Black to Basics

Black Mountain return to Vancouver after putting in time on the road

BY SARAH BERMAN, MEGAPHONE MAGAZINE

Though Vancouver may be a comfort zone for hometown heroes Black Mountain, the band has proven they’re willing to make leaps and bounds outside that space—and luckily, it’s playing off.

Reached from the Black Mountain tour van en route to Austin, Texas, bassist Matt Camirand opened up about their new album, new tour, and new approach to rock and roll.

In September, the local psych-rock darlings released Wilderness Heart, the band’s third and most polished installment. Unlike Black Mountain’s previous releases, the album was recorded in a high-profile studio—Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles, to be exact—where rock legends like Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac and even the Rolling Stones have found shelter.

“There was obviously lots of old gear that we’ re really nerdy about,” Camirand explained of the first-time experience working with producers Dave Sardy and Randall Dunn. “ I really enjoyed it. I’ ve wanted to do it for years.”

But letting bigtime producers weigh in on Black Mountain’s creative process wasn’ t always easy. Camirand said recording in LA required a lot of trust on both ends. “ It can be really exciting and a little bit scary to let a third person who’s not in the band have a say,” he said.

“It’ s always best to approach with a positive attitude. You just have to accept that you won’ t always agree and know that eventually it will come together,” Camirand said, noting that he and bandmates Steve McBean, Amber Webber, Jeremy Schmidt and Joshua Wells are all proud of the result.

Although the new record has the slick feel of a major release, it’ s also one of the most experimental and diverse offerings in Black Mountain’ s discography. From the galloping metal riffage of “Let Spirits Ride” to the pitch-perfect composition of “The Hair Song,” the album shows a keen interest in new sounds.

“We’ve been on college radio for years now, and it’s a little more exciting when you see people you don’t expect showing up,” said Camirand of the varied new fans and commercial radio plays that have recently come their way. “It feels good because you’re obviously turning people on to your music who weren’t already within your realm of existence.”

Since September, the band has been touring relentlessly across North America and Europe. Camirand says crowds in unexpected places like Scandinavia have been three and four times larger than on previous tours.

“There was 800 people at a show in Italy, which was monsterous,” he said. “Europe was fantastic this time—bigger than it’s ever been for us.”

With just a week left until Black Mountain’ s return to Vancouver, Camirand says he’ slooking forward to reuniting with the PHS Community Services—a Downtown Eastside organization that Camirand and fellow bandmates have helped out for many years.

“We’ ve only been home for two weeks at a time,” Camirand said. “ I did a couple shifts [with PHS] just for the heck of it, but mostly was hanging out with my girlfriend and relaxing.”

Camirand, who has worked with PHS for more than a decade, feels that working inthe Downtown Eastside keeps him grounded, and helps him give back to an employer that’s helped him out in the past. “ I’ ve been touring in bands since I was 17,” Camirand explained. “ When I wasn’t making money, I would always have a job to come back to.”

When the tour cycle comes to a close in December, Camirand says he’ll also enjoy jamming with his girlfriend and bandmates in a new side project called The Highway Kind. “I’ve never been in a band with that [person] you most love in life,” he said. “ It doesn’t happen very often.”

Camirand says his new project is a welcome escape from his breadwinning band’s politics. “It’s a band where I can have a couple beers and there’s no agenda. It’s fun,” he said, noting that other band members are also keen to pursue their own projects. “Black Mountain is fun too, but it has to some degree become a job.”

Despite the band’s tendency to rock out nostalgic stoner jams, Camirand says Black Mountain doesn’t lead the typical rock’n’roll lifestyle some fans might expect.

“We like to party and have some drinks, but it’s not nearly as exciting,” Camirand said, drawing comparison to the classic rock persona worshipped in previous decades. “I don’ t think that lifestyle exists anymore. I always figured there was bands like Mötley Crüe and that and AC/DC that really took it to a really extreme place.

“I read a lot. I’ve got three or four books on the go,” he said. “We went out and got some food this morning and saw an art installation at this little church in Houston.”

Camirand says he and his bandmates try to take better care of their bodies. “ It comes with years of being on the road. You can only eat Taco Bell and drink yourself into oblivion so many times,” he said.

Photo by Steve Gullick

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