A Voice from the Adirondacks: Blackbraid (Interview)
Everyone in black metal seems to have an agenda—I would posit the question of why, but it's pretty clear given the racist undertones of some of the bands who founded the genre. Today, many bands either still carry those undertones, counter the racist rhetoric prevalent in the genre with a leftist message, or have some agenda all their own to do with religion, or lack thereof, but not Blackbraid. He just wants you to get outside and commune with nature.
Some might argue that such a mission ignores the politics prevalent in metal and the world today, but one look at the state of the Earth and our climate issues quickly disproves that theory. There are plenty of messages being screamed across the infinite void of metal music that require a bit more nuance. Why not revel in the simplicity of nature?
With this in mind, we chatted with Jon, aka Blackbraid, about his new album, Blackbraid 1, out August 26, the nuance behind the music, and the politics of existing as an Indigenous person with a connection to nature.
What was the writing and creation process behind the latest record?
It started with the first two singles, "The River of Time Flows Through Me" and "Barefoot Ghost Dance on Blood Soaked Soil." Those were the first songs I ever wrote for this project, so I released them in the order I wrote them. After I had a second song, I was like, "I should make this its own project," and the idea of Blackbraid came. The rest of the album kind of came together after that.
I live in the Adirondacks, which is a huge national park in upstate New York, and that's most of what influences my writing. I've lived in the wilderness and been an outdoorsman for most of my life, and I do a bunch of traditional stuff too, like I tan, hunt, fish, and taxidermy. I’m in nature 24/7, and I'm very connected with it, on a spiritual level and an everyday, basic level. I'm looking out my window right now at 30,000 acres of wilderness. I kind of live in the middle of nowhere, and that’s always been a huge part of my life.
So, with Blackbraid, I kind of wanted to bring that to people through music, for people who might be living in a less-than-ideal situation, or a lot of people live their entire lives in cities and don’t even know what it’s like to be in the country or go on a hike, see a mountain, or swim in a stream. And I kind of wanted to remind people what that's like or give them an idea about it and let them see the world the way I see it through Blackbraid.
In terms of the lyrical themes, how does all that nature influence show up on the record in terms of the music and the lyrics?
It's funny you ask because I was talking to someone on Instagram about this the other day. As far as the music goes, it’s obviously black metal, but I do think it's bulkier and more versatile than a lot of people might think based on the singles, because the singles are pretty raw black metal. But once they get deeper into it, I think people will see that the folk aspect is a big part of it too.
I look up to bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Panopticon where they have a good amount of acoustic stuff mixed into the black metal, and as far as black metal goes, I like bands that go in a more atmospheric direction, and I also like to have really fast riffing, which you generally don't hear as much alongside folk or atmospheric influence.
In terms of lyrical themes, as rebellious as it is to make black metal about Satan, I don't think that would be genuine to me, since that's not where my head is at. I love the gimmick, but I've never thought, like, Satan is a real dude or anything. I’m sure you know that Christians don’t really have a great track record with Natives, but when it comes to being a force against Christian oppression, it always kind of baffled me that Satan is the opposite of Christianity, so in a way, (lyrics about Satan are) still glorifying Christianity and feeding into Christianity in some way. So, while my music is anti-Christian in nature, it’s also not really about satan.
And then there's the elephant in the room that a lot of those Satanic black metal bands do prioritize Satan and a return to nature, maybe even a return to more Indigenous living, but unfortunately, also have racist connotations and/or are right wing extremists. Do you see your project as pushing back against or sort of providing an alternative to that?
I wouldn’t really say I’m actively pushing back against it, but it definitely gives people an alternative. As far as all that goes, I obviously don't support it, but it’s really low on my radar. That's something a lot of people are really triggered by, and I understand why, and it's pretty upsetting to me that it exists, but I never lose sleep over it.
It's a slippery slope, and I really want people to have an alternative to it, but I guess I would say that wasn’t really on my mind when I started Blackbraid. I'm against racism, but I don't want Blackbraid to be seen as a super political band either because it's not really about politics. I really just want people to understand the nature aspect of it. And Native American history does bleed into my songs here and there, but I’d say the stronger focus is definitely nature.
On that same theme regarding nature, I know for some indigenous folks, regarding things like the Land Back movement, there almost is this push to keep folks out of nature if they aren’t Indigenous, but your message very much seems like it’s about everyone enjoying nature. What led you to that perspective?
I feel like it's kind of my burden to do that. For some Indigenous people, they think nature is ours, but I think it belongs to everyone, though Indigenous Americans really do seem to be more connected with it. Obviously this is generalizing, but there's more of a connection there because we have this unique situation where we were living pretty much like hunter gatherers and in a very nature-oriented way. But we are all human and all lived that way at one point.
So, I kind of want to open people’s minds and eyes to what is right in front of them. For example, you could probably name five corporate logos right now that you’ve seen in the last 24 hours, but if I asked you to name five indigenous birds, you probably couldn’t. Our society has kind of trained us not to appreciate nature and not to see those things.
And it doesn’t take much to enjoy nature. You just need to open your eyes. You're already connected; you’re just actively ignoring that connection. I think with Blackbraid, that’s really what I want the music to do. I don’t really need to educate people because they already know it's there; they've just forgotten, and I want Blackbraid to kind of reawaken things they may not think about every day.
Blackbraid 1 releases August 26th independently via Bandcamp.