Small Black was here.

Posted by: Tony – Apr 05, 2010


Recently in Charlottesville, I had the chance to sit down and chat with Josh and Ryan from Small Black (who have recently signed to Jagjaguar). Each and every one of these guys were down to earth, exceedingly friendly, and happy to talk to a strange fan (or at least well-practiced at hiding their annoyance). For a jaded guy like me, well-versed but still uncomfortable in the indie music world, it was refreshing to see young acts so happy to perform, chat, and interact without many boundaries. My experiences with these guys helped me see that the smug, "my music knowledge/tastes are better than yours" kind of blogheads that dream about doing American Apparel modeling for a living are mostly in the crowd and not behind the Casio.

First, I have to ask about the name. Is Small Black a response to the former producer of the Pixies, Steve Albini’s band Big Black?

Josh: No comment.

You guys can say “pass” on any question.

Josh: No, it’s cool. There are a lot of reasons for the name, and they’re hard to explain. A lot of the inspiration comes from a really raw lifestyle we were living in Portland, OR involving chicken coops, and a bunch of raccoons. Its a long, strange story.

Okay, moving on. I’m really interested in a sense of place in music, and how one’s geographical location and upbringing plays into the music you’re creating. As a Southerner, I have this sense that Brooklyn is super intense, with everyone trying to do something bigger and better than you. I use the term “creative clutter” a lot to describe this perspective. But, as true Brooklynites, how do you guys find the artistic atmosphere? Is it inspirational? Intimidating? Both?

Josh: It is a whole lot of fun. I remember our second show was a giant, crazy dance party, and it was so much fun. We know so many bands in the area, and we are always collaborating and getting together and having so much fun with all of them. And we’ve grown up, getting to know so many friends and different bands over the years, that it’s just a great place to be.

Ryan: I don’t think there is a sense of intimidation at all.

Josh: No, it’s all love. One thing we don’t like to do in Brooklyn is write. So we try to get away back to Long Island or down to Delaware to write and record new music. We’re recording the new record at a house in Delaware. We need isolation to do our work, because there is so much exciting stuff going on in Brooklyn, it is easy to get distracted.

Any particular Brooklyn bands you are friends with that I really need to check out?

Josh: We really like Vivian Girls. Its like super reverbed-out, retro-pop. It’s awesome.

I don’t want to play the name game with your musical inspiration or anything, but did you ever have a musical epiphany of any kind that helped you realize you wanted to make music, or that music was more important in your life than most other things?

Josh: It is funny, because Ryan and I both, in our early twenties, as undergraduates, really wanted to get into film. But then when we got out of school, we realized how hard that process is. We worked on big movie sets, where I felt like a small voice like mine was so easily drowned out.

Do you feel like making music is more of a meritocracy?

Josh: I just felt like it was so much easier to make music. Ryan and I could just sit down and make a song. Two or three of us can do it, and it doesn’t take any more than that.

Ryan: And we don’t really want any more than that.

Josh: Yeah, making a movie is such a huge production. You feel like you’re in a Fellini movie, watching this huge, chaotic, swirling circus, and it can be overwhelming.

So do you like having the bass and drums on the stage with you for this tour? Is it more fun with more guys up there?

Josh: Yeah, we just didn’t want to be a computer band. But having Juan and Jeff up there with us is great. It’s a lot of fun.

I read that, like me, you’re a big Neil Young fan. If you could do a three song set with him, what songs would you want to play?

Josh: Oh man, that is tough. There are so many songs running through my head. I love the song “Cortez the Killer.” I would love to do just like a 50 minute version of that with him, and just shred. Built to Spill does a great long version like that.

Ryan: They’re too many good ones.

Josh: I love “Cowgirl in the Sand.” I’ve been super into Zuma this whole past year. I also love that song “Expecting to Fly” that he did with Buffalo Springfield. It’s like Neil Young singing over a psychedelic, string-filled, Pink Floyd track. Also, you got to check out Trans.

Alright, one more short question, and then we will do a stupid, zany question.

Josh: Okay good, stupid is good. Stupid questions are a lot more fun than talking about making music.

Yeah, this must get tiresome at some point.

Josh: Yeah, but we try to come at it with a fresh, new perspective each time.

Have you guys noticed the difference in venue and crowd and atmosphere as you’ve made your way into the South?

Josh: Well, this is really our first show down here. I felt today as we were driving from D.C. down to Charlottesville, that it was like, okay, we’re here, this is the South. But we’re excited. We love the South. It is so fun and laid back.

Ryan: Yea, I’m looking forward to some Southern’ cookin’.

Alright here is the stupid one. Let us say Pat Robertson is right, and pretty soon now, shit starts going down hill.

Josh: Isn’t it like 2012.

Yeah, I think that’s the agreed upon date.

Josh: He synched it up with the Mayan calendars and what not.

Yeah, so if we have nuclear holocaust or some shit, and you guys along with several other bands and artists are asked to come up on a spaceship with one significant other of your choice to help throw a crazy intergalactic dance party in outer-space, and leave everyone else behind, would you do that? Or would you stay and throw a crazy sin-filled party amidst the fire and brimstone for all those left behind?

Ryan: So wait, how long would the party be on earth?

Josh: Yeah, is it the same length of time in each scenario, or do you get to live if you go to space?

Ryan: Wow, this is crazy.

Josh: Yeah, this is great, I wish we got asked something like this every night. I think if you get to live, you definitely go to space. I think my friends and family would understand. They’d be psyched for me. I mean sad too, but also psyched.

You would be making people space.

Josh: Yeah, I think you would have to go for it.

Ryan: I agree.

Josh: I think if I were going to die at the intergalactic dance party as well, it would be a harder choice.

It is open-ended, who knows, it might be something you need to think about.

Josh: Oh, yeah, I know. I’m going to go home and do some research.

written by Brooks Hays main image via Small Black image by Brook Hays