New York City-based White Hills are sharing several dates with Vancouver-based Black Mountain. Though from opposite coasts, both bands are considered exemplars of modern psychedelic rock, though neither ever set out to fit into a genre, much less be torch-bearers for a movement.
Perhaps it's something of a cosmic joke that bands named after hills and mountains are playing three cities in the Front Range of the Rockies. Yet it's a perfect fit, as both bands also do not fit in with the current wave, now burning out, of so-called psychedelic rock.
Dave W., guitarist of White Hills, feels that a lot of what passes for psychedelic music is really pop music with a different sound palette. Dave W. feels that his band, which incorporates elements of punk and heavy music, has more in common with experimental metal outfit Sunn O))). “Both Sunn O))) and our music has a meditative sense to it,” says Dave W. “It's something that brings the listener within, and it helps in some way to examine the self. The other thing is that both Sunn O))) and us, though the music is very different, is that we're jarring. To me, psychedelic music is something that really brings you out of your normal existence. Jarring, otherworldly, disorienting: I think both bands have those elements, but we just achieve them in different ways.”
“I think there's an intensity here that is reflected in our music, and I think that there's more in the music that we make that is indebted to the first wave of mid-'70s punk and subsequent post-punk music than there is to psychedelic music,” he adds. “I always thought it was funny when people started comparing us to Hawkwind. And I thought, 'Yeah, I like Hawkwind and everything, but I hear more of the Damned's first album than I necessarily hear Hawkwind.' For both of us, making music is very cathartic, so it's a way we can deal with the burdens of living. I can't speak for other people and how they approach music and why they need to do it. But I think I can speak for both of us by saying we would not be happy people if we weren't making music.”
Black Mountain came together when Stephen McBean wanted to do a different kind of music than the punk he'd been making for most of his life. In the small musical community of the Vancouver underground, he pulled together the right players and collaborators to make a different musical vision come to life. When the band was recording its first album, drummer Joshua Wells lived in a house with several other musicians, including Jeremy Schmidt, who was the synthesizer and keyboard player for Sinoia Caves. Sinoia Caves garnered more attention in 2014 for the beautifully, creepily evocative soundtrack to Beyond the Black Rainbow, but when Schmidt was given a demo of the first Black Mountain album by an acquaintance, it seemed like more of a fun thing to do. If it never went anywhere beyond making that first album and playing in town, then it would have been satisfying enough for the members of the fledgling band. Once the group got going, however, Black Mountain became an early example of mixing heavy metal and psychedelia in the modern era.
“There's a fairly natural symbiosis between psychedelia and heaviness,” says Schmidt. “At the core of what we're doing, we like a healthy dose of heaviness and blissage. Hawkwind is a pretty good example of heavy psychedelic, but it's not metal. But straight-up metal also figures into it; metal can be very trancelike as well as bludgeoning, or either or or both.”
What does Schmidt think about Black Mountain being an exemplar of a movement or an international scene?
“People always do that, and of all the things we get asked related to [psychedelic rock], we didn't think about it until in hindsight,” concludes Schmidt. “Maybe ten years ago, that was a little less visible in the music world. It seems like a perfectly fine thing to have been associated with, but I don't think we've represented any one thing or ever have.”
If the psychedelic-rock movement of the past several years seems to be fading out or losing some of the popular cachet it once had, White Hills' 2015 album Walks for Motorists and Black Mountain's recently issued IV reflect bands that are clearly on their own trajectory of development rather than following a trend soon headed for stylistic obsolescence.
White Hills and Black Mountain play on both Friday, May 6, and Saturday, May 7, at 8 p.m., at the Larimer Lounge, 303-291-1007.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.