Black Mountain - Biography
Evolved from ringleader Stephen McBean’s two-piece musical panoply Jerk With a Bomb, Black Mountain is a British Columbia-based psychedelic rock band that also fuses blues, prog-rock, acid folk and freelance experimental avenues. The enigmatic McBean also heads up the similarly named lo-fi project, Pink Mountaintops, which in itself a gradual evolution from the mellow solo project he called One Easy Skag. As the shaggy singer/guitarist/songwriter for Black Mountain, the Canuck McBean uses the band for a heavier exercise—with less sex-laden conspicuousness than his Pink Mountaintops Janus face—often splitting vocal duties with the elegiac-voiced Amber Webber over retro-sounding organ. With both projects, McBean has proven to be a prolific songwriter and multi-faceted musician, collaborating with artists such as Bonnie “Prince” Billy and ambient/drone act Sunn O))), while touring extensively in North American and Europe throughout the 2000s. During that time Black Mountain has release two EPs as well as a pair of full-length albums, which have earned him critical acclaim and a rabid following, not just in Canada but worldwide.
As an off-the-cuff stoner duo alongside longtime collaborator Josh Wells (a.k.a. The Silo), Jerk With a Bomb released a couple of albums in the early 2000s—The Old Noise (2001 Scratch) and Pyrokinesis (2003 Scratch)—as well as a 7” that drew comparisons to everyone from Ween to Nick Cave. By 2004, with the addition to a growing collective of Amber Webber (vocals), Matt Camirand (bass) and Jeremy Schmidt (drums/percussion), to go along with the hazy singing of McBean, Black Mountain was born. The group—in achieving a communal feel that had some fans and media labeling them a cult—signed with indie label Jagjaguwar and put out the EP Druganaut before releasing its first album, Black Mountain (2005), soon thereafter. The eight-song album nostalgically recalled late-’60s/early-’70s psych bands like The Velvet Underground, Galaxie 500 and Blue Cheer, with a shattered bluesy vibe and a trumped up sax contribution by local Masa Anzai (Barking Sphinx Ensemble). The willy-nilly interchangeability between Webber and McBean—particularly on the gear-shifting track “Heart of Snow,” where Webber draws out her vox like the second coming of Grace Slick—made Black Mountain one of the more talked about independent rock releases of 2005.
Later that year Black Mountain toured extensively—at one point opening for Coldplay for three weeks on the road as part of the Twisted Logic Tour—and they watched their album gain recognition (particularly on Amazon’s Top 100 Editor’s Picks of 2005). The band would return to the studio for their sophomore album in 2006, but it would prove a premature endeavor, and so plans for what would become In The Future were temporarily aborted. McBean recorded his sophomore album as Pink Mountaintops, Axis of Evol, and later toured in its support.
In 2007, Black Mountain made another go at it, recording In The Future (2008 Jagjaguwar)—and the wait for was well worth it. The 10-track album was mixed brilliantly by John Congleton (The Paper Chase), and featured a 17-minute opus in “Bright Lights”— the vocal interplay between McBean and Webber making it an epic standout—and its antipodes, the under two-minute ling “Wild Wind.” As bombastic as it was gentle, almost exclusively referential to bands like Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and Hawkwind, it was considered a masterpiece of psych-rock innovation and subtle juxtaposing by media and fans alike. In the Future climbed all the way to the top of Billboard’s Heatseekers chart, and debuted at #72 on the UK Album chart. One of the singles from the album—the acoustic thrummer, “Stay Free,” which McBean sings in falsetto—was used in the Spider-Man 3 soundtrack.
Black Mountain has continued to tour tirelessly into 2010, playing dates at popular festivals such as Great Britain’s End of the Road Festival, Sweden’s Hultsfred Festival and Belgium’s Dour Festival, as well as North American showcases like SXSW and Coachella. In 2010 the band released Wilderness Heart.