Christian Bland of THE BLACK ANGELS is one of the leading purveyors of psychedelic music and is largely responsible for the resurgence of the entire psychedelic scene. His guitar playing and songwriting with the Black Angels, his involvement with the Reverberation Appreciation Society and the LEVITATION Festival (formerly known as the Austin Psych Fest) all have contributed to a huge impact on todays psych movement. Attack Captain spoke with Christian and a few of the topics we hit upon were. Record collections, Florida State University, Roky Erickson, Pedalboards,Studio “secret weapons” and Syd Barrett. I would like to thank Christian very much for taking the time to answer our questions and I hope you the reader enjoy this awesome interview.
Question: I remember discovering my fathers old 45 record collection and I was hooked from that point on. I read in an interview that you also discovered your fathers record collection. The musical journeys we embark on can lead us anywhere if we are daring enough … From Buddy Holly to Jandek takes a while though. What was your musical journey like? What were some of your favorite discoveries as a child?
I remember finding Sgt. Peppers in my Dads record collection and just staring at the all the faces on the cover. I eventually figured out how to turn on the record player, so I could listen to it. I’d always put it on when my parents left me home alone so I could crank it up. Another favorite in my Dads collection was Bob Dylans ‘The Times a A-Changin’. I loved listening to the lyrics especially ’With God on our Side’ & ‘When the Ship Comes in’. My parents always listened to Oldies 94.5 when I was growing up in Houston. So I grew up loving the oldies and that’s continued to this day. 50’s and 60’s rock ‘n’ roll is by far my favorite kind of music.
Question: I discovered Vaadat Charigim a couple years ago at the LEVITATION Festival and couldn’t stop playing their stuff. BIG BLOOD is another band I recently came upon and I can’t get enough of. Our journey never really ends … what artist today are you most excited about?
A couple of my favorite newer bands are Apache Dropout, Clinic, Jacco Gardner, Cannibal Movie, Ty Segall, Fat White Family, & The Night Beats…But I’m always discovering new bands from the 60’s. At the beginning of this year my buddy Eric showed me Morgen. So that’s probably been my favorite discovery of 2016.
Question: You picked up the guitar at a rather late age. You attended Florida State University and was a member of the track and field team. Can you tell us how your Knee injury while attending school changed things for you.
I had to sit out from high jump my sophomore year at FSU. I had lots of time on my hands and I’d always wanted to play the guitar. I tried when I was 12 on my dads right handed acoustic and got frustrated and gave up and pursued high jumping. But once I couldn’t high jump, I went back to the guitar. I figured out that I could flip my dads guitar to be left handed and from that point on, I’ve never put it down.
Question: How important did the guitar become to you at this point? Being from Miami and having friends who attended FSU, I know it has a notorious reputation for being a “party school”. Did you miss out on a lot of the college experience because of your new found obsession with the guitar?
High jumping kept me busy. I wasn’t much of a partier while I was at FSU, so when I couldn’t high jump any longer, guitar filled the void and it continues to whenever things go wrong.
Question: As a lefty player, finding a decent guitar back then was a challenge. Can you remember what your first guitar was and what the story behind it is? Do you still own it?
My first electric guitar was a left handed Johnson strat copy I bought on eBay in like 2000. It was terrible. It’s long gone.I ended up buying a 2001 Gibson SG Standard. I saved up the entire summer of 2001 to buy it. I figured the more invested I was in a guitar, the more i’d wanna play it, and it was true.
Question: Who were some of your musical influences and what players knocked your socks off?I know you are a big fan of Syd Barrett.
Definitely, Syd’s my favorite. Some others are: David Gilmour Live at Pompeii. Lou Reed chugging on his guitar with the VU. Stacey Sutherland rippin surfy Texas styled licks w/ the 13th Floor Elevators.
Question: What is it about Syd Barrett’s playing that draws you to him?
He didn’t have any formal guitar training so he played the guitar how he was inspired to play it. He painted with his guitar. There’s no correct way to play the guitar. You can create your own way of what feels right for you and that’s why I love Syd so much.
Question: How did THE BLACK ANGELS come about? Did you play in any bands prior to THE BLACK ANGELS?
Alex and I started playing together at the end of 2002. We grew up together in Clear Lake City, Texas and met back up in Austin and started to try and form a band. We had a couple bands together before The Black Angels, but nothing too serious. We called ourselves The Black & Green Scarecrows for a bit, then shortened it to Scarecrow in 2003. Stephanie joined us in May 2004 after I posted a ‘drummer wanted’ sign in the UT student union, and The Black Angels were born.
Question: You are a very prolific songwriter / artist. I caught the HOLLOW TREES set at LEVITATION a couple years agoand was blown away. How does that differ from The Black Angels or the RELEVATORS material?
Sadly, I’m no longer playing with Hollow Trees. I just didn’t have the time. But I’m a huge fan. Bob Mustachio’s the ring leader. They have a dark, 80’s goth kind of feel, like Joy Division and Bauhaus mixed with the Mary Chain and Spacemen 3.
Question: What is the songwriting process like for you? Is it a formal work like process or is it more an inspirational spur of the moment when it happens it happens type thing?
It’s always inspirational and spur of the moment. It’s great to have a phone with a recording program in case an idea pops in my head.
Question: Do you have a certain instrument you like to compose on?
Lately, I find it easiest to write songs on my nylon string classical guitar.
Question: The Black Angels are in the studio now working on album number #5 … what has been the biggest challenge so far in the recording process?
Structuring the songs and getting them just right. We had a hard to finding someone to work with as well. Fortunately, we ended up recording with Phil Ek and it was an amazing experience. I’m really proud of what we captured, and hopefully people enjoy it as much as I do.
Question: Whats life like in the studio when recording Black Angels material? Are the songs completed and worked out prior to entering the studio or are you guys using the studio as an additional instrument and creating and molding the songs as you go?
By the time we get to the studio we have the songs down pat. So it’s just a matter of us all playing together and getting the right take, then we move onto the next song. We always record together live. But yes, the studio is definitely like an additional instrument aiding us in getting just the right tones.
Question: How much experimental creating goes on in the studio? Is their still the issue of working against the clock?
A lot of the experimentation comes before we ever reach the studio. By the time we’re recording we’ve already experimented to the max, but that’s not to say that if something magical happens while recording that we wont use it. There’s always happy mistakes.
Question: Is there a certain instrument that has become a “secret studio weapon” … something that ties all the albums together. Something like the Rheem synth?
We love the Mellotron. We’ve used it on every album.
Question: Can you give us a rig rundown of your live set up? All the guitar nerds out there, me included are very interested to know whats on everyones pedal board. Can you break yours down and tell us what pedals you like and why and what makes them so special.
my chain goes: Rickenbacker 345 into a couple fuzzes (which I change out every now and then. right now I’m liking the Analogman peppermint fuzz the best), an Ibanez turbo tube screamer, a few echoes for different time options (Echosex 2 & Boonar right now), an old Vox wah (v846), a Fulltone tube tape echo, through a modified Fender Twin Reverb twin ’65 reissue w/ reverb maxed out.
Question: What do you consider to be the essential necessary pedals required for the psych, drone, shoegaze genera?
Reverb, Echo, Fuzz, Overdrive, and Wah.
Question: Gear is so addictive and fun so what is your current G.A.S condition like, a guitar, pedal, amp. cable or pick ? What has been your latest and greatest find in terms of gear?
My favorite purchase of 2016 was my lefty NOS Gibson SG ’62 reissue, with the vibrola tailpiece. The original 2001 Gibson SG I mentioned earlier was stolen from Alex’s house in 2003, so it was nice to finally get another SG.
Question: Is your quest for the perfect tone never ending? It’s all subjective but who do you think comes closest to nailing the “perfect” tone.
Syd of course. (Fender esquire + Selmer Amp cranked + Binson Echorec)
Question: Going back to your childhood do you remember your first concert experience? Who was it and what do you remember about it?
DC Talk. I’m a preachers son, so I went to the Astrodome with my youth group and checked them out when I was like 12. I don’t remember too much. I thought it was cool to be on the actual baseball field watching, but the music wasn’t very memorable.
Question: Whats the vibe with the band ( The Black Angels) before taking the stage to perform? What are you doing 15 minutes before the show and what are you doing 15 minutes after the show?
Whipping each other with chains before; whipping each other with chains 15 minutes after.
Question: Is there a difference between European and American audiences?
Europeans seem to get more into us. I think it has to do with the exoticism of being from overseas. Here in the US people in the bigger cities are definitely into it, but overseas they’re like ‘Holy craaaaaap!! It’s The Black Angels all the way from Austin, Texas!!!’
Question: The Psych scene is growing, and with so many wonderful bands releasing material and touring the scene is very strong. What do you contribute this to?
Discontent and the need for freedom of expression. It’s a backlash against force fed media. It’s getting bad. We’re living in a reality tv show. It’s idiotic.
Question: If you could record a record with any artist / band living or deceased who would it be and why?
I’d love to record with Brian Wilson back in 1966/67.
Question: Will any more of the Roky Erickson / Black Angels collaboration material ever see the light of day? Was there sufficient studio material recorded to maybe one day see a release?
We recorded like 11 songs hoping he’d sing on them, but it just never happened, so they’re just recorded with either me, Alex, or Nate singing his parts. We even added the electric jug. Who knows what’ll ever happen to that stuff. Hopefully we can put it out one day.
Question: Who is Rock n Roll’s greatest unsung overlooked or forgotten hero and why?
Billy Nicholls – Would You Believe It’s the British answer to ‘Pet Sounds’https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Would_You_Believe_(Billy_Nicholls_album)
Question: Its 3 am and your driving alone on a long stretch of highway, what song should be playing on the radio?
The Hearse by The Astronauts
Question: Top desert island records in no particular order, just a few …
just a few of my favorites off the top of my head:
Jesus & Mary Chain – PsychocandyPink Floyd – Piper at the Gates of DawnThe Velvet Underground & NicoLove – Forever ChangesThe Beatles – Sgt. PeppersThe Beach Boys – Pet SoundsBilly Nicholls – Would You Believe?13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds….Radiohead – OK ComputerBRMC – S/T
and if i had enough room, I’d stick these in too:
The Kinks – The Kink KontroversyThe Byrds – Mr. Tambourine ManThe Doors – S/T
Question: What advice do you have to offer those thinking of pursuing a music career?
You should learn how to play an instrument. Then learn how to play the songs of the music that has inspired you to want to learn that instrument. Then find other people who like the same kind of music and have the same passion about it as you do and start a band, hopefully their friends that you already knew. Then everyone should move into a house together and get serious and get used to each other so that you wont have a huge blow up on tour thus destroying the band.
Question: Any final words you would like to share?
The Black Angels new record is hitting the shelves on Record Store Day 2017, so all y’all be sure to pick up a copy. There’ll be a black light version special for RSD with a glowing disc, and the first pressing (which is different than the black light RSD version) will have a limited edition cover that every other pressing thereafter won’t have. It’s 11 songs about life and death.