I was first introduced to the music of Stephen McBean 11 years ago. Having just moved to Vancouver to attend UBC on a long ill-fated attempt at a fine arts degree, I was far more interested in some of the bands of the area than I was in what my profs had to say about Renaissance Masters and live model drawing. With a fake ID courtesy of my older brother, Friday and Saturday nights at the Brickyard or Starfish Room became routine and before long I was a convert of a small local group called Jerk With A Bomb. The duo consisting of McBean on guitar and vocals backed by Josh Wells on percussion, keyboard and vocals, released their debut CD Death To False Metal to which I listened to religiously. Their stark and pared down country-noir largely fell on deaf ears after three albums and numerous cross-country tours. On their third full-length however, you could feel a slight rumbling under the surface. Pyrokinesis had perked more than a few ears upon its release and the clubs began to fill. The song writing was becoming noticeably stronger and with the addition of a guest appearance by vocalist Amber Webber, a fuller more developed sound was apparent. In retrospect, the album’s closing and title track served as a subtle foreshadow of what McBean and Wells had in store for the future. The song inches forward with an eerie anticipation as McBean slowly picks a minor repetitive figure before Wells’ thunderous lone drum fill cues a chorus of haunting vocals. Inevitably the song unleashes into a too-short-for-words storm of power chords rarely, if ever, heard throughout the band’s repertoire. In those final moments of Jerk With A Bomb a seed was planted that would eventually lead to the birth of Black Mountain, a band who recently released their highly anticipated third full length, Wilderness Heart. The band consists of Stephen McBean, Matthew Camirand, Josh Wells, Jeremy Schmidt, and Amber Webber. The following interviews were conducted over email with Stephen McBean and Jeremy Schmidt.
Black Mountain photo by Ryan Walter Wagner
Scott Lewis: What can old fans expect from the new record? Speaking to some of you guys individually, just in passing, it seems the record is quite dynamic with so really quiet and folky numbers, where as the two songs I’ve heard seem more out of the gate rockers.
Stephen McBean: It was a little different as all the mellower stuff came first and then at the last minute the rockers showed up at the door. It’s nice to hang out with polite caring people but after awhile you end up bored and crave some special dirtbag time.
Would that have anything to do with working with two different producers in completely different studios? Is that a process you’d recommend to other bands or something you’d try again?
We knew the addresses to the parties before we left but, yeah, I guess we weren’t exactly sure who was gonna be there. I think in life you should try everything once or as much as you can without hitting the loonie bin or jail. Some things I like to do twice and other things over and over again everyday.
Was there a different approach to the writing of ‘Wilderness Heart’ and ‘In The Future’?
There was more playing ball in the digital realm and we moved to the cleaner and more greener pastures of North Vancouver for a while. More high rolling, I suppose.
When you say in the ‘digital realm’ are you referring to the process of writing or recording?
Just that it’s a lot easier to throw zeros and ones around nowadays. If I wanna hear your voice at any given time, it ain’t that difficult. That is a little scary and should be treaded carefully.
Rolling high in North Van must be nice for a bunch of East Van’ers used to practicing in flooded DTES basements.
It is! There’s not as many sticky fingers on the fruit.
Lyrically, do you write with a concept in mind for the entire record? Is there a consistent theme throughout your
There’s never really a plan but once we had the title things started to melt into one face. We like to remain surprised sometimes for years to come.
The face of a Great White shark on the verge of swallowing a city whole?
Exactly! Maybe people do find peace in cubicles but I’ve never met one. If everyone had their own swimming pool and 2 dogs we’d all be happier.
Over the past couple years since ‘In The Future’ was released, has there been anything that sticks out in your mind as being an influence or inspiration to the creation of ‘Wilderness Heart’, music or otherwise?
Sitting in vans. Being forced to watch bad television. Dealing with electricity.
For some reason that doesn’t sound very inspiring to me.. not sure why. What about musical influences? What has caught your attention lately, new or old?
Mickey Newbury has served me well lately as well as Shirley Collins, Black Breath, Sunno))), The Mice, and Tony Allen. I tried to get into Rick Ross but it was too East Coast or somethin’.
How does living in LA now compare with Vancouver?
Colder and smaller.
Have you still been hashing out material for the next Pink Mountaintops record?
There’s some messin around.
Does the title ‘Wilderness Heart’ have anything to do with you missing your home amidst BC’s vast greenery while on your extended stays in LA?
It all about re-unleashing the beast.
Photos: T. M. Bois
Jeremy Schmidt is a multi-talented artist responsible for providing Black Mountain’s sweeping synth and organ melodies throughout the bands catalog in addition to their mind bending album art on In The Future and Wilderness Heart.
Scott Lewis: When did you first start doing collage and at what point did you realize that your work could be used to create some bad ass album art?
Jeremy Schmidt: Probably while I was at art school, pursuing a painting major actually ( ‘art school’ and ‘bad ass’ are virtually synonymous, no..?!)
I was kind of seduced by found/photographic image stuff, that I was incorporating into painting in the beginning.. I also discovered artists like Richard Prince (his ‘re-photography’ work in the 70’s and 80’s) and Cindy Sherman; people who were working with appropriated material, the contentious ‘realism’ of photography, and pop culture iconography etc.. I was also drawn to a certain uncanniness in photo montage, in its visible fabrication, the way it disrupts the space and/or logic of what seems real. An example of this, that had an oddly profound effect on me, was the album insert for ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’, that my folks had a copy of when I was a kid, there was something kind of lurid and frightening about the artifice of it all, that I’ve been obsessed with ever since.
I guess LP artwork also appealed to me because it’s primarily pictorial, in the way that painting is, but it exists in the world as a functioning object that retains it’s uh..’thingness’. I remember at art school making a couple paintings on 12″ canvas stretchers of the Beatles’ white album.. I wonder if I still have those..?
Was it just coincidental that Black Mountain’s somewhat 70’s prog inspired music, lend itself perfectly to your visual aesthetic or was that a conscious move on your part when creating the cover for ‘In The Future’?
I’ve always liked the golden era of prog-rock and especially the rather lofty reach of the visual aesthetic that accompanies it.. things like double gatefold LP’s and surrealist inspired cosmic tableaus etc.. were all pretty much ushered in by the progressive rock era.. the UK label; Harvest, always had nice artwork, even some of their records I’ve never really listened to are among my favorites visually.. that Quartermass LP with the pterodactyls for example.. I think as a result, my aesthetic and the leanings of Black Mountain just kind of gelled naturally, since I think a lot of the corresponding sensibilities were kind of already in place.. While doing the ‘In The Future’ artwork, I remember thinking of some of those Columbia Jazz pressings of Miles Davis double LP’s from the early 70’s ‘electric Miles’ era.. ‘Parachutes’ by Pretty Things was another one also..
There’s a fairly strong aesthetic connection between your work and that of legendary design studio Hipgnosis. There’s mention of your work by the artists regarding ‘In The Future’ in Storm Thorgerson’s book “Classic Album Covers of the 60’s”. Have you developed any kind of relations with Thorgerson or Aubrey Powell?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Hipgnosis, which stems somewhat from my adolescent love affair with all things Pink Floyd (whose legacy both musically and visually I still adore) I met Storm Thorgerson briefly once at a retrospective show of Hipgnosis prints some years ago, just to really say hello and shake his hand and say “nice one sir” and avoid gushing or trying to ‘talk shop’..! When someone from Hipgnosis contacted me personally to ask about featuring the ‘In The Future’ artwork in a Storm Thorgerson book I was floored..! but then, by the same token, and considering my admittedly ‘heart on the sleeve’ debt to their body of work, it just makes all kinds of sense, I suppose.. As it stands, the book that I’m aware of ‘In The Future’ actually appearing in is a re-printing of Storm Thorgerson’s “Classic Album Covers of the 60’s” that has an added chapter in it called ‘New Psychedelia’.
You recently did some work for the band Trans Am. What’s the “Thing” in the corner? Can you divulge such information?
I was thrilled to be a part of Trans Am’s discography, I’ve always been a big fan of their music and aesthetic. The thing in the corner..? who really knows.. it’s forever cast in the mysterious and unknowable surface/space of photographic print..! As I recall it, the briefing given about the album was: “think ‘Bladerunner’..” The artwork, I might add, suffered a bit from a somewhat inferior printing job..
Any other album cover projects emerging? Gallery shows, publications?
I’ll be doing the next Zombi LP cover.. I did the artwork for their last album: ‘Spirit Animal’ .. There was a group show based around Heironymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights which I was invited to be a part of, and loathe to turn down, due to time constraints, as I’ve always loved Bosch. I started thinking about how often parts of his famous triptych have been appropriated for LP artwork ( ie: Deep Purple /Pearls Before Swine ) over the years. It got me thinking about doing some kind of ‘double negative’ homage, if you will, based around that whole micro-phenomenon, kind of like an homage to Bosch pilfering.
Do you work solely in collage or are there other visual medium you dabble in?
Mainly collage, I seem constantly drawn to the vast ‘graveyard’ of discarded visual material that already exists.. The thing about ephemeral materials (like magazines and ads and things) is they’re only ever manufactured with the contemporary moment in mind, yet they remain in the world as much as anything else that’s made for longevity etc.. They can resonate in a particular way, as they often reflect ‘expired’ or fleeting desires.. like images frozen in a resolute surface..
I always want to look back at things. It’s like the past just keeps on revealing fragments of itself, It’s limitations become more visible but somehow more enigmatic at the same time.. That’s one of the things I was drawn to with photographic images, there’s like a built-in fallacy; the photo is a ‘piece’ but there is no actual ‘whole’, it exists as a fiction. Drawing was actually what I was ever any good at as a kid though…