Thursday, December 1, 2011

New To Your Ears: Black Box Revelation

When the Meat Puppets came to town on November 13, they brought along their friends from Belgium, Black Box Revelation. I can honestly say, my hearing hasn't been the same since.

Black Box Revelation in Belgium
(Photo furnished by Jan Paternoster)
Black Box, or BBR, come from Dilbeek, a castle laden municipality of Flanders in the northern part of Belgium - a region that, to this day has a very strong Medieval heritage. A two-piece band, they are currently on their 2nd passing of North America. They aren't just merely  gliding... They are out to conquer. Never has a two piece band graced my ears with such beautiful and powerful noise, and neither could I imagine two conquerors being as polite and engaging as Jan Paternoster and Dries Van Dijck are.

But that's part of the secret... Or revelation of you will. I hadn't seen nor heard these guys play live until after I had spent time with them prior to the show in a backstage interview. Their friendly and jovial personalities were not a very good indication of what BBR was about to bring to the stage. To place a metaphor mildly, these guys might have just as well brought the Belgian Army with them.

Forget everything you have become familiar with in today's rock and roll sound, and you got BBR. You'd have to go back to the early days of The Stooges to hear raw power of this magnitude. Paternoster's over-droning guitar is the perfect single accompaniment to Van Dijck's boulder smashing drums and they've got the voodoo right where it needs to be. The addition of any other instruments would just be an unnecessary evil.

Simultaneously playing lead and rhythm, Paternoster encompasses the entire neck of his guitar with each bellowing note he plays. Early in his 20's he is already a master of the pedals and the other  accessories that are needed to wrap those notes around your head like musical duct tape. Van Dijck's style is to lambaste on his drums with the ferocity of a jackhammer. Somehow amid the musical chaos, he is able to keep perfect time. Together these two are the musical equivalent of a violent thunderstorm. While there is no real sense of danger, the ability to stand and watch overshadows the desire to run away and seek cover. I felt like I was an invincible presence, standing in the path of an oncoming tornado.

In my opinion, these guys could be a household name very soon. They have had two songs featured on FX's Sons of Anarchy. “Where Has All This Mess Begun” was on episode 8 of the 4th season, and “Do I Know You” was featured on episode 5. They've toured extensively with the Meat Puppets, and they are currently supporting Liam Gallagher's new band, Beady Eye. They will be touring the United States until December 10, after which point they will be heading back to Belgium for the holidays.

Upcoming shows:

Dec 2 - The Warfield - San Francisco, CA
Dec 3 - Wiltern Theatre - Los Angeles, CA
Dec 5 - First Avenue - Minneapolis, MN
Dec 6 - The Rave - Milwaukee, WI
Dec 8 - 9:30 Club - Washington, DC
Dec 9 - Terminal 5 - New York, NY
Dec 10 - House of Blues - Boston, MA

Paternoster rocks the crowd at a recent concert in Belgium
(Photo provided by Jan Paternoster)

BD: So, you guys are from Belgium.

Both: Yes.

BD: And this is your first conquering of the United States?

Jan:  No, it’s not the first time. The first long tour we did here was in June, a couple of months ago. Then we toured with Grace Potter and also the Meat Puppets. Then during September and October we were touring here for another five weeks. That was just a co-headline tour with another band from Australia… Which is… Not that famous.

Dries: It was a good tour. We had a good time. Now we’re back on tour so we’re happy. We are playing with the Meat Puppets again. The next tour is with Girl in a Coma and after that with Beady Eyes, Liam Gallagher’s new band. So we are very excited.

BD: That’s ironic. Not to compare you guys to anybody, but when I listen to your song, "High On A Wire," I think of them… Just the way the vocals come out. It reminds me of Oasis.

Jan: Cool.

BD: So tell me about the tour so far…  What’s been crazy?

Jan: Oh, we had a really good time already. Yesterday was a very very good night, so we are happy to be going back to Minneapolis tomorrow. The crowd was amazing!

Dries: And the day before as well. We played in Chicago at the Double Door with the Meat Puppets. That was a really good show as well.

BD: Right on. So any crazy stories from the tour?

Jan: All the people in the crowd yesterday were really excited, acting really crazy or… Really drunk?

BD: Yeah?

Dries: Yes. Some of them got so excited that they got kind of aggressive because of that!

Jan: They were all with the adrenaline inside of them! (Laughter)

Dries: I love adrenaline in the room! (Laughter)

BD: What has been the highlight of the tour so far?

Jan: For me it was up in St. Paul.

Dries: I’d say Chicago and yesterday. Like in Chicago and St. Paul, we had Cris (Kirkwood, Meat Puppets) joining us for one song.

BD: Nice!

Dries: So he played bass on "Sealed with Thorns." It was great because it was the first time EVER that somebody has played bass with us on one of our songs.

BD: Right on. And it happened to be the bass player from the Meat Puppets. That’s pretty cool!

Both: Yeah! (Laughing)

BD: So how are the crowds in the United States different from the crowds in Europe?

Jan: Well in Europe there is a big difference between all the countries. Like Switzerland has a crazy crowd, like dancing and having fun. So it depends. You can compare the show we had yesterday and the day before. It was a bit more like Switzerland. It was more party people. But that’s what we like. It’s good with the music as well, ones are getting into it and start partying and drinking. It’s good for us.

BD: Yeah… People getting into the music.

Jan: And in Belgium it’s more like, at first they are going to check you out. And then the next time they will be back and they like you, and they’re going to start partying more than the first time.

BD: They want to get to you know you first?

Dries: They just want to know your songs first.

Jan: I think there is a big contrast between Europe and the States  because there like every couple of hundred miles it’s a different country and a different language and a completely different audience. In the States you can travel for days and it’s still the same culture…

BD: Right.

Jan: But we really like Americans because they are always really warm and that’s the good thing. You just feel like they really like music and for our music that a big plus because we like to make pure rock music. We like to play everything right in the studio as well as touring and that‘s why I think American people appreciate the songs when we are really having a good time.

Dries: Yeah.

(Photo provided by Jan Paternoster)

BD: So tell me about Black Box Revelation. You started out as a four piece band, right?

Jan: Yeah.

BD: So then that fell through and you decided to stay together and do your own thing. How did you come up with the name Black Box Revelation?

Dries: (Laughter) That’s a hard one.

Jan: That’s right. it’s a mystery for us as well! Um… All of a sudden we joined a rock contest  and we didn’t have a name for it so we had to come up with a name and suddenly Black Box Revelation was there. We actually don’t even remember where it comes from but we actually needed to have a name for the contest!

BD: Did it work out for you?

Jan: We actually got second in the contest. So it was pretty important to be on stage and have a name! But where it comes from is actually a mystery.

BD: So there’s no secret connotation to it, like the password in the revelation is…

Jan: (laughter) No… But it sounds good and it fits our music.

BD: It’s a great name!

Jan: Thank you.

Dries: But it does have room to make associations and you can make your own thing out of it.

BD: Like, what’s in the box?

Dries: (Laughter) Yeah.

BD: What IS in the box?

Dries: Everything!

BD: So tell me about your new EP, Shiver of Joy. You are touring in support if it… Is it selling well? Are you getting good fanfare from it?

Jan: Actually it is kind of an introduction  EP with two songs we have done already. It contains six songs. It’s sort of an introduction to the album that’s coming out in February. So now we have played all summer and in September and stuff, and we have played a lot of shows and we didn’t have any music (for sale) so they asked us for some music and so we made the EP which only sells for like five dollars. We wanted to make it cheap so that the people can get a cheap introduction to the band. They see us live and then they can get it also in the car. And the cool thing is that we made them on vinyl as well, and there is a limited edition green version, a clear one and a yellow one and a black one. It’s fun to have physical music here as well, because the first two albums… Well the second album is on I-Tunes I think, but it never came out in stores, or we never had it live with us. So it feels great to have it here with us and people really dig it to see art work and play it on the record player.

BD: Excellent. So where’s the future for you guys? Where’s the limit in terms of where you want to be?

Dries: The sky. Higher.

BD: Yeah?

Dries: Yeah because we are really busy now. We don’t want to leave Europe behind, but we are also ready for the US and we like touring here so we are going to give everything we have to get some success over here.

BD: So you guys are just basically pushing forward…

Jan: Yeah. We have double as many shows as before. Before we had like, the European shows and now this is the second continent and we don’t want to give any of the continents a second feeling so it’s like play as many shows as we can. I think the last time we was at home… We spent two days at home last week. Before that we were home in December for a couple of weeks.

BD: In Belgium?

Jan: Yeah. The next time will be around Christmas, so we better look for Christmas presents on this tour already, ‘cause we are really busy...

Paternoster and Van Dijck breaking the sound barrier in Belgium
(Photo provided by Jan Paternoster)

BD: So tell me about the transition of playing in your home town in Belgium, then getting a tour across Europe… Then getting thrust to the United States. Tell me about the mindset of that. You guys are pretty young… Was there a fear involved with that at all?

Jan: The first time we came over here to play was like four years ago, but that was more  for the experience of another continent where all the great music comes from so that was the first experience we got here. Three years after that we played the South by Southwest  for the first time.

BD: Down in Austin.

Jan: Yeah. That was a great experience too. The year after that we came back and recorded our album with Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, Spinerette) here. We did South by Southwest again, we got on David Letterman’s show, so it’s all great. Things are happening now and we’re real excited about that.

BD: Who are your influences? You mentioned great bands from this continent. Who are they?

Jan: Well right now for the album that will be coming out in February, a big influence was Neil Young.

BD: Hmmm.

Jan: Especially with his On the Beach record. One of my favorites. And the Stones in any kind of way. Especially their Exile on Main Street album and the way they recorded it. The way we recorded the new album is sort of similar. We spent six weeks in Alain Johannes’s house in Los Angeles and just recorded whenever we felt like doing stuff. We got great recordings but some days we were just hanging out. Nothing like the Queens studio, but just in his house with the amps in his bedroom wired to another room and the drums in a different room and just playing.

BD: You mixed all the sounds together?

Jan: Yeah. People were coming in, but we were recording so if you listen to the tracks you can probably hear people talking in the back ground and kids playing video games and stuff.

BD: Wow! That sounds really cool. I'm looking forward to checking it out. That's actually all the questions I have for you guys... Thanks so much for meeting with me.

Both: You are welcome.

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