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Black Elk

Black Elk is a noise rock band from Portland, Oregon, the state that's known for its endless woods and sombre mountain peaks. Maybe a more suitable country for bands like Agalloch or Yob, not the mouth-foaming sludgy metal noise Black Elk has to offer. And yet there is a dark, enigmatic edge to Black Elk's music that makes it all fall into place. On 'Always A Six, Never A Nine' the band even adds so much “weirdness” that one may say they are transcending the boundaries of their genre. Guitarist Erik Trammell does not even see any connections to Jesus Lizard or Unsane, but I guess in the end, it's up to you, the listener to decide.

By: Jasper | Archive under different metal

Hey guys, how is Black Elk doing this moment?
Relieved and anxious I suppose? Glad the record is done and looking forward to touring.

Could you please introduce Black Elk to the still very much ignorant Dutch audience?
Erik Trammell-Guitarist (I will be doing this interview)
Tom Glose-Vocals
Jeff Watson-Drums
Don Capuano-Bass Guitar

Black Elk was an important Native American figure, right? Are you influenced in more aspects by the Natives or was it “just a cool name”?
Black Elk, December 1863 – August 17 or August 19, 1950 (sources differ) was a famous Wichasha Wakan (Medicine Man or Holy Man) of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux). He was Heyoka and a second cousin of Crazy Horse. Black Elk participated, at about the age of twelve, in the Battle of Little Big Horn of 1876, and was injured in the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. In 1887, Black Elk travelled to England with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, an unpleasant experience he described in chapter twenty of Black Elk Speaks. Black Elk married his first wife, Katie War Bonnett, in 1892. She became a Catholic, and all three of their children were baptized as Catholic. After her death in 1903, he too was baptized, taking the name Nicholas Black Elk and serving as a catechist. He continued to serve as a spiritual leader among his people, seeing no contradiction in embracing what he found valid in both his tribal traditions concerning Wakan Tanka and those of Christianity. He remarried in 1905 to Anna Brings White, a widow with two daughters. Together they had three more children, remained married until she died in 1941.

Towards the end of his life, he revealed the story of his life, and a number of sacred Sioux rituals to John Neihardt and Joseph Epes Brown for publication, and his accounts have won wide interest and acclaim. He also claimed to have had several visions in which he met the spirit that guided the universe. That is the Black Elk Wikipedia definition which we don't really draw from directly but I think there are some fascinating aspects. We are more interested in the idea of Black Elk as a mythical beast, not a man. Which can be considered a Native American practice, in theory.

How much does coming from Portland, Oregon influence your sound? I imagine you guys hiking through the woods for inspiration….or is that utter bull ;)
We spend hours upon hours of self-inspection, reflection and study. These sessions usually take place in an outdoor area such as a Douglas-fir forest.
Ecology:Douglas-fir forests are the most extensive in Oregon; they're also the most important for timber production. Although Douglas-fir is the dominant forest tree west of the crest of the Cascades, it's also an important component of eastside forests. West of the Cascades, Douglas-fir often forms vast, nearly pure stands, a result of both natural conditions and human management. Common associates include western hemlock (the climax species for much of this region), western redcedar, noble fir, bigleaf maple, and red alder (the most common early successional species for most of this region). East of the Cascades, common associates include incense-cedar, sugar pine, western white pine, ponderosa pine, grand fir, white fir, and western larch, depending on moisture and stand history. Understories vary from dense to sparse depending on the availability of moisture, but are generally rich in shrubs and herbs. Douglas-fir is a long-lived, early- to mid-successional species. This means that it can colonize recently disturbed sites, but continue to dominate them for hundreds of years.

Climate: Douglas-fir forests grow under a wide variety of conditions. The climate of Westside Douglas-fir forests ranges from wet and mild in the north to drier and warmer in the south. Eastside Douglas-fir forests are drier than those of south-western Oregon and have more extreme temperature fluctuations, both daily and seasonally.

Management: Prior to human management, Douglas-fir forests originated following large disturbances such as fire, landslides, and windstorms, resulting in a combination of even- and uneven-aged stands. Douglas-fir trees become commercially valuable around the age of 30 years. Over most of the west side, timber management practices such as clear cutting and shelter wood harvests followed by planting and thinning result in even-aged forests. Rotation lengths range from 30 years to hundreds of years, depending on management objectives. In drier areas like south-western and eastern Oregon, management practices commonly include individual tree and small group selection harvests, resulting in uneven-aged stands. I'm just kidding, we don't do that.

How is the “scene” in those parts? Are you guys hanging out with the Agalloch and Yob-people a lot?
I only know Agalloch's new drummer Aesop and we toured with his other great band Ludicra. He lives in San Francisco so I don't see him often. I have known Mike from YOB for many years but he lives in Eugene so I rarely see him. Other than that there is a long list of local bands I enjoy but I'm sure it would be different for each guy in the band.

Ok, let's talk about the new record for a bit. I was stunned dudes! I mean, your debut was pretty cool, but 'Always A Six…' smokes it! Can you tell me what the difference in approach was this time?
Thanks! I'm glad we stunned you. We hope to see jaws agape everywhere we go. Yes, we did some things differently but I think that's to be expected, we only have one other record so I assume each one will be different in many ways. I think the main differences were working with Adam Pike and through Jeff's musical equipment.

There's definitely a lot of versatility on the album, there are still some familiar “noise rock-isms” to be heard, but for example the guitars on 'Winter Formal' sound almost like “Soundgarden”! Not to mention some of the piano stuff…is versatility and “a more varied sound” something you specifically worked on?
There is always an emphasis on variety with whatever we do. For instance, 'Winter Formal' has an old riff of mine that never made it into a song so we messed around with it for awhile and kind of put it together in the studio, which we haven't done before. One could say we like to "experiment" and "try new things".

Why the title? I mean, you're definitely not gaining a lot of sixes by the reviewers for this one…
The title originally came from a lyric of Tom's in 'Pig Crazy' that we reversed. However, my personal interpretation is in reference to hearing someone complain about how hard life is for them and only seeking marginal improvement.

You're often pushed among the noise rock bands like Jesus Lizard and Unsane, do you feel in some way related to those bands?
Well, our first show was with Unsane and we played with Qui at David Yow's first show with them but that's the closest we've been.

Which bands do you share among your most important influences?
Longmont Potion Castle is palpable.

Which contemporary bands do you feel related to?
Hopefully none.

Can you sketch an image of what it's like being a band like yours in America? Do you feel you have to sacrifice a lot to keep it going?
The biggest pain in the ass is geographical because touring from the west coast involves long drives. These drives are time consuming and cost lots of money so it can be difficult to make the trips without going totally broke.

What does your label Crucial Blast mean to you?
Constant support and awesomeness.

What about your touring plans? Is there any chance you will be visiting The Netherlands any time soon?
We will be touring the east coast in April of 2009 but we have no plans for any shows outside the U.S. yet. Hopefully we will be playing shows overseas next year sometime.

Any other immediate plans for the future?
Yes, some really great ones.

Any famous last words?
Quetzalcoatl

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