Black Rock interview.
It’s pretty simple really. Blackrock are the best "stoner" band in the UK. Well that’s what I think. With two demos under their belt, a support slot with Unida and having played an utterly awesome New Years Eve gig, it’s time to have a chat with Nottingham’s finest groove merchants. So, armed with tape recorder and some utterly shite questions, it’s time to settle down and have that chat in the chill out room of Thumb Studios, which members of the band run themselves. It’s another of those, you really had to be there to appreciate it fully type interviews.
"you can’t do that, you can’t do that to me". It’s Ryszard, who moments before the interview starts has been talking. Just as the tape turns on Chris calls him Turd. The first thing on the tape is me saying, "right, so that’s Turd the Drummer" followed by laughter from the rest of the band and despair from Ryszard. Kind of sets the tone nicely for the remainder of the interview really. But before we get to all that, it’s time for the band to introduce themselves and for me to be able to identify who says what on the tape. I think they’re called the preliminaries and formalities. Let’s do it then. Proper names?
"Well yeah, my name’s Ryszard and I play drums, that R Y S Z A R D", "Chris guitars", "Sean - vocals", "Paul guitar", "Chis bass". My god that was formal. "Spelt C H I S" states Chis. Hmm, got a feeling I’ve spelt it C H I Z in the past. Ah well. "You’ve got a whole career ahead of you where everyone thinks you’re called Chris but spelt your name wrong" chips in Paul, who fortunately has a name that is easy to spell. "Or Crisp. I’m crisp on the bass" laughs the man. "It’s not going to be easy man" reckons Chris passing a lighter to Paul. The words Dai and Lo pass the lips. Been there, seen it, survived. And still have to ask that old history question.
"We haven’t got a history have we?" Chis starts up. "As Paul would say, we’ve come under many guises in the past", "Oi, you may have come under many guises in the past mate, but I haven’t". "Come under many guys what?" laughs Sean as the rest of the band are pretty much creasing themselves at the opening gambit. "It’s not going to be easy man". Those words of Chris’ resonate in my head. "ah shhh shhh shhh", they try to regain some kind of order. "History of the band", it takes a drummer to reckon, "well, you mean how we got together?". Whatever. "We were a college band" drawls Paul as someone unleashes a terrible laugh on tape, "me Chris and Chis were at college and we had to form a band. And we got the name Blackrock ‘cos we all went out to Derbyshire mushroom picking, to a place called Blackrock, and the concept was born." "It is actually Blackrocks, but we dropped the letter S". "And we decided we were going to call the first album Stone Obelisk but obviously since then we’ve realised that it’s a really shit name"
Oh I don’t know. "At the time it was amazing." "We were camped there once" Sean laughs as the talk degenerates once more. "What are we getting serious now?" Yes, we are. Ryszard?
"Well I’ve known Paul and that since fucking years ago when they used to hang around the square and they were all sad cunts and I was alright." "No you weren’t." reckons Paul, before Chis joins in the attack, "they were all into death metal and we used to point at them and woarghhhh". "Ryszard used to DJ a heavy metal disco on Saturday lunchtime but he played loads of Kiss and didn’t quite get it" reckons Sean as they reminisce amidst the laughter. Sean is at least trying here. "We got together about 2 years ago". "I’ve known you longer than that" protests the drummer, "no I meant the band"counters the vocalist, "oh sorry."
Uh huh. So what do you want to talk about next? Demos or what you’re currently doing?
"Well we’ve done a few gigs down in London" starts Chis, "so we thought it was time to take a break and try and write some stuff. We’ve got a couple of gigs coming up in London, one with Sloff(?) and a Terrorizer gig."
"No, not Terrorivision" is the unanimous cry. "We’ve made a point of never playing with Terrorvision" at which point the tape recorder decides to jump out of my hand and on to the floor for whatever reasons it deemed fit.
"We’re going to do another recording soon, because we’ve pretty much got enough material for another one" reckons Chris, who’s being strangely quiet and continues to be throughout the talk. Well, apart from laughing at the others. "It’s just fine tuning it."
So do you have any plans for that one, doing it say as an EP?
"Well," says Paul, luckily not leaving the statement at just that one word, "if after these demos we do manage to get to signed status, we’ve sent a load of demos out" but tragically doesn’t finish the sentance. However, it is revealed that they are "planing to do that 7inch with Khang, they’ve offered us that change, put it out on brown vinyl". Back to Paul, "I guess the great thing about having this place, is that we can record whenever we want to." But owning your own studio doesn’t necessarily mean rapid fire recordings. "It took a year and a half to do those two demos you know" reveals Chris on the bands workaholic recording commitment. "Well the first one only took about a month to actually finish" adds Paul, "cos we got rushed. And the second one we started just as I got back from holiday, February 1999". "And it’s only 12 1/2 minutes, though it would’ve been 17". Shessh, long time to record, and short changing us!
As a footnote to all that, a few weeks after the interview, the band told me that apparently they’ve received two offers to do an album, one from Rise Above, and one from Man’s Ruin, the opportunity to be the first British band to put out an album on that label. Don’t know which they’ll go for, if they do go for either one at all.
But anyway, the second demo opens with the track Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, which some other brothers then nicked the title of and used for their upcoming album. So, how do the band feel about Oasis nicking their ideas?
"There’s obviously been a leak," says Ryszard, that’s R Y S Z A R D. "They’re always cheating you know, if the Gallaghers want to bring it on, we’re stepping up" is the challenge offered out by Chis. That’s C H I S. It’s one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments. "I sold them the idea though you know, to be able to buy a new pair of pants" Ryszard reveals (not the pants), cunningly unveilinging himself as being "the leak". "Totally went for it y’know, they totally bought it".
So if they tried to thank you for this by offering you the opening slot at the Wembley Stadium gigs, would you do it? Uconvincing murmours of "yeah" emerge from pretty much everyone. "Just give me a cut, give me royalties that’ll be alright" says Ryszard. "We have had a lot of good press though recently, a lot of good exposure, it’s not enough but we’re doing stuff as well" says Sean. "We got a review in Terroriser, a picture and a review which was nice, and we got 9 out of 10 in Metal Hammer which was kind of nice really" laughs Chis, "and rumours have it that Kerrang! are like playing the demo loads in their office."
The first demo that got reviewed in Kerrang! had some statement like "they’ve obviously been listening to Kyuss". So how do you feel about a statement like that, do you think it’s painting you into a corner too much. "They’re going to do that, they want to say ‘you are like this’, but ok, we can’t deny that we’ve taken influence from them cos they were fucking amazing" reckons Chis. "If you want to actually make any money out of it or anything like that, or do anything out of it, then you have to let them create that market" says Ryszard. "We’re just coming from a similar sort of angle really. Because I went on tour with Unida" (John Garcia’s new band who Sean helped around Europe for 6 weeks recently)) "I know we listen to the same sort of music, all of them." "Scott listens to XTC" pipes up Paul. "Yeah I know, but he loves his retro, he’s well into the Swans, so we listen to the same sort of stuff, similar upbringings, same sort of age roughly."
Well for me, my brother used to listen to Sabbath all the time when I was growing up, so whenever I hear the term stoner, that’s what I think of, it’s what I compare against, and as a result stoner bands have a hard time convincing me,because I remember running around the playground at 9 years old with Sabbath Bloody Sabbath ringing in my head. So where you say you listen to the same sorts of things, and that stoner isn’t really just Sabbath tribute bands as I sometimes make out, what sorts of things do you listen to?
"Well it’s a bit of a slice of everything really" reckons Ryszard, before Sean points to Chis. "This is a man with a big vinyl collection here". "Oh cheers man" acknowledges the vinyl owning bassist "4 seven inchers. And one of thems the the Dan Reed Network - don’t tell anyone" "What’s wrong with the Dan Reed Network" asks Sean. Something else is said amidst the melee, there’s all sorts of laughter going on, as Ryszard pipes up again, "I said it for the effect Chis, for fucks sake man. God you’ve got no timing, for a bass player too!" Eventually some sanity returns, as does the conversation towards Kyuss. "You can’t turn around and say we weren’t influenced by Kyuss, we’d be lying. Like Kyuss apparently said they’d never heard of Sabbath, that’s what they said in their interviews, and it’s like ‘right yeah, honestly’. Floyd, Thin Lizzy. But it’s not just rock we listen to" reckons Chis, "we’re all thrashers" throws in Chris, "fucking hell I hate death metal, it stinks." retorts Chis. "I listen to stuff like the Specials as well, and I play for a band call Skatoons" throws in the drummer. No advertising there then as the discussion again fractures into five different parts. "So we don’t just listen to Sabbath and Kyuss, we’re all coming from different places" concludes Sean. "Like Beeston" deadpans Paul. "Basford, Bulwell". Basically all parts of Nottingham, coming from different places - places in Nottingham, oh come on follow this! Maybe you need something to "enchance the mind" it may help! "We’re getting sidetracked. What were we on about?"
This whole stoner tag, do you like that?
Various contributions emerge as the band suggest that "it’s quite a loose term really. It just describes a slow sluggy lazy sound. It’s a tagging name isn’t it, say we sound like Kyuss and ok, we’re stoner rock because we sound like Kyuss. At the end of the day how many musicians do you know are stoners? Most musicians smoke who play rock music.". "Just say no to drugs" reckons Chris, tongue somewhere in cheek probably, "I just do smacky crack" one voice ushers. Paul then picks up the reins, "it’s inevitable that they’re going to create some kind of pidgeonhole to put you into." Ok, time for a different approach, so who do you think could appreciate Blackrock’s music then -what kind of person?
"It’s weird because we’re not typical stoner really" reckons Sean, "if you listen to what’s supposed to be stoner we tend to be a bit removed from it". Chis reckons that "everybody that I know that listens to newer stoner stuff and it’s everyone wants to go doom and like slower riffs". For me that’s what makes Blackrock stand out, there’s more oommmph behind it and not the same pace all the way through. "Well because of listening to different stuff there’s not just one style or influence" chips in Chis again, while a sole voice reckons that "it’s proper songwriting, proper songs" "We sat around and created the band around a big round table, and we created the legend around it. We got battered and that’s how it started. He dreamt the drums, he dreamt the lead guitar, he dreamt the rhythm guitar, he dreamt the bass and I dreamt the singing, wrote Downer and that was it" Sean grins pointing out everyone in turn. "Dai Lo thanked us on their demo before we’d even played a gig" reckons Chis.
So is it easy to come up with riffs and ideas that don’t sound the same as everyone else.
"It’s really hard" says Chris, "it’s good trying to come up with them though, because the number of times you write a riff at home on the acoustic and it sounds amazing, and you come into the studio and go ‘I’ve got a new riff’, you play it and someone goes ‘oh that’s so and so’ and you go ‘oh yeah’" Paul adopts a downcast look to illustrate the point. "But then you can play with it." Hold on, Chris is speaking again, "it comes down as well to the way that you present it, it can be the vibe as well."
So you said the last demo took a year ... "It didn’t really" argues Sean, "it took us about 2 months to do really, but it took us a year to get up off our stoned fucking arses." "We have been really busy though" says Chris in reference partly to working at Thumb. "You’ve been so stoned this summer, but we’re all as bad as each other" adds Paul. "I spent ‘99 in a stood up coma, I’m sure I did" reckons Sean.
You did the Unida gig in London. How was that?
Paul grasps the subject, "you know how you used to go to gigs when you were younger and they were rammed, and there was people at the front. And there was always some nutter headbanging really really hard, it was one of them gigs. Never seen it from that side of the stage before." The entire band appear proud and excited at the memories of the gig, Ryszard taking it further, "Looking out it’s fucking weird. At the Garage you’ve got this mirror at the back, and I’m not joking, you can see the entire stage, this huge crowd of people all looking going like that cos this twats got his foot on the monitor doing it. Unbelivable. Can’t wait to do it again." "It was like a proper gig" reckons Chris.
And so has it had any impact for you, any feedback from it?
"Definitely" comes a united answer from the band. "There was the feature in Terroriser and Metal Hammer" starts Rsyzard, before Sean adds that "it was apparently one of the most anticipated gigs of last year." Paul is equally pleased, "one of the guys from Kerrang! said he was away and the first he heard of us playing it was when he got back and the deputy editor talking about us. Malcolm Dome actually rang here and asked us for a copy of the demo, he actually called it "our fine CD".
So do you think then that bands realistically have to go to London in order to get any kind of reaction?
"Definite", "no" is the divided opinion. "That Unida gig" starts Paul, "we thought all the press would be there, and they were there. But not one magazine reviewed it". Actually, a few weeks after this interview took place a copy of Metal Hammer came out with a rather glowing review of the said Blackrock set.
Chis joins in again, "it depends what type of music you play. If it’s rock then yeah, I think you do have to go down to London and play with the bands playing the same type of music . There’s no point going down and playing 3rd slot to a band who sound nothing like you." "It’s good supports" reckons Sean before Chis takes up again "If you’re playing different kinds of music, then maybe you can make it in your own city. But I mean Nottingham has a good scene going." "Your home gigs and your London gigs have to be really special" adds Paul, "you have to put a lot of thought into getting the right gig, the right venue and all the hype done. Cos if they’re going to be bad, they’re going to be really bad. But you don’t have to go down to London to get reviewed." Sean dramatically adds "it was a landmark in our history, and the general populace of the world missed it, comfuckingpletely" he concludes before laughing.
"And it was like the first time that John Garcia sings a Kyuss song in 5 years. But the thing is, the magazines now know of us, so next time hopefully we should get a review" adds Paul.
Ok, time to turn towards lyrical inspiration. Heads turn towards the man with the golden larynx, Sean. "You’re on your own here" his brother tells him. He pauses, "I don’t know, it’s the hardest thing to do in the whole world!", "You want to try playing Paranoid the speed he does" Paul chimes in reference to the cover they played on New Years Eve. Sean thinks a bit more and then adds, "I don’t really know where it comes from. I take life experiences of what’s happened to me and write about them rather than creating a scene or vision. Hercalaneum is about taking ketamine and getting really fucked to the point of not being able to do anything other than breath and going ‘barrrgh this is fucking shit man, this drug is absolute bollargghhhhcks’. Then Downer’s about someone going ‘oh, can I borrow your tobacco’ and they sit there and skin up and pass it around the other way. You jut go ‘fuck, that’s the last of my tobacco and there’s 9 people in the room. When I get that there’s going to be fuck all there’. You get the vibe? It’s done more to take the piss, although it’s about serious things. Anyone doing that is out of order!"
"Explain yourself" everyone demands. "About what?" asks the singer. "Dr Satan’s Robot" comes the reply. "That’s about being in the the pub trying to have a conversation and there’s lots of people nudging you, and you’re battered and they’re battered as well, and when they try to talk to you you’re like ‘stop moving when I’m trying to talk to you’ and they’re just going "warrrr woargh", you just can’t speak to them". Paul joins in, "and that one where you go like "have you got any money?" and they go ‘yeah’ and get an old card out and you go ‘that’s not money’ ‘oh, it’s not? right’." Sean is back, "and it’s like when you meet someone in the pub and you know them from somewhere but you can’t remember the last time you saw them, and you’re like ‘I can’t remember the last time I saw your face’. And you know it was when you were pissed, but you can’t for the life of you remember, so it’s like ‘woargh mate, how are you, good to see you’. And Dr Satan’s Robot is what you’ve become, it’s what’s been created from getting really hammered. So generally they’re more about life experiences." "Drugs are silly, you can quote me on that" says Ryszard, that’s R Y S Z A R D, before bursting out laughing again. "he probably will and then everyone will go ‘what a twat".
Ah, never like to disappoint! Much like Blackrock. The conversation meanders for a few more minutes before we all move into the studio space and they blast through a few numbers, including one they say has never been played to anyone before. I watch just mesmorised by how easy they make it all look when viewed up close, knowing that it’s just not that easy. Some people, some bands just have the ability, the skill. Blackrock are one of those lucky few.