The Black Angels

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The Black Angels release third album Phosphene Dream on resurrected label, Blue Horizon

:: The Black Angels ::
:: Bluebird Theater ::
::  December 7 ::

By Brian F. Johnson

There are essentially two sides of psychedelia. One is the happy, hippie, everything-is-wonderful feeling. The other is a bit more like a bad trip — not necessarily “bad” but darker, more cynical, more eerie.

Let’s put it this way: The Beach Boys in their heyday wrote “Good Vibrations.” The Black Angels just put out an album with the track “Bad Vibrations.”

The Austin-based psych-rock quintet, which released their third studio album Phosphene Dream in early fall of this year, not only embrace that darker side of psychedelia, it’s their foundation.

“I describe ‘Bad Vibrations’ as the antithesis of ‘Good Vibrations,’”said Black Angels lead singer, guitarist, keyboardist and bassist Alex Maas, in a recent interview with The Marquee. “I kind of thought of it as a love song gone wrong, about a guy who kind of got screwed over by an evil woman — and I’m sure you’ve met one of those before.”

While the band’s subject matter may be less than optimistic, the praise that the new album has gotten is anything but negative, and Maas attributes a great deal of that to what their producer Dave Sardy (Oasiss, Wolfmother, Black Mountain) brought to the table.

“Dave encouraged us to do a lot of things we wouldn’t normally do, such as shortening the songs a bit — finding the song within the song. He encouraged us to use less reverb on the guitar, and basically made other things kind of pop out. I think we’re kind of stubborn in terms of songwriting. He really opened our eyes up in terms of what the listener would be thinking about. We were playing for the fans and he kind of countered as a third party.”

Maas said that he and his bandmates traveled to L.A. to work with Sardy and while a good bit of material was written long before they were set to record — some of it was even road tested for the better part of a year — a big part of the process was re-vamping the songs to fit a newer model for the group. “A lot of the songs were written before we got to him, and he really helped us to restructure them. Some of the songs we’d been playing live for a year, at least, but Dave helped us to refine them and turn them into true songs,” Maas said.

The entire process was tough for the band to take at first, having never worked with a producer before, but by being pushed out of their comfort zone, Maas said that they found many areas that they could focus on crafting, rather than maintaining status quo. “Imagine you’re a painter, working on a painting and someone comes in and says, ‘Oh, you should make this red.’ It took a lot of trust. Ultimately, what he did was take our ideas and he elaborated on them, but he never made us feel uncomfortable. If he had, I don’t think it would have worked,” said Maas.

And worked it sure did. The band had been recording the album with no label in mind, but after finishing the record they shopped it around for a bit — at first to little fanfare. Eventually, however, it made it across the desk of industry icons Richard Gotteher, co-founder of the digital distributor The Orchard, and Seymour Stein, CEO of Sire Records. Those two had just announced they were re-launching the famed label Blue Horizon, and soon it was apparent that The Black Angels would be the re-tooled label’s first signed band.

“To be on that label is just unbelievable,” said Maas. “Those guys are music moguls and it’s really encouraging in the face of the music industry now — how discouraging it is, and how little people are buying records — to see these guys really jump on board for our music. It was just awesome. You know, we were making this record not only for ourselves, but also for the listeners and I think it’s apparent.”

In a published release, Stein wrote, “Great musicianship and performers, mesmerizing vocals, and songs that penetrate the subconscious. That’s the best way to describe Black Angels, our first signing to Blue Horizon. In every way, the band is the perfect choice to re-launch this iconic label.”­

:: The Black Angels ::

:: Bluebird Theater ::

:: December 7 ::

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• Jefferson Airplane

• Black Mountain

• Velvet Underground

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