Sunday 2 June 2013

Håkan interviews Blaak Heat Shujaa

I have had the great pleasure of reviewing this fantastic trio for The Sludgelord not once but twice. So when the opportunity to actually interview them I was ready toll. These guys had me enthralled from the word go and have definitely introduced me to some awe-inspiring and highly original music which is quite an accomplishment in this day and age. So join me as the band tells us their story.

1. For those who don't know you, what is the history of Blaak Heat Shujaa?

Blaak Heat formed in Paris, France in 2008 and became a more “serious” project in 2010, when we recorded our debut and started playing out. We wanted to come up with songs that encompassed our love for the heavy as well as our love for the trippy.

2. Why did you leave France?

I had been living between France and the US and finally made the permanent move in 2011, for family reasons. When that happened, Antoine and I hired our new drummer Mike Amster, who is from Los Angeles.

3. How has the transition of moving to L.A. from France via New York City affected the band? Both musically and personally?

From a musical perspective, we’ve been confronted with so many different people and scenes while living in different parts of the world, which has added a lot of variety and maturity to our musical tastes. For example, I would have never discovered neo-psychedelia if I hadn’t gone to school in the San Francisco Bay Area. Similarly, I got involved with the free jazz scene in New York City, which couldn’t have happened anywhere else in the world. Antoine’s bass lines also have a lot to do with the few years he spent living in Africa. To tell you the truth, our records wouldn’t sound anything like they do if we had stayed in Paris all our lives!

From a more personal perspective, moving around has allowed us to immerse ourselves in cultures that weren’t ours. Hopefully, we’ve learned a few things from that. We’ve also had a lot of great encounters in the process, which is extremely important when you play underground rock. For instance, I met the TeePee Records crew while living in NYC. Now, Blaak Heat Shujaa is signed to their label and we’ve all become close friends.

4. You have utilized Scott Reeder for all your releases. How did you get him on board to be your producer?

I was working as a freelance journalist and met Scott while doing research on the ‘desert scene’ for the French Rolling Stone Magazine. When I showed up to his ranch, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The dude had his studio on a 50-acre ranch, nestled between the hills, at the border of the California desert, with pygme goats and mini horses running around. Plus, we hit it off right away. It made absolute sense to use him for our debut.

5. What is it like having him as producer? Is he a big influence or does allow you total freedom in the studio?

Well, he’s more of the laid-back kind of producer who lets you do your own thing. But he does speak up if he has a suggestion, whether it has to do with songwriting or with sound. He’s also good at chilling people out when stress builds up in the studio. It’s not unusual for him to get the tequila out and to tell a good Kyuss story.

6. What are your musical influences?

If I had to summarize it in one sentence, I’d say we listen to a lot psychedelic rock, surf rock, and heavy rock. But our tastes are all over the map, which explains why Blaak Heat has been described as sounding original and new. We enjoy listening to stuff that is outside the realm of the usual rock’n’roll playlist, and this has a big influence on our songwriting. To give you an example, I’m really into Anouar Brahem, an oud player from Tunisia.

Overall, we like psychedelia in all its forms, from kraut rock to more hard rock sounding, proggy stuff. We also enjoy the heavier forms of psych, as well as downright heavy rock and metal. And our albums have an undeniable surf rock and sometimes even spaghetti vibe. If you and I were to cruise around town in my car, you’d probably hear some Dick Dale, a lot of Eloy, and a few Dead Meadow tracks. And the next day, we’d crank Captain Beyond, Sonny Simmons, and 16 Horsepower!

The guys with the legend that is Ron Whitehead.

7. Ron Whitehead is a far-out character. How did you get to meet him? Are you influenced by him and/or the Gonzo movement?

We’re big fans of Gonzo journalism and, more generally, ‘new journalism’. You might notice that our lyrics contain references to the work of the likes of Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson. Ron Whitehead is, indeed, a far out character. He is part poet, part journalist, part scholar, part outlaw… Ron and I met online about a year ago and exchanged books and CDs. We quickly realized that we shared a love for each other’s work. So Ron hopped on a California tour with us, which marked the beginning of a great friendship and collaboration. Ron has an opening spoken word track on our upcoming record, The Edge Of An Era.

8. Did you take the title for your EP The Storm Generation from Whitehead's poem by the same name?

Absolutely. Ron took part in the creative process that gave birth to that EP. The poem is an artistic manifesto for a new generation that poses itself as the continuation, if not the culmination of the cultural emancipation process started by the beats and carried further by the hippies. It is a pretty enthusiastic piece of poetry in the light of current social events and of the cultural decline of western society… We decided to embrace that concept, and write songs that, if not directly supporting the manifesto, at least raised issues related to it. For example, Society Of Barricades (a song from The Edge Of An Era) discusses what it means to be young in the 2010s and to want to take part in social change.

9. What about hooking up with Mario Lalli, where did you first meet him?

We toured Europe with Yawning Man in 2011 and became good friends with them. Since then, Mario has always helped us out with band-related stuff. On that tour, we jammed with Mario on vocals twice, and it slowly gave birth to Pelham Blue, the song he recorded vocals to on The Edge Of An Era.

10. Is there a big difference in the music climate between France and USA?

The heavy rock scene and the psych scene are bigger in the US, so it’s easier to meet fellow musicians and other music-related friends. But neither country is that great for underground rock... There’s no mainstream awareness of our kind of music in either, and it’s not uncommon for smaller bands to play to 6 people, including the bartender and the local drunk, in both. I have to say that I do enjoy the Los Angeles scene more than the Paris, France one. In LA, you feel like you’re part of something, that it might “happen”, that there is a rising interest as well as feeling of excitement shared between bands, whereas In Paris, you just kind of feel like it’s a lost cause…

11. How is your writing process? Do you all write separately or do you jam out songs in the rehearsal space?

It’s very jam-based. Even when someone comes up with a pretty well defined idea for a part, we jam it out until it really kicks our asses and is worthy of a song. It might not sound like it, since we spend a lot of time on the songwriting process, but we do spend hours in the studio jamming out to themes and ideas.

12. What are your future plans? Any nationwide tours?

Absolutely. We will be touring the US West Coast at the end of April, along with The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic and The Freeks. I’m also happy to announce that we will be touring Europe for a full month in June, with our label-mates Spindrift. The European dates will be announced very soon. Stay tuned!

Thanks for the guys for giving mea great interivew. Much appreciated.

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