Black Mountain frontman takes the wheel

IN CONCERT

What: Black Mountain with Majeure
Where: Distrikt, 919 Douglas St.
When: Sunday, 9 p.m. (doors at 8)
Tickets: $25 at Lyle’s Place, the Strathcona Hotel, or eventbrite.ca

Three years of change in Black Mountain — from departing band members to stolen equipment — gave frontman Stephen McBean plenty to contend with heading into the recording sessions for his band’s fifth studio album, Destroyer.

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There was also the issue of his driver’s licence, which the singer-guitarist finally received in 2017, two years before he turned 50. The rush of being behind the wheel of a car while listening to in-progress versions of songs from Destroyer, which was named after a run of 1985 Dodge muscle cars of the same name, resulted in some new directions for the group.

Gone are the long, slow jams that sound as if they were born from a basement lined with wood panelling and shag carpet. In their place are concise, mostly upbeat jams that seem influenced by a road trip on two-lane blacktop where Black Sabbath’s Paranoid was the only audio available.

“Licensed to Drive on the record is certainly my very first ever love song to a car,” McBean, who lived in Victoria for 10 years during the ’80s and early ’90s, said in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. “I kind of did it tongue in cheek, but then it sort of became something that really had a fair bit of influence on how the other songs on this record turned out and how it was made. After all those years touring around riding shotgun and making playlists, being in the driver’s seat put me back in album mode.”

Constant motion permeates all areas of the record, including the expanded lineup of musicians who joined McBean and keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt in the studio. The two are now the only original members of the group, which got its start in 2004 while its members were living in Vancouver.

The recent departures of co-founders Amber Webber and Joshua Wells were a blow that compounded the loss of much of their gear while the band was on tour in Gothenburg, Sweden.

In the vast amount of stolen equipment was a number of vintage guitars, synthesizers and guitar pedals used on their previous album, 2016’s IV, so the change in sound was expected to be noticeable on Destroyer. McBean, who has lived in Los Angeles since 2010, told the Vancouver Sun he was forced to improvise in the studio.

“I read a little piece about how Bob Mould did a lot of the Hüsker Dü stuff playing through a distortion pedal right into the [mixing] board,” he said. “I tried that and it was like: ‘There it is.’ Then I added the compressor chain setup that Jimmy Page used in Black Dog — which has no amps on it at all — and I’m pretty impressed with that guitar sound.”

McBean and Schmidt (who is credited as co-writer and arranger on Destroyer) recovered with help from members of more than six bands, including three drummers and three bassists. Some of those members were held over for the tour that brings Black Mountain to Distrikt nightclub on Sunday, for which McBean and Schmidt will be joined Rachel Fannan (vocals), Adam Bulgasem (drums) and Arjan Miranda (bass).

“The two of us really focused in on fine-tuning the record, whereas usually all the band members were going at it,” McBean said in an interview with Exclaim! magazine. “That was cool in a way. That was different. Me and Jeremy were pretty in synch with the arrangements, the cover art he was creating. Even when we were trying to come up with the album title, we riffed back and forth via text.”

The record has been warmly received by critics — Destroyer is being called a return to form by the band, which has become less spacey than it was on recent recordings. Jam sessions for the album resulted in nearly two dozen songs being up for inclusion, with only eight making the cut.

“I just invited people I’d met over the years touring to come and play on songs I worked up in my [Los Angeles] rehearsal space and we wound up with about 22 ztunes. Then I sent some up to Jeremy and he put his synths on them and it really felt like they captured the spirit of whatever Black Mountain is, even with all these different people involved.”

During his Victoria years, before he moved to Vancouver, McBean was a key part of the Vancouver Island music scene in local bands Red Tide, Gus, Onionhouse and Mission of Christ. His work with the latter group, when McBean was just 19, was recently remastered and reissued by Victoria’s Supreme Echo Records. His musical direction has changed dramatically — from punk to metal to rock — over the years, but McBean is still pursuing the perfect sound.

“There was genuine tension involved in songs such as Future Shade, which kind of spearheaded [Destroyer’s] direction,” McBean told the Vancouver Sun. “I’d had the opening riffs chafing at me for two years, but I just kept chasing them in search of a song. Ultimately, maybe with me and Jeremy holding the reins instead of the five-person democracy of previous albums, we came up with a much more direct result.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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