Deli Magazine


Description: classifieds
Description: http://www.thedelimagazine.com/graphics/black_line.jpg
Band Spotlight: Black On Black
Lawrence’s own self-described American garage punk band Black on Black flies in the face of what is currently perceived, in some circles, as cool. They do not have a gimmick, they haven’t incorporated glockenspiel and banjo into the music to appease the indie kids, they do not rehash Misfits or Black Flag riffs to grab the punk vote, no. Black on Black just makes aggressive yet melodic music that gets your attention, throttles it, and refuses to let go.
Formed in 2012 with members Wade Kelly, John Benda, and Aaron Riffel, Black on Black is a band whose music is at a quality level that screams for more attention. Last fall, the band released Help Yourself, an EP that takes the aggressiveness of Minor Threat, the harmony of Bad Religion, the groove of Gang of Four, the guitar acrobatics of Dinosaur Jr., the force of OFF!, and the heartfelt lyrical craft of Archers of Loaf and steps on them, bends them, crushes them, recasts them as a sound that is entirely Black on Black. Songs like “Lush Woods,” “Closed Gate,” “The Bitch and the Bastard,” and “Paid Piper” coupled with a no-frills power driven live show makes them the best unsigned band I’ve heard in years, if not ever.
On Tuesday, April 23, Black on Black will play a guest spot on Lawrence’s KJHK 90.7 FM and on Friday, April 26, they will have the release party for their latest, the exceptional Let’s Get Cynical at the Replay Lounge with guests Muscle Worship and Many Moods of Dad. Cynical, a powerhouse EP built upon giant tracks like “A Black Geometry,” “The Coast is Closed” and “Ripped,” avoids the dreaded sophomore slump by miles.
We spoke with lead man and guitarist Wade Kelly about the roots of Black on Black, the bands that brought the members there, and why they give away for free what they create in a time when everyone seems to be chasing the dollar. As Kelly said, “My heart is in these songs. For me, the best part about rock ‘n roll is being able to sleep at night.”
The Deli: When did you come together?
Wade Kelly: John [Benda] and I decided we wanted to start working on these songs ideas in the spring of 2012…March maybe. We wrote most of the songs that first month and heard that Aaron [Riffel] had been trying to put something together at the same time so we sort of just annexed him. I think we played our first show in April. I know that makes it sound like these songs are half-baked, but that couldn't be further from the truth. They happened fast because it was, and is, time for them to see light, not because they are careless.
The Deli: Stupid question time: Had you all been in bands before Black on Black?
Kelly: Yes, we've all been in loads of bands before this one with varying degrees of consequence, you might say. We, meaning I, don't really discuss our past projects because a lot of them have no bearing on what we're doing now, I have spent many years denying my musical past. I think at some point I got brainwashed by some sort of intellectualism that led me down a certain road. I believe in my past projects as I know the other guys do, but I'm just not willing to make that music at the expense of this music anymore. John and Aaron have been much better than I have at following their hearts musically. They have been in bands that brought them a lot of joy and enriched their lives. I, on the other hand, wanted to be accepted by what I considered the upper echelon of musicians in my sphere of influence and it really distracted me from my core.
The Deli: Is there a main songwriter or is it a collaborative effort?
Kelly: “Songwriter” is sort of a misnomer in this context. I vomit out song ideas uncontrollably and the other two guys help finish them. There would be no BOB without those guys trimming the edges and putting a period at the end. Every record would be 50 songs of fragments with me abusing myself vocally somewhere mixed in. This band is medicinal for me, so there is a lot of urgency in making the songs happen. For me, the best part of playing rock ‘n roll is being able to sleep at night. I need to do this, and I think people are starting to hear that urgency in our music.
The Deli: I hear influences like the Melvins, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Nirvana, Sunny Day Real Estate, Archers of Loaf, Sugar. How did you put these well-known sounds together and get music that is totally yours?
Kelly: I wish I had a meaningful answer for you about that, one to inspire the kids or something but the fact is that any answer besides the truth is just pretentious and goes against the premise of this band. We do love some of those bands you mentioned, but aren't actively mining that material for inspiration. Our mission statement if we had one would probably be something like, “Write songs that you want to hear. Write songs that make you sweat when you play them. Write songs that you can be proud of.” That's about it. This band is built on freedom, so whatever comes out is accepted and explored. John always says, “I don't care who you compare us to, as long as it's a band you like.” I feel the same. Another thing that keeps us separated from sounding like other bands on our records is our producer. He has a deep-seated disdain for convention in rock music, so he keeps us sounds a little irreverent and off-kilter, which is good.
The Deli: There is a lot of emotion woven in the songs of both your EPs. How are you able to skate the razor-thin line of feeling something, being original, and avoiding the “emo trap”?
Kelly: I’m glad you asked that. I was around for the birth of the term emo, so let me tell you what it really is. Punk and hardcore music has always been infiltrated by jocks and homophobes; guys that felt the need to actively remind everyone around them that they were not gay. The aggressive nature of the music tends to attract people that just want to rage and need a vehicle. For those of us that are (relatively) well-adjusted human beings, punk and hardcore is cathartic and meaningful. For others, it is just another tool to discriminate. Emo is a term some meathead came up with to label music where its singer actively touched on emotionally intrinsic subjects, and instead of accepting it, they relabeled it as emo. If you think I'm going to let some fucking testosterone-filled sack of shit, sexually repressed church kid, or homophobic Neanderthal tell me that communicating how I feel in my music is wrong, you don't know me very well. Especially given the fact that the word “punk” was originally a slam on the kids making the music in the first place. The word “punk” meant “gay,” but being as excluded from society as those kids were already, they were just like, “Okay, fuck it, we're punks. Call us whatever you want as long as it's not what you are.” Emotion is a part of being human. If you are aggressively trying to remove it from your life or music, you need therapy. We're unaffected by the term emo. If you want to use it to describe a fashion culture that's fine, but I reject it as a viable genre. If you don't want to listen to music made by young, privileged white kids whining about their sad lives, fair enough; I don't either, I just don't think that's emo, I think that's 90% of what I hear on the radio across all genres.
The Deli: Why do you give away your music away free online?
We had a conversation really early on about how we wanted to approach the “business” portion of being in a band. It was a very short conversation. Our beliefs along these lines can be summed up with two questions: “What do you want to get out of being in a band?” and “Would you rather have 100 dollars or 100 fans?” The answers were, “Good songs and good memories” and “100 fans” respectively. We are over monetary reward. We are over any reward in fact that's too far removed from a high-five. We don't have a label, we don't have any sort of representation that is hounding us to make money. I'm sure having a little cash in the bank would be fun or might open up some doors, but nothing is guaranteed. It's much more important to us to make a connection with our fans and make sure there are as few barriers between us and them as possible. One of us could die tomorrow and the ride would be over. How would I feel having spent the time we had to rock trying to tax people that just want a band they can believe in? Nobody owes us anything. Rock ‘n roll is survival of the fittest, and forcing people to pay us will not help us survive. Our music is cheap, our merch is cheap, our shows are cheap. We aim to be a low-investment, high-reward band.
The Deli: How do you think Black on Black fits into the Lawrence music scene? Have you been—for lack of a better term—accepted?
Kelly: I don't think we will ever be “accepted.” I have seen what bands are accepted by this town and we have little in common with them. I grew up in a big hardcore/punk scene on the east coast and I have always defined success in a very different way than most of the bands around here. We are a band of outsiders in terms of the scene, and I think that works to our advantage. Nobody expects anything from us, so we have no masters. Although our fan base is growing, they seem to be the kind of people that just want to see a band unencumbered. They want to see us being free, not hung up on anything hip…which again works to our advantage.
The Deli: What can listeners and fans expect from the KJHK appearance on April 23 and the EP release show April 26?
Kelly: Caffeine- and/or whisky-fueled thinking-man's punk I suppose. Same as always.
The Deli: Where do you ultimately want to take Black on Black?
Kelly: Black on Black will go wherever our songs take us. We just want to write better and better songs and play to increasingly belligerent crowds. We want to put out two EPs a year and play as many memorable shows for as long as we are physically able. The gnarlier the show, the better. I wish we could play more house shows and outdoor festivals.
The Deli: Some of the music is very aggressive at times. Is Black on Black a way to exorcise pressures built up inside? Do you give a shit what people think?
Kelly: We do give a shit what people think. We just don't take that extra step toward doing anything differently to try to make people like us more. You can't make everyone happy and you can't make everyone like you as a band, so there's no point in trying. If you only play the music you love you will naturally attract fans that are like-minded, not fans that are following a genre and buying up every album under that category. The people that are most excited about Black on Black are those who have been waiting for a band like this. Also, aggression feels like the flip side to despair to me, so I'm making a choice to mine that pit. Stress is an inexhaustible resource, so I guess this band runs on sustainable energy.
--Danny R. Phillips
Danny R. Phillips has been reporting on music of all types and covering the St. Joseph, MO music scene for well over a decade. He is a regular contributor to the national circulated BLURT Magazine and his work has appeared in The Pitch, The Omaha Reader, Missouri Life, The Regular Joe, Skyscraper Magazine, Popshifter, Hybrid Magazine, the websites Vocals on Top and Tuning Fork TV, Perfect Sound Forever, The Fader and many others. 
Black On Black

EP Release Party