Black Sheep Wall Pens Personal and Painful “Songs For The Enamel Queen” (Early Album Stream + Q&A)
In an era when every subgenre and sub-subgenre has seemingly been identified, catalogued, and put on a shelf, it’s refreshing to hear something one just can’t pin down. Drawing influence and inspiration from disparate places is nothing new; it’s all about what you do with those things. Metal, hardcore, noise, post-rock, sad trumpet(?), sludge, soundscape dirges: what your local record shop might have as a half-dozen different sections, Black Sheep Wall combine to craft their latest wrecking ball, Songs For The Enamel Queen.
This is not Black Sheep Wall throwing random shit on a canvas and hoping it sticks in a cool, artsy way. (Unfortunately there’s always a surplus of that kind of tedium, especially in this pocket of the music world.) Early albums I Am God Songs and No Matter Where It Ends were built on a solid and reliable Neur-Isis foundation, with the band and its subsequent incarnations using that merely as a jumping-off point to explore just what ‘sonic devastation’ can mean. By 2015’s I’m Going To Kill Myselfm listeners could hear Earth, Slint, and Swans snaking their way into Black Sheep Wall’s now-singular sound. Songs For The Enamel Queen uses all of those building blocks and injects them with an added layer of emotional, resonant intensity that bleeds through the speakers.
After the brutal introduction of "Human Shaped Hole," vocalist Brandon Gillichbauer makes quick work of showing exactly where he’s at on the 13-plus minute behemoth "New Measures Of Failure":
The failure that feeds you
But the biggest mistake I could make
Was trusting the shithead that was me.
Feedback, off-kilter drums and lurching riffs provide an appropriately dissonant backdrop before the song dials back the distortion and dips into a spoken word interlude. This all happens before the halfway mark, but it never feels forced or overstuffed. Gillichbauer returns during an even quieter moment to bellow "I hope I make you embarrassed, I hope you’re afraid. I hope you keep me a secret. I hope you’re ashamed." Subtlety, who needs it?
Songs For The Enamel Queen brings back the floor punches with "Concrete God" and "Ballad Of A Flawed Animal," which both gets the blood flowing and allows drummer Jackson Thompson to show off his considerable talent. The closing suite of "Ren," "Mr. Gone" and "Prayer Sheet For Wound And Nail" is over a half hour of Black Sheep Wall pushing their collective capacity for songwriting prowess to its very limits. From grandiose walls of distorted sound to the aforementioned melancholy brass, sparse ambient sound to Pinhead vocals, whirling tension bomb riffs to an overdriven shoegaze-on-steroids finale, Songs For The Enamel Queen leaves listeners in a much different place than where they started. It really is a journey, one unlike much else out there, and each trip is a revelation. Listen to an exclusive, pre-release stream of Songs For The Enamel Queen and read an interview with Black Sheep Wall below.
It's rare to find a band as aggressive and abrasive as Black Sheep Wall with songs that pass the ten-minute mark. Is that a conscious decision, or does it just happen naturally via the process?
Jackson Thompson (drums): I think in our teenage years there was some notion that we wanted our band to be associated with being especially heavy or abrasive, but I think more than ever we’ve let go of that. We aren’t concerned with writing music that is especially extreme as much as we want to write music we want to hear. I guess we want to hear things that are abrasive, haha.
Jason Grissinger (bass): Writing this album with the band was a natural process. There would be multiple riffs that we’d jam on that were awesome, but didn’t always work well together. So we’d have to find ways to connect them, and in doing so, we’d create these really epic and textured songs that take you on a journey.
Andrew Hulle (guitar): When we wrote Songs for the Enamel Queen time wasn’t a conscious decision when we would get together to work on our new material. A lot of times we would jam on one or a couple of riffs and see where it naturally would take us. The end of the song "New Measures of Failure" is a good example of this. Those moments where we’re feeding off of each other and letting feeling decide the route the music takes are, personally, some of my favorite parts of the album. Most of the time we would end up with a song approaching or surpassing the 10 minute mark. At the same time we have a 2.5 minute and 3.5 minute song on the new album that was a new change of pace for us, but they worked well within the context of the album as a whole.
Was the long hiatus after I'm Going To Kill Myself intentional or just a matter of life getting in the way?
Jackson Thompson: It was unfortunately unintentional, but I think very necessary for us to be at the point where we are now. There are circumstances in which only time can offer a potential solution, and not even that is guaranteed. We’ve had the instrumentals for Songs for the Enamel Queen done for four years now and there were periods since then that I didn’t think we’d ever finish the album. It’s a great lesson in patience to know now that this was worth waiting for.
Jason Grissinger: When I joined the band in 2014 it was because they had some shows coming up and no bass player at the time. For a while after that there wasn’t a focus on writing an album, we were just playing shows, jamming and did a tour. When we started working on new material after that, we really spent a good year and a half or so just writing the songs before even going into the studio. The songs were always evolving and we always found new ways to shape them before we were happy with them.
What led to the band signing with Silent Pendulum?
Andrew Hulle: Our first release with Silent Pendulum was a first time vinyl pressing of our debut album, I Am God Songs. It was such a great experience working with them for that release that our relationship with them eventually and organically developed into what it currently is. Having a label that is genuinely invested in us and shares the same vision and uncompromising standards as us is really something we’re grateful for and humbled by. The experience we had doing the first vinyl release with them was definitely one of the motivating factors to finish and release Songs for the Enamel Queen on their label. We’re excited for what the future has in store for us and Silent Pendulum Records!
A lot of the lyrics, especially on "New Measures Of Failure", feel intensely personal. Are they about a specific person (or persons)?
Brandon Gillichbauer (vocals): The lyrics for "New Measures of Failure," as well as the album as a whole, are autobiographical and very personal. Probably the most honest I have ever been. There are a few illusions to other people in my life but the overall context is focused on my personal issues, both mentally, struggles with substance abuse, as well as acceptance of who I was and in some way will always sorta be.
The trumpet on "Ren" is unexpected, to say the least. Whose idea was that?
Scott Turner (guitar): That was me. From the get go I always wanted that section of "Ren" to have this almost sort of noir-vibe to it. I think from the moment that part of the song was fleshed out I could hear the trumpet in my head over it. Jackson has a treasure trove of musically inclined friends and suggested his buddy Brian Mellblom for the part. If I remember correctly, my only directions for Jackson to relay to Brian was that we wanted it to sound like Beirut… otherwise, Brian was free to create as he saw fit. He came to record the part without us ever having played together, or hearing it, and needless to say we were so happy with how it turned out.
Many of the songs have a multilayered, almost cinematic quality. Is film an influence on the band, and if so, anything specific?
Jason Grissinger: For me, not cinematic, but I really like melodic bass lines that have an emotionally driven feeling to them that aren’t just follow the guitar riff. I think on some of the songs off the album, that almost gives it a "cinematic" feel in a way and it’s different from previous Black Sheep Wall albums. These songs really take you on an emotional journey from start to finish because they have more depth and sonic texture throughout this album. I think "Prayer Sheet for Wound and Nail" and "Ren'' really highlight this feeling.
Jackson Thompson: Film isn’t a conscious or intentional influence, but it’s there regardless. I consider film my personal favorite art form and I think many movies have challenged and changed the way I’ve thought about music, which is the only medium I participate in with any degree of seriousness. We have some song titles that are references to movies and whatnot, so they’ve made their way in there for sure. The following has left an impression on me in the way that I (and I think we) approach music:
· The playing with expectations of David Lynch. He uses clichés and turns them upside down to create something unique and completely unexpected.
· The bleakness and (what I consider) intentional boredom of Michael Haneke films.
· The sarcasm and self-reference of Lars Von Trier.
· The intersection of relationships and selfishness found in most of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work.
Brandon Gillichbauer: As far as lyrically goes, no… at least not intentionally. Film is a huge part of my life and I would be naive to think for as much as I love, respect, and admire film that it hasn’t rubbed off on me in some unconscious way.
What are the band's plans for 2021 and beyond?
Juan Hernandez Cruz (bass): Hopefully when things start to get back to some type of normalcy after COVID, it would be great to start playing shows again. That’s definitely the missing component for this release and hopefully that will be corrected in time. Beyond is a good question better left in suspense. Keeps you on your toes.
Songs for the Enamel Queen releases February 26th via Silent Pendulum Records.