Local folklore boasts strange tales about Enchanted Rock, Texas. Our photoshoot location is said to be a portal to other worlds, and the site of alleged sacrifices and disappearances. For Scorpion Child vocalist/founder Aryn Jonathan Black, it harks back to months spent as an 18-year-old in the New Mexico mountains. “Older Apaches would tell campfire stories,” he recalls, “legends you want to believe are true because they’re so out-there and unearthly.”
Touches of this mysterious hoodoo have transferred into Scorpion Child’s new album Acid Roulette – a rich, primal surge of 70s rock, gothic darkness and commanding psychedelia. We caught up with Black to hear more…
There was a dark period.
Scorpion Child began casually in 2007 in Austin, Texas. At the time, Black had recently arrived with nothing but an acoustic guitar, a backpack of spare clothes (“which got stolen”) and a notebook full of his musings from stints in Minneapolis, LA, Chicago and other cities. “I was at the height of my party phase,” Black admits. “The comedowns didn’t last long because I’d start partying again. It was a really dark time for me. I realised I wanted to live, and I was really dying.”
Following various EPs and singles, Scorpion Child’s debut finally landed in 2013. From here “the band really started”, including support slots with Clutch and Monster Magnet.
Ex-members made them stronger.
Over the years eight players have left to have children or pursue other ventures, but Black feels everyone played instrumental roles. “It’s pretty broad and open to change,” he says of their style. “It’s had to be, because we’ve had people come and go.”
Scorpion Child’s classic 70s references are obvious (Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie), but their palate is far more expansive, tapping into the likes of Bauhaus, psychedelia and heavy metal. “This line‑up has achieved musical boundaries that are more exciting than anything we’ve done before,” enthuses Black.
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They owe a lot to horror.
It’s not just about great sounds. Black has long drawn from the personalities of Patti Smith, Peter Murphy and Ronnie James Dio, as well as 50s horror and B-movies.
“I look at the visuals. I don’t think, ‘Let me see how I can be Dio,’” he reasons. “Sure, I have a velour shirt like he did, but he was a theatrical performer. I latch onto that in the same way I latch onto film. The other night I rewatched The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman. I love the colour contrast and posturing in that movie.”
It all began with gangster rap in the Midwest.
Black grew up in what he calls a “difficult neighbourhood” in St Louis, Missouri, where the first music he heard was rap and metal. “There was a lot of crime,” he remembers. “Having this semi-hostile environment was taxing. The stress of that was best cured with heavy music.”
To escape the stress, Black’s father would take him camping at weekends. Back home, Black dreamed of peaceful rural scenes and thought, “As soon as I graduate, I’ll get out of here and live in the mountains.”
…Before detouring to New Mexico.
At 17 (before his city travels and arrival in Austin) Black moved to a ranch in New Mexico. There he met the Jicarilla Apache, “a displaced native American tribe”, who told stories of the nearby haunted Urraca Mesa. Inspired, he moved to the surrounding mountains for several months, partaking in “medicinal sweats” and enjoying a remote existence.
“It was a long time before I missed the city,” he says. “The sweats were soul cleansing – long-term it’s enabled me to dig deeper creatively. It prevented writer’s block.”
He did venture to Urraca Mesa itself, without falling foul of its legendary “portals to hell”: “You do feel like something’s watching you. There’s a lot of dead trees and it’s eerily silent.”
Their singer was almost eaten by a bear.
Well, sort of…. “I came across this stream and there were two beautiful black bear cubs,” Black remembers of one mountain stroll. “Their mother came walking over to them, staring straight at me the whole time, so I had to stand as tall as I could and look back at her. She was huge. They walked away, but she looked at me like, ‘Don’t you even think about it!’ It was a really magical experience because my heart was pounding out of my chest.”