Defining the Intention
“… sometimes we don’t know if it’s our music controlling us or our spirit controlling the music, I don’t think that you have to understand that, it’s okay to not understand.”
- Alex Maas, Black Angels
Introduction by Mike Wojcik
Interview & Photograph by Theo Constantinou
Artwork by Alex Maas
The Black Angels are not your typical jam band playing Colorado festivals for a bunch of candy-flipping kids in Phish and Lotus t-shirts. The band, five members deep, establishes an airy feel made up of booming drums and bright tones that you can easily lose yourself in, only to be smashed back into reality by their infectiously catchy hooks (Don’t play with guns, don’t play with guns). While the band has received a great deal of mainstream attention throughout their career, most recently receiving the honor of accompanying the credits to HBO’s True Detective, they continue to develop an exciting dynamic . In recognizing their Bible-Belt roots, the Black Angels aim to reshape and amend the principles from which they were raised. It is this ceaseless cycle of growth which keeps the music of the Black Angels raw, vibrant, and invigorating.
Theo: I was watching a previous interview you had done, and you spoke about the folk music of Thailand and how music there is not about what is said, but more about how it is said. I was there recently and felt the same way about their music. Why do you think music moves through people, spiritually?
Alex Maas: Well I think it just transcends language. I think music is a different way to communicate and it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, how it feels when something is said and maybe it has something to do with wavelengths or vibrations. I don’t know anything about that kind of stuff. It probably has to do with some larger picture that we don’t know anything about. I could listen to that kind of music all the time and never understand anything that they are saying, but it’s still ritualistic and powerful. Like you know, listening to Bob Dylan…
Theo: As musicians do you feel as though when you create music it’s an expression of something that’s deeper, that comes outside of you. For example, I just heard Maggot Brain for the first time, by Funkadelic, and his ten-minute guitar solo was like something from out of space, you know? And I felt like he had taken his guitar, that was created by man, and made a sound that you could connect to in this way, outside of himself. Maybe that’s not what you feel when you first start to make music…
Alex: I definitely think the intention is to reach something that’s higher or bigger than ourselves. When were writing music we try to achieve this, we say we try to get the chills, try to get moved, try to get off by playing music. I think to me that’s one of the biggest points. Maybe not even understanding why you’re doing it or what your doing it for.
Christian Bland: It could be a meditation or the individual mind creating with a group of people. It’s easier to achieve that by yourself, usually you get lost easier, but when you get into a group situation, you can get lost all together, that’s the ultimate situation. Because then everyone is getting to that point together, instead of one person having an idea and no one connects to it. It’s harder to do it as a five-piece, but I think that’s what everyone in the band strives for. We’re just a real good freakout.
Jake Garcia: I think it’s a reflection of your soul and spirit in a magical, non-verbal way. It’s an expression of what’s coming from within you. When it connects with other people and you can do that as a group, it’s the most amazing feeling.
Stephanie Bailey: For me it’s almost like another language, that you as an individual and in a band, your tribe or village of people, understand or hopefully grow to understand this whole little bubble that you can live in amongst each other and create this whole other language.
Kyle Hunt: …context, subcontext. We’re still trying to learn how to count each other.
Christian: It’s really about breaking language barriers, it’s a form of communication.
Stephanie: Yeah exactly, for me its so exciting. It doesn’t it have to hit a massive point, but as long as it’s something that makes you happy, and if it does get a point across than that’s great.
Alex: I think when we’re playing, it is sort of like ESP that’s going on, we don’t even have to look at each other or anything to communicate. And we had a band member in the past who threw that off, we could tell this negative energy was coming in and the chain was broken, so we had to rid ourselves of that. Now the chain is unbroken and it’s back.
Jake: I think if I didn’t play music, I would just go crazy. I need it and other people need it. It’s a nice service and I think if you have a gift then you should definitely use it and help other people out. People need to listen to music to get away from their everyday lives, it’s a type of therapy.
Theo: I’m glad you guys make what you make.
Black Angles: Thank you.
Theo: The Portuguese poet Fernando Passoua said, “To have opinions is to sell out to yourself, to have no opinions to is to exist, and to have every opinion is to be a poet.” Do you agree? Do you find yourselves existing, selling out, or being poets?
Alex: We’ve been trying to sell out for years, that’s the whole point (laughs)! I heard Jimi Hendrix say that. I don’t think that we’re out there like, we have people pushing our music or not pushing it, but making it available for people.
Christian: Sellout is a very loaded phrase.
Theo: In the context that he’s saying it, to sell out is to have an opinion…
Alex: I think it’s a great quote. I don’t disagree with it.
Theo: It’s a broader notion, if you have an opinion of self, you’re just selling out, if you have no opinions you’re existing, or if you have opinions of mass… I travel a lot, and when I do that I have to be with the people that I’m with and exist in their way, so I have to have their opinion. If I say I don’t eat chicken, but this is what their feeding me, then I’m going to starve…
Alex: Well what’s interesting is that it’s just his opinion only. It comes around full circle, that’s his opinion in a roundabout way and it definitely has some truth to it.
Jake: Take the Scarlet Letter, there were so many translations of books that were written, would you say taking upon the ideas of this person that’s writing whatever book he’s translating or is he just doing that for work?
Theo: That’s also really interesting. I read this book every day called A Calendar of Wisdom by Leo Tolstoy, he paraphrased a lot of the quotes, but now when I think about it, when you read and interact with something, it becomes your own thing. So if I read this quote now, it gets stuck in my head the way he wrote it, but he probably wrote it in Portuguese.
Jake: But then days later, as time progresses and things change, it becomes like a game of telephone. And your mind warps into becoming your own opinion.
Christian: On a less philosophical level opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one, I think about that a lot.
Alex: Without people’s opinions we would have no progression.
Theo: In 2014 with the Internet, everyone has a platform, and even in Philly here there are a lot of really rad things happening, a nice scene is starting to form, if you will. But at the same time, maybe it’s just this little pocket of people that get to see it or hear about it because on the Internet…it just seems that important opinions get pushed to the bottom and all you hear about is Justin Bieber or whatever…
Alex: I think the subculture you’re talking about are the people who seek out that info and seek out really cool ideas, and those people will always exist. There are people who will always be force-fed stuff and there will always be people who actively seek out info. The bubble your talking about exists in every society and it will never go away. But the Internet has the power to be greater than anything else.
Christian: Media is just faster now in its delivery of information
Alex: Yeah, but people would rather be told what to believe rather than think for themselves, it’s a lot easier that way. That’s why there’s that apathy and laziness, I’m guilty of it, everyone is…
Theo: The last month-and-a-half of my life I’ve been in this weird thought process of mortality and immortality, life versus death, pre-birth and post-death, anyway just to give context to this: I try to remember all the time that only my body is mortal, what is alive is not my body but the spirit living inside of my flesh. And if there is an unseen force guiding myself just as an unseen force guides the world, can you relate to that? How does music, or that guide, influence you?
Christian: I think music is our religion in a way and I think our souls reflect music that is being channeled through us. When you hear our music, your hearing our own personalities.
Alex: Yeah and sometimes we don’t know if it’s our music controlling us or our spirit controlling the music, I don’t think that you have to understand that, it’s okay to not understand. Sometimes when you try to understand something too much it can ruin it. Not that you shouldn’t ask questions, it’s just that when you try to get to the core meaning or process of a song, it’s just so convoluted that you don’t even know what side of the control you’re on. Are you being controlled or are you in power? Like Christian was saying about music being a religion, it hits a lot harder than most religions because it can be interpreted in a lot of ways. It’s not secular, and it’s audible the voice of whatever that is that’s guiding us is audible. You can pray all the time, and some people hear the word of God and some people hear spirits guiding them, but this is a very in your face. I truly believe that music could change the world, it has already.
“I think it’s a reflection of your soul and spirit in a magical, non-verbal way. It’s an expression of what’s coming from within you. When it connects with other people and you can do that as a group, it’s the most amazing feeling.“
- Jake Garcia, Black Angels
Theo: You did grow up in the Bible Belt, I’m curious to know about that upbringing and how the religious teachings of Christ have affected you as a person, how that schooling has changed the way you look at God. What is your attitude towards the Church and organized religion?
Alex: Paranoid at the end of the day.
Christian: I don’t think that the Black Angels would have existed had it not been for our upbringing. My dad was a preacher and Alex went to my dad’s church, that’s how we became friends. I just think that the idea of Hell, and sin, and guilt, all of that contributed to why the Black Angels exist. We are trying to workout those ideas for ourselves and trying to break away from them a bit and find freedom and truth through our music. That’s a heavy subject, talking about Christ and that idea.
Alex: It’s scary
Theo: I was brought up that way too and this is my rejection of that philosophy as well. I still believe in God as the Universe, I don’t necessarily follow the prophets. I interviewed Ian MacKaye once and he said to me “Do you know what it was like to be inside of your mother’s stomach or where you were before then? No. So you don’t have any fucking clue what’s going to happen after death. But, if you’re a good person and you just live with good intentions, fuck it, you’ll probably go to a good place.” Makes sense right? But then, there’s this idea and institutions that exists all over the world. Like in Buddhism you have to put the gold on the pagoda.
Alex: There are these rules and if you don’t follow them you get into trouble.
Christian: It’s mans attempt to understand or hold onto something.
Alex: The religion that really has it all is the Baha’i Faith. They believe there really was a time for all religions, they called it divine incarnation. All those ideals are so similar when you think about going back to Zoroaster. He was basically Jesus Christ – he had long hair, wore sandals. He was the Son of God, every single religion has good morals and they were put on this Earth for a reason. I think to help us progress and move forward, it’s a weird full circle thing. We have fuckin’ iPhones, we’re living in a better time than we ever have before. People can debate it, but there’s never been a better time than now. My dad always tells me these are the good old days. People are living longer, people are living more fully-contemplated lives, and we are able to understand as much as we can. Who knows what the next religion will be? But maybe it’s already here.
Theo: Its wild man, one of those things that take’s a lifetime to think about.
Alex: I’m just waiting for another meteor, or giant catastrophe
Stephanie: (girl) Makes you wonder if there will be some kind of revelation.
Alex: I think the quickest way to spread revelation is the Internet. I know the Internet is not God, but it’s the closest thing to it.
Theo: People want to be right, I just don’t understand. I used to work for a corporation and all I thought was money, cars, and women were the answer. What I think now is that we should just treat each other with pure respect, live inside a moment with one another, and don’t try to take from one another without giving. I study Joseph Campbell a lot because his insights on mythology interest me. Essentially, what he explains is that if you take it all and break it down, all of these people throughout time had very similar messages. So I don’t understand the hatred between religions.
Alex: I think all religions say that in some sort of way.
Stephanie: Well yeah, but then they use guilt to pin us down.
Alex: Well what’s written is different than the actions being taken.
Stephanie: Well most scripture is Man’s interpretation of religion.
Theo: It goes back to that, too. Someone wrote down someone else’s words, then those words were pushed and translated again. And some people take these words as fact.
Alex: That’s a scary thought, really fuckin’ scary. Its like the group in Kansas that hates homosexuals. Westminster?
Theo: They believe that they’re right, that’s the thing.
Alex: They don’t take things in context. There’s the line that says homosexuality is bad, but then its sandwiched between a line that says you cant use x amount of dirt when you plant seeds and on the other side it says that you’re not supposed to cut your hair.
Christian: What was the show on the bus the other night about religion? There was this pastor being interviewed and he said, “If the Bible told me 2+2=5, I would find a way to accept that…” He immediately just threw logic out the window.
Alex: If more people have important conversation about this the word spreads and the bubble spreads. Maybe you can infiltrate the Internet and spread this knowledge of free thinkers who accept everyone’s ideas and respect everyone. That’s why I think that the Internet has the power of God. I think the good of the people will overpower the bad on the Internet. I think the more you harp about the negative and the fucked up, the more you feed into the idea of the Internet being a bad thing.
Theo: You’ve got to think positive.
Christian: My dad told me our generation is just too tolerant. I said, exactly… let people choose what they want to think.
Stephanie: My mom’s always been a strong Christian, but she’s always followed it in her own way.
Kyle: That’s good, she’s not too evangelical about it.
Jake: It’s like training wheels. Everyone has their own interpretation of God, and it makes them comfortable to know that groups of people have the same or similar interpretations.
Alex: When there’s no more hope I think it’s nice to have something to fall back on.
Artwork by Alex Maas
Theo: Have you ever seen Into The Abyss? It was about murderers in Texas. There was a guy who oversaw 126 exectutions during his reign, and he quit because he had this epiphany, and he said, “Who am I to judge people? On your tombstone it says your name, the year that you were born and then a dash, and on the other side of that dash is the day you die. Your life is a dash. How do you want to live your dash?” And you have to decide. Simple as that. I know plenty of fucked up people, but I know that if I steal from an old lady I’m gonna feel like shit, so I’m not gonna do that. Then, I was watching something else that just brought it full circle. Tupac, when he was in school in Baltimore said, “If someone shoots your brother, you have to go to that person and say, ‘I forgive you,’ and that stops the circle of violence right there.”
Stephanie: It’s like morals don’t even exist. People don’t understand morals and truth, there’s so many other factors.
Alex: I think forgiveness is one of the best things to come out of Christianity. And love obviously. They’re just a rule of thumb to live by.
Stephanie: Hinduism is the oldest religion to preach that. You forgive, you treat as you want to be treated.
Kyle: But people are inherently flawed. Then again, our society and the structure of America creates this cycle of people that can’t accept the morals and they go to jail and are kicked out of this support system.
T: It’s happened everywhere throughout history, we came here and killed the Indians.
Stephanie: And you cant really start over.
Alex: That’s why I think the Internet has the power to save the world… if used properly.
Stephanie: And a lot of schooling is controlled by the government and a lot of those books aren’t even correct. Actually, recently Martin Luther King’s wife finally reach an agreement that it be printed in books that the American government was behind her husband’s death. She didn’t want a big deal made about it, but at least she made them mention it.
Kyle: Lies My Teacher Told Me. Ever read that book? It’s just about how our forefathers were preaching about the equality of man when they all had slaves.
Stephanie: Vietnam War 42nd Parallel, they tell us they pushed us over, but really we pushed them over.
Christian: They would burn tablets that smelled like marijuana at assemblies in 5th grade so that we knew what it smelled like and so that we could get away and tell somebody. No joke! We had a weatherman and a police officer. Weird shit.
Theo: I bet that police officer and that weatherman drank a lot of whiskey. I hate to say it, but I just wish people would talk about it and be about it – in a way that’s positive.
For music and more information on the Black Angels be sure to head over to their official website.