Shadow of a beast
The nicest things about doing a magazine are, in no particular order, benevolent girls, free records and on the house advice from artists that you like about bands worth checking out. We weren’t even seeted, when Jason Landrian (guitar / vocals) and Rafael Martinez (drums) shouted into our ears that we SHOULD check Karp’s Self Titled LP, released in 1997 on K Records. Slaves as we are, two days later we went on a journey for the gem. You should do the same.
Black Cobra’s power-violence is deeply affected by the force and violence of the Washington trio that could be called pre-Big Business. Not knowing Karp (an acronym that stands for ‘Kill All Redneck Pricks’) might mean not knowing Black Cobra, although we don’t know if you should know the influences to recognise the power and ethics of something. By the way: Black Cobra music is more layered than Karp’s. The duo has just released a new split with Eternal Elysium in Japan. The Black Cobra part of the split will be released in America through At A Loss Recordings under the name Feather And Stone.
We talked with the duo after their commanding passage on the Dour festival. That was after we first checked Part Chimp, who played at the moment we initially planned the interview. There were lights in their eyes when we suggested to party first, and talk later. It says a lot about the American’s lust for sounds. Jason and Rafa were for the very first time touched by music, in their early teens, being still very immature. Rafael: “My older brother played guitar, so I was playing with him. Metal bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica and Slayer were very important.” For Jason it was also Metallica that was of great importance: “Kids at school were into these bands. It was the first thing that I was exposed to. I still like Metallica.” We made clear that we really disgust everything after Ride The Lightning. “I like mostly the old stuff, until The Black Album. It’s still a good album, you know. Good songs, good riffs. But after that it went wrong”, he says.
Although Rafael has a Latin background, originating from Columbia (which also declares the beast’s Spanish lyrics), he and Jason are like dyzigotic twins. Both of them are small and slender built, they have an enormous energy (even off stage) and they anticipate to each other like two rubbed cogwheels. They communicate like their sludge, doom and punk-ridden band sounds like: uncomplicated, but not shallow.
Studio.. but louder
What was the first work that pleased you in Black Cobra?
Jason Landrian: The first song we wrote was Interceptor, the song from the first EP. We still play that live. It still holds up. There were a lot of riffs, as we both came up with them. At a certain moment you realise that there are tons of bands out there. So, you ask yourself, “what are we going to bring to the table?” So, the only thing we ask ourselves is if it pleases us? Eventually the songs turned out cohesive, and then we knew we were on the right track.
Rafael Martinez: We had no clue how we would go to sound like. A lot of people say, “O, we wanna do this grind thing”. That is fine, but most of the bands are about that shit. They want to incorporate all these different styles. We didn’t really wanted to sound like anything in particular.
JL: We just do what we want to hear and want to play. When we came with Interceptor, we came to a funny observation. We recorded the EP, were driving around LA and listened to that over and over again, and we realised that about all these songs were six minutes long. We wanted more songs, but we hadn’t more cohesive songs, just a bunch of riffs. Even at that point we didn’t knew how we would go to sound, but it was definitely a good step for us to begin with.
Is it important that people see what your music represents?
JL: I don’t know if we necessarily represent anything, except maybe creativity or something. We just want to play cool riffs and nice drumbeats. It’s not that it’s something selfish, but you want to please yourself in a way. It’s awesome that people are digging it, but ultimately, when we’re not happy with it, we won’t play it.
Could you make music without performance?
JL: I think the performance-aspect is very important. I feel like we are a live band. It’s just the two of us. So, even in the studio we didn’t do anything that we couldn’t replicate live. We didn’t want to cheat anybody. Playing live is real fun.
RM: It brings the songs alive. The live-energy, especially in this scene, is very important. Bands that only sell through the Internet or only perform once a year, play different kind of music. For us it’s a bummer when we hear an album and go like “what the f…”, when we hear it live. I don’t like that feeling, so I don’t want to give that to a kid. I want them to feel the opposite. You hear our live sound on the record, especially in the guitar tones and the tuning. We tried to capture that energy in the studio as much as we could. You can go crazy in the studio and put so many layers, but what you hear on the record you’ll get live… but louder (laughter).
What is the most important: the song or the sound?
JL: We put as much time in perfecting the sound as much as we work on the songs. Ultimately the sounds are elements of the songs. You bring everything together. We’re putting a lot of time in the guitar tone, the tuning and the drum sound. Sounds and songs are almost one and the same.
Is it important to show self-criticism as an artist?
RM: From an objective standpoint you have to be honest with yourself. A lot of the songs on the album, we wrote without time limit. We sent the music to each other, so in that sense it was like listening to someone else. We were changing parts, just by listening to each other and criticising each other’s stuff. It helps me to see it from an objective point of view. The fact that we are a two-piece opens up a lot of possibilities, it’s not limiting at all.
JL: There is definitely a degree of self-criticism. You have to be honest with yourself!
RM: Enough is enough!!
JL: If it sucks, it sucks. (both laugh)
Is the search for inspiration a conscious thing?
RM: It’s both. Sometimes you’re watching a movie, watching the news, learning a piece of music or studying something. You’re getting into a rhythm, a drummer, a piano player or into some violence. I think that subconsciously a lot of stuff keeps working in the back of your head. You just spit it out, not only when you hold a guitar in your hand. That inspiration also comes from a speech, from music or even traffic. It just pops up.
JL: There’s not something like, ‘oh, let me sit down and be inspired’. Your mind is probably working from something you heard like two weeks ago.
Is there a particular condition in which it works the best?
RM: We haven’t been that stable during the last year and a half. We’ve been moving and touring a lot, with constantly changing situations. We were in LA for a couple of months, now we’re in Niberia. Since April of last year it has been non-stop moving. We learned, in every possible way: on the road, having a deadline, not heaving a deadline.. Obviously nobody likes to be pressured, but with Bestial there wasn’t a timeline. We were never planning on writing an album at that moment. So, we kept writing songs and saw what happened. When we got that collection, we delivered it. For the new release we had a deadline of one month. We’ve done it in every possible way.
Is it hard to transform ideas into music?
JL: It can be. Sometimes you’re in a certain mood. With Bestial we had half a song. We wondered where we would go with that. Sometimes you have no ideas and then it’s really hard. When we have no ideas, we put it aside and later listen to it like a third party, like you didn’t write it yourself. Then I take as much time to analyse that, an hour, even a day. Having a deadline for the split with Eternal Elysium was so different. It forced us to finish things. During the many US-tours last year, the reactions from the audience gave us a lot of confidence. We realised that this is good. We don’t need to sit down on it for six months any more. We like it now.
It also makes you better musicians?
RM: (interrupts) And the chemistry! We didn’t realise that while playing live. We now know what we’re working on and know our limits. We were surprised by the guitars, the drums and the counter-rhythms, as we didn’t think we could do. We wrote about three songs in two days. It was a good realisation to know that we can do that. Every band should be aware of that chemistry. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s how you play along with each other. You should know your weaknesses and strengths, and work on the weaknesses and focus on the strengths.
When have you decided to do something with your love for music?
JL: Right after I started to get into all these bands, I started playing guitar. From that moment I wanted to play guitar in a band. It has always been like that, as I didn’t want to play music by myself. When I was fourteen I was already playing with these kids at school and during the weekends I was messing around. Some people are really on there, but for me it was about going wild.
RM: For me it was about the same. At fourteen, fifteen, I had my first band and I played talent shows at school. We grew up in Miami where there wasn’t a big underground culture. The few people that were into heavy music all knew each other. There weren’t many clubs or stores, so it was hard. It wasn’t like LA, where there were many of them.
JL: It’s not like it’s a wasteland, but for heavy music it’s very slim.
RM: Today it’s a little bit better because of the Internet.
You started to play with each other at young age?
RM: That happened in 1996, I was twenty, he was eighteen. We went to the same college, and took music history class. We started to, well, join (both laugh). We had a band in Miami called Point Blank. We both played guitar.
JL: That was about ’98.
RM: Our former bass player Dan (Escauriza, red.) later recorded Black Cobra.
When did Black Cobra started?
RM: (doubtingly looking at each other) 200…1.
JL: Well, it’s a weird thing. We stayed friends after our former band collapsed. Rafa left Miami to go to school in Boston, but we always kept in touch. He came down for holidays and family things, and we got together and jammed. He had a drum-set and we just wrote riffs. Some of these riffs came on the album later.
It was a natural evolution?
JL: Yeah, it’s hard to pinpoint when it exactly started. We were both in other bands.
RM: He was playing in Cavity.
JL: I was about sixteen. After our bands collapsed we still wanted to play. We just tried to do something with the stuff that we had.
RM: But it was long distanced interaction, as he was in New York and I was in California. We did it all through the mail. We never thought about touring, little by little, very slowly we did something, about two or three times a year. It came to a point where we said: “ok, let’s start writing songs”. Until then, we had just ideas, beats and riffs. I had a small practice space in LA and Jason came to that in 2004, where we wrote the first EP. We recorded everything in seven days.
JL: Even then, I was just there to play music, but also to just hang out.
The bandname came afterwards we guess.
RM: Yeah, in the beginning we had other ideas. Some of them were already taken. Jason went back to NY and he was looking to movies. Black Cobra came up and nobody had that name, unless a Canadian band changed its name at that time. We didn’t know about each other.
JL: We were getting contact and it ended when we actually trademarked it.
RM: They were French speaking, from Canada, Montreal, from the north.
How did the collaboration with Delboy came across?
RM: I played bass in Acid King and I still do here and there. On Acid King’s first European tour we had some troubles with the original booker. Xavier (Benoit, main man of Delboy Records, red) responded to us and sort of rescued us. I knew that he had put out a 7” from Mastodon and American Heritage that I had bought two years prior to meeting him. I met him in Belgium, on our first show. He was a big Cavity fan, which Jason played in. I was in 16 and I told him that we were doing things. He was interested, we kept in touch and we promised him to send some stuff. We recorded Bestial when we got back from the tour. He loved it and he wanted to release it here. In the first place because of its difference, you know. Being a two-piece, he thought we had a unique sound. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t even play here today. This is our third time in Europe in less then six months. Xavier is the man!
Should art raise questions, like installation-artist Bruce Naumann said?
RM: (Tastes the words) Should art raise questions? That’s pretty vague.
JL: It can and it’s cool when it does. But, it’s not necessary to be enjoyable. Flat and enjoyable can be splendid too. There are different aspects in art.
RM: If it does, then it’s probably a doorway to promote creativity. If somebody is ‘asking’ or compels them to ask something about them, then it moves something in them and leaves something intriguing.
JL: It could be a starting point for someone else. It’s always facilitating for someone else. It’s always moving. If it should or shouldn’t, it just does, no matter what.. even if it’s not a political or philosophical question. It could even be a technical question. Those questions just come automatically.
Bruce Naumann’s work is always about the human condition. Is Bestial too?
RM: That’s not what we wrote it about. In a way you’re documenting a piece of art that was made at a certain time in history. It could be anything. It could be a painting or a single from a guy that you’ll probably never hear again of. Like Son House, there’s hardly something available from that guy, but what he recorded was a statement and has influenced a lot of people. Like in the eighties the Reagan-administration inspired a lot of Punk. There was a lot of rebellion and people wanted to express themselves. Today you have Rock Against Bush. A lot of time art is a reflection on your environment. Politics and music is an iffy question. Sometimes we have to leave the politics where it belongs. It’s great that people can use art to express that kind of stuff, but sometimes it’s just a waste of time.
Dälek told us that he just points out that there’s a fire, but that he isn’t the fireman.
JL: Yeah, it’s about creating awareness. It’s cool that you have political music, because it mobilises people to do things or learn about things that they didn’t know about. Bestial is not necessarily about the human condition. Not lyrically. We made that record just from a musical standpoint. We didn’t want to make something about one topic.
What is Bestial about than?
RM: We didn’t have a particular theme in mind. The songs were written sporadically. Some songs are faster, others are slower, but they’re all dark in some ways. It was never premeditated, like writing a song about tentacles. It was influenced by the music. All the sounds are like a beast that is constantly moving. In the artwork you don’t get to see the monster. You just see the tentacles. You just see something intense.
JL: It could be about the human condition when you look at it musically. The vocals are always secondary. You can’t even understand what I’m singing, because of the way the vocals are presented. We don’t necessarily hay gave have a message. It definitely says a lot about our condition.
Article by Peter, Dour festival, 2007