Notes From Middle America is contributor Danny R. Phillips' monthly column. You can read past installments here.
I have to ask. What happened to rock? Has it become passé or uncool for a band to struggle, tour, play shows night after night to build a fan base without the help of excessive internet buzz or douche bags in the “hip” magazines who supposedly have their fingers on the pulse of the American youth culture? If a band has to work hard to get what they have, is that far less important than the mandatory polo shirts they wear on stage?
Judging by the music covered in “mainstream” media, the answer is yes; image is indeed vastly more important than substance. This is not a new trend. The Beatles started out with matching suits and mop top haircuts. The Who were mods, the 1980’s is a musical wastelands full of bands that would’ve rather looked good than actually putting out a good rock record.
There for a blessed moment we had bands that didn’t seem to care about image: Black Flag, Husker Du, The Descendents, Beat Happening, Nirvana. Yes, they all had an image but it didn’t seem as contrived as say, Vampire Weekend, The Shins or any number of “indie” bands playing the festival circuit this summer.
That is why it was so refreshing when I received a CD from the Wichita, Kansas-based band Black Gasoline. No, they weren’t extremely original but the influences that ring through on their album, She Gave Us Magic, all mix well to create a 1970s heavy music lover’s equivalent of a giant hash brownie. This is indeed stoner rock. And what is wrong with that?
The band’s love of classic rock is entirely in your face. They create a sound that is as thick as sludge and meddles into a sound that is reminiscent of Van Halen, The Who, and recent champions of the sound, Queens of The Stone Age. Taking their name from a 1940s barely refined type of homemade fuel, the band (Bryan Seely on vocals, Paul DeCeglie on guitar, Larry Donaldson on keyboards, Kendall Newby on drums and Scott Mackey on bass) seem ready to make their namesake proud; using driving guitars, pounding drums and bowel loosing bass lines as accelerants, they’ll set the Midwest on fire.
I “spoke” with the band via MySpace.
When did Black gasoline come together?
It’s been about four years now.
What music has had the biggest impact on you as a group? She Gave Us Magic sounds very rooted in 1970s rock to me…
I think we have stylistically gravitated to the feel of 70s hard rock, but I don't think you could call that a genre or even say that that would make us any easier to explain if you did. I do think it would be correct in that during the 70s you saw bands like Deep Purple or Black Sabbath make increasingly diverse, ambitious and dynamic albums, so I hope that’s what you mean. But as we've continued developing and finding our artistic voice, we've moved towards a genre that really didn’t exist, in that most of your 70s era bands only made one or two heavy psych albums, a piece which was usually peppered with a lot of R&B and blues, whereas we've been attempting to make a career out of that era's accidents instead of the easy "heavy metal" outs.
As far as what’s been getting our goat lately, and I hate to answer this for everyone else, but the last few years worth of Swedish hard rock like The Hellacopters, Graveyard, Baby Woodrose, Dungen, and Witchcraft are absolutely awesome. Black Mountain, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, High on Fire, The Flaming Lips, Midlake, and Dead Meadow are some American bands we've been into. Not surprisingly, a lot of oldies are in rotation: The Pretty Things, Grand Funk Railroad, Hawkwind, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, E.L.O, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, The Who, Queen, The Byrds, The Beatles. In the Ipod era, it's almost more difficult to convey the logic of musical influence because after a point, and this is more likely for a musician, it gets almost more scholastic than it should be on the surface, because it is, after all, just pop music.
Is She Gave Us Magic your first full-length record?
Yes it is, but we are more than half-way into a new record that will either make us or break us. I'm always appreciative of any interest in us, but it's hard not to have more interest in the future than the past. So keep an eye on us; we're hoping for summer or fall.
Is the process of songwriting a group effort or does one member take the reins more often?
I think one of our greatest strengths is our creative process. By the time a riff or a melody is filtered through the band as a whole, the original idea is, in many cases, unrecognizable. Without the collective input of all five of us, it just wouldn't be the same.
Is there much of a rock scene around Wichita?
It ebbs and flows. I don't want to be unfair to a core group of people that really do work hard to ensure that there's always some sort of scene, but sometimes it's music, sometimes it's more like really loud fashioned. Like most American cities there's a faction that is birthed from corporate radio and guitar stores which will always be shit, but there's an underground that has no set sound but has been very interesting, for instance Wichita spawned Manilla Road, The Embarrassment, and Split Lip Rayfield, so wrap your head around that!
What do you think of the current trend of bands becoming famous and getting signed to deals strictly from internet buzz?
It's great if you don't mind being famous and working a day job.
Do you think that it takes away from a band if they don’t have to tour the country and build their own fan base?
They certainly won’t be that cohesive. Making an ambitious record is not that hard in this day and age. Having taste is another matter, but neither will matter if you can’t pull it off live. You might have to play after us, and we won't make it easy for you.
I saw your band play a club in Lawrence, Kansas, a few years ago and your energy was explosive. How do you stoke that fire every night?
Blood, sweat, practice, need for attention, energy drinks... Mostly practice, and all that energy that a good crowd reflects back to you.
With “indie rock” being the big thing as of this moment, do you think heavier bands like Black Gasoline suffer?
Do you mean any worse than it already has? Personally I think it's great for a band like us; it makes us even more different. If we're back to back with a really trendy indie band, we look like Viking plunderers when the reality is that, compared to modern metal bands, we're not really that heavy, just louder. With music the way it is now we're a mystery, and, personally, I think it works in our favor. Styles change, a few years ago it was that rap rock thing. How smart does that Limp Bizkit guy look now?
How is the tour in support of Magic going?
We're still promoting it and selling it, but at this point, we're really revving up to the next record.
What’s been the biggest crowd you’ve play for to date?
Probably The Riverfest in Wichita with fellow local luminaries Split Lip Rayfield. I think that was two or three thousand people.
What is your inspiration for songs like say, “Lady Iron Wing” and “The Boy That Destroyed The World”?
"Lady Iron Wing" starts off sounding like it's another "dangerous chick" song, like Motley Crue's "Looks that Kill or Deep Purple's "Lady Double Dealer",etc. but as the song moves along the listener hopefully" discovers that "The Lady" is actually a world war II bomber and as for "boy" your guess is as good as mine.
Do you think a band having an “image” is important at all?
That's an interesting question in that we're aware that our image is an absolute lack of image, which has its own hipster appeal. It's interesting in that we are aware BG has this burnout image, but it's not something that we think about because we would rather shop at thrift stores and have bad ass equipment then waste too much time really dwelling on it. If there's any method to our image, it's that so long as nothing dates you, your on the right track.