Welcome Back: Black Mountain – Psychedelic Canadians with soul

Black Mountain

With its surrealist, Storm Thorgerson-style artwork, and song titles such as Florian Saucer Attack, Constellations and Mothers Of The Sun, Black Mountain’s cunningly titled fourth album IV could only be a psychedelic rock album, but it’s one imbued with genuine heart and rare soul.

Mainman Stephen McBean – who also plays in experimental art-rockers Pink Mountaintops, Californian punks Obliterations and acoustic ‘death folk’ duo Grim Tower – reckons it’s the Canadian quintet’s most diverse, eclectic recording yet, a set of songs he considers could “pop up between John Coltrane, Devo and Adele”.

“After ten years as a band we’re really not worried about what scene we fit into,” the LA-based musician states. “Kids are still listening and still coming to rock out at shows, so we’re grateful.”

The six year gap between IV and 2010’s Wilderness Heart might make it appear that Black Mountain have been slacking – which is far from the truth.

We were busy. I did records with Pink Mountaintops and Obliterations, Jeremy [Schmidt] did the Sinoia Caves’ Beyond The Black Rainbow soundtrack, Josh [Wells] and Amber [Webber] did the Lightning Dust album, and we fitted in tours too. But we just got together organically again and wrote with no pressure, and kinda felt like a new, young but slightly wiser band. The new album has some of the purity of the first album, where we just make music without the idea that anyone is listening.

You grew up in Vancouver’s punk rock community. Did you find the punk scene limiting musically?

No. Because for me punk is more than a sound. When I got into it, all the bands I listened to – from Sonic Youth to Crass to Discharge to The Fall – all just fell into the ‘weirdo music’ category. And I think there’s still traces of that in this record, even if our palate is a bit wider. If Black Mountain tried to put out a punk record it wouldn’t work, but that music will always be part of me.

When you’re writing music do you know which of your bands you’re writing it for?

At a point, I would subliminally separate songs into the different camps – like all the heavy riff ideas would go to Black Mountain. But that way of thinking became a limitation. So with this record we all tried to remove those folders and just let the record be what it was going to be. I like the fact that songs off this record will fit into all sorts of playlists.

After ten years do you find making music in 2016 as fun as it was initially?

Sure. But if you look at the history of music, I don’t think there’s ever been a time when the musician wasn’t struggling, compared to the businessman. It’s cool that kids now can get music for free, but you still see the elite businessmen of the music industry getting filthy rich.

You mentioned growing up on ‘weirdo music’. Do you see Black Mountain as still part of that lineage?

I guess we are. But I also like the idea of getting weirdo music into the general populace. I remember the first time my mum liked one of my songs. I was like “Eurgh!” initially. But my friends liked the same song, and I thought it was quite cool that you could move ‘weird’ people and ‘normal’ people. That’s where we’re at now.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.