High Spirits – Channeling CreativityTuesday, 29th July 2014
Dead Rhetoric: How do you personally balance the music aspect between your work in High Spirits, Dawnbringer, Superchrist, Pharaoh, and your other projects with your Planet Metal activities and your personal life with a wife and son? Do you end up manipulating more hours in the day than are actually available? Also, do you carve out time for each individual act when it comes to songwriting, or do you just know intuitively when you write material specifically for a certain act?
Black: The conceptual aspect of multitasking is nothing new. I am easily bored. Even as a young child I was always in several imaginary bands at one time, and as a teenager, the bands started becoming less imaginary as I built the tools and relationships I needed to bring them into reality. I still feel like I’m operating in a fantasy realm a lot of the time. It’s a really weird thing to be up on stage in front of a thousand people. It doesn’t feel real, yet it’s also like a super-charged version of reality, all those lives coming together and converging on that space at that moment. Anyway, when it comes to managing it all, it’s techniques I’ve learned from experience. And most of it can be described as time management. Advance planning is probably the most important part of it, and I’m not the only one doing it. A lot of the festivals are working a year in advance or more when it comes to booking their lineups.
I don’t work that far in advance when it comes to recording projects, but I do have a long-range view of the sequence of things. I also have a stable of colleagues who are very reliable and very generous with their efforts toward our goals. I am my own manager and the manager of these bands, so there aren’t any real outside pressures. We set our own objectives and our own schedules. This is another aspect of my record label relationships that I value highly. Everyone involved understands that I have multiple commitments at any given time and that I work in multiple creative spaces. It’s really a best-case scenario on the label side right now. Anyway, when it comes to songwriting, my approach has changed over the last couple of years somewhat. I do way more “free” writing than I used to. I’ve always hesitated before, for two reasons. I was afraid to write something that didn’t fit in an existing container and therefore led me to create a new container and make things even more complex. Also I was afraid to write something that would need to be forced into an existing container in order to fit, and risk breaching the boundaries. In the past couple of years I’ve kind of given myself over to the former scenario.
Since the High Spirits tour, I’ve had an especially productive few months. Some of that is due to the natural upswing that comes from summer but also a big change in our household dynamic. During 2010-2013 I was essentially a stay-home dad, working during naps, on weekends, and late into the night. This year my wife has taken the lead when it comes to our son, so I am able to keep the wheels turning more steadily. It took me a little while to learn to work without time constraints, strange as that may sound. Lately I’ve been working pretty much 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, when I’m at home, limiting inbox time as much as possible and spending as much time as I can in my studio. That said, I do sustain a high level of service when it comes to the mail order operation. This entails a certain amount of daily office work, including going to the post office pretty much every day, although fielding and packing orders rarely takes more than an hour or two.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of the underground stateside in comparison to the overseas metal movement? Are you pleased with the development of festival action such as ProgPower in Atlanta, GA, Ragnarokkr in Chicago, IL and Warriors of Metal in Columbus, OH? Where do you things need to improve to make the scene better in your eyes?
Black: If anyone thinks their scene sucks, move to Chicago! We have more live metal than anyone could possibly endure, we speak every language under the sun, and we will never run out of beer or meat!
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about one of your all-time favorite bands Riot continuing on with a new singer as a legacy to the work of deceased guitarist Mark Reale? Can you relay some of your favorite songs, albums, and memories of the band in a live situation through the years?
Black: Hmm. I tried to write a longer answer and discovered that this is a bit of an emotional subject. Let’s just say that I trust their judgment and motives completely.
Dead Rhetoric: Your favorite medium when it comes to music consumption: vinyl, tape, CD, or digital files? What are some of your most prized possessions when it comes to metal through the years?
Black: Probably my Walkman. I didn’t grow up going to concerts, so heavy metal was never really a collective experience for me until later on. I still like how music and headphones can create a private space even in the most public of environments. In my days as an office grunt, that album-length subway commute was something I actually looked forward to. I had upgraded to a Discman by then, but to this day I refuse to use earbuds. They are uncomfortable and gross. Nowadays I do most of my listening on a boom-box in my warehouse/office space (also known as the basement of my house) while packing orders and doing inbox. The record player is in the living room, so it gets most of its action when we have guests.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you stand on quality versus quantity when it comes to metal music? I just feel like a lot of artists want to pack their albums with too much material and aren’t conscious of quality control when a 40-50 minute record would be so much easier to consume…
Black: It depends on the band, doesn’t it? When it comes to our favorite bands, quality and quantity are often the same thing.
Dead Rhetoric: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given that you apply to music? And how does your family feel about all of your journalist/music endeavors through the years?
Black: My family thinks it’s cool. They ask things like “So, how was the crowd in London?” rather than “When are you going to get a real job?” I was raised to believe that I was capable of forging my own path in life, then given the education and skills to do so, and cheered on every step of the way. I didn’t realize until later what a huge advantage my parents gave me. Knowing that now, I am careful not to waste it. Same goes for the time and space I have now to work full-time on music. It could all change, and it will, but I am committed to being as productive as I can while I can.
Your question about advice is tough. I think I’ve learned more through observation and from my own mistakes than I have from any specific pieces of wisdom. That’s not to say I haven’t had great mentors over the years, because I certainly have. And actually, I’m pretty sure it was one of them who once anonymously slipped me some valuable advice: “Please Hammer, don’t hurt ‘em!” The context doesn’t matter now, but that gesture was everything I was not at the time… affectionate, graceful, and free of ego.
Dead Rhetoric: How are the next 12 months shaping up in terms of High Spirits shows/activities, and what else can people look forward to from Chris Black?
Black: High Spirits already has a great festival schedule for early 2015, including Brofest (UK), Hell Over Hammaburg (Germany), and Ragnarokkr (Chicago). We want to get down to the southern USA for some gigs soon too, perhaps still within 2014, but nothing is in motion yet. I have about six songs ready for the next album too, and I’m quite keen to get back to the writing desk and finish the rest. So you can expect a new High Spirits LP sooner rather than later. Right now I am in California on the tail end of the studio session for the new Dawnbringer album Night of the Hammer. That should be wrapped up next week.
Then there’s another Dawnbringer album to be recorded yet within 2014, bit of a weird concept I guess but should be a hard rocker nonetheless. The Aktor full-length (Paranoia) is wrapping up nicely right now as well, along with the Isten fanzine anthology Don’t Break the Ghost which I worked on pretty heavily. I was asked to play bass with Metalucifer for their two USA gigs in November, which will be a huge honor and thrill for me, and an unexpectedly perfect way to cap off 2014. It may sound like a lot, but it’s really not. I have basically no interests or obligations outside of family, friends, and heavy metal, and I will be as loyal to them as they have been to me.
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