Black Crown Initiate came to Oakland on a tour with Napalm Death, Voivod, Exhumed, Iron Reagan and Phobia. They performed at sold out Oakland Metro Operahouse on Feb 20. The band released their first full length album only few months before the end of the year, but were mentioned in several year end best-of lists. This is naturally a great achievement for a young band and when I had to take the opportunity when I got to chat with the guys. I managed to get some time from Andy Thomas, guitarist, clean singer and songwriter for Black Crown Initiate.
Black Crown Initiate is a relatively new band. How would you describe your music and sound?
Andy: Most people kinda go with progressive death metal. I’m OK with that. I wouldn’t really go that route because because I think there are a lot of other elements too, but I think when people try to categorize music it’s better for the masses to keep it simpler. I just hope to make emotional, dynamic music. Heavy music at times, quiet music at times all of it. I want it to reflect life.
What makes your sound your own?
Andy: What makes our sound our own is that we don’t put any limitations to ourselves other than can we physically play it. Stylistically we try not to limit ourselves but the only boundaries are if we can physically play it and we try to reach that.
Have you played in other notable bands?
Andy: We played in some technical death metal bands. This band is kind of an anomaly. We put it together to do something that was exactly what we wanted, heavy music without limitations and it started to pick up momentum. I don’t really know why. And I’m thankful. Jessie our drummer has played in Rings of Saturn and he’s played in Jungle Rot but the rest of us are nobodys.
What music did you grow up with?
Andy: Whole lot. I’m kinda product of both my mother and my fathers stylistic preferences. My mom was a huge Yes, and Genesis and John Anderson fan. I remember around Christmas she put on John Anderson album and I just grew up listening to the sound of his voice. My dad was into classic stuff too but more in the heavier realm. My dad loved King Crimson, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Mahavishnu orchestra stuff like that. When you are exposed at young age to stuff like King Crimson or even Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath you naturally gravitate towards something heavy. Especially when you are young and angsty and filled with adrenaline.
Your first album dropped later part of last year. What has the reception been like?
Andy: Very good. It’s called “The Wreckage of Stars” and it came out I think September 30th 2014. The reception has been really really good. We made few year end lists, top 10-15 albums. The company we keep there was pretty insane to us because they are all bands that we love. So that was really cool. Obviously from creative perspective you look back at the album and think on the next one we’ll try this or try that. This didn’t really work right maybe or you know. But I think that’s part of the growth for us. We are happy with the album, very proud of it.
Your music is complex and varied. I can hear pretty much everything between jazz and drone metal in the album. The album is definitely something you want to sit down and really listen to. Tell me about the writing and recording process?
Andy: The writing process is pretty streamlined for us because at least for now the writing is done my me, our bassist Nick [Shaw] and our other guitarist Rik [Stelzpflug]. And the reason the band works so well from writing perspective is that we all have similar preferences and goals as musicians and writers. We all make dynamic, varied music. We don’t have to fight with each others at all. We all have been playing together for so long we kind of know where we are going to go. We are all really excited to write music with each other and it’s fun. It’s not a chore.” Let’s see what we can do. What if we try this” and then we try it. If it doesn’t work generally we all know pretty quickly.
Are you more jamming band or do you write alone?
Andy: We all write riffs. Me and Rik especially. We write riffs or groups of riffs. Our bass player is really a wiz when it comes to music notation, he transcribes all of it in midi programs and then we can get an idea of where we are going externally. I think that helps when you are writing and you are not on your instrument. The genesis should be on your instrument. It kind of allows us to step outside and look at it from compositional perspective. By the time we hit the studio generally every note of the album is composed. That makes recording a lot easier. The only challenge with the album was that I hadn’t finished the lyrics by the time we hit the studio. So the last day at the studio I was finishing up lyrics. That was a bit of a crunch but we did it.
How does the music work live on stage?
Andy: It’s challenging. Tonally you always lose something live. The execution of the music is quite difficult. We played “The Malignant” tonight as the last song of the set and that is something that we just started playing on this tour and it’s something I still have to focus on quite a lot when we play. That goes away with time. A song like “A Great Mistake” that we have been doing a year and half has become second nature.
How much have you been touring so far?
Andy: Before the album we did Metal Alliance last year and we did a tour with Sacrifice and Fleshgod Apocalypse. After the album we have done quite a few tours. This is maybe our fifth or sixth tour. The rest of the year is booked pretty solid for us also. A lot of bands look at it in a way that they don’t want to over saturate the market. I would rather be in everybodys face all the time because the nature of the society is that you are forgotten if you are not seen. So if you like us you’ll see us all the time and if you don’t, you’ll see us all the time.
How does the venue effect you as musician on the stage?
Andy: Monitor situation especially for me as clean vocalist is very crucial. I need to hear my voice. I actually started using in-ear monitors at the beginning of the tour. But because the rest of the band isn’t using them with the exception of our drummer Jesse [Beahler] it’s really hard to hear yourself and hear your band. That’s really important part of playing live as well. Then you are almost like an entity. I found that in-ear monitors isolated me from the band and I didn’t like it. But if we were all playing with them it would be a different story and that is the end goal. Because the monitor situation in venues varies and is completely different every night so you never know if you are going to hear yourself or not. Tonight was OK.
What’s it like to share stage with legends like Napalm Death and Voivod?
Andy: I always answer this question the same way. We have been so busy that I haven’t had the time to stop and reflect. But I think when I do I’ll be beside myself. I’ll be like “Holy Shit! How?” We are very thankful and it’s a very awesome opportunity that could go away any day. We are just trying to make the most of it.
How much do you interact on a daily basis with other bands on the tour?
Andy: Quite a bit. This is one of the nicest tours. Napalm Death guys are great, Voivod guys are great, everybody. Exhumed, Iron Reagan. We are just meeting Phobia today. If you interviewed me in a week I can tell you.
How much do you draw inspiration from other bands on tour?
Andy: I think you subconsciously internalize everything you hear. Especially things that you really love. But when I write music I’m not focused on that altho some things you write may sound like such and such. I’m fine with that. All that is in there but as you go on, you hopefully find your own sound. Even if you go on tour with a band you aren’t as familiar with or not necessarily a fan of, hearing them every night and seeing the work they put in and seeing what they do in a live situation you really come to appreciate them in a way you never thought you would. And I think that’s really cool because you see how hard they are working and you see what they are actually doing. It’s one thing to hear and album and another thing to see someone live putting in the effort to play.
What should people expect from Black Crown Initiate show?
Andy: They should expect to see an energetic live show. Dynamic music like I said. Quiet things, loud things, fast things slow things. Music that reflects your personal life and the things you go through as human from time to time. In lot of tours you can expect us to be the odd ball, especially with clean vocals on tour with bunch of death metal bands.