Monday, October 22, 2012
Britt and Nikki interview The Black Box Revelation!
The Black Box Revelation was back to the Doug Fir on Saturday night, opening for
The Sheepdogs, dishing out their brand of Belgian blues. Guitarist and vocalist Jan
Paternoster and drummer Dries Van Dijck have been touring America and Europe
virtually nonstop for the last several years, taking only enough time off to record their
newest album My Perception with producer Alain Johannes.
They have toured with The Meat Puppets and Jane’s Addiction as well as appearing on
The David Letterman show, and playing to crowds from 50 to 4,000. Their popularity on
Facebook has gone from 3,000 to 41,000 in less than a year. Winding down the last two
weeks of their US tour, the guys took the time to sit down and chat with us.
Their style is a healthy blend of pounding beats and fuzz-laden 60’s blues rock.
They opened their set with two phaser-heavy tunes off their new album, "My Girl" and
"Shadowman". The reaction from the crowd made it apparent that their reputations
preceded them. A man in the crown yelled out “High on a Wire!” Jan replied, “Oh you
know High on a Wire? Yeah, we can do that for you!” And off they went hard into the
Catfish blues-esque opening riff. They are a spontaneous pair, playing without a setlist,
relying for an “in the moment” type approach. They then went into a half tempo intro to
crowd favorite “I Think I Like You” and worked the crowd forward into that full speed,
full volume chorus.
Jan works his effects pedals, layering them, relying on feedback and other sonic textures
to introduce the duo’s “Sealed With Thorns” which is an eight minute slow jam session
which crescendos into a blend of noise, effects and expert control far beyond their ages
and beyond their numbers, something possibly akin to the Café Wha? in 1968.
These guys learned blues from the right places, and they are taking blues to the right
places, although next time we might need a bigger venue.
Britt: So you guys were just here opening for Jane’s Addiction, how was that?
Jan: It was great, I mean the whole tour was awesome. The great thing was that we had
big crowds every night and the people who have been listening to Jane’s Addiction for so
many years, they are from a generation who still really appreciates music and gives it a
lot of value.
B: Did you guys notice that maybe word of mouth kind of happened as you went along
on that tour, like maybe more people were responding to your music?
Dries: Yeah, like yesterday we played in Seattle [Tractor Tavern] and that was a pretty
good show, cause we played there with Jane’s Addiction and on the BDI tour, and we
saw that a few people came back to see us and they’re really fans of us now, and they
follow us on Facebook and buy our CDs and everything, and that’s cool
B: I’ve seen you guys here twice, once opening for the Meat Puppets and then again with
Girl in a Coma. That first time I was here to see Meat Puppets and I thought “well, who
are these guys? No one has heard of them.” And since then, it’s been about a year or so,
you guys have really taken off.
D: We’re just like non-stop touring.
J: Yeah, we just looked at the schedule, and we played this year, just since February, we
played, spent maybe 200 days on the road.
Nikki: How do you keep your energy up?
N: So exhausting.
D: Just not. We’re still young I guess. So we can do it. It is exhausting, just try to get
some sleep when you can.
J: It’s weird you know, I think you just get in a certain flow you know, and you stay
energized. But then, when the last show is finished, you just (crashing sound).
B: You guys have been playing together for like ten year or so right?
J & D: Uh, seven.
B: Do you think that that helps when you’re on the road a lot, that you guys really know
J: Oh definitely.
N: It’s becomes more just getting a job done than dealing with logistics or drama.
J: Yeah, we know when to like, leave some space. Go to our corner.
B: Your corner of the van?
J: Yeah, even there, there’s no space.
B: So when you guys come back to a smaller venue like this, after playing bigger shows,
do you change your setup at all? Or do you always come out with the same attitude, the
D: We always come out the same thing. Whether it’s a small venue or a big festival, we
always do the same setup and just like, maybe there is a difference like for the bigger
festivals we do got a set list, and everything, cause then we got a crew with us. But like
tonight, when we just have our tour manager with us – he’s tuning the guitars and stuff
for us as well – we can do whatever we want and that’s a cool thing. We don’t make a set
list, and what we want to play we decide it in the moment itself. So that’s the cool thing
about playing small venues.
B: Does that come mostly from what you guys are feeling, or from what you’re getting
back from the crowd?
D: Both, like if the crowd isn’t really that well, we just play a softer song.
N: You guys play a softer song?
J: (laughs) well, not in the first part. Then you’re still trying to convince them. If you see
that it’s not happening, or like they aren’t feeling it, you can think that maybe they want
something that’s more like - softer.
N: You guys sound accommodating, like you just want everyone to have a good time,
like if that’s not their bag…That’s really good, that’s awesome.
B: So you guys made some big leaps with your new album My Perception.
J: Well we just played so many shows, we did some bigger tours – with Jane’s and
BDI, but it was mainly smaller bars and venues which was cool for us. You know it’s
exhausting, the distance between the cities is the same, and if it’s a small show with not
many people there, it’s kind of tough to stay excited. I think that’s also one of the reasons
we don’t want to make the set list. Just to keep it excited and to have something –
N: Something to do –
J: Yeah in the moment. And you know just to make every show a little different.
D: Otherwise you’re just on autopilot. Like you’re playing your show, but you’re just
playing it. It’s totally like you’re not –
N: In “The Zone”?
B: Plus you start getting people following you from like Seattle to Portland to wherever
you go next and they are gonna be like “Hey, wait, they played the same set last night!”
N: Yeah, yeah, do you guys have groupies? You got people who follow you from city to
J: Sometimes. Some people follow us.
D: Well we have Russian groupies. It is funny.
N: You do? Wow.
D: Yeah we played on our last European show we played Russia for the first time, and
we played Moscow, and then St. Petersburg. But that’s like an eight hour drive. It’s pretty
far, but they were there at St. Petersburg as well and then only a couple of weeks ago they
were on a festival at Belgium too.
N: That’s cool.
D: Crazy. But other than that, what are groupies?
N: People who let you crash at their place whenever you’re in town?
J: Oh yeah, cause we always stay at people’s places to keep it cheaper.
N: It’s hard to tour.
J: Well, you get to see, like a more personal view of the city where you’re staying at.
Tonight we’re actually staying at Courtney Taylor’s house – From Dandy Warhols. So
it’s great to have people all over the country where we can stay at, and we know that
when we come back we don’t have to like search for anywhere to crash at.
D: The first tour was hard. Cause we didn’t know anyone, and you crash at really shitty
floors and all that. Now we know the good places.
N: And people are really warm here too.
D: Yeah, all really nice.
N: I know if I was touring, I’d look forward to going to certain cities just to hang out with
J: It’s crazy how the hospitality is here, how the people are like, they welcome you into
their house and like go out and have dinner and everything. It’s just great.
B: You guys did David Letterman not too long ago too? How was that?
J: Great, exciting.
N: Was it fun?
J: Well we were the first Belgian band ever to play on the show, so it was like a national
big deal in Belgium.
B: Your moms all in front of the TV.
D: Yeah like all super proud.
J: They showed it on the National news.
J: Yeah, so we were proud and excited.
B: You played a black Telecaster?
J: Yeah well it is just a rust one, all metal. It is one of a friend of mine – James Trussard.
He is ah, he lives in LA, and he builds all these crazy guitars. And since Letterman is a
big show, we thought that it would be great to have one of his guitars on the show. So
it wasn’t mine, I just borrowed one. I didn’t have one with me at that moment, but I got
plenty of them in Europe!
N: Has to be hard travelling with all that gear.
J: Yeah and sometimes it’s tricky because we don’t want to put all the most expensive
gear in the van, like in New York last time, they broke into the van. They stole all our
bags. No instruments, well, some instruments, but mainly personal stuff. And you’re like
ah that’s stupid! And then you start thinking you don’t want to take the most expensive
gear on the road, cause it could happen like every night.
N: Oh yeah.
B: So you guys seem to have taken the foundation you’ve made on previous albums and
kind of upped it – dynamically on the new album, using more effects and stuff. Is that
something that grew in the studio, did you go into the studio with these songs worked out
already? How did that work out?
D: No actually with this album we just went into the studio with Alain Johannes and it
went all really good. We weren’t really that well prepared; because the previous two
albums we got like ready before we got into the studio, we did a lot of preproduction
before. But now we just had a couple of ideas and we flew over there, we went into his
house and it was just – we got so mush inspiration, all those instruments were there and
first two weeks we were just jamming and preproduction, then we started recording. All
in the same room just live recording like we always do. It just turned out really well, all
really quick and it was really cool to work with him.
J: We didn’t take any of our own gear to the studio, like for our last album.
N: So it was like playland?
J: Yeah, so for us it was more like, it seems like we used more effects on the second
record, compared to the first one, but then like with this one, was more like we focused
more on the way of playing together and the dynamics of just in the playing itself than
of using effects and all that. Cause like none of the stuff was ours, we know how to play
together, and that’s the most important thing, and we just tried to get that sound out of the
playing instead of just out of the gear and equipment. And I think we are really proud of
the record and we think it worked out really well. We love all the dynamics of the songs
and think it’s breathing enough, cause it’s important to have a song that goes up and
B: You guys playing as a two-piece band, you obviously get the comparisons, to Black
Keys, White Stripes and those –
J: And it’s funny because the Black Keys is a four-piece now!
N: Yeah that is funny, and the stuff they record usually they have a bass player too.
B: Do you guys track bass on your albums?
J: Uh no, actually the studio setup is the exact same as live. It’s just for me, the three
amps and the drum kit, and that’s it. And some guitar pedals.
B: It seems that in a lot of these other bands that the drummer, the percussion, is just
there strictly to support the guitar. But in your guys’ dynamic it seems like you guys are
on like an equal level.
D: Yeah that is what we are trying to do. Being only two of us, is gives us a lot of
freedom. On the other hand it’s nice to have the freedom to fill up all that space which
that is left. For example when I play I always try to mix it up better on all the toms to
replace the bass player.
J: Since it’s a two piece, we just have more space for both of us, like we can do more
extreme stuff. By not being in the way of another musician, cause if you’re with more
members and he needs – the bass player needs or the second guitar player needs the space
for his instrument and for his lines and all that. So maybe it’s a little egotistic? or uh like
selfish? (laughs) To not have that –
N: To have that consideration?
B: And not be limited.
Sheepdog approaches: Hey guys?
J: Hey good! We got an interview going on –
Sheepdog: These guys suck!
N: Oh yeah totally! Right?
B: So who are your big influences as far as drummers go?
D: Uh like the most famous ones? Like Dave Grohl, John Bonham, Keith Moon, and the
guy I always forget his name – drummer from Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs! I like him a lot. He’s
been a big inspiration for me. So like all kinds of drummers, I’m just not really that good
at names. Lots of old jazz drummers too. Which are really crazy, lots of different styles.
B: It’s strange, well maybe not strange, but maybe odd, I know you guys are influenced
by Johnny Winter, and all these guys that you wouldn’t think of guys your age listening
to in Belgium. How did you come across these kinds of records and stuff?
J: We found them in the record collections of our parents.
N: Oh yeah, that’s great!
J: I mean like Johnny Winter was in there, and that’s how I got to know him and that
starts us into more stuff, but still the first record I found of him is my favorite. It was like
B: Opened your eyes?
J: Yeah it’s like the way –
D: I say it’s cool cause we were the fans from like Nirvana, and Zepplin and the Stones
and also like White Stripes – what they did with it, they are amazing – And you start
like going to search where they got it from, their inspiration and then you find all the old
bluesy stuff. Which is really nice, it’s cool to go back in time.
B: I read an interview with Buddy Guy, he was talking about how he was afraid for the
future of the blues, and I’m like it’s just the next evolution, like a lot of the guys like Jack
White and other people and brought an avenue forward for developing it into something a
little different, like it did in the 60’s, when it came forward with the British invasion.
J: It is never gonna be exact the same, it’s been done before. Just gotta try to get a new
spirit in there.
N: So you like Young Marble Giants and Vaselines? When you were talking about
looking up Kurt Kobain’s like influences, did you com across them at all?
D: Yeah but also like he was influenced by the Beatles –
N: Yeah you wouldn't just associate that.
D: It seems like everyone got the same basics. And they got their own ways.
B: I read an interesting thing about when they were in the studio recording that album
[Nevermind] that the producer – can’t remember his name [Butch Vig – Duh] - that
he wanted to double track Kurt’s vocals, and Kurt said no, he didn’t want to double
track anything, it seems fake. And he [Vig] said “Well John Lennon did it.” And he was
like “Well, okay.”
N: There you go.
B: You guys are playing like twelve dates this tour?
D: Another to weeks and a half.
B: Going kind of all the way across the country.
D: Yeah we started off in New York, and then all around.
B: Where are you headed after that? Are you headed back home?
D: Yeah we got some time off after this tour, because we actually need it because we’ve
been touring so long. And then next year we are going to start writing some new songs.
J: First, relax a bit, then start with a fresh mind.
B: What do you guys do other than music?
J: (laughs) Well, there’s no other option right now.
B: I mean like for when you relax, you probably get enough travel.
J: Still like listen to music. We love listening to music.
N: You like movies? Watching movies?
J: Actually I don’t watch a lot of movies, but if I watch them, then I like it. Or love it
depending on what movie it is. Or go see some art, some good paintings, that’s inspiring
as well, we draw a little bit ourselves.
N: You do some drawing?
J: Yeah make some pictures.
B: Well we will wrap it up, I know you guys gotta go to sound check. Last thing, both
times I’ve seen you here, I’ve noticed that you guys come out and you start playing and
you grab people from the get-go. But it seems like there is this turning point in your set,
both times I’ve seen it it’s in like right in the middle of "Sealed With Thorns". And there’s
this kind of point where everybody just stands and turns and forgets whatever they were
doing and they really take notice of you guys.
D: It’s good.
B: Do you guys notice when something like that happens? Where you guys actually kind
of hook the crowd and take them from being just entertained from you and making them
fans of you?
J: It’s cool to see how they first are still chatting or whatever.
D: And their reactions.
J: You can’t expect that they just get into it from the first note. Then it’s nice to see, even
if it’s only half an hour, that’s really short, but even in half an hour you can turn them
around. But now these shows are always 45 minutes, which is just enough to get a little
break in there as well, and hit them with that "Sealed With Thorns" tune. And afterwards
they are just like (wide eyed).
B: Do you guys have a favorite song of yours to play?
J: That’s probably one of them. Cause it starts out sweet and you can just go crazy in
D: I love to play "2 Young Boys".
B: Is there any one song on the new album in particular that you think is gonna grab
people and make them into fans? I they aren’t already?
D: No, I think it’s just the whole set. It’s not one particular song I think.
J: "High on a Wire" has a really pounding beat. Which is attractive I guess. And that’s been
a single, so that’s more a song that is pretty well, a good show-off what the band stands
for and what we’re doing, and it’s really bluesy in the song as well. If you have to choose
one song to get everything in there, I’d say that one.
B: Alright, we really appreciate you guys taking the time to talk with us.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Britt and Nikki Guerlain for covering this show, and thanks to the guys in BBR!