Kyle and Nick recalled how they’d often brainstormed a possible band after running back into each other in 2006, after some time apart.
Implicitly, it felt like now or never. Nick, the “six-stringer” offered up his then-current tastes… “Black Sabbath, Black Flag…” Kyle, the singer, recalls, “just,...a lot of ‘Black’…”
Kyle then pulled Nick out of the record store and into his car to play Otis Redding’s “Shout Bamalama” off the stereo; the fuzzed recording groaned and bumped through the backseat, the muggy wheezing sax and tribal clacking drums and fast-fiery spat vocals blared.
“It’s gotta sound like this,” Kyle looks at Nick, “but…punk!”
Though it would take more than a year and the birth and death of an interim band, this meeting and resolution would eventually lead to Black Lodge
“…and so, Black Lodge forms out of the ashes of the continuous fits and starts-that-was the Dead Letters,” Kyle said, “(while) the Nerve was on its way out the door, time had passed for that group and time had passed for the Dead Letters.”
May Day, 2010: Singer Kyle McBee is paring down the converging roads of two separate projects through 2007 – his and guitarist Nick Marshalls’ (the “blood and guts” antics-fueled, Iggy-Pop whirled punk of Dead Letters) and drummer Steven Gamburd with bassist Matt Luke’s band (the “rock-solid” tight, technical, stately pop of the Nerve).
McBee, the journeyman wild-frontman whose roared and wriggled his way over stages for half his life, had, in his days, made it around town enough times to already have been acquainted with Luke and Gamburd separately as well as, later on, wind up offering the Nerve lead-vocals sit-ins covering The Stooges' “Johanna.” McBee had went from an 8-year-old singing George Jones and Hank Williams covers, to the “grunge leftovers” of his early teens to the nuanced punk of late teens early twenties and now, since 2008, entering something closer to soul.
In the mid-00’s, at jus t16,
Music geek outs and band ideas flourished between the two. The youngest
The Nerve, meanwhile, formed back in early 00’s when Gamburd moved back to
McBee becomes intertwined with this rhythm section when he starts the “Johanna” covers with the Nerve towards its last year and a half of existence.
“So,” McBee says, bringing us to 2008, “we” (the four of them) “decide to rehearse as both bands are in their closing chapters. And, the first time we played together we just did ‘Sister Ray’ for like a half-hour.”
McBee and Luke would sporadically posit starting “side projects” together. What McBee saw in Luke, initially, was not the inevitable conclusion of being full-time band members but as an ideal facilitator, as “a pop writer, a guy who could write a Lennon/McCartney jam, a post-90’s indie-pop thing,” to help McBee grow as a vocalist from the gravelly growl to being more melodic.
But nothing ever worked. So, then, McBee runs into
“So… I called Matt…”
So the quartet’s soup bowl was stirred and spiced with Beatles, Otis Redding, Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, The Cure, Fugazi, Velvet Underground and who knows what else…when they got together, definitely Joy Division too, and even some Who.
And the initial direction was power-pop crossed with a “Shangri-Las type band,” yet somehow they wound up in a shadowy styled clattered and tattered punk crossed with sleek grooving soul and jangly surf pop.
The first original they worked out was a head-boppable college-rock flavored anthem called “Teenage Graceland,” a tune they all still consider to be their closest flirtation with straight up pop.
“…sounded very U2, too,” Gamburd nods.
“It kinda turned darker and more atmospheric,” Nick surmises.
McBee speaks of those early writing processes as personal germinations of his two disparate influences, “old folk country traditional” rant and rouse lyrics with the spill-outs of his Stooges and Sex Pistols influence – while the band was able to gel and able “to do something that was creative and kind of on the darker side;” McBee says, looking around the table at his mates, “…a little claustrophobic, despite having that weird tense sound to it. Sonically, it opened up the gates to them creatively, that’s where we started falling into our groove.”
“Matt and I,” Gamburd said, “were locked into a real solid rhythm and melody that opened the gates for Nick to fill in, to take up a lot of sonic real estate. And by (Nick) doing that, with Kyle’s vocals and the accents and that extra pitch that he does—influenced to add accents to his vocals as well. We were able to bounce off each other because it was an open forum. What I love about this band, musically, is that I actually came into my own as a drummer; to be able to play roles and do things that I couldn’t do in any other project because everything was so formulaic. There are formulaic things about Black Lodge, but it’s still open, also, somewhat improvising…”
I’m going back, in my mind, to the first time I saw Black Lodge and how I couldn’t talk to my friends at the show until they were done. How…I was drawn by, I suppose, their conjuring of a cathartic dark-edge, a keyed-up, blistering brutishness, yet bent all of that into a stunning tightness as an ensemble, each corner and crevice of the sound’s engine seemed to spit a bit of its own fire. I couldn’t tell if I was watching some completely ratty post-punk thing or a more late 60’s surf-toned psychedelic thing…everything was so distinct, the clanging cutting guitars, the bass blurts, the drum bursts, the fast bawling, incanting deep-boom vocals.
I found elements of The Fall and The Doors. It was loose, but not self-destructive; dark, but not melodramatic.
But there is darkness.
McBee fields that question and there’s a knowing chuckle ‘round the table. He brings up singing those sad country ballads he sang as a child in honky tonk groups. “There’s a primal energy to those songs that I came to relate to later in my experience with music. Music is my free therapy. I either can’t afford therapy or I’m too pigheaded to go to a therapist and talk my problems out so I’m gonna do it at band practice or at the show…particularly at the show because there’s that kinetic energy that bounced from crowd to fan, which is a border I’m trying to break down, that perceived border, …which, it’s starting to happen in this band. The crowd in the audience come up and are part of our performance. That’s good, that’s a feeling of shared-life which transcends the darkness that I am projecting out, with my lyrics.”
Up in his room, in his house at
“I never feel like he’s a prophet of doom,” Luke said, “when we’re playing live, I latch onto the lyrics and I feel like every note I play has purpose.”
“I don’t know whether it comes off seeming-staged or whatever,”
The sound of the music – orbiting near a rock-and-soul stateliness but grimed and grimaced like the fiery, sharply-dressed, glowing shells of the players are scarred from the inside and the song is the best salve – is one thing entirely. The live show – the trance they lock into, like their instruments almost latch onto the human bodies themselves as the energies, mad and mystic, steadily accelerates like a fatalistic semi-truck detached from the cargo of the material realm – that “fucking freakout” that Marshall describes, can grow as enchanting as each member marveling at their chemistry and baffling synchronicity to more gruesome and disarming anecdotes of McBee falling to his knees and gripping his scalp, yanking backwards to self-inflict pain in order to add even more throaty fire to a chorus’ curdling yell.
Another time, McBee ended a Black Lodge set with a whole side of his head soggy with fresh blood. “Once I get up there, I’m in an altered state.”
“Which is why he can never put out an exercise video,”
Reaching back to those books of lyrics, that “folk” style rousing rant, McBee can often cram fifty to sixty waving winding words over just 10 seconds of a song.
He goes back to his teens, when he set out to start a traditional punk band – whereupon he also started listening to Public Enemy and became smitten with the word-whirling of Chuck D. “The meter of his lyrics, the rap-timing really influenced me more than the punk writers; that’s where that machine-gun delivery comes from.”
While McBee name-drops Dylan and Leonard Cohen,
McBee praised the democratic (and loose) process of their writing, adding that he feels confident bringing any batch of lyric pages to these three due to their inventiveness and compatibility. “Somehow, something will happen; everything seems to happen through some sort of sense of serendipity between us.”
When prodded further about their tendency to swirl themselves into a fervor and expand these shimmering, psychedelic dissertations, McBee shrugs that there’s “propensity for the melodrama; that’s something I’ve brought to my friendship through music, is the propensity for melodrama for better or worse.”
“And it’s not just our relationship,” McBee finishes, “but it’s like a healing process, almost, through the tunes.”
Black Lodge (vs. Marco Polio) w/Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, Frustrations, Deadbeat Beat, Troy Gregory, the Handgrenades, Noman, Mick Bassett & the Marthas, Duende, Augie & KoKo (Hard Lessons) – presented by Pure Detroit – 5/21 – Magic Stick – 4140 Woodward – 313-833-9700 –
The band loaded into Chris Koltay’s studio through the winter to record their debut full length. The boys found him very accommodating (he offered up a galaxy of different electric and acoustic guitars, pedals from all over the world and various other types of alluring engineer’s toys for each to experiment with and gave encouragement for them to make whatever kind of sonic statement to which they were most attracted).
The band is hoping for a late summer or early autumn release, on vinyl.
And so, that brings us to Black Lodge, as of May Day, 2010. McBee recalls a span of months, not too long ago, where he was in a dark place that caused “some inner band strife…
"...and we realized that we had something we were really proud of and we obviously had our friendships which trumped the band. But, those friendships were strained. We took some time and we talked it all out; we realized we came really close to losing something we all care about and then when I had the student loan money” (McBee had taken out, in order to fund the debut’s recording) “…and I said, ‘Alright then, we’re gonna do this record, now…’ that renewed that hunger and I think it gave us a bigger appetite. So once we got on stage we felt like we had something to prove, not just to someone in the audience who may not have known us, but to ourselves. It’s paid dividends. The last three months of shows, a lot of them have been those types of experiences you’re never gonna forget."
“If you were to look at our (two previous) bands,”
“It’s a lot of intangibles,” McBee says.
“It’s like dating a girl that, even though—when she gets really drunk she smashes your window, you still have great sex…”
The band hope to head out for a Midwest tour, continue writing and release their album, all within the next few months.
Great read Jeff. And great band!
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