Anything is possible and the sky is the limit! Never let anyone tell you otherwise! EVER!
Powell: I can’t really add much out of what Kimber and Bobby said other than just do it for fun. The chances of you making a living – or better yet a life – out of music is so low that you should never ever count on anything outside of expressing yourself, making art, and having fun.
Hirschman: It’s not cheap to follow your dreams, so be ready to piss people off, lose friends, and acquire ex-girlfriends. Seriously, be ready for disappointment more than success. Many will not like your music. Some will say shit you don’t want to hear. In the end, it’s about believing in yourself and never giving up – and trust me, you will want to. This all depends on how far you really want to go. Good luck!!
Black December Website http://blackdecembermusic.com
Black December Facebook http://facebook.com/blackdecembermusic
Black December Twitter http://www.twitter.com/_blackdecember
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Black December SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/blackdecembermusic