Make no bones about it: BYT crushes on Small Black. Hard.
Over the past two years, our contributors have been entranced by the Brooklyn four-piece’s “self-branded casio-blaze pop” and the “addictive sound” that comes from layering “space-age Jim James-ish warbles over break beats and fuzzy keyboards.” We’ve gushed over its live shows, recounting how the “insanity incited onstage and in the crowd made it easy to see why this tour is busting every small club at the seams,” and when an impromptu concert in Bloomingdale turned into “one of the best amplified house shows of 2010.”
What can we say? We’re suckers for meticulously woozy jams that pack a thumping rhythmic punch.
So we were obviously pumped to hear that Small Black would be making a trip to DC9 THIS THURSDAY to play a benefit show for local nonprofit Grassroots Reconciliation Group, alongside Outputmessage – who we chatted with earlier in the week – and up-and-coming “flower punk” rockers Cigarette.
In anticipation, BYT reached out to singer Josh Kolenik over the weekend. Kolenik dished on forthcoming Small Black and Das Racist releases, and weighed in on New York rap, dream collaborators, and drug experiences gone bad.
As a bonus treat, comment on your worst blackout experience for a chance to win a vinyl copy of Small Black’s debut LP Small Chain courtesy of Jagjaguwar records.
How have you guys been spending your summer?
I was just in Oklahoma floating down a river with a bunch of bikers with water pistols, Bud Lights, and boom boxes, but besides that we’ve been recording new music non-stop and playing basketball against Beach Fossils.
You former tourmate Washed Out recently released Within and Without, a slick and pretty LP he recorded with producer / studio ace Ben Allen. Given an unlimited recording budget, who would top your wish list of studio collaborators?
Brian Eno. I’d love to show up at his studio with nothing written and just see what happened. Always wanted to do a track with Martin Rushent, the producer of Human League’s Dare, who passed away this summer.
The Small Black EP was recorded in Long Island, and New Chain in Delaware – how do you think decamping to the shore influenced those recordings?
It’s not really about the shore. Just isolation. Being with only the people you make music with and having no distractions. We’ve been in Delaware more for these new songs and we’re looking into some more locations to finish up the next record. Been throwing darts at the map. Maybe Montana?
Speaking of the shore, the video for “Despicable Dogs” chronicles a few days in the life of your surfing Uncle Matt, who appears to be quite the righteous dude. How was he responded to his heightened profile? Does he still take your calls?
Uncle Matt has an agent now and is being looked at for a part in “Game of Thrones” for next year. It’s insane! Actually that’s just my dream. I wanna see my Uncle beat the crap out of some dude in a netherworld.
A post on your Facebook page mentioned a “new jam” with Das Racist’s Heems. What’s the story there?
Das Racist came to our show in New Orleans with Cults out of the blue. We’re huge fans and didn’t know they were into our band. A few weeks later, Heems rolled by the studio to do a track and it went so well we ended up staying up all night and did a second one. The first track is called “Sunday Son”. It’s a got a big ol’ sample, and I think its a real NY jam, right from the mouths of a few kids that grew up loving the music that crept out of the cars that rode by us in the city.
You’re on the record as a big fan of 90s hip-hop. What is it about that era of rap that attracts you to it? Do you stay up on current stuff?
I love every era of rap. There’s a charm to each and we’re still watching it evolve and grow. But the 90s is particularly special to me because it soundtracked my childhood. Watching “Yo MTV Raps!” Funkmaster Flex on Saturday Night. There’s a great balance between content, swagger and humor that is reminiscent of 60-70s rock. It was time when people weren’t embarrassed to take a stand, make somebody laugh. That said, I love current stuff and party rap too. Been really digging Waka [Flocka Flame], French Montana, [and] Curren$y.
What upcoming blockbuster would you be most interested to hear: Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV, Kayne and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne, or Drake’s Take Care?
Small Black plays the occasional DJ set. What are some staples of a night behind the turntables / laptop? What are some songs from the last few months that you would work into a set?
Always [play] Fabolous’ “You Be Killin Em”. That’s my Hot 97 song of the year. Lots of 80s/90s NY hip hop. Supreme Team, Ultramagnetic MCs. Been obsessed with Nas again. Pictureplane’s “Real is a Feeling”. Girl Unit. And I always love to drop Joker.
A number of acts have taken a shot at remixing your songs. What’s been your favorite reimagining?
An unofficial video for Small Black’s remix of Washed Out’s “You’ll See It” shows a teenager tripping on salvia. Have you ever had an especially bad drug experience?
I’m not much of a drugster, but one unnamed band member did trip out on mushrooms on tour in Portland and fell asleep in a freezing dilapidated greenhouse, when he could have slept in a warm house 10 feet away . People love to make youtube comments about just how many drugs they’re doing while listening to our band.
What does the remainder of 2011 have in store for Small Black?
Be on the lookout for a new release! It our favorite thing we’ve ever done as a band and its gonna be FREE! We’ll be working on the record for the rest of the year after that and doing shows here and there.
You’ve toured fairly consistently for a few years now. What’s the best show you’ve played?
Primavera Sound in Barcelona last fall was wild. People just went bezerk. We had 50 people on stage at the end of the set. Such good vibes!
We imagine you get a wide spectrum of audience movement at your shows. To prepare our readers for your DC concert on August 11th: what are Small Black-approved moves we should bust? We were thinking maybe the passionate, full torso head nod.
Crowd surfing is the move of choice at our shows. DO IT! The weirder people get the better! I don’t know what a full torso head nod would look like, but I’d like to see it happen.
What’s the process behind the creation of a Small Black song typically like? What comes first?
BEATS! But it really depends. Lots of different origin stories for songs. It’s fun to work with a title first and then try to make a song that sounds like the name. “Despicable Dogs” was like that. The process is very collaborative and experimental. Nobody brings finished songs to the band.
How did you hook up with Jagjaguwar records? Is that Bon Iver money going to come trickling down to you?
Jagjaguwar passed us a note in Physics class and we’ve been going steady ever since. Jeff actually played drums for Gayngs at SXSW without even practicing with them once. Justin V [of Bon Iver] is one nice dude.
Who wins in a bar fight: Small Black or Big Black?
I don’t know anything about Big Black other than the cartoon on the cover of Songs About Fucking and Steve Albini being in it.
Any parting words of wisdom?
MOON KILLER. MOON KILLER. MOON KILLER.