Published Apr 12, 2016Don't believe a word Stephen McBean says.
Speaking about IV, the new record from his Vancouver-based band Black Mountain (out now on Dine Alone/Jagjaguwar) the singer-guitarist admits that, during the writing and recording process, neither he nor his bandmates put much thought into the deeper meaning of their music.
"As you do interviews when the record comes out, you end up making elaborate lies," McBean tells Exclaim! "We have an arsenal of quotes that we're shooting off at cellphones every day."
So take with a grain of salt McBean's explanation of the album's origins. Shortly after releasing their last record, 2010's Wilderness Heart, the band parted ways with bass player Matt Camirand. Although they did several tours without him, when it came time to start working on new material, the group weren't satisfied with just anyone filling his shoes in the studio. "We wanted someone to come in and be a collective member and not just be a member for hire."
A chance encounter with Arjan Miranda, who had played in Vancouver skate-metal band S.T.R.E.E.T.S., as well as Children and Brooklyn-based Family Band, gave Black Mountain's remaining members the creative spark they needed to get the ball rolling. "He had great ideas and it was exciting for everyone."
In the interim between Wilderness Heart and IV, Black Mountain's members remained busy: McBean released albums with Obliterations and Pink Mountaintops; singer Amber Webber and drummer Joshua Wells released their third album as Lightning Dust; and keyboard player Jeremy Schmidt put out the soundtrack to the film Beyond the Black Rainbow under the moniker Sinoia Caves.
Those experiences fed into IV's creation, as members "found things in their archives of demos." "Line Them All Up" began life as a Lightning Dust song; "Mothers of the Sun" was originally intended for Black Mountain's second record, In the Future; and "You Can Dream" was pegged for Pink Mountaintops until Schmidt got his hands on it. "It makes more sense for Black Mountain to do a John Carpenter-inspired 'Escape from Cadboro Bay' soundtrack thing," McBean says.
Eighteen or 19 tracks were ultimately recorded with Randall Dunn in Seattle with Miranda playing bass (who was unable to commit long term; the group have since recruited Colin Cowan). In cutting the record down, band members gravitated to the songs that were less guitar-riff-oriented. "We'd put a whole ton of [overdubs] on it and then after, while mixing, you start muting stuff. Sometimes guitars get muted."
McBean points to the 10th anniversary edition of their self-titled debut, which was assembled and released during the writing and recording process, as the reason. Re-listening to that record influenced the tone they hoped to strike with IV.
"The first record reminded us of the innocence of making a debut," he says. "There's a certain fun-ness — there's not as many riffs, but more psych stuff, harkening back to the stuff we were probably listening to at the time."
In retrospect, that idea of looking back to create the future is a major theme on the record and is reflected in the stunning cover art Schmidt designed, which, among other things, features a Concorde soaring over a pastoral manor estate.
"The future was this wild and magical place that you dreamed about as a kid where the Jetsons lived with flying cars," says McBean, who sounds as if he's riffing, making up his latest tall tale as he speaks. "Now, there are no flying cars and there's things like Donald Trump running for president, Bill Cosby is a rapist, Sonic Youth isn't a band anymore and David Bowie is dead. But we got cellphones!"
You can find all of Black Mountain's upcoming tour dates here. Check out the video for "Mothers of the Sun" below.