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Black Road

Alhoewel de doomsters van Black Road al ruim drie jaar actief zijn was het pas in 2017 dat hun eerste wapenfeit, een EP met dezelfde naam als de band, verscheen. De zware blues met doom ondertonen is aanstekelijk en laat een band horen die weet waar ze vandaan komen en waar ze naartoe willen. De charismatische zangeres, pianist en schrijfster van Black Road is Suzi Uzi, en ze was bereid om uitgebreid de vragen te beantwoorden die wij voor haar opgeschreven hadden.

Door: Bart M. | Archiveer onder stoner

You might have noticed I have become quite a Black Road fan. It was not easy to find you guys though, I found you by accident. How come I haven't heard of you before?
Even though Black Road formed in the summer of 2015, we had gone through several lineup changes after that which inevitably caused the recording of our songs to be delayed. This ended up being a positive thing because we focused our style much more by the time the studio process came around. We found solid band members, Robert Gonzales and Casey Papp, who we had chemistry with and were able to write new and heavier songs that we ended up putting on our debut EP. Perhaps the reason you had not heard of us before was because that EP was released just over a year ago on October 6, 2017? A lot of people think of us as a young band still, with this current lineup now over two years strong.

Can you give us a little introduction? Who are Black Road, why did you form a band and what is it that you do?
Black Road was formed by Tim and I purely out of love for music. I wanted to make sure Tim would have his music heard by people. Not only is he an amazing guitarist, but he has a seriously soulful side that produces such beautiful sounds. After dating for a couple years, we formed the band together. I write lyrics, help with composition, play piano, and write riffs in the band, as well as do all the booking and promotion. I do graphics and artwork, as well as created the original Black Road circle logo. Tim is our main songwriter, riff master, and composer of the songs. Casey Papp joined on bass just shortly after we gained Robert Gonzales as our new drummer - around Halloween 2016. Both of them help with song composition, Casey helps write riffs, and Robert is now even trying his hand at lyrics!

One of the things that immediately struck me was the vintage seventies look you guys have. I like it a lot. Was this a conscious choice and if so, why?
Tim has always had long hair and comes from a family of ponytailed, mustachioed Italians. We grew up in the next town over from one another, were born in the same place, went to the same high school… Hell, even a couple of our parents went to high school together. I think the way we look is just a consequence of our upbringing, haha! I was a tomboy and a skateboarder growing up, and my dad was always trying to dress me in leather jackets and boots. We are all just normal ass people, and I think Casey and Robert fit our group so perfectly. We are all easy-going, like to have a good time, and love music. Despite how our pasts have shaped us, it feels like we were all meant for this. If you asked us, Tim and I would say our favorite decade was the seventies.

Something that ties into this is the cover of your album! With the person relaxing and smoking on the giant mushroom, it has a very flowerpower look and feel, yet at the same time it is as black as ink because of the dark surroundings and the skeleton snake. Please tell us more about the cover art. Who drew it and what does it mean?
Our cover art was created by a local Chicago friend of ours named Nick Gurley. We were introduced to him by friends at an art show/psychedelic doom festival that we played. The artwork was conceptualized outside of a Radio Moscow show in Chicago one summer night, while we were standing in a delightful-smelling circle of friends. Within a week, Nick had drawn up and planned out the vision we had to create this masterpiece. I loved it at first glance! I mentioned showing a girl on a mushroom, smoking a hookah - instead of the traditional caterpillar as noted in the story of Alice in Wonderland. Her Wonderland in this case was the city of Chicago where Tim and I grew up, and that can be seen in her smoke cloud she is exhaling. I told Nick I would love to see a dark color palette, and was thrilled with the colors he chose. It felt very fitting that the girl had red hair and there was a Celtic braiding around the image border. This seemed to convey that I had a part in the conception of this artwork, even though Nick was the one who created it. I loved the psychedelic feel to the whole thing, as it represents a large part of who I am and who we are as a band. With the skeleton and the smoke, the night sky and the twinkling stars in space, it felt only fitting to place it on an all-black background. We do love the darkness, after all.

band imageLooking at the smoke...and the mushroom, how much of a psychedelic band are you?
Psychedelic can be used to describe a lot of things nowadays. For us, I think we are a heavy blues and traditional doom band with psychedelic influences. Our entire band loves all types of music. We are not afraid to expand our musical horizons and our minds with new music and experiences.

Usually when I ask questions about drugs, bands are somewhat reluctant to reply openly. Of course, I understand this. I recently read a 1970 interview with Grace Slick though (Jefferson Airplane) and she was very open about the use of pot and LSD. What do you think has changed in the last fifty years that makes people less talkative about these topics?
I think criminalizing drugs caused a stigma for people. Why would you want to self-incriminate? It’s easier to just keep quiet since you really aren’t gaining anything by bragging or boasting.

Suzi, you have a great voice, it is very relaxing to hear you fill in the lyrics, accompanied by those delicious riffs. Was there anyone (a singer, band, relative, etc) who made you decide to start singing? And if so, who? And how?
Tim usually writes all the riffs first, and I fill in the vocal parts afterward. We just go with what sounds or feels right. My dad was the main person I can remember singing as a child, but my grandmother was always a performer. I have always felt that I had a lot of music running through me and I just couldn’t translate it with an instrument as well as I imagined it in my head. I also feel this way all the time about drawing and painting. This is probably why I dance so much, and always have. I can’t explain how someone who hates their own voice can decide they want to sing, but I also think my frustrations coupled with Tim’s wish to only play guitar (and not sing) sort of pushed me to be a vocalist. I started recording myself as much as humanly possible, covering songs and even collaborating with people online to make music. I used this as a tool to reflect and try to get better. With that said, I used a ton of different artists I enjoyed to try and help learn techniques for singing. It took me a couple years just to find my “own voice”. I am in awe of everyone person’s singing voice and how different our voices are. I quit an over 12-year cigarette habit just so I could sing better, and never regret that choice for a second.

Musically, what was your childhood like and how did it evolve?
I was born listening to rock-n-roll. I have vivid memories of being strapped in a carseat in the back, head banging and looking at my dad’s reflection in the rearview mirror for approval… If he turned it up louder, I got crazier! I was always dancing. We would go to local concerts or music festivals and I would be down at the front of the stage dancing all alone as soon as I could stand up on my own. I was four when I sat down at a drum kit at a music store and tried it for the first time. I could actually keep a beat and everyone was so impressed. When I was in grade school I took choir because I couldn’t actually afford the drum kit or any other instrument I showed interest in. Somehow I showed a natural talent for whatever instrument I tried. I was the entire percussion section of our middle school band, excluding full drum kit. I took guitar class for a semester during sophomore year in high school and learned the most basic techniques, but was terrible compared to people like Tim, who were way more advanced. He was actually one of the people in my high school that I can remember being extremely talented and always had a guitar in his hands in the cafeteria. It wasn’t until a friend gave me a guitar for my 16th birthday that I could finally spend some intimate time with an instrument. I brought the guitar all over town to my buddies’ houses and we would jam. The same people Tim played guitar with were hanging out with me at different times and teaching me things. I learned some cool songs, but lost the guitars in a move about two years later. Somehow Tim and I never spoke or hung out during that time. It wasn’t until we began dating that I actually had instruments at my disposal. I have always loved rock but never thought I was a metalhead. When people say doom I used to think Black Sabbath, and now I think a lot more people think of much heavier bands like Electric Wizard, Conan, Sleep or Cough, etc. I’m not sure where the line is drawn? Either way, my tastes in music have stayed about the same, and I’ve always loved basically anything with a good groove.

You also mention "the great artists who went before". Can you give us a hint on who those artists are for Black Road?
There are so many influences that have really shaped who we are as musicians. Speaking for Tim and myself, since we do the majority of the songwriting, it’s hard to nail it down to just a few… Roky Erickson, Black Sabbath, Pentagram, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Witchcraft, The Doors, Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Warren Zevon, Electric Wizard, Elder, Terry Reid, Danzig, etc.

And (I'm sorry, I find genres very handy tools!) do you consider yourself more stoner or more doom?
If people are being strict to the genre, we are more of a heavy blues or traditional doom band. I definitely feel there are a lot of people who want to say we play stoner rock, but that’s probably because we all look like a bunch of stoners (hah!) but in this case I might just call us stoner doom or stoner metal. That might be a good way to explain all the drug references in our songs, our doom fuzzed-out tone, and our “do whatever you wanna do if it feels good” mantra. If it feels good, we will play it. If it rocks, we’ll play it. I’m not sure what to call that, but hopefully it translates.

Your EP just sounds terrific. There is not a thing I do not like about it, and I was surprised to read that this is the first band Tim is in where he gets to do whatever he wants with his guitar. There are many guitar parts on there that make me close my eyes and drift away. How come he never did this before?
Tim and his buddies learned how to play watching other guitarists. They were enamored by shredders, and Tim would play his VHS tapes he would record in slow-motion so he could learn guitar solos. They all got very good and were insanely technical. Everyone’s musical tastes started to develop and progress. Tim was also great at finger-picking with his acoustic, and he loved to play songs by people like Chet Atkins and John Prine. That was the part that I always found special about him and wanted others to see. The feeling of needing to compromise was gone once Tim was the only guitarist in Black Road. We originally started out with a second guitarist, which was one of the people Tim grew up shredding alongside as a matter of fact. Once our lineup landed where it is today, Tim found support and freedom in the sound to do what felt right, finally.

Speaking of closing my eyes and drifting, the combination of his shredding guitar and your vocals is a very good one. You are also a couple, and my question is, how does this affect the band and/or the music?
I think hearing Tim play so much has given me a bit of an idea of how we can compliment one another during solos. I do notice that he finds subtleties to vocal lines I am doing and then he will do a harmony of my vocals with his guitar at times. Those things are fun to discover as you write and perform songs together. We began this band as a couple, and now we are married. I don’t think it has affected the band much, aside from the songwriting. It is much easier for us to get things done in our own time because we live together. We talk about songs and the band a lot more than people who only see each other at band practice or text one another. Whenever Tim practices I can listen and we can come up with ideas right on the spot. This band means so much to both of us, so it seems all the more important since we are doing it together. I am very excited to see how our music evolves as we continue to get our ideas out of our heads.

The lyrics to your songs come across as very horrorish. Some do it straight in your face ('Bloody Mary') others are a little more subtle ('Red'). Where do you get your inspiration for writing these lyrics from?
Every song has a different inspiration that is either based on a riff, an idea I’ve wanted to write about, and even based on true things that have happened in the past. Sometimes the way a chord progression or riff sounds can make me think of a specific thing, and I build on that for lyrics. There is no exact formula for it but I do have ideas for a concept album, which would be a new approach to songwriting for us in a sense.

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Although your music is vastly different, a band that comes to mind when I look at your lyrics is My Dying Bride, because they can also be oh so subtle when it comes to adding the horror. Writing-wise, do you have someone or something that is an example to you, or do you just write your own thing?
I don’t have any specific examples I pull from for my writing, but I have always felt I had a decent vocabulary and excelled in writing. That is definitely an advantage. Sometimes all it takes is one word and I can think of an entire song based on just that.

I hate saying this, because I like to think of all songs on one album as being equal, but 'Black Rose' made such a big impact on me (still does whenever I listen to it). It sounds as though all the instruments instantly went from very good to super awesome. Can you please tell me what is going on there?
'Black Rose' is the perfect example of what happens when you let Tim have as much time as he wants to compose a song, with no limitations. The composition of the song has many different peaks and valleys, and is quite dynamic. It has acoustic guitar as well as electric. It’s dripping with delay and has dreamy reverb on the solos and vocals at the end because we wanted it to have an ethereal feel. I think this is not the last time we have heard something epic like this. One good example is our recently recorded 'Witch Of The Future'. This song is just over ten minutes and showcases even more interesting dynamics. Hopefully the upcoming album will be well-received.

Another song question: 'Morte' is a very creepy instrumental song. I like how haunting it is. Whose idea was it to do it twice, in different versions? And in this instance, what does "coda" mean?
'Morte' (meaning doom, or death, in Italian) was written by me as a way to satisfy my need to play an instrument, as well as wanting to have an instrumental piano piece featured somewhere on the album. We found out that DHU Records was going to allow us to do a full forty minute vinyl. Since the album took so long to record and be released, we wanted to include something extra and decided 'Morte' was the perfect thing to add. I tracked and recorded it on a baby grand piano. I wanted it to be a bit of an interlude. “Coda” means continuation, and is commonly seen referring to a continuing song that is broken into two tracks, but are in fact one piece made up of two different parts. Tony Reed from Mos Generator really added that special touch that the grand piano could not, and recorded himself doing a vintage mellotron track on 'Morte (coda)'.

Of course, any interview must have the question about how you got your name. And in this case I find it extra interesting, because there are already so many bands that start with Black! Why did you choose Black Road and how come you do not seem to care about that the Black part has already been done so many times before?
Tim has always had some form of the word “Black” in his band titles in the past. It wasn’t a far stretch from a lot of his favorite band names, either. Our studio and the birthplace of Black Road was actually off Black Road, so that is how the name was chosen. It wasn’t clear at that time just how fitting the name would actually become.

Also, why Suzi Uzi?
My friend Andre called me Suzi Uzi many years ago, and the name sort of stuck. It was back in the days of Myspace. I was new to social media and didn’t enjoy the thought of my full name and information being online. I still don’t, and if I didn’t have this band I would not want to be active online as I am currently. Tim does not even have a FB account! It seemed like means of protection before, and now it seems lucky that it’s sort of a cool stage name.

You got Bobby Liebling to wear your shirt and pose! I like it so much. How do you know him and how did you get him to do that?
On October 6th, 2018 - exactly one year after our debut EP was released - we had the honor of playing the 3rd Annual Indianapolis Doomed & Stoned Festival. It was at this fest that a friend of our drummer Robert’s asked him for a red baseball tee, and said she would bring it to Bobby. I thought all that sounded too good to be true. Shortly after, Robert sent three pictures to our group chat of Bobby wearing the shirt! I was shocked, flattered, and a bit apprehensive when I thought about whether I should post the pic or not. I messaged Bobby to say thank you first, and to make sure he did not mind if I shared the pictures. He said of course we could share it, and he would not have taken them if he didn’t like us. He spoke very highly of our music and of all the videos he had been watching on Youtube. I was absolutely shocked that he gave us so much praise, even saying we have something special going, and that he thinks he and Tim are kindred spirits on guitar. It was all quite surreal to be honest.

How much of an influence was/is Pentagram's music to you?
Pentagram’s music was, and still is, a huge influence on our songwriting. The riffs and song structure really speak to us. The progressive yet effective style has always felt fun and natural, being able to groove and rock out at the same time. Bobby agreed that we have some similarities, and that is why he feels a connection to our band - which is so cool!

In an age where everybody gets to have an opinion, how were the reactions to Bobby wearing your shirt?
The reactions to Bobby Liebling wearing our shirt were mixed. Most people were extremely ecstatic for us, and couldn’t believe it, just as we couldn’t. Some people were not happy. Some even went as far as to question what type of people we must be to support someone like Bobby, after what they have heard he’s done. The worst reaction came from an all-female doom group of which I am a member. I eventually deleted my post on their page and figured if people wanted to judge us for that, they aren’t going to stop just because I am trying to distinguish a line between art and the artist.

I can imagine you feel a certain way about that. Can you tell us about that?
I feel that we must absolutely separate the creations we enjoy by a particular artist from their personal decisions and actions. There is also something to be said for the actions of someone who has been in the public eye a multitude of times for drug addiction. It seems unimaginable to me since I have never struggled with it, but I couldn’t fathom how I would act or behave if I had such issues. If we scrutinized everyone for what we have been told they did, or what we read, or what we heard, then we would have no great art. A lot of artists pull from a dark place, or a place where uncomfortable things dwell, to create seriously effective artwork. Not everyone’s creative process is the same, and some have unfortunately lived horrible lives just to have things to write or sing about - as if it’s their form of therapy. I am not one to judge. People can change, and I pray for recovery for those suffering from drug addiction.

Can you please accept my friendship request?
I laughed out loud when I read this, haha! I am so sorry! We are friends now. (I stopped checking the mounting friend requests long ago, after they reached about 1,000. I wish I could add everyone to my friend’s list - but instead you can just “LIKE” my artist page if I am hard to get a hold of - also called Suzi Uzi.)

What can we expect from Black Road in the near future? Are you working on an album right now? And is there any hope for us on the other side of the ocean to see you live anytime?
In the future I would expect to see Black Road traveling a lot. We have confirmed multiple festivals for next year and even 2020, and are just waiting for them to be announced. We all have the urge to get out and see the country. We would love to go overseas someday, and as soon as we figure out how to make that work, we will certainly make it happen! This is all new for us, and we are excited to take this show on the road to more and more places. We are currently tightening up our last couple songs that are the newest, so that we can be ready for the studio. We just tested out a new spot with a new sound engineer and really enjoyed his recording and mixing of 'Witch Of The Future'. We are all confident that we found the studio for us, and will be getting in to record our debut full-length album as soon as we can! It is very hard to coordinate our schedules now that half the band lives in another state, but our ambition and dedication to make this happen keeps us going and wanting more.

Thank you so much for answering these questions! If you have anything left to say (that I might have forgotten to ask), please feel free to do so here.
We plan to stick with our two record labels for our upcoming release - DHU Records (Netherlands) for vinyl and Bloodrock Records (Italy) for CD. There will be plenty of announcements made about shows and the album coming soon - so stay tuned! Thank you for all the support so far. We wouldn’t be here without you.

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