Vancouver-based Black Mountain returns in full force on their latest album IV.
Released on April 1 to rave reviews, IV marks the end of a six-year hiatus between albums after the departure of co-founder Matt Camirand.
Black Mountain guitarist-vocalist Stephen McBean is, along with the rest of the band, in the midst of summer touring, taking in the reception of their latest work.
“It’s always weird for another new record. You know, you send it out to the world to critique and, especially if you’ve been around for awhile, people maybe have certain attachments to previous records, but it has been good. People have been really responsive to the new songs,” McBean said.
Black Mountain members — including singer Amber Webber, drummer Joshua Wells, keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt and their new bassist Colin Cowan — have been engaged in different side projects during the break as has McBean.
The time away also let them polish the slightly heavier psychedelic songs on IV. But, McBean said, time is a relative experience.
“Certain things feel like yesterday and sometimes they feel like ages ago. Time passes in strange ways. There’s certain things we’ve done where it seems like so long ago, but sometimes it’s weird to be at a point in the band’s career where we’re deemed more ‘veterans,’ or stupid terms like ‘legends’ or whatever,” McBean laughed.
The time away also had a hand in reinvigorating some creativity.
“With each record, with chemistries of bands and stuff you have to find new ways of keeping it exciting for everyone in the band. Sometimes it’s just time passes and it’s five years. We felt good this time, there was no rush and we could wait. Plus you’ve got to wait for the songs to happen. Those things sometimes take awhile to germinate,” McBean said.
There was no shortage of material during the production of the album, cutting down the initial 20 songs into a cohesive 10.
“Luckily we all gravitated to the same choice of songs. There were some that we recorded and it was kind of obvious that they weren’t quite ready and there were other ones that lent themselves as better buddies to the other songs,” McBean said. “When you start making albums things start subliminally taking shape in weird ways which is cool and fun and part of the process. There are definitely some songs left out that will, I’m sure, fit into whatever becomes the next record.”
It wouldn’t be the first time they have left a song in their back pocket. The dominant guitar riff on IV’s single Mothers of the Sun was originally intended for their 2008 album In the Future.
“We had the riffs and we had the lyrics. We didn’t want to lose the riff, you know? So we kind of waited to plan the right arrangement. Basically, the song had to live up to the riff. Sometimes you have a killer riff and you need the song too,” McBean said.
Black Mountain is a mesh of musical influence, and with members exploring different sounds and ranges in their respective side projects, it all comes together to form the diverse but cohesive sound.
“There’s lots of stuff we all musically enjoy. Classic rock that we all love, classic folk, psych music. Certainly some members are more into ‘80s hardcore and some are more into ‘80s synth pop, but they all kind of in weird ways find their influence in there,” McBean said. “That’s another difference between the different band members and how everything works out. Some are fans of more raw things and other people are fans of more labour intensive studio trickery. In the end that plays into what makes Black Mountain Black Mountain.”
The album artwork that accompanies IV comes off as Pink Floyd-esque and was a found-footage type of graphic design created by keyboardist Schmidt, who has done the graphic design for all their albums except their 2005 self-titled debut.
The prominently featured Concorde jet originated out of an off-hand conversation between Schmidt and McBean while writing and recording the album.
“He probably put that in a little memory slot in his mind,” McBean said.
Upon further examination, which McBean said is common for him after an album comes out, he starts to notice little thematic details.
“Later on when you’re forced to dissect your own music, or art, or whatever you make with the band. A lot of time we just do things to do them, and there’s not necessarily a lot of meaning, but you see it afterwards when you talk to writers or whatever, friends interpretations, you see it,” McBean said.
McBean said the Concorde was the perfect symbol for what he calls “the radical future past.”
“Things like planes that broke the sound barrier. The whole Jetsons trip about flying cars and all that,” McBean said. “There was that brief moment where the Concorde was this beast of travel, but after a couple crashes it was kind of like ‘meh.’ There’s a bit of tongue and cheek in the art there.”
He waxed nostalgic about tours past, using pay phones with stolen calling cards and finding their way with road atlases.
“I like some technology, it’s definitely handy but sometimes it takes the thrill out of life,” McBean said. “It’s definitely convenient to know where the next Starbucks is, but humans have always adapted.”
Visual experiences like those created by album art, or the forceful imagrey in the music video for Mothers of the Sun are a definite goal for the band.
“We’re all into what music creates visually in the mind, music that can let you escape, transcend the moment of whatever is going on,” McBean said.
Black Mountain come to the Ponderosa Music and Arts Festival in Rock Creek (Aug. 19 to 21) on Aug. 20.