“Bearded stoner-rock revivalists” and “heir to the throne of Led Zeppelin” are phrases often applied to Vancouver group Black Mountain. So it’s a bit of a surprise when keyboard player Jeremy Schmidt says he still holds down a day job at a department store. Picture a hairy rock god morphing into a well-groomed retail clerk in slacks and a blue vest, stocking shelves.
“ is pretty amenable to making it work,” says Schmidt of his juggled commitments. And that’s a good thing: Black Mountain released their second LP In The Future at the end of January and have plenty of touring ahead, which the band thrives on, according to Schmidt.
Black Mountain, the brainchild of singer-guitarist Stephen McBean, rose from the ashes of his former group Jerk With a Bomb. At different times, that band counted current Black Mountain members vocalist Amber Webber, bassist Matt Camirand and drummer Josh Wells among its ranks. In fact, Schmidt is the only member of the band who never played in Jerk With A Bomb. He joined Black Mountain just as the band was heading into the studio to record theirself-titled debut.
Since then, the Black Mountain Army has encompasses all the band members’ various musical side-projects, including McBean’s Pink Mountaintops, Camirand’s Blood Meridian and Wells and Webber’s Lightning Dust. But even the lines between side projects blur, as members end up on one another’s records.
The links between these groups run deep in another way: They’ve all recorded at The Hive Creative Labs in Vancouver. Schmidt says the decision to work there is an easy one. Besides being old friends, the guys that run the studio strive to record interesting and original bands. “They’ve built a repertoire on that premise,” he says. “It’s a big family a family business.”
Schmidt says the intermingling of musicians is typical of Vancouver, a big city with a small, tightly woven community---much like Halifax. “There’s an affinity for one another’s music. We all just grew up listening to classic rock.”
Following the success of their first album, the band had a lot of options in front of them. They chose carefully. Tours with Coldplay and a spot on the Spider-Man 3 soundtrack exposed the group to a legion of new listeners.
As a result, expectations were high for the new record. But rather than jet-setting to a fancy studio in Europe, the band returned to their old stomping grounds at the Hive. The only major extravagance they indulged in was hiring the eclectic John Congleton to mix the record at “a buddy rate.” Congleton had previously worked with Modest Mouse and Explosions in the Sky, as well as The Roots and R. Kelly.
“He approached us,” says Schmidt. “We thought it might be kind of cool to work with someone who had mixed stuff we’re not used to.”
The result is a more textured effort, in which back-up singer Webber’s voice becomes a more prominent force in the band and Schmidt’s keyboards gain a presence too, floating in and out of the songs. With In the Future, the band isn’t about to shed the Led Zeppelin comparisons that greeted them early on, but the album may well establish Black Mountain as a priority---a collective with truly equal members---rather than another vehicle for McBean’s musical vision.
According to Schmidt, this comes from the group taking a more collaborative approach to writing songs. For the debut, McBean wrote most of the material before going into the studio---leaving Schmidt, for example, little room to work in his keyboards. This time out, Schmidt says he was more assertive in the studio and tried to create “a keyboard voice for the band.”
With all the attention sent Black Mountain’s way for its debut, it stands to reason the quintet might feel the weight of expectations while creating that mythic “sophomore effort.” Not so, says Schmidt. He sees the band members’ collective experiences in other groups as a source of strength and perspective benefitting the band. “We didn’t have...wide eyes about anything.”