THE BLACK TONES

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THE BLACK TONES

Interview with original photographs by Brian Snider

MY EXPERIENCE IS IN WHAT I WRITE, SO THEY LIKE THE MUSIC BUT AREN’T LISTENING TO IT. BECAUSE I’M ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT THIS STUFF. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS I’M SINGING IT AND THEY ARE DISTRACTED BY THE BADASS INSTRUMENTAL THAT’S ACCOMPANYING IT.

-EVA WALKER


I had this moment that I’ve not ever had before, while crouched behind a DIY steadicam in the childhood living room of The Black Tones Drummer Cedric David and vocalist and guitarist Eva Walker; I was watching Eva literally just play with the guitar, she was smashing out this wild solo and playing it with her elbow, her for arm, just this total haphazard jam and on her face is the biggest grin you can imagine. I got a little choked up, this is an artist and a room full of artists having the time of their life, playing music in a room that hold immense importance them, playing music in a region that they’ve always called home and which they don’t simply want to ride the back of but actually add their voices to.

Founded by Eva and her bother Cedric, The Black Tones pull inspiration from the heart of the only true American sound in the gospel, soul, and early rock and roll from the American south. Their family comes from Louisiana, but Cedric and Eva are full blown products of the Pacific Northwest and that rich history of legends like Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, and Quincy Jones right up to the grunge explosion of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Recording with the Godfather of Grunge Jack Endino only solidifies this unique and beautiful hybrid of sounds. Over the years there have been a lot of great bands from the Northwest, and many more who developed here, but few have ever embraced the sound and experience of the region with the sincerity and social awareness of The Black Tones. Bassist Robbie Little’s thumping bass that’s equal parts funky and crunchy, Cedric’s wood-splitting drums, and Eva’s powerful vocals and unleashed guitar blasts, The Black Tones are for me the most important band in the Pacific Northwest.


BRIAN SNIDER

I’ve read a number of places the quote “we were born in Seattle but raise by southerns, the Black Tones… well, are like a mixture of Kurt Cobain and cornbread.” That’s a great line and while I get what you mean I’m wondering what exactly that means for the band, how does that manifest musically, artistically?

 

CEDRIC DAVID

For me it shows quite well in the music that we play. It really just manifests itself naturally due to our upbringing. We can play a punk rock song like Arrows and Stones to songs that have a more blues/gospel feel to it like Rivers of Jordan. For the band it really represents everything that we are and gives people a great example of what our music is infused with. It was definitely a southern upbringing with a northwestern setting.

 

EVA WALKER

As Cedric said, it has a lot to do with our upbringing. All I know is the northwest, it’s where I’ve lived my whole life. Our family is from Louisiana and has had a big influence on us. It’s created this sort of half-breed of soul (cornbread) and rebellion (Cobain) in our music, which is kind of an invention of our own counter-culture at the same time. While few if any of our family members are musicians, the music our family played around us – from jazz, swing, blues, R&B, funk, soul – were the things that created the ear I have and a certain sound I want. What all this music manifests within the band is our original sound that the audience gets to experience.

 

BS

Musical identity and personal identity. Can you tell me how those two concepts relate to you or perhaps how they clash?

 

CD

I Know for me that these identities relate with the band more than they clash in my perspective. Robby our bass player has always been as smooth as his bass playing. With chill vibes and an old school style, he fits perfectly into his role as the bass player of The Black Tones. Eva our lead guitarist and vocalist is the person driving this wild ride we are on. She is a great front woman and sets the bar for both Robby and I. She is very hard on herself and expects the best. So Robby and I follow that lead and bring our A game every time for Eva. She fits her role perfectly because Eva is a leader and someone that is outspoken, wise and always trying to lead the way. Everything in Eva’s personal Identity fits her leadership role in my eyes. As for me I have always felt that the drummer is the foundation. The person that is in the background holding down the beat and holding down the band. Carrying gear until we actually get roadies,  making sure Eva and Robby grab some water before they get on stage, and always reminding them to have fun when we get out there to perform. These are naturally things that I like to do. I enjoy being the guy in the shadows. The more quiet one. We all play our roles very well on and off stage and staying hungry and humble musically and personally has been one of the things I take tremendous pride in.

 

EW

I agree with what Cedric said, and for the most part, I am the exact same person I am on stage that I am off stage. I don’t really believe in “putting on a show” it’s more like, “Ok world, here’s my guts! I hope you dig it”. Also, I don’t think Cedric realizes how much he’s NOT in the shadows [laughs]. Sometimes the first thing I hear when I get off stage is “Your drummer/brother is gorgeous!” and I’ve heard that too many times to count [laugh].

 

BS

Seattle on the whole is not known for being racially diverse, and in the seven years that I’ve been covering bands and attending shows I rarely come across artists of color, especially Seattle natives. Is that something you feel when you play shows and interact with other artists? Additionally (though this question could be it’s own question given the can of worms it opens) do you feel added pressure when you go out and play?

 

CD

As a person of color playing music in Seattle I know that the scene may seem like there isn’t a lot of diversity in it but I don’t think that it is due to other people of color not participating but the lack of representation that diverse groups get, and that can be in many different genres. I’ve had a chance to see P.O.C groups or P.O.C led groups play like Nighttrain, The Malady of Sevendials, The White Tears and Pearl Dragon is Dead, Industrial Revelation, Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, and Down North rock stages in Seattle. It’s just a matter of people getting out and showing support for the people that want to keep our neighborhoods vibrant, fun, and entertaining. There is no added pressure for me when we go out to play because we are sharing our art and there are many other artists in the city doing the same. We represent the P.O.C music scene together.

 

EW

There are a lot of POC artists, I see POC folks at these shows. The bands that are “marketable” are the shows you hear about the most. There are record labels and industry folks that love to say “Diversity this and diversity that” and people that put on festivals here that say the same thing. When often the only thing diverse about the bands they book or hire are their hair color. The statement you made of  “rarely seeing artists of color” is unfortunate because they are there. People need to seek out these shows and usually don’t take the time to do so. I can give you examples of festivals you should check out that feature a whole line up of POC artists in Seattle. Events like, TUF Fest, The Station Block Party, and POC as Fuck concerts. These platforms are out there, you just have to be willing to find them. Seattle POC artists and POC led bands include, Whitney Monge, The True Loves, Ayron Jones, Danny Denial, The Complex Dialect, The Black Chevys, Nic Masangkay, Donte Johnson, Stephanie Anne Johnson, Champagne Honeybee, just to name some of my favorites. There’s so many!

 

BS

As a band it seems that The Black Tones goes back a number of years. I don’t mean to suggest that back when those songs were written and recorded that the country didn’t have a continued uphill battle for social equality, justice, and rights, but in the last year that hill has reached a very sharp incline. How have times like these affected the song writing?

 

EW

Not much has changed with our writing with the incline of things. The reason being, it’s an incline of media coverage, not events. These issues have been happening for years and years and years. I remember walking home from the store when I use to live in the U District, and a car drove passed me and a guy yelled out the window “Nigger!”  This was well before any Trump election. This is life in the “liberal” city sometimes, things that usually get left out when talking about good ole liberal Seattle. Woman in Black, for example, is a song I wrote years and years ago and it’s relevant still. We’ve gotten emails from “fans” telling us to “stop talking about race” or this and that. My experience is in what I write, so they like the music but aren’t listening to it. Because I’m always talking about this stuff. The only difference is I’m singing it and they are distracted by the badass instrumental that’s accompanying it.

 

BS

Cedric and Eva I know you are siblings, how did that artistic relationship form? And how did Robbie fold into that mix?

 

CD

I saw Eva perform years ago at the Vera project and really I was moved by her performance. It made me want to be a part of something special with her. It inspired me to want to back her from that day on. She took me to the Seattle drum school and showed me how to play drums the following summer and pretty much molded me into the drummer that she wanted. It was one of my favorite summers because we had a lot of fun doing it as well! Now we have even more fun playing on stage together. Robbie was originally our substitute bass player and he was always pretty reliable and would show up when called on. Our former bass player went to take on other endeavors and Robby molded in with us effortlessly.

 

BS

When it comes to writing music, from where do you generally like to start? Is it a sound, or a theme, a message, a story?

 

EW

It could be anything really. A riff in a song I really like, or even don’t like [laughs] to a commercial jingle. Really, sometimes riffs just pop into my head or I hear something that stands out and go “Wow! That’s it! Right there!” Sometimes I think of a cool song title and the music won’t come until months or even years later. One of our songs The Key of Black was inspired by a lick Jimmy James of the True Loves and Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, played on the album Close But No Cigar by Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. The song is called Concussion and when Jimmy goes into a solo it’s in that solo a song was born. DLO3 is my favorite band and I used to sit every night for like 2 months and practice guitar to that album mentioned.

 

BS

You recorded with Jack Endino, Seattle music legend who produced most of the great early Sub Pop albums from bands like Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden. How did you end up working with him, and what was it like to work with?

 

CD

Working with Jack was a great experience. He is a hands on producer that showed me how to get a better ear for our music. We chatted about some of his favorite music and what he might have on his playlist. It was great! I would love to work with Jack all the time. We have tried to record in the past and for some reason it has been a pretty stressful experience but not at Jack’s studio. I could not have felt more comfortable getting in there and tackling a couple songs with him. He was excited and all of his energy was great. From sitting down and just listening to the songs after recording and offering great advice on what could be tweaked and what could be added.  

 

EW

Cedric can tell you, I am not a studio person. I am all about playing live and having to nail it once [laughs]. Jack made this the best studio experience I’ve ever had and can’t wait to go back, but only if it’s with him! Our good friend Wyatt Harbaugh assisted on the session and was just awesome. Jack has an ear unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He’s extremely mindful and when I would look at him, he would sort of close his eyes a bit and turn his head slightly sideways, and that my friend is someone really listening closely to what’s going on. He’s genuine and wasn’t going to just tell me things I wanted to hear. He keeps it real and is great at what he does. Most of all he’s very humble, which with his background is incredible. He’s literally there to focus on each artists and bring the best out of them. We got connected to Jack by my boyfriend Jake, who’s a writer and had been in touch with him. He thought we should meet and I agreed and emailed Jack immediately. He heard one of our songs “Woman in Black” and loved it! I think the icing on the cake is when Jack told me in the studio after hearing one of our songs “Where has this band been my whole life!” I wanted to cry because this was a man that worked with as you said Nirvana, Soundgarden and so many NW artists. I want to continue representing the NW sound that put Seattle on the map and there’s no better feeling then having the godfather of grunge, Jack Endino, reaffirm that to you with that statement.

 

BS

Was there something in the recording process that Jack said to you or a suggestion that he made that you’d never thought of before or that can be heard in the recordings?

 

EW

One of the songs we recorded with him Plaid Pants was sort of empty sounding. It’s kind of a long song and Jack had the idea of building it up more. So we added a bassy piano/synth part I had originally envisioned when I wrote the song that he encouraged since it would make it more meaty and interesting. Also layered vocals and added some tambourine. Building up this track was all Jack’s idea. I now can’t imagine the song without the build up, it’s great!

 

BS

Your songs have just exceptionally powerful vocals, a lot of heavy guitar, and pounding drums, so it’s surprising to hear a song like Striped Walls which is very minimal and played on a banjo. What is the story behind that song?

 

EW

I love Striped Walls. I was having a bad day one day and decided to cure that by going out and purchasing a banjo. I use to have a very interesting bedroom, where I painted three of the walls a dark forest green, then the fourth wall, which my bed was in front of, I painted black and white vertical stripes on. I called it the Beetlejuice wall. I was so in love with the imperfected circus looking wall, I ended up writing a song about it one night on banjo. And that’s literally the history of that song [laughs]. It’s a love song about a wall in my old room.  

 

“The music reflects our childhood and our upbringing. We started this band in the basement of our childhood home and my grandma would sit upstairs and listen to us while tapping her foot. After we would get done she would tell us which songs my grandpa would have liked.” -Cedric David

BS

The song you played for me was called Chubby and Tubby, after the Seattle variety store staple. The song is an instrumental so you don’t get an immediate understanding of why it is named so. So… why is the song called Chubby and Tubby?

 

EW

 I actually wrote the song before I named it. I don’t think every song needs lyrics and sometimes I want my guitar to do the lead vocals. The song had been written and I was originally going to name it “Jimmy the Bail Bondsman” after a man that patrons the Bourbon Bar at the Columbia City Theatre. Instead I was hanging at the Bourbon Bar with my good friend and out of this world bassist, Evan Flory-Barnes, and we started talking about “Old Seattle”. One of the places he brought up was Chubby and Tubby and I immediately got the nostalgic chills! My family and I went to that place for everything! So I told him how we just wrote this new instrumental tune and was still contemplating a name for it. So I told him “I’m gonna call it Chubby & Tubby!” And that’s that.   

BS

When I asked you to pick a location that had importance to the band for the photoshoot and filming, you chose your mother’s house, your childhood home. Why did you choose that as the place?

 

CD

For me it’s the connection we have with our grandparents that lead us here. The music reflects our childhood and our upbringing. We started this band in the basement of our childhood home and my grandma would sit upstairs and listen to us while tapping her foot. After we would get done she would tell us which songs my grandpa would have liked. Our grandma wanted us to keep playing and she was by far the coolest grandma on the planet to let her grandchildren start a band in her basement. It’s where this all started.

 

EW

That home is my heart, and as Cedric said where everything started. I had always dreamed of playing in the living room actually and this interview was the chance to do so. So when you asked us to choose the location I called my mom and said, “Mom! Can we set up in your living room?!” My mom is a huge supporter and loves this band. She’s been so great and encouraging that she was delighted to host it. She also knows how much that house means to us. I’m also a big fan of the wood paneling [laughs].

 

BS

What does the band have coming up through the end of the year? And what can we look forward to in 2018?

 

EW

You can look forward to us taking over the world! We have a fantastic management company we work with, Sport n’ Life Group. Devon our manager has been amazing and we can’t wait to see what else we can create together. We’ll be playing more shows around the region and releasing our vinyl in 2018 of the songs we recorded with Jack. A mini documentary of our time at Soundhouse with Jack, and did I mention taking over the world?

___________________________________

One of the most important things to me is not simply to photograph a band but to capture a band. I want to find some importance to the images that goes beyond taking cool pictures I want to them to expose personality, I want them to tell a story, I want them to have meaning. So when I asked Eva if there was somewhere that we could do a photoshoot and record a song that had meaning to the band she immediately got back to me and without any hesitation it seemed, she told me she wanted to do it at her mother’s house. Not only does this give me an opportunity to have a meaningful setting for the video and photoshoot, something that gives everything an important backdrop, but it also gives me some insight into who these artist’s are as people. When it came to the interview I had to ask why they chose that house for the shoot, but in the time I spent with them it was already apparent how important family and their roots in that house and this region is to the music.

In the interview I asked about the lack of diversity in the Seattle music scene, and both Cedric and Eva fired back with a formidable list of festivals and bands that display a thriving and talented scene. Some of these artists I knew but for the most part they were new to me, and they’re incredible and everyone should know of them just the same way that everyone should know The Black Tones, so I’ve linked to each of those festivals and artists in the interview, go check them out. Eva is right, so many festivals tout a diverse lineup but that diversity is pretty hard to find in the final product. The Black Tones will be playing Timbrrr fest in January in what has historically been a pretty diverse festival. Visit theblacktones.com for everything you need to know about the band and to stay up to date with shows and releases.

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