The Black Angels' Alex Maas on How to Keep Evolving

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For Alex Maas, frontman of the Austin-based psych rock act the Black Angels, music is really important — it’s an amazing, magical thing, and he says it transcends religion and language and its healing properties are undeniable.

“But you have to step away from it to realize how amazing it is,” Maas says. ‘You have to say, ‘Look, it’s not the most important thing and you have to go do something else and come back and you realize how you have evolved as a person and your music can evolve, what you want to do differently.”

For Maas, sometimes that means not listening to music for long periods of time. “Jump into a murder mystery novel or you read, like, ten of them,” he says. “You completely saturate yourself in something else, like how to cook barbecue. It doesn’t even matter what it is. Jump into something else.”

Maas says it’s really healthy to step away from music every once in a while.

“In doing that you evolve,” he says. “You come back to where you were and what you were playing, and you’re like, ‘Oh man, that’s what I doing back then and I’m into this now.’ That’s kind of how you evolve as an artist by taking a step back and forgetting about everything getting done and focusing on something else and then going to back to it. Okay, ‘We’ll I like these bits, or the bass line can be fatter.’”

These days the focus is back on the music as the Black Angels are gearing up for their next album. Maas says they’re got about 35 song ideas that they’re working with and trying to figure out if their musical and lyrical themes, and they plan to play a few new songs at the Westword Music Showcase.

“We’re kind of at the point now where we’re discovering what’s evolved here,” he says.

Looking back at the band’s progression over the last decade, Maas says evolution is natural thing that happens.

“In people, anyway," he adds. "Evolution is real, in case anybody out there doesn’t believe. And as artists you want to evolve. We have tons of musical influences, right? Tons and tons. New ones pop up all the time. It’s about finding that balance between going back to stuff that you listened when you were little to stuff you’re inspired by now, stuff that you’re just discovering.”

The Black Angels are evidently well-versed in ‘60s psychedelic rock, and they borrowed their moniker from the Velvet Underground song “The Black Angel’s Death Song.” The Black Angels also take a few cues from the psych-rock pioneers the 13th Floor Elevators, even touring as Elevators singer Roky Erickson’s back-up band for close to six years.

“We were taking it as an opportunity to bring the Elevators back,” Maas says the band’s time with Erickson. “I was up there playing a jug. We re-taught Roky all his 13th Floor Elevators songs he forgot in our living room.”

Last May, the Elevators did reunite for a 50th-anniversary show at Levitation (formerly Austin Psych Festival), which the Black Angels founded in 2008. “It’s just crazy to see it actually happen,” Maas said of the reunion.

When the Black Angels toured with Erickson, Maas said really wanted to just play Elevators songs but when they tried to sound like the Elevators it sounded like something off the Velvet Underground’s White Light White Heat.

While the Black Angels might have learned a few things from Erickson and the Elevators, the Black Angels still have a distinguishable sound, no matter how much they evolve from album to album.

“Every time we do that it sounds like the Black Angels,” Maas says. “I don’t know why. And I don’t know how that happens. Obviously it’s the same band but if we do something… Take 'Diamond Eyes' off Clear Lake Forest [the band’s most recent EP] – it’s just an entirely different sound but still sounds like our band, and it’s something that we’re happy with. I think that when an artist is happy with what they release it will still feel like they’re doing something that’s true to themselves, and maybe that’s why it still feels like the Black Angels to me.”

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