Under the Radar – Black Mountain Feature
Black Mountain: Mystic Surveyors
May 25, 2016 By Joshua M. Miller Issue # 57 – M83
Losing a longtime band member is often a tough pill to swallow. When Black Mountain bass player Matt Camirand left the band, they had to scramble to find a replacement. Fortunately for them, veteran bass player Arjan Miranda (formerly of S.T.R.E.E.T.S, Children, and The Family Band) stepped in as the band prepared to record their new album IV. Drummer Joshua Wells says Miranda helped jolt the band back to life and motivate them in the studio.
“Arjan is a fantastic all-around musician,” Wells says. “He really kicked our process into gear, as we were reeling for a time, trying to figure out how to work after our bassist Matt left. He brought a real atmosphere to many of the songs, creating the sheets of ebow guitar on ‘Crucify Me’ and the ambient backdrop to ‘Space to Bakersfield.’ As well as playing a mean bass, of course.”
Miranda’s temporary in-studio addition to Black Mountain helped fill the void until they found new bass player Colin Cowan, who is currently touring with the band. IV is the band’s first album in six years, following 2010’s Wilderness Heart. Wells says they had been toying with some ideas for a while for a new album, but at the end of 2014 they felt everything fell into place and “we had the momentum to get in the studio.”
“I would say that the way we work hasn’t changed too much since the last album, just that there was a different personality involved in the recording, Arjan, and he brought his particular style and inspirations to the table,” Wells says.
The band also got another boost in working again with producer Randall Dunn. They had worked with Dunn on half of Wilderness Heart, but this time he produced the whole record. They recorded the album mostly at the Seattle studio AVAST!, which Wells says “brought a great sound and vibe to the record.”
“We knew he would be right for these songs. He has a holistic approach to production and he has a dark and somewhat mystic approach to heavy music that really resonates with us,” he says. “He was a big part of the sound and, of course, pushed our performances, like a good producer should. I particularly appreciate that this album sounds big, but it has a sense of space and headroom that can often be lost with dense music like ours.”
The press release describes the band as a “classic rock band in a new millennium,” but Wells says he’ll let time decide what they are.
“Making those distinctions are really more the place of history and perspective, but it certainly is our aim to make music that can transcend the moment, and in doing so, we like to think that we’re a bit removed from what is a popular style at the time,” he says. “I think we stay fresh by not putting out too much music, and only doing so when we feel inspired to.”
Wells describes the recording sessions as a “blur of sounds and actions” that spanned a few years.
“All I can say is: ideas sprung forth, momentum was gained, sounds were hard won, many songs were recorded, some prevailed while others were left aside, and an album came into being.”
Many of the songs came together after singer/guitarist Stephen McBean brought in a partially completed or completed song. The band would then work on the song together. Sometimes they would come from other places, such as “Line Them All Up,” which was written by Amber Webber, or from improvised jams such as “(Over and Over) The Chain.”
Album single “Mothers of the Sun” is one song that took extra patience. The band had had the guitar riff for “Mothers” since about 2007, but it took several tries over the years before they got it how they wanted it. Keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt helped write and arrange much of the song.
“This was a song that Jeremy had thought about for a long time, and it was really his ambient treatment, and withholding the riff, which in the end made it truly worthy,” says Wells. “Also Randall brought out a wild soulfulness that hadn’t been there before, which I think really threw it over the top.”
This excitement has spilled over to the band’s upcoming tour. Wells is eager to tour with the new lineup and see the songs come to life onstage.
“We’re just getting going on the live show currently, so I’m looking forward to it all becoming a completely different thing as these songs become what they must be live,” he says. “Also, meeting strange people in strange lands; perhaps learning a phrase in their language, and supping on the foods of the world, of course.”
[Note: This article originally appeared in the digital version (for smart phones and tablets) of Under the Radar’s May/June 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]