Black Mountain’s Jeremy Schmidt talks side projects, Metallica shoutouts and “crushing atmospheres”
October 2nd 2016
It’s been seven years since Canada’s Black Mountain toured Australia, with band members busy with side projects that include Pink Mountaintops, Lightning Dust, Sinoia Caves and Obliterations. Keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt spoke to Michaela Morgan about how that break has influenced them and their new record IV – and what it feels like to get a shout-out from Metallica.
- Black Mountain :: Interview With Michaela Morgan
MM: It’s been six years since the last Black Mountain record, Wilderness Heart, was released. You guys have all been busy with side projects. Was there always a plan to record IV, or was it a matter of waiting for the right time?
JS: I guess it was just waiting for the right time and we wanted to take a little bit of a break. We’d done quite a bit of touring on that cycle for that record. So we pretty much put out records consecutively and toured in between them pretty solidly across the calendar year, so I think we felt like we needed a little bit of a break from it.
You needed some breathing time.
Also since then, well a little bit before that record even, Steve (McBean) moved to Los Angeles and has lived there since so we always have to co-ordinate a little more on when it comes time to get together and work on stuff. There’s a little more time required for mobilising everyone. And also, we needed to find someone to play bass for us, because we parted ways with our long time bass player.
Was it tricky to find someone who fit the bill?
Yeah, sort of, yeah! It’s always a little bit tricky. It sort of elongated the process, I suppose.
So how does the recording process work when you’re all in different cities?
Often we’ll send demos back and forth – Steve will write a song and send a demo that might be just a rough sketch iPhone recording. Other times it might be a little more realised. We’ll all throw some arrangement ideas at it and see what sticks. Other times, we’ll work on stuff in the studio and things will just emerge out of an aimless jam. Or we’ll have some idea, but not really a song built around it yet, and we’ll just work on it from the bottom up.
There’s no particular way that we do things every time, it’s just kinda… it depends on the song or the idea.
I saw the track, ‘Mothers of The Sun’, which is actually an older song. Do you guys revisit old tracks that maybe weren’t right for a particular album?
We do occasionally. That one was definitely set aside because we weren’t happy with how we had come at it previously. Then we sort of took it apart a little bit and rebuilt it in a different way. So it’s quite a bit different than what we had done initially and I’m glad we did revisit it because it’s always a little more satisfying to work on something entirely new. Because with working on something you’ve already worked on there’s always the danger, or not really the danger, but the worry of hitting the same wall. So I think the way to do it is just tear that wall down.
And some of the other songs on this record are older tunes that we had worked on years ago and came back to.
And do you guys bring stuff from your side projects where you’re writing for something else and then say, wait a minute, this is totally a Black Mountain song?
Not in such a black and white way, but I think there’s elements that come into it. With ‘Mothers of the Sun’ I went and tried to re-work the whole front end of it in a way that’s perhaps similar to how I would work on my solo stuff that would be different from how Black Mountain might do things. It’s hard to quantify because…it’s hard to remember too where things began and where they end and how they got to where they ended up.
I know that there’s one song on the record that was a Pink Mountaintops song that Steve had actually played live a few times and had recorded a demo, it might have even been a bed track for a Pink recording and we just sort of like, it got hijacked into the Black Mountain sphere. And it’s more or less similar to how he initially began doing it. Then other things hardly resemble how they began, from their initial conception.
You worked with producer Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Boris, Akron/Family) again, what did he bring to the table?
We liked working with him on the previous record so we definitely had him in mind. He’s good when it comes to ideas for how to piece things together, and what to take away and what to add. Things you might not necessarily think of just because you’re so…the songs are so close to you. Whereas he can bring a bit of an outsider’s perspective. He likes a certain kind of dark foreboding heaviness that we are very much attracted to. You can definitely see that in his discography. So that’s definitely part of it. He has a knack for creating a certain kind of crushing atmosphere.
That’s a good way to describe it!
Yeah, that’s something we like. But also he can add a very light touch to things. He pointed us in the direction of Eyvind Kang, who did the strings… played violin and viola and lined them all up. Which I’d originally done with a Mellotron and it was a little bit tuney. So he suggested that we add a real string arrangement and re-do everything with real strings and it definitely has a different vibe because of that and it sounds better too.
You were last in Australia for the Wilderness Heart tour and you’ve been touring pretty extensively for the latest record. Do you guys play together much between records? Is it hard to slip back into playing together again?
We really just get together and play when we want to work on something, I suppose. Or if we need to rehearse. But we’ve been touring pretty non-stop since about mid-March so we haven’t really needed to rehearse very much. There hasn’t been a long enough of a break where we felt like we needed to rehearse much. I’ll practice on my own a little bit at home just to keep on top of things. But I’m sure everyone else does that. Read the lyrics sheet through once over, you know?
I remember seeing you guys play for the ‘In The Future’ tour at the Annandale in 2009 and being completely in awe. Has the live show changed much over the years?
I’d like to think that we’ve gotten a little more… that we’ve gotten better! At pulling it off live… that we’ve improved with the chemistry of the band and our playing. But overall it’s pretty similar I’d say. We haven’t got too much fancier or anything! We’re not really a theatre oriented band. We’re not emerging from like, pods or anything!
Oh man! Because some of your video clips…
There’s no Stonehenge. There is something similar to that on a projection or a banner, but no physical… no props just yet.
I saw you’ve got a night off in Melbourne and (Black Mountain side projects) Pink Mountaintops and Elastic Stars are playing. I’m bummed that isn’t happening in Sydney!
Ha! Well I guess we don’t have a night off in Sydney so it just worked out that way. That was kind of a last minute idea. I might actually do something as well, just an improvised kind of thing. Steve and I have always thought of doing a conflation of Pink Mountaintops and Sinoia Caves and calling it Pink Caves. So I think we might take a crack at that. It’ll definitely be a very improvised scenario.
So you got a shoutout from Metallica, saying they’re big fans of yours. How did you feel about that?
I just heard it yesterday, Steve mentioned it to me, I didn’t realise. It’s interesting! It’s cool, it’s great. You never know where the accolades are going to come from, or what have you. It’s always a surprise.
WHO: Black Mountain with guests The Laurels + Medicine Voice
WHERE: The Factory Theatre. 105 Victoria Road, Marrickville
WHEN: Monday, October 3
HOW MUCH: $42 + BF from The Factory Theatre