Boston’s Blackbutton recently took Providence by storm when they beat out seven of New England’s best acts including Mals Totem, Six Ten Connector, Fly Kite Canvas, Mister Vertigo, Silhouette Rising, Cad, & Jessica Prouty Band (JPB placed second), for the headlining slot for the Midday Social. The Midday Social is one of New England’s fastest growing music related networking events. Held quarterly in Providence, RI, each event boasts attendance in the hundreds. In the spirit of building a stronger music and arts community industry reps from all across New England gather with local bands and artists for an evening of networking.
This would be the first time the event would have a live performance closing out the night. Needless-to-say, we thought long and hard about who would be placed in coveted headlining slot.
Blackbutton‘s win was no easy task. The first stage was online voting. After a week long online poll and 1,279 votes the top 8 bands were chosen to perform in front of our industry panel. We were strategic when putting this panel together. The judges were comprised of industry reps who are passionate about local music and take it very seriously. Each judge brought something different to the table and each are well respected in the local music scene. The judges included Scarpetti of 94 HJY (host of Soundcheck and The Metal Zone); Marc Clarkin, columnist for Motif Magazine; and Denny Rochefort from the booking agency General Assembly. General Assembly books national and touring acts as well as some of the best local bills at the areas top venues including Fete, Middle East, Great Scott, Dusk, and many more.
The other acts did not make it easy for them but Blackbutton‘s performance resulted in a unanimous decision. The judges commented on how tough the competition was that night but the band’s unique sound and performance gave them the edge. The following month the band was back in Providence to perform at The Midday Social with yet another jaw-dropping set.
Recently, Adam Parshall had a chance to sit down with the band for a compelling interview. We are proud to bring it to you here:
With an initial emphasis on gritty, blues-oriented riffs, blackbutton re-formed in 2012 with a sound much more rooted in the darker style of angular, yet melodic, late-80’s/early-90’s grunge and alternative rock. With a revamped lineup and some added bass, Blackbutton are certainly still bringing the noise, but are relying on a much more ambient, echo-and-feedback-driven method of making that noise. Bold dynamic and volume shifts are the name of the game with their first two singles from their “Stripper Series,” 2012’s “Still Kids,” and August’s “Canopy.” Reflecting the past blues influences as well as the current fuzz-filled newer direction of the band, you can bet that both tracks are indicative of ambitious plans by blackbutton in the coming months. I talked to Jordan, Justin, and Dave after their appearance at Midday Records’ Midday Social, held in Providence, RI, about the state of local Boston music, their influences as a group, and how they’ve come to build their sound, through extensive collaboration, into the current incarnation of blackbutton.
Adam Parshall: Kind of an odd/random question, but your recent single releases have all had 60s/70s-era ladies as their background pictures. Any particular reason?
Jordan M. Tavenner: Not odd at all, and yeah, there are actually a few reasons for it. First off, the singles series itself is an idea we had that would allow us to keep up recording in different studios year-round with all kinds of creative people, which we thought was more attractive than recording one full-length all at once. Now we don’t feel confined to the continuity of an album, and rather obligated to explore the new tracks every time we’re in the studio. Back when the ‘Still Kids’ single was being recorded, I came across a bunch of polaroids of strippers taken from the 60s. The collection was scanned and posted online years ago, and as the story goes they were found in a junk pile at a yard sale in California. I immediately thought that it was perfect for our series, and, at the time, even tied into the concept of ‘Still Kids’ really well. So, I emailed and found a way we could use these for Blackbutton. Thus, the new singles are all dubbed part of The Stripper Series.
AP: In terms of style, you’ve managed to take the more overarching theme of “grunge” and kind of expand on it. I hear a lot of blues, some hardcore influences, punk. What would you say influenced your overall sound?
JMT: I think the biggest influence on the band beginning is The Black Keys. I saw those guys at Paradise when I first moved to Boston, and I was blown away. For the following years, I only played blues styled riffs, and tried writing lyrics over that. The rock sound came later, and I think it’s just because I grew up listening to 90s radio. Alternative rock was all I wanted to hear, and I’d go out and buy the records as soon as I heard something new. Naturally, now, it just comes out of me.
Dave Koslovsky: I’m a big fan also of the newer rock bands out there like Wavves, Cloud Nothings, Japandroids, Metz, Silversun Pickups.
Justin Emile: For me it was definitely growing up in the D.C. area. The Dischord artists of the 80s and 90s like Fugazi, Faraquet, and Make-Up launched my exploration into the kind of music I’ve come to perform.
AP: Why did you decide to go down the grunge path? Were there any bands/records that influenced you more than others when the band started? I hate to use the obvious reference…but I mean, you did cover “Breed” by Nirvana at the Rumble, so I have to ask.
JE: I was a fan of Blackbutton before I was even in the band, so it was great to be able to hop aboard and add whatever musical perspective I carried with me.
DK: I think it was the direction I naturally went. Jordan came in with the songs he did with Anshul and the ones we kept were already pretty grungy. Our influences are so similar that it makes sense we go in this direction.
JMT: I don’t really think it’s a decision so much. Honestly, I think we sound the way we do because we like similar fundamental things about music. We like distortion, big drums, soft versus, screaming choruses, and bridges that do something really fucking cool. Those are the things that get me moving, personally, so when we play, I’m always playing what comes to me and what makes me move.
AP: You were a duo for a while and still managed to make a hell of a lot of righteous noise. What was the catalyst to adding Dave on bass?
JMT: I knew the band would one day become a 3-piece, but initially I just wanted to get out in Boston and play songs. The two-piece was a way for me to do that without worrying about a bass player. And I was inspired at the time to just get out there, so we did. When we broke for a hiatus, I decided to get away from the blues riffs almost completely, and at that point, it seemed like the right time to bring in someone else on bass. Not only would the band be able to grow musically, I would be able to write differently because of this new sound holding down the low-end. And here we are…
AP: The new single, “Canopy,” is kind of a minimalistic, bluesy-grunge stomper. It’s pretty different from “Still Kids,” which is more straightforward and noisy, but with that same soft/loud dynamic shift from verse to chorus. Is the plan to keep branching out with the rhythm and dynamics? maybe get a little more thrashy and gritty (even though it’s all pretty down-and-dirty as it is haha)?
JE: I am always about pushing boundaries and expectations for ourselves during the songwriting process. Sometimes you have to let a straightforward song stand on its own, but as we continue to explore our musical identity, I guarantee we’ll only throw in more grit, thrash, and math. On the flip side, we fully intend on exploring some of the more melancholy and pretty aspects that particular songs naturally lend themselves to.
DK: Yeah. I think when we write and work songs out for awhile we always try to add things in and play around with different parts and try to do something that makes the song interesting to listen to and fun to play.
JMT: I’m attracted to writing the dynamic shift from verse to chorus that you mention. I really like songs that have steep dynamics, so I think I tend to build them that way in the beginning. But that truly is just the beginning in our process. We really try different things in a song to determine what works best in the end. For now, this is probably a trend you’ll hear in the next few singles, but we’re constantly revisiting our approach, and like Justin said, we try to push our boundaries.
AP: What was your Rumble experience like? From an audience/journalist perspective you guys left everything on that stage, and even though it was loud as hell, there was a lot of that wide-open, ambient vibe to it.
DK: I thought it was amazing. Even though we didn’t advance, it was great to meet and play with some other cool bands. We were really honored since we had only been playing together for 8-9 months at that point, and had only done a couple shows together.
JE: We had an absolute blast at the Rumble. We play every show with as much heart and intensity as we possibly can, but it was particularly amazing to be a part of a Boston institution in local music. We were just honored to be selected to perform, and to share the stage with so many amazing acts.
JMT: I agree with these guys; it was incredible. And I still can’t believe we were even asked to perform…
AP: How did you come to be hooked up with Midday Records for the Social?
JMT: We got to know Davey Moore, the man in charge of the event, back when ‘Still Kids’ came out. He asked if we would like to have the record on the New England Indie Alt Rock Series. We were like, of course, and we kept up with each other since then.
DK: Davey Moore emailed us one day about entering in the event, and we got in an online voting competition. We advanced through that and then played down in Providence at the Midday Social Contest and ended up winning. That was such a crazy two days because the night before we played pretty poorly, and then, to go down there and win… funny shit.
JE: Davey Moore is just an animal when it comes to setting up shows and networking events in Providence. We must have walked away with 50 or so business cards from other bands, vendors, businesses, radio station, etc. Like the Rumble, this was another one of those amazing experiences that was such an honor to be asked to play at, and a pleasure to have met so many fantastic musicians and industry representatives.
AP: What do you think is going right for the local music scene in Boston and New England in general?
JE: First and foremost is the community. From the Rumble to the Midday Social and everything in between, there is an amazing sense of community in Boston and New England. Since moving here, I’ve become more a fan of local Boston music than the next big thing nationally. There’s so much talent in this city that it often makes it feel like what we’re doing pales in comparison, but so much of that talent is so humble, that it’s just inspiring. I’m not only happy to be playing in this band, but I’m proud of the scene that I get to be a part of.
JMT: For me, the best thing about Boston local music, is going out, any given night, and feeling comfortable. I run into people I haven’t seen in however long, and really, we only know each other through music anyway, the bands, the shows, the bars, that kind of thing. It makes me feel at home, and reminds me that it’s not all about one thing, that we truly are in a community of artists and musicians. I know I can get that every time, and it works. I hope it never changes.
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