Progress Report

Progress Report: Black Mountain

NAME: Black Mountain
PROGRESS REPORT: Completing their followup to Into the Future. Produced by Dave Sardy and Randall Dunn.

Talking about the next Black Mountain album has to involve talking about the band’s decision to work with producers Dave Sardy and Randall Dunn, and to use outside producers at all. To me, frontman and songwriter Stephen McBean has always seemed isolated and independent in his music-making, though he collaborates with a large group of friends and fellow musicians with both Black Mountain and Pink Mountaintops. According to Amber Webber, the band’s co-vocalist with McBean, these choices (to have producers, then which ones) were huge: “We knew exactly what it would sound like if we did this own our own. It just seemed like if we were going to do the third album, we just needed to do something different that would be exciting to us,” she says. It’s really been a progression: Black Mountain mixed and recorded their S/T debut on their own, then brought in John Congleton to mix In The Future.

This time the band picked two different producers to work with, each with their own strength and specialties. They’d met Dave Sardy when he worked with the band on their contribution to the Spiderman II soundtrack. Randall Dunn is best known for working with Sunn O))). “We just wanted somebody like Randall that has that ‘vibe,’ for lack of a better word,” Webber explains. “He obviously understands the droney type of thing, and he definitely doesn’t think inside the box. And he’s a really nice guy.” They traveled to Seattle for that session, but headed to L.A. to work with Sardy over the winter at Sunset Sound. “It’s a classic studio. I think Prince lived there for a while. Led Zeppelin and the Doors I think were there,” she says (that’s where the photos were taken).The band asked Sardy to pick which songs he wanted to work on, then did the rest with Randall. “It made sense actually, because Dave picked almost folkier songs, maybe just straight up like rock album songs, and sort of left the weird ones around which suited Randall (who Webber says is the more “extreme” mixer of the two) more.

Randall or Sardy, Webber describe the album as full of “to-the-point” rock songs, no epic ten-minute-plus tracks among them, compact, with less embellishments than before. “Light” isn’t a word you use too often with Black Mountain, but the word applies here: It shows up a few places lyrically, and seems to fit the shorter, more straightforward tracks. Webber says she didn’t write any of the lyrics this time; she figured out her parts by singing over McBean’s demos in Garageband and sending them back and forth. She does full duets with him for some songs, like “Radiant Heart,” the song she’s most excited to play live (which, incidentally, also has a light theme to it). So while Webber says there’s still some “dark, eerie shit” going on, she’s not fully sure that fans of their In The Future will like the new one: “Maybe it won’t be for everyone. Maybe people who didn’t like the last album would like this one because it is different.” She won’t exactly say who will like it, except for saying the band’s friends and family have (only Canadian musicians ever show this kind of humility). Even the one time Black Mountain played some new songs, at a show last Halloween, comes with a modest modifier: “I mean, people were losing their shit!” Webber says. “But I don’t know if it was the music or whatever weird drugs they were on.”