Black Angels singer Alex Maas has an ear-piercing scream. It's a demonically controlled vocal shot that hits a note and conveys utter chaos and pain. In person, he has a sedated aura about him, with a hat usually pulled low over his expressionless eyes. His scream perplexes: How does such a seemingly calm man make such a sound? What section of his throat and chest cavity does this scream come from? Does he have a wraith in there? Is Kublai Khan pillaging a foreign city, in his throat? Possibly. But it's a psychedelic Khan, who listens to the Velvet Underground and the Doors as he pillages.
The Black Angels' third full-length album, Phosphene Dream, plunders 1960s drone and garage rock in the best way. It's a dark and driving collection that will conquer and occupy your headspace, led by the even 4/4 swipings of drummer Stephanie Bailey. The music is shrouded, and guitarist Christian Bland casts sharp, reverbed lines out from the shadows to escort and flank the songs in their movement. The Austin-based band's sound is veiled yet directed, on edge, like a carriage being driven up a narrow mountain road at night. Christian Bland spoke, no wraiths were present.
Do you ever get tired of the term "psychedelic" being used to describe your music?
Humphry Osmond, who created the word, said, "To fathom hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic." I think it's pretty fitting for our music. However, I think the word gets thrown around too loosely nowadays, which means we need to come up with a new description. Our music is "hypno-drone 'n' roll."
Do you all set out to make psychedelic music?
We set out to create our own version of rock and roll.
How would you define the term psychedelic?
To me, psychedelic means mind expansion, open minds, experimentation, and seeking the pinnacle of one's creativity.
Have any members of the Black Angels ever peed in a pool?
Yes. Clear Lake Forest public pool near Houston, Texas, 1987–1998, at least twice a summer.
Where is your favorite place to play?
Old movie theaters, ballrooms, churches with lots of natural reverb, cool ornamentation, and balconies. It's nice to be able to feel the history of a place.
When you think of Seattle, what do you think of?
The color green and Ken Griffey Jr.
What percentage of the people in Texas are real cowboys? I'm talking shit-kicking, drunk-fighting, real-deal cowboys. Do you all get along with real cowboys?
I'd say 67 percent are cowboys. There are good cowboys and bad cowboys. We get along with both types. Some of their types don't get along with us. Most of them don't like our music; they prefer songs with titles like "Mine's Bigger Than Yours" and "Size Matters." Obviously, they're talking about their trucks.
What music are you listening to?
I'm obsessed with Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers right now.
What's your song "The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven" about?
That's about people who think they deserve to get into heaven being picked off by Charlie before they get into the pearly gates. It's the same theme as the old reggae tune "Johnny Too Bad." You never know when you're gonna leave this dimension, so you'd best be prepared at all times.
Did you know Rolling Stone just named you band of the week? I bet they don't know about your pool peeing.
No way! Yeah, if they know about the pee in the pool, they'll take it away from us.
Do you guys usually play songs out live before you record them? Or is it the other way around?
We usually play a song live for several months before we record it, so that when we go into the studio, we can all lay it down together live. We try to capture our live sound on record.
What's the Black Angels' favorite piece of gear?
The 1967 Compact duo Farfisa. We own three, just in case the others break down.
Run me through the instruments played on the song "Bad Vibrations." Where did you record the album? Who produced?
"Bad Vibrations" was the most collaborative song on the album. We just started jamming together and created our own individual parts. We recorded at Sunset Sound in L.A. with Dave Sardy [Johnny Cash, Helmet, Holy Fuck, LCD Soundsystem] in May 2009. Instrument breakdown is me on a Rickenbacker 340 guitar through a 1965 Fender Twin, Nate Ryan on Fender Jazz bass through an Ampeg, Kyle Hunt on a Rheem Mark VII organ. Stephanie played a Ludwig drum kit with the same kick-drum mic as John Densmore used on the first Doors album.
The Doors' kick drum? Now it all makes sense.
Yes. Yes it does.
Talk about your ghost hunting in Pennsylvania.
On July 1, 2008 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 145 years to the day of the beginning of the Civil War battle there, we were trespassing around the battlefield at 1:30 a.m.—$1,000 fine if we were caught. We had to avoid ghosts and policemen. At one point, a police car was driving around the grounds, so we ducked up inside the monument for the Vermont regiment that helped defend against Pickett's charge, and there was a headless Union soldier standing there. We left quickly and saw a lantern hanging in a tree in the distance, so we started walking toward it. It kept getting closer and closer, so Nate called out, "Who goes there?" We heard a ghostly return call, "Hello." We freaked out and ran full speed out of the battlefield and back to our hotel room.