Black Sun Interview
Glasgow’s Black Sun started out life 10 years ago using loops and samples which slowly transposed into the monolithic beast of crushing Doom we hear today. With 4 albums and an EP under their belts which also saw them working with acclaimed producers James Plotkin and Billy Anderson, 2008 looks to be promising year for this trio as they prepare to unleash their new album ‘Paralyser’ as well as appearances at Heavyfest IV, Supersonic 08 and a UK tour with Lazarus Blackstar, Gloomy Sunday & They Are Cowards planned, I caught up with drummer/vocalist Russell McEwan and guitarist/vocalist Kevin Hare to ask them a few questions.
Firstly, thanks for agreeing to do this interview, so let’s get things rolling by giving us a brief history of the band, your current members and releases to date?
RUSSELL: I formed Black Sun (Machine) in Glasgow in 1998 as a reaction to my former band Macrocosmica and also to make the distinction from live music to sample-based music. There have been quite a few members over the years but the line-up began to solidify when Kevin Hare (Guitar & Vocals) joined for the ‘Fleshmarket’ album and shortly after Graeme Leggate (Bass Guitar) completed what is the core of Black Sun. To date we’ve recorded four albums and one EP:
Fleshmarket (Over Records)
Circus of the Fallen (Over Records)
Rip Yourself Open EP (Self Released)
Sacred Eternal Eclipse (Distortion Project)v Hour of the Wolf (Maximum Volume)
Paralyser* (At War With False Noise) *in progress
Black Sun are currently working on a new album entitled ‘Paralyser’ to be our first vinyl release on At War with False Noise Records. The album will feature very different versions of the song ‘Paralyser’ including a mix by Billy Anderson. We are very excited indeed to be working on this particular album with At War with False Noise.
Why the name Black Sun and is there any significant meaning behind it?
RUSSELL: The ‘Machine’ part was dropped over a period of time on my return to the drumkit and Black Sun’s sound becoming much more of a live animal the more we played. I was very influenced at the time by a biography of Harry Crosby by Geoffrey Wolff entitled ‘Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby’. The name and idea of Black Sun has subsequently become part of my psyche. It is beyond obsession for me. If I was able to adequately express what Black Sun meant for me there would be no need to play. A huge part of Black Sun is the collaboration with Kevin and Graeme. I need to be able to practice every week and bring ideas to the studio to be explored as a unit and I expect it of the guys too. We might pound a riff to dust to see if it stands up to our own standards.
How would you describe your music and what is the overall aim for Black Sun?
RUSSELL: Sometimes our music is beautiful and other times it is designed to be ugly. I have to say that I find it the most positive and uplifting experience. The overall aim for Black Sun would be to reach as many people as possible whether that is live, on record, on the net and so forth. Our first love would be playing live. Recorded music and live music are parallel aspects of our sound and capturing music alive is decidedly evasive.
KEVIN: ATTITUDE – RELENTLESS – ALL ENGULFING – UPLIFTING – CRUSHING – UNASHAMEDLY HONEST. In many ways our music is consciously put together to be as jarring as possible, when it needs to be, however not without it’s own swing/groove. There is also a very trance like element to our sound just handled differently to what most people expect. As such it is definitely by plan that the listener is continuously pulverised by all elements of our arsenal. This is one of the reasons that we have gained the recognition we have so far. We aim to offer something truly different to what passes these days as heavy music.
And who would you site as major influences both from a musical and non musical perspective?
RUSSELL: I continually return to Estonian contemporary composer Arvo Part and a piece of his called ‘Alina’. Every time I play it I am floored by it’s magnitude and delicacy. It seems such an unbelievably simple collection of notes yet it has limitless power over me. If I could achieve some of that weight with Black Sun then I would be happy, however it is the continual pursuit which keeps me interested. I am also a huge fan of American writer Cormac McCarthy with ‘Blood Meridian’ being my absolute favourite. I have read and re-read it a number of times as well as dipping into it now and again at key points. I love the sheer unstoppable lust for blood, power and wealth with characters and anti-heroes whose own destruction is contained within them.
KEVIN: Personally when writing riffs I take as much influence from bands like Kiss It Goodbye, Today is the Day, Fudge Tunnel & Will Haven as much as The Obsessed, Saint Vitus, Grief & Sabbath etc. That said we always put our own spin on what is being written otherwise it becomes a pointless task to simply copy bands you are a fan of. Music for us is about progression not regression. When I first hooked up with Russell we were two members using samples a drum machine, bass and guitar. This was fine at the start but as our sound developed there was a necessity to become more organic sounding. I would say the overall feel of our material has not changed we have just become much better at refining our attack, which comes from years of dedication to our art. Much of our dynamic comes from our individual interaction, although we have never ruled out using samples to compliment rather than drive our songs as they did in the past.
Your sound has changed over the years, starting off life using loops and samples for your debut album ‘Fleshmarket’ to the despondent behemoth we hear today, so how did this change happen and how different do you feel your newer material compares to the early days?
RUSSELL: It’s important to Black Sun to keep on developing musically with whatever tools come to hand. Whether we’ve used technology or written material live it is still very important to come up with a song and nothing changes that regardless of what you’re writing with. Interestingly for us, we returned to the use of samples underlying the live sound for the Billy Anderson mix of ‘Paralyser (Hammer the Nails)’ which will appear on the new ‘Paralyser’ album. So in many ways we have come full circle fully integrating everything we have.
KEVIN: As a band we are 3 very different people, yet the end result will always be 100% Black Sun. We have reached a point in our writing that we know what our music should sound like, i.e. what works and what doesn’t’t.
What about your lyrics, who writes them and what subject matters do they cover?
RUSSELL: Both Kevin and I write lyrics in parallel to each other and we chat about what themes or phrases we’re using. Essentially I work from the personal to the universal thematically. I write about my relationship, or lack thereof, with my deceased father and that leads me on to my relationship with God and authority. The contradiction of respect and disrespect I have for the concepts behind powerful figures in our lives also brings me back to my own role as a father. These are the themes I am currently exploring with ‘Paralyser’ as an album and differently but linked in each ‘Paralyser’ song. One of the dangers I experience is writing too close to the bone, so to speak, and delivering those lyrics live can catch me unawares. However I often use repetition of a phrase to strip it of it’s associations, to remove it’s power over me and give it new meaning.
KEVIN: Both Russell and I write our own lyrics, sometimes in collaboration, other times playing off general themes. Many of my own lyrics deal with personal loss, questions of faith, transcendence from inner demons and sometimes quite simply my hatred for those in society who have no respect for their fellow man and are never punished.
Can you give us an insight into the equipment you use to create your colossal sound?
RUSSELL: We have a few different setups which are sometimes combined to achieve a particular effect.
Russell McEwan Vocals & Drums: The snare drum is my main instrument and I use a Brady Solid body 14″, a Mapex Black Panther 14″ and a Premier Steel Shell 14″, Gretsch Jazzmaster Pro vintage kit, Pearl Export Vintage kit, Zildijan Dark series Ride, Crash & HiHats, and drumsticks as thick as I can get them. My training was playing the snare drum in Scottish Pipe Bands as a child and I still require snare drums capable of those kind of competition tensions.
Kevin Hare Guitar: Uses a 1979 Gibson SG, with its original pickups, a Fender Bassman 100 head, driving both sides put through a modern day 1960A Marshall 4×12 cab. Peavey XXX head. Pedals: Boss MT-2 Metalzone and a Rak Phaser pedal. The rest is chord choice!
Graeme Leggate Bass Guitar: Four string Ibanez ‘Boomstick’ Bass, 8×10 classic Ampeg stack with a Boss ODB-3 bass Overdrive pedal
Your latest album ‘Hour Of The Wolf’ was produced by James Plotkin of Khante fame, this is actually the second time you’ve worked with him, so can you tell us how you managed to hook up with him and what you feel he brought to Black Sun’s sound?
RUSSELL: We have massive respect for James and his multifoiled work with Khanate, Atom/Phantomsmasher, Khlyst, Bodylovers and so-on. Someone like James must be bombarded with bands and material to produce and mix all the time so it was a huge boost that he decided to work with us on ‘Sacred Eternal Eclipse’ and ‘Hour of the Wolf’. At the time James was like an additional member and another pair of ears who understood where we were coming from and what we intended for those albums. He has a strong ethic of creating a solid sub-bass in any mix for us with which to build the other frequencies around. One of my favourite songs on ‘Hour of the Wolf’ is ‘A Deputation of Spastics’ where James processed the outro section into the darkest ambience ever. I love it.
KEVIN: Plotkin has a great ear for subsonic frequencies and for ‘Hour Of The Wolf’ this suited what we were looking for, he creates an interesting sound within the stereo field, that is unrelenting.
The album also features an alternative version of ‘Disintegrate To Khrist’ which was produced by Billy Anderson, again how did you hook up with him, why did you feature this track on the album as well and how do you feel this mix differs from the one of James Plokin?
RUSSELL: Billy was really into our first album ‘Fleshmarket’ and offered to mix some songs for us. Someone like Billy who has also worked with bands we respect like Melvins and Neurosis was able to hear where we were coming from sonically and give a different take on ‘Disintegrate…’
KEVIN: Billy Anderson creates in many ways a more claustrophobic mix. His style is more direct and in your face. It was very interesting to hear Billy’s take on the same song. Though both mixes are very different, both are equally punishing.
You’ll be hitting the road in May 08 with Lazarus Blackstar, Gloomy Sunday and They Are Cowards for a few dates across the UK, which also takes in Heavyfest IV at the 1in12 Club, Bradford, firstly you must be looking forward to these shows and secondly how did you become part of this tour?
RUSSELL: We’re really looking forward to the Heavyfest IV. I’ve heard that Paul Rauchen formerly of Like A Kind of Matador is bringing his new band Gruel and that will be cool. I’ve been in contact with Atavist for a few years and vocalist Toby Bradshaw invited us on the road with Lazarus Blackstar and They Are Cowards at his last gig with Atavist when Black Sun played Terrorizer’s Hells Bells. I’ve yet to hear They Are Cowards and it’ll be good to see them live.
KEVIN: I’m a huge fan of Lazarus and can’t wait to play with them. It’s a shame they’ve lost Paul Catten he’s a great performer and writes fantastic lyrics, but I’m sure they won’t disappoint.
You’re also confirmed to play Supersonic 08 in Birmingham so how did Black Sun get to be part of the bill and are you looking forward to playing this festival?
RUSSELL: Our profile is growing steadily the more we tour and vice versa. It’s just great to get out and play such a festival with Harvey Milk, Oxbow and Earth in the same weekend. We are also venturing into Europe at the Barroselas Metalfest in Portugal as well as many invites even farther afield.
KEVIN: I’ve always been a huge fan of the festival and as such it’s an honour to finally play it. We’re big fans of Oxbow, Earth and Harvey Milk so it’ll be great to share a stage with them.
I’ve yet to witness Black Sun live so how would you describe a typical gig?
RUSSELL: We tend to approach the live situation as a mirror of our practice sessions in that we use absolute volume in order to move the maximum amount of air. For the uninitiated I’m sure a Black Sun gig will seem particularly intense and the effect we aim for is the sheer physicality of the music. The beauty of live music is that you have to be there to experience it fully. A podcast does not fully capture the spirit of Black Sun.
KEVIN: For me it’s a release that can’t be touched. As a band we always give 100% for the whole time we’re on stage, it’s impossible not to, the minute the feedback starts there’s a switch that flicks in the back of our heads and Black Sun is unleashed. It’s a journey into our world, it’s not a pretty place, but it’s a wholly engaging experience, equally crushing as it is uplifting.
And how was the Terrorizer sponsored Hells Bells gig at the end of 2007 with Taint, Atavist & Moss in London?
RUSSELL: It was great to be playing with Atavist and Moss for the first time and to play again with Taint. Having read Terrorizer for many years it was cool to be part of their Christmas event and they were really welcoming to Black Sun. London crowds can be quite reserved at times however we got quite a supportive response.
KEVIN: Hells Bells was a great gig, we’d played with Taint a month earlier in Glasgow, they’re an immense band, and to boot were kind enough to let us crash while we were down. It was also great to see and play with Atavist and Moss. We’ve been in contact with Atavist for a while now so it was good to finally play with them, and of course to sink a few jars afterwards. Hat’s off to Terrorizer also for organising the gig, there should be more like them up and down the country.
Glasgow isn’t a place I venture to very often so can you give us an idea of what the ‘scene’ is like there for ‘extreme’ music for both local and touring bands?
RUSSELL: Glasgow is fantastic for gigs. There is a huge range of music every night of the week. Although London has the monopoly on nearly all tours many many bands tour through Glasgow again and again. There are quite a few venues like the 13th Note Cafe and Nice’n’Sleazy where local and international bands play. When we gig in Glasgow we like to have bands play with us that perhaps have something of the same spirit as us although not necessarily in the same genre or whatever. We’ve collaborated with extreme noise terrorist Lea Cummings of Kylie Minoise (Kovoroxsound.com) and gigged regularly with grindcore shocktroops Co-Exist (Undergroove Records).
What else does 2008 hold for Black Sun?
RUSSELL: Already 2008 has allowed us to turn up the intensity of our music and increase our audience one gig at a time. We continue to write and we have a further album of songs in development beyond ‘Paralyser’. We found a studio on the outskirts of Glasgow still recording to one inch analogue master tape and we’re looking forward to pushing the signal envelope as far as possible.
Thanks again for the interview and please use this space for any final words/thoughts…
More information on Black Sun at: www.myspace.com/legionofblacksun
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Interviewed by: Lee Edwards