Leave it to Texas to be the point of origin for one of the most anomalous bands associated with heavy metal. Disturbing the universe that is extreme music culture’s ongoing identity crisis at the moment, two-man synth-goth-wave-weirdness Pinkish Black are a case study in the fluidity of the words “heavy” and “extreme”. Members Daron Beck (vocals/synths/keyboards) and Jon Teague (drums/synth) create an unsettling mood similar to their contemporaries in The Body, though executed through an entirely different medium of sound. Riffs are cool and all, sure, but relying on one ingredient to carry the weight of what you’re selling in being “dark” or “unnerving” inevitably lends itself to the banality of being a glorified cover band. Nobody wants that.
Especially not Pinkish Black whose newest release, Bottom of the Morning, is just as abrasive and confrontational as any band toeing the metal party line of punching you in the face with a double-kick and guitar sweeps written by the Dark Lord himself. In a genre often hung up on the old reliable visual shock, Pinkish Black offer the counterpoint of letting that darkness bleed through the music with an unease that’s as horrifying as it is captivating. In our recent conversation, Beck and Teague talked about their characteristic sound and why Burt Bacharach is the new extreme. Read the interview and then listen to the full album stream of Bottom of the Morning, releasing October 30, courtesy of Relapse Records.
Noisey: With this record there seems to be a lot of Krautrock influence, specifically the early days of that sound with bands like Popol Vuh. Was that something that played more of an influential role with Bottom of the Morning?
Teague: I mean, that stuff I’ve been listening to pretty steadily for the last 20 years.
Beck: [Laughs] Both of us, really. It’s like Popol Vuh, Neu!, Can, and others.
Teague: Yeah, like Klaus Schulze, Cluster, and all of that stuff is great. So it’s a huge compliment that you’d hear Popol Vuh in the music. That wouldn’t be very easy to pick up on.
Beck: Yeah, and along with the other stuff we kind of listen to that’s always a running concept with us, that sort of psychedelic Krautrock. It’s always an influence.
There’s something about the use of the word “psychedelic” in anything music related now because it always sounds so forced or unintentionally gimmicky. It’s not that way with Pinkish Black. There’s a definitively tripped out atmosphere you guys are able to create. Is that sort of abstract aesthetic something that’s evolved for you guys over time?
Beck: I think it’s evolved. When we were in Tyrant, it started out where I was throwing in riffs, or Jon and Tommy would come up with riffs, and we’d just smash them together and make a whole song out of it. Now it’s more organic where we just get in a room and start creating together, and it happens more together now than it does as us working as individuals. As far as the psychedelic things goes, I think most of that comes from us using actual psychedelics. [Laughs] It’s more of the mind space than the musical movement that we’re concerned with as far as that goes. Just to clarify. [Laughs]
I think that was a given.
There’s something to be said, though, about being able to achieve a unique sound like Pinkish Black has without seeming like a Pink Floyd or Goblin cover band. That doesn’t seem like it would be an easy thing to accomplish, though there are a lot of bands that are fairly successful doing just that.
Beck: A lot of bands, when they set out, they try to be something. When we started we never really had anything in mind. The band I was playing in before I joined Great Tyrant was so different than Jon and Tommy’s old band YETI. We played shows together all the time, but we didn’t sound anything alike.
Teague: It was constantly at odds.
Beck: Yeah, because I didn’t know what they were trying to do, and I didn’t know what I was trying to do so it came out weird. [Laughs]
In talking about Tommy and the trajectory of the band in the wake of his suicide, it’s one of those sort of dark turns of fortune where Pinkish Black has been as successful as it’s been. Do you both sometimes find yourselves considering how differently that path may have been had that tragedy not occurred? Do you see it now as a sort of bizarre catalyst for where you eventually went creatively speaking?
Teague: Oh yeah. Definitely. But, I mean, I doubt that Tommy would’ve continued to play with us for much longer. Just of his own choice because he wasn’t happy with what we were doing. I don’t know what would’ve happened, but I think Daron and I would’ve probably continued to play together regardless. I don’t know if it would’ve been in this form. This just happened by chance.
Beck: The night before it happened, before we knew Tommy was already dead, we practiced as a two-piece, and it was just because he didn’t show up for practice. We weren’t thinking in that moment: Oh, this is how it’s gonna be. We had a two-piece practice, and I said, “Well, if he ever quits the band, we could actually just do this as a two-piece.” Tommy had already mentioned the term “pinkish black,” and I think it’s a misquote from a Burroughs book that’s supposed to be “blackish pink,” but he had told us that phrase, and I just fell in love with the word. I was like, “God, I love that. Can we start a side project called that?”
Beck: But yeah, the day we knew and we sat down in the practice room and decided we were gonna keep going, we were both like, well, I guess we’re going with Pinkish Black. We already knew it. I was very weird.
I wanted to talk about the cinematic aspect of Pinkish Black’s music for a second. You guys get a lot of comparisons to John Carpenter, Goblin, and others. It makes sense that the next step would be for Pinkish Black to do a soundtrack.
Beck: Well, I can tell you for example: one of the most influential people on me, and I know Jon is very influenced by him too, but David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti. The way that the music worked in Twin Peaks with the visuals was so impactful to me when I was 14 and watching it. When it was airing for the first time, that really, even as a kid, it was like, “God, if I could be in a band and make music that was kind of like Twin Peaks, that’d be perfect.” [Laughs] I feel like I’ve still been trying to kind of accomplish that, but you don’t wanna just do that. We always wanna do more. But really I watch more movies and TV than I listen to music anymore. I’m constantly getting ideas from things that I see more than things that I hear.
Teague: Film and art, anything visual, are things that are definitely inspiring to what we do.
Beck: It’s like the way Goblin works with Suspiria. The music on its own combined with artistic visuals is just amazing. We would love to do a soundtrack. [Laughs]
Teague: There’s definitely a correlation, and I think the two, sound and sight, are really intertwined for us.
Beck: It sometimes even comes down to seeing a picture. One of the old Great Tyrant songs, Jon had shown me this picture of a little girl holding a gun and a lantern, and the caption of the picture was: “There’s a Man in the House”. I was just blown away by that.
Teague: And then we were both like, well, there’s a song. [Laughs]
Pinkish Black isn’t heavy in the traditional sense, and yet the music is as chilling, if not more so, than what you’d get on any other extreme music record. Is that move away from relying solely on visual shock something you’re seeing more of in the genre?
Teague: I wish that it was more of an attempt to shock people through the music. There’s a lot of ways to shock people. It doesn’t have to be one grinding chord for six minutes. [Laughs]
Beck: I don’t find visual antics to be very entertaining at this point. A light show’s cool. [Laughs] But Screaming Jay Hawkins was doing it back in fucking 1958, so pretty much everything you can do has been done at this point. It’s time to start writing better music.
Teague: Right. I just wish that music was more diverse in trying to shock people rather than trying to shock in the same way over and over again.
Beck: I think it’d be more shocking to play Burt Bacharach for a metal crowd than just spitting blood or whatever.
Jonathan Dick is a one-man experiment in synth-goth-wave-weirdness. Follow him on Twitter.