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On the radar: Black Books
Target: Black Books
Location: Austin, Texas
Personnel: Kevin Butler (guitar/recording engineer/producer), Clark Curtis (keys/artist), Meg Gilfillan (keys, vocals), Ross Gilfillan (drums, lead vocals), Mike Parker (bass).
Intelligence: Good things can grow from school jazz bands. You only need to look at Black Books for proof; the Texas five piece have been making the denizens of the internet sit up and take notice of their dream-pop/southern rock hybrid, and it all began at school. Well, sort of.
"Ross, Meg and I actually technically first played together in our middle school jazz band," says guitarist – and Black Books' in house producer and recording engineer – Kevin Butler. "I met Mike when I recorded his band Exeter in 2005. After a pretty long break from playing, Ross came to me with some songs in 2006 that he had written on piano. It was the first time I had really heard him sing. We then started writing and recording songs sporadically. It wasn't until 2009 that Clarke, Meg, Mike, Ross and I gathered in Ross and Meg's garage and starting writing the first songs that became Black Books."
It might have taken some time for the band to come together after all that early jazz promise, but the results are pretty special. Bringing to mind Band Of Horses or At Dawn era My Morning Jacket, swimming in effects and with extra electronics for good measure, Black Books debut EP Aquarena is an addictive and hypnotic opening salvo from the band.
"The EP was recorded in my studio Test Tube Audio here in Austin," says Butler. "No big surprises, really. It was tons of fun. White Noise was the first song we ever wrote together, and it's really cool to see that song come out on this release.
"I'm a huge fan of Pro Tools. I just love that there's virtually no limitations. I just have to be careful to not abuse its editing capabilities. Usually we can get it right, even if it means doing it 50 times. On most of the songs, the drums were cut along with everyone else playing in the same room. I recorded DIs of everything and even ended up re-amping some live scratch tracks through my Marshall to use for the keepers. Everything else ends up getting re-cut during overdubs."
Of course not every band is lucky enough to have their own studio-owning producer on board, but Black Books are making the most of it. "We've talked about changing things up, but for now it's very natural for me to go ahead and capture everything," says Butler. "It also saves a little cash, which we basically just dump into printing vinyl instead."
It's never easy being a buzz band, and the weight of expectation has crushed many who felt the pressure rise after showing early promise. It seems that Black Books are having no such problems, though. "It's really flattering!" says Butler. "I think I found myself tailoring our sound to support what people liked most about the band. More recently however, we've been reaching pretty wide and are coming up with some very new sounds."
Aquarena is out on February 11 on digital and 10" vinyl, and will be followed by an album in May 2013, both on Believe Recording.
Hardware: Fender '62 reissue Stratocaster, Fender '62 reissue Telecaster, Gretsch '68 Streamliner, Marshall JTM30, Deluxe Memory Boy, Home Brew Electronics Hematoma, EHX white finger, EHX holy grail, EHX micro POG.
Ludwig Classic Series 22", 12", 13", 16", Tama Starclassic 14"x8" birdseye maple snare
Fender Precision Bass, Woolly Mammoth
Nord Stage 3, Nord Lead 1, and lots of home-made circuit bent electronics.