Tuesday, May 13, 2014
A Ripple Conversation with Pete Holmes of Blackwulf
A new band on our radar and one we won't quickly forget. Local boys, Blackwulf devastate with their riff-mad stoner heaviness.
When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.
What have been your musical epiphany moments?
PH: I grew up in the vinyl and cassette tape era, well before the internet, where you'd have to actively go out to record stores and talk to people and seek out like-minded souls to get turned on to new music. There were a lot more all-ages shows and things were generally more free-wheeling, even at the big arena concerts, where you'd meet people, smoke out with them, maybe share the spoils of your raids on your parents' liquor cabinet. This primed you for your "epiphany moment": you were green light at that point for something to blow your adolescent mind.OZZY's first tour made a big impression, seeing and meeting Ozz and Randy Rhoads in 1982. I'd tap into my stepdad's record collection, browse the bins at Tower, swap mix tapes with other people. I wore out a lot of record needles on stuff like THIN LIZZY's "Live and Dangerous", BLACK SABBATH's "Master of Reality", URIAH HEEP's "Demons and Wizards", ZEPPELIN's "Houses of the Holy" and THE WHO's "Live at Leeds" records. I was also big into early Hardcore, so BLACK FLAG and the BAD BRAINS were also in early heavy rotation on the cassette deck.
Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?
PH: Usually it's a riff in my head. I am a guitar player, so that's what starts it for me. If it sticks for a little while in my brain, I'll sit down and figure out how to play what I am imagining. If nothing's happening, I'll help it along: maybe have a smoke or raid my own liquor cabinet. I'll record elements of my ideas on my cell phone memo program and build up tunes one idea at a time. Once I have enough components, I take the elements into the band for a jam through it all. Our singer, Alex Cunningham, will generally write lyrics based on the vibe of the tune.
Who has influenced you the most?
PH: As a guitarist, I would say Tony Iommi and Billy F. Gibbons. It's well accepted that Iommi is a devastating riff master. He basically invented some of the major elements of deliberate heavy metal, pushing the whole triads and Phrygian modalities in his riffs very early on, and never looking back. Gibbons is another heavyweight in my book; he's done things with a Les Paul that you can almost taste on your tongue. Dude has insane tone and great feel, and is a very cool and kinda weird guy to boot. I am generally drawn to what's weird and try to be influenced by it if I can.
Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?
PH: I am heavily inspired by visual art. Frank Frazetta is really big for me. I first got into his work collecting comic books as a kid, and reading the Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidar series, and all of the Robert E. Howard stuff. Local guys like SF artist Alan Forbes, who did our first record cover, is very inspiring. I like old skateboard decks from Pushead. We're working with a guy called Conor Nolan right now from NYC who is amazing; he's done work for the Sword and we're stoked that his work will be on our next release.
We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?
PH: We rehearse in Oakland, and we try and do that city proud wherever we play. We'll carry the flag for the A's and even the Black Hole if we've had enough Mickey's Big Mouths. Drummer Dave and I are originally from Tucson, AZ, so we are glad to be keeping the desert rock happening in our sound...big wide open spaces. Alex is from LA, and he is a total Southern Cal guy which is cool and freewheeling, and bassist Scott is from San Ramon, CA, which is the home of...well...RIPPLE MUSIC, right?
PH: I thought it up one night kind of randomly. "Blackwolf" was a character in Ralph Bakshi's "Wizards" animated flick, and we just morphed into BLACKWULF and I think it captures what we're into quite well. I have later learned that there is also a Marvel superhero from the 90s with that same name, and I am all good with that.
You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?
PH: "The Sonny Barger Story"
You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?). You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?
PH: Wow! The Ripple Effect! That's a good paying gig, I'm told. Ummm...one song...(forehead wrinkling, eyes closing). I'm going to need a lot of content for 1000 decent words for something like that, so I am going to pick a long song, and I'm going to pick a song that you might not know so that you won't realize what a tool I am and how off base my opinions really are, SO I'll go with ELDER's "Dead Roots Stirring". There I answered the question. Now go out and find that song because I GUARANTEE anyone who is taking the time to read this will LOVE it. (Sneaky second selection would have been Sabbath's "Into the Void").
What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?
PH: In my opinion,a rock performance is intrinsically absurd. It's ridiculous, right? Often it's so filled up with itself that it gets in its own way. It's on a stage, for god sakes. The band is up there, and the audience is over there. BUT sometimes...and these are those rarefied moments...it can take wings and carry everyone to another place. It can be a portal to another dimension, at least until last call or when the stereo needle lifts up. That's what I live for, those moments when there is an exchange of energy between the band and the audience, when the whole room is totally in synch and we all board that spaceship and blast off for a little while.
Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?
PH: Opening for FAITH NO MORE in 1988, Salt Lake City, Utah. Big show, maybe 1500 people, packed out. I walk back stage and everyone's hanging and being too cool for school. I'm a little lit and pumped from our set, am working the "gym towel around the neck" rockstar look, complete with airplane captain's hat. People are quiet as I enter the backstage area, and I see a bottle of the headliner's Jack Daniels. I pop open the bottle and take a TREMENDOUS pull of whiskey, a full on three swallow chug a lug. Impressed with myself a look across the room at the crew and the band and the chicks hanging out and give an assured smile, maybe little nod of the head. But guess what's rocketing back up my gullet? Yup. I yak about eight fluid ounces projectile all over this backstage refrigerator, it's running brown down the front. Me? I just take a little dab with towel around my neck at the corners of my lips and carry on like nothing's doing.
Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans?
PH: The live BLACKWULF show is usually about a 45 to 60 minute set of as much heavy as we can muster...we pepper it with some trippy moog ambiance to give it kind of a psych vibe. Sonically, it's all about trying to find an harmonious ebb and flow of energy and power, density and openness. We really always try and take the thing to another planet. These people are here to see you play and we want to get the shit happening.
What makes a great song?
PH: For me, the primary elements of a great song are imagination and truthfulness. A great song is immediately recognized by the ears of the soul, the truth of it is automatically registered by everyone around it. Great tone is organically recognized as well this way. True bass is true bass, and the body knows it immediately. Great songs don't start out to be "great songs". They just end up that way.
Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?
PH: We have a live tune, called "Josephus", that has stuck around from previous bands in the whole desert-rock/KYUSS era for the past 20 years. It was composed in part by myself, drummer Dave, and David Clark, who we played with for many years who went on to produce some KYUSS tracks and now does front of house for NEUROSIS. That song is still in our regular BLACKWULF set.
What piece of your music are particularly proud of?
PH: There are couple of new ones that are due out on our next album that we are particularly happy with. One is called "Acid Reign" and the other is "Wings of Steel." Very heavy and "bang friendly" I am told.
Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?
PH: BLACK SABBATH is still writing great songs. "The Loner" off of 13 is devastating for me. THE SWORD is untouchable...song after fucking great song, truly masterful. FU MANCHU is writing great material. There is a band in Portland called BLACK SNAKE that is killing it, as are the SONS OF HUNS, a Riding Easy Records band. I mentioned ELDER earlier: just truly incredible, as well as their spin off band GOLD AND SILVER. OM is an incredible band. Find that shit if you can! The heavy scene is alive and well, and I am stoked to be seeing and loving these bands right here and now.
Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?
PH: Vinyl all the way! Trippy colored plastic and big fat art album covers for the WIN!
Whiskey or beer? And defend your choice
PH: Neither. Tequila for me, boys and girls. I'm from Arizona!
We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?
PH: Alameda CA...check out Blue Rectangle on Park Street. You won't get lost in that tiny place, but you just might find a diamond in the rough for under five bucks.
What's next for the band?
PH: We have our indy premier vinyl release, "Mind Traveler," coming out on CD exclusively from Wickerman Recordings in late June. We are looking forward to releasing a split 7" with Portland's BLACK SNAKE in the Fall. We are always writing and recording and gigging, which for us is really what it's all about.
Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?
PH: Keep bangin those fucking heads, brothers and sisters...see you out there!