You know how it is with some bands. You listen to a few of their songs and they're good and all, but you're not sure what all the fuss is about. Then you catch said band live and—BAM—you totally get why they sent the hype machine into overdrive. That happened to me with the Black Tones, the Seattle-based duo of twins Eva and Cedric Walker.
The Black Tones' 2018 Capitol Hill Block Party set was the kick in the ear required to understand the furor they'd been creating. Playing as a trio at Barboza, they injected classic rock, blues, and funk with extraordinary energy and personality while maximizing excitement in their dynamics. Their songs aren't innovative, but in that room, they wowed the crowd thanks to the Walkers' natural exuberance and ingenuity within familiar genre moves. That they're making great music in a guitar-heavy rock style not typically associated with African American performers—even in 2019—adds another frisson to the Black Tones experience.
While in high school, Eva was walking with a guitar when another student said, "Don't you know black people don't play guitar?" She didn't learn how false that sentiment was until someone introduced her to Jimi Hendrix's music.
Through her early performances, Eva inspired Cedric to get into music—and in 2011, she taught him to play the drums. It's a cute origin story, and they've been performing together since, with a rotating cast of bassists. (One includes Eva's fiancé, Jake Uitti.) She notes that the "multitalented multi-instrumentalist" Brandon Bermudez has become the low-end-provider for live shows.
The Black Tones will be touring in support of the Jack Endino–produced Cobain and Cornbread (the title references their sound's two main ingredients). "The Key of Black (They Want Us Dead)" is the definitive Black Tones song—though I think the Hendrixian funk-rock bomb "Mr. Mines," which didn't make it onto the album, is my favorite. Inspired by racist bullshit happening around the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, the track is a blues-rock nail-biter bolstered by a gripping call-and-response structure and Eva's trippy, fluid guitar solo. "The Key of Black" epitomizes the band's raw, stark approach, which defies mainstream modern rock specs.
"We never wanted to make elaborate music," Eva says. "Working with Jack means working fast and dirty, and that just felt right with these songs." She adds that the vaunted producer helped to facilitate the Black Tones' experimental urges.
"The roots of rock and roll are in the blues and gospel standards, so that's what came out of us when we wrote and recorded. Like, 'Rivers of Jordan' is an old spiritual; if we had added big guitar solos or something else, it wouldn't have been honest. We stayed vulnerable. We don't like to hide behind a bunch of effects. We like to keep the roots closely connected to what we do."
Eva recently became the host of KEXP's Pacific Northwest–centric show Audioasis. The program "fuels my belief that there is more great music [in the region] that we don't know about." Sadly, she can't play one of the Northwest's most promising bands on her own show.