“Liquify the situation”: The Black Angels’ Christian Bland on Clear Lake Forest

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(Photo Credit: Courtney Chavanell)

One of today’s most inspired psychedelic guitarists and songwriters, Christian Bland is one of the central creative forces behind The Black Angels’ four breathtaking LPs – Passover (2006), Directions to See a Ghost (2008), Phosphene Dream (2010), and Indigo Meadow (2013).

From Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd to The Beatles, from The Velvet Underground to The Beach Boys, from Cream to The Doors, Bland has all the right influences and amalgamates them to create music that’s truly unique and special. His sound is his own.

Clear Lake Forest – The Angels’ latest release – is further proof of Bland’s innovative style. The guitar, for him, is a laboratory, an experimental space, from which arise sounds that are always unexpected, always compelling, and always catchy.

Bland sat down with Stereo Embers for an interview that covers his musical inspiration, his love for Record Store Day, and everything you need to know about Clear Lake Forest.

Stereo Embers: In our last interview, you mentioned that Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is your favorite album of all time. Two questions. First, what do you love about the album?

CB: My favorite album growing up was Sgt. Pepper’s. I wasn’t into Pink Floyd until I discovered The Piper at the Gates of Dawn when I was 19. I was surprised to find out that they were recording in the studio next door to The Beatles at Abbey Road in 1967 during the Pepper sessions. Within that context, I was intrigued and decided to give Pink Floyd another shot. That’s when I discovered Syd Barrett. The fact that he started the band and was only really around on the first album was interesting to me.

I like that half of the album is echoed-out, spacey, psychedelic madness (like their live shows at the UFO Club) and that the other half has acoustic-based pastoral, whimsical, and fairytale songs. I enjoy exploring both realms when I play and was heavily inspired by this album.

SE: Second, would you say that Syd Barrett influenced your decision to pick up the guitar and your playing style?

CB: Yes, but I think there were several factors that led me to want to play the guitar. I grew up listening to the oldies station in Houston and always loved rock and roll from the 50s and 60s. I didn’t start playing the guitar until I was 19 after I injured my knee high jumping and had to have surgery. Since I had extra time on my hands, I’d look up the chords to my favorite oldies and see how the songs were structured and the chords put together. The Beatles, Syd Barrett, The Velvet Underground & Nico album, The Doors, Buddy Holly, “House of the Rising Sun,” “Wild Thing,” Cream, and so on and so on….These  were my study guide to playing the guitar.

SE: Is there a song on Clear Lake Forest on which Syd inspires you? Maybe not a direct influence but a methodological influence?

CB: “Sunday Evening” was inspired by Syd’s solo stuff, mixed with some Beatles. The song evolved quite a bit after I brought it to the group though.

 

SE: Why did you choose to release Clear Lake Forest on vinyl on Record Store Day?

CB: We released the follow up to Phosphene Dream – Phosgene Nightmare – on Record Store Day in 2011. Phosgene Nightmare had several songs that weren’t quite finished, so we left them off the album. Clear Lake Forest was the same thing with Indigo Meadow. These were songs that could’ve been on the album but just weren’t far enough along. Releasing on Record Store Day is a nice way to release something that’s limited, but we’ll be re-releasing Clear Lake Forest as a 12″ on July 22, along with a CD and on iTunes.

SE: Is Clear Lake Forest your first Record Store Day release?

CB: Clear Lake Forest is our third Record Store Day release. As I said, we did Phosgene Nightmare in 2011, and then the “Watch Out Boy”/”I’d Rather Be Lonely” 7″ single  in 2012, and Clear Lake Forest in 2014.

The-Black-Angels

SE: What does Record Store Day mean to you and how did it feel to participate in the event?

CB: I love Record Store Day. I always stock up on cool releases. It’s fun to be a part of that and to put out new limited edition music for people to snag up.

SE: “Sunday Evening” – the first track on Clear Lake Forest – impresses, with its bluesy feel, the use of noise, and the tempo and key changes. How did you guys structure such a complex piece of music?

CB: I brought this one to the group. I remember writing the main riff right after we got done recording Phosphene Dream in 2009. So it was around for five years before it grew up into a Black Angels’ song. We all worked on it together, as we do on most of our stuff, and structured it as a group.

SE: When The Angels come up with a terrific and catchy vocal melody, such as on “Tired Eyes,” how do you decide on which guitar effects to add?

CB: Alex came up with the melody. I was inspired by Holy Wave and The Crystal Stilts and wanted to do something in that style. My main effects are wah, fuzz, echo, reverb, and some tremolo, so there’s usually always some combination of those sounds. Whatever fits the feel of the song best is what I’ll turn on to liquify the situation.

SE: Stephanie sounds incredible on “Tired Eyes.” What do you like best about her drumming?

CB: Stephanie’s great. She’s got a cavewoman, heartbeat, tribal style.

 

SE: How did you guys arrange the backing vocals at the end of “Diamond Eyes”?

CB: “Diamond Eyes” was an attempt at combining The Beach Boys and The Velvet Underground, so that’s what we were going for there, with a little twist of Bo Diddley. Alex came up with all the vocal melodies.

SE: The interplay among the keys, guitar, and drums drive “The Flop.” How did you guys start this song?

CB: I came up with the organ riff, and we built around that. I love old organs and have been trying to teach myself for the past couple years.

SE: How do you guys get that “dive bomb” guitar effect on “The Flop”? 

CB: That’s Jake on his Fender Jaguar using the whammy bar.

SE: What’s the “occurrence” in “The Occurrence at 4507 South Third Street”?

CB: That’s the house we all used to live in. There were ghosts in the house. It’s the follow up to “Haunting at 1300 McKinley.” I had a ghost in my room that swept the floor. I’d hear a “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” sound after 3am a couple times a week.

 

SE On “The Executioner,” how do the lyrics and music, especially the tempo changes and noise, mirror each other?

This song is an audio depiction of “The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” The slow part is  when the prisoner is walking up to the gallows to be hanged; the fast part is when the rope snaps, he falls into the creek and thinks he’s escaping; the return to the slow part is when his neck cracks and he’s dangling over the creek.

SE: Tell me about the genesis of “Linda’s Gone.”

CB: Alex and I wrote this together with the goal of trying to combine every Velvet Underground song we loved through the Black Angels’ filter.

 

SE: How many Clear Lake Forest songs did you perform at this year’s Austin Psych Fest?

CB: I can’t remember, maybe two – “Linda’s Gone” and “The Flop.”

SE: What were some of your favorite performances at Austin Psych Fest?

CB: Jacco Gardner, Destruction Unit, Temples, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dead Meadow, Shannon & The Clams, Panda Bear, Loop, and The Zombies.