INTERVIEW: Alex Maas of The Black Angels at Magic Stick Detroit by Jeff Howitt
MOTORCITYBLOG interview with Alex Maas of The Black Angels by Jeff Howitt
Photos by CARJACK
MCB: Welcome to Detroit.
Alex: Thank you.
MCB: What was the first place you ever played in Michigan?
Alex; First place I think we played was this place called The Bottled Tree or something Bottle. (note: it could be The Broken Bottle Saloon in Kalamazoo) I just remember something bottle or… something tree. I remember it being really tiny. I also remember somebody pissing, uh, during our show. Like in the crowd. Some guy just wasted, drunk, he started actually peeing! (laughing) Everybody was like “this guy is peeing!”. I don’t know if it was in Detroit. It was the first time I met this guy Sayed from this band called The Bavarian Drug Lords who used to be out here a long
time ago. Now he’s a doctor in New York City.
MCB: The new album “Indigo Meadow”, it seems you guys captured a lot of the arrangements in more concise chapters. Was that conscious or did boiling it down it became more fun…
Alex: I think it was more fun to capsulize the songs and find that song within the song. It wasn’t something we set out to do in the beginning. When we got into the studio it was more something that kinda happened, like “do we need to do that chorus three times?”
MCB: Have they stretched out live?
Alex: Sometimes yeah, if we want them to. Sometimes it depends on what we are feeling, depends on the crowd, the vibe of the show ya know. Sometimes we only have a certain amount of time to play. The first couple shows on this tour were nearing two hours. We were playing so many songs we were feeling worn out. The crowd is getting worn out. It’s hard to sit there for two hours while one band plays so we can cut it down considerably.
MCB: It’s great that you’re in touch with the live show like that where you are playing the amplifier as much as the guitar or working around a melody. There’s something I’ve noticed with Southern bands is that almost West African drone and you guys are lined in on that.
Alex: Yeah. There is something hypnotic about it for us too when you fall into that trance.
MCB: I’ve been listening to the album and I didn’t miss the songs not being longer. Even in the smaller experience it seemed longer like the Minute Men or some of the older Punk Rock that verged on weirder instrumentation like the Dead Kennedys where it gets jazzy and crazy and when it’s over it’s a minute and a half!
Alex: It seems like it was a lot longer! I think especially with our band getting used to not having that many movements within a song. Any movement you do put in there does make the song feel like it’s going on a journey.
MCB: I’ve noticed you guys are topical but without dating your work. Of course “Don’t Play With Guns” but then also “Broken Soldier”. I don’t know if you’ve heard this yet but there was some explosions at the finish line of The Boston Marathon…
Alex: I didn’t hear that.
MCB: It pretty much just happened. I was listening to the album and “Broken Soldier” came on with “It’s Hard To Kill When You Don’t Which Side You Are On”… Do you think that America has become so radicalized that we are fighting ourselves and don’t know really what an enemy is?
Alex: I totally agree one hundred percent. When you think about how we train these soldiers to be machines. So often we spend billions of dollars taking over other countries in search for oil and resources but then we don’t spend that same equal of financial energy back at home to assimilate these people into society which is insane. Think about how backwards that is. If we just had counseling for these people… I remember last year the suicide rate for veterans was 250 in one month and it had been that way and rising since then which is so fucked up.
MCB: I think that number too coincided with there being more suicides than casualties in combat.
Alex: Exactly. It’s completely fucked. The topics are current and they always have been. Since even like the Civil War. Even since the French Revolution. Go back 200 years, 300 years, whatever the first, ya know, first firearm was ever created. I can’t remember it was but think about the Peacemaker, the first Colt pistol. That was an issue then. It’s almost a metaphor for don’t play with fire. Don’t play with a poisonous snake. It has a much more broad meaning if you think about it. So that’s a lesson we’ll always be learning. It’ll always be current. The Broken Soldier is like…
think about a General sending his army into battle blindly knowing they are all going to get slaughtered with no idea they are going to be completely taxed for whatever reason.. he’s getting orders from somebody else and there is so much disconnect by the time you are actually on the battle ground you don’t even know what we are fighting for, what is the cause or anything.
MCB: Do you think the Austin Psyche Fest is one way you take care of your community, your people?
Alex: It’s about us expressing what we like the most about music and different parts of different music scenes. Where it’s almost a selfish thing (laughs) where we want all these bands over here. Like I want Clinic, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Moving Sidewalks all on this day in my hotel. Now it’s more like a cultural experience for me that I want to showcase this style of music that slips it’s fingers into all different kinds of music whither it’s witchcraft music from Kenya or it’s Tinariwen or it’s Os Mutantes ya know. Now it’s becoming like this world (laughs) festival or something!
MCB: It even touches Detroit here with Sisters Of Your Sunshine Vapor who have a much more national approach with their band that many around here. For them it seems like a common currency being shared on a larger scale hundreds, even thousands of miles away but you know that sound.
Alex: I’d like to have Sisters Of Your Sunshine Vapor back. We haven’t had them in a couple years but at the same time there is just so many bands and eventually we’ll have them come back on. Bands like that, bands The Vacant Lots or any other band that I might have been walking down the street of New York or anywhere and heard them and I’m like (laughs) “I have to have them play”.
MCB: It seems like you took a similar approach when you worked with Roky Erickson. How did that come about? Is he someone who is easy to run into?
Alex: I’ve seen him around town every once and awhile and it’s like “Hey Roky!” and he’s like “HEEEYY!” (laughs) but his manager contacted The Black Angels to see if we wanted to be his backing band. That was huge. Just something you can’t pass up.
MCB: Any last thoughts on being in Detroit?
Alex: I always leave Detroit thinking they just feed on music. The city still has such potential. It has been like “the” city so many times and just recently with the economic decline of our country it’s made Detroit suffer a little more. I see it as the city to look at, like it’s gonna be the city where all the artists move because there is something happening here. Rodriguez is from here right? Do you know him?
MCB: Not really personally. I met him at 4th Street Festival when my band played but everyone’s got a story with him. Always walking around with his guitar. A living legend with a smile!
Alex: But ya know it happens a lot. People move out of the city and you have all these cheaper buildings and all the artists move into the city and discover, wow, you can create anything out of the remnants of any city. I just think this city is primed for some sort of creative explosion. You’ll have to send some more Detroit bands our way…
MCB: Ha! Will do. I know a few for sure.
Jeff Howitt is a key member of the Detroit based dirty american group Duende who just recently released their fifth studio album "Murder Doesn't Hide the Truth" and also host a monthly music showcase called Duendesday over at The Loving Touch in Ferndale.
CARJACK can be found on various stages around the motorcity performing his unique blend of robot dance rock extravaganza and has recently been raising the bar documenting local Detroit music scene with is with his top notch photography skills.