Interview: The Black Tones

by - 8/30/2021

Foto: Divulgação 

Entrevista publicada originalmente no Scream & Yell, em português.

This interview with Seattle-based band The Black Tones was originally published on Scream & Yell, in Portuguese. You can read it in English below.

Guys, to start the interview, please tell me how you are doing in the past months. Fully vaccinated and healthy, I hope. But how has the pandemic affected your work as a band?

Eva: Yes, we are definitely fully vaccinated and hoping to stay healthy! You know, like a lot of other artists, I would have to say the cancellation of shows had been the biggest thing. I LOVE performing live, it’s what I get most excited about with sharing our music, more than recording, more than making a video, live performance has my heart. To not be able to do that was awful.


Cedric: Yes I am fully vaccinated and doing my best to stay healthy as well. It was definitely hard to watch all the shows that we had cancelled. We were just about to do our first south by southwest show down in Austin,Tx and it had been something I was really looking forward too. The pandemic did force us to get really creative with how we performed. We did everything we could to still perform and did many livestream and pre recorded videos. It's been an interesting time for all artists I am sure. 


I saw that you guys released a few singles in 2020. Were those songs written and recorded during lockdown or were they done before the pandemic hit?


Eva: Two of the songs, which were released by Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) through his HockeyTalkter label, were recorded just prior to lockdown. The day it was released, we had a big release show at Easy Street Records here in Seattle, completely packed and sold out. That was our last performance, because in the next couple of days lock down started. The single My Name’s Not Abraham Lincoln, was the only track recorded during lockdown and is our western saloon style song about lack of representation of black people which further contributes to ongoing stereotypes of black americans. This was written not too long after George Floyd’s murder.


Do you have plans to release new music in 2021? Is a follow-up to Cobain & Cornbread a possibility? Or are you just going to play live?


Eva: You know, I really take this stuff day by day. If a whole record comes out of me at that moment, then we will make it. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I never force these things out. I may write a record in a week or not for another year. It just has to be authentic. We will definitely play live as long as the pandemic allows us to.


Cedric: I am totally in agreement with Eva on this. If something comes out then great but forcing anything is definitely not in the cards. Really I’m just excited that we get to play some live shows again. Hopefully live shows can stay back as long as we are all doing our part to fight this pandemic


Tell me a little about how the band started. I read that, at first, Eva was kind of secretly developing her career as a musician, and after Cedric saw her perform for the first time, he learned how to play drums to form a band. Is that true?


Eva: Cedric did come watch me perform after I finally decided to invite my family to a performance. I was too nervous to play in front of them when I was starting off, but when I finally felt confident enough to let them hear me, I invited them. Cedric and I are really close, as close as twin siblings can possibly get, and even he didn’t know I could sing and play guitar. He told me after the performance that he wanted to back me up, support me on an instrument, and asked if I could teach him drums, so I did. There would be no band if it wasn’t for Cedric investing in me and my songs. He’s the main reason this all started.


Cedric: Yes! Eva had been singing in high school and hadn't really told anyone in our family yet. I knew she had played guitar but what caught me by surprise was when I first had the chance to hear her sing. She had this absolutely outstanding voice that moved me so much. I had told Eva as she mentions to teach me how to play drums, (Eva is such a talented musician she can really do it all) and she did take me under her wing to help mold me into her drummer. The drummer of The Black Tones!


How did your relationship with music began? Did you guys always had the same taste in music and do you share the same influences? Or the duo is more like a combination of different styles of music?


Eva: My relationship with music started very young. As far as I can remember I was hearing music in just about everything, car engines, trains, leaf blower, even an HVAC system, I could always hear something musical coming out of random sounds. My sister would play a lot of my mom’s records on the record player and we would dance and sing in the back bedroom upstairs, her, cedric and I. I especially remember her introducing us to the music of the 5th Dimension. She had an assignment in high school where she had to memorize the declaration of independence so she played The Declaration by the 5th Dimension on repeat and we learned it with her. Also, we were 90’s kids so whatever our siblings were watching on MTV we watched. That’s how I discovered my first rock hero Alanis Morrisette (who’s also a twin). Jagged Little Pill was the first tape I purchased with my own money and I wore that tape out listening to it everyday several times a day! My sister was also the first to invest in my singing. She knew I wanted to sing and she would have me sing to and introduced me to the music of Selena Quintanilla and Erykah Badu. Fast forward to high school, I got introduced to classic rock n roll, like Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Rolling Stones, The Who, U2, Pink Floyd (who I’m actually listening to right now as I answer these) and my mom saw my interest in this and bought me CDs of the greatest hits from these bands. My mom was really good at encouraging us to explore our interests. She’s always been so supportive of whatever exploring we were doing. My favorite and biggest influence in high school was Jimi Hendrix. Through classic rock, I discovered the blues, because I learned all these classic rock dudes were inspired by American black blues music. So I got really deep into the blues, like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and Son House. At this age I can easily say I love just about everything. My favorites right now are Zazou Bikaye, Kraftwerk, Herb Alpert, Sergio Mendes and Public Enemy as well as a discovery I made a few years ago of the Nigerian afro rock and psychedelic music of the 1970s and Zambian rock. Bands like The Funkees, Witch and Ify Jerry Krusade to name a few. I love country music, ragtime piano, opera, classical, jazz, rap, pop, literally everything. I don’t like every song, but I can find something I like in just about any genre. 


Cedric: My relationship with music was quite different then Evas in the beginning. I Loved listening to late 80s and 90s R&B, I also loved Rap music. I didn't really start getting into rock until I became a fan of wrestling haha. I would watch wrestling pay per views and there would always be theme songs that I would just rock out to while getting pumped for the show. As High school came around Eva and I shared a room in an apartment with our mom. Eva would play some of the classic rock that she started listening to in the room and I started to take interest. I also remember that every night she would play the same U2 CD before we went to bed. On the weekends I would listen to Lunch with Led (Zeppelin) on one of our local radio stations. This also included a Think Pink (Floyd) radio show! Next thing I know my music horizons have expanded dramatically. As Eva said there was also our older siblings, Mom, and grandparents that would play all of their music around us and I know that played a role in what molded us into the style we have today, but for me that also includes Evas influence on myself as well.


Are you guys able to make a living as musicians these days, with all that's going on in the world right now? Or do you still work regular jobs?


Eva: I am involved in music through and through as my trade. Whether it’s performing it or curating. When I’m not on stage playing in The Black Tones, I am a radio host on a Seattle radio station called KEXP. I host one of the longest running Northwest music shows, Audioasis. I sometimes sit in on other daytime shows throughout the week, mainly the Midday Show, which is normally hosted by Cheryl Waters.


Cedric: We get to make a little here and there with The Black Tones, but also I do have my day job as well at Amazon. I currently work for Amazon Prime air and have been enjoying that job as well. Now most people at my job will tell you if they had the chance to make their passion their full time job they would and so would I. So maybe one day I'll be a full time musician.


You worked with Jack Endino in your first album. Why did you choose him as a producer? I mean, of course he's a legend, but was there something specific you were looking for -- a certain sound or someone who would understand your ideas as a band... Or maybe something else? And did you get what you were looking for on the record? Also, do you plan to work with him again or do you feel it's time to try something new?


Eva: Jack had been recommended to us by several people and I of course heard the work he’s done and loved it. How we came to work with him was due to my now husband, but boyfriend at the time, Jake. Jake sent Jack one of our songs without me knowing and Jack emailed him back saying “I could record the shit out of that band!” Then when Jake told me what he did and how Jack responded, I said, “Well great! Let’s work with him!”. Jack is so great to work with. Watching him work is like watching a chemist behind the board. He’s so humble, despite all the amazing work he’s contributed to. He really cares about the project that is in front of him at the moment. Whether while working with Soundgarden, or a local singer songwriter. He does high quality work and equal effort. We recently have worked with another producer who is also awesome, Don Farwell of Earwig studios and recently did some work with Barrett Martin. Our friend Mason Lowe actually recorded two songs that are on Cobain & Cornbread (Chubby & Tubby and Welcome Mr. Pink). Seattle has a lot of amazing producers and engineers who are also just great people. We will continue to work with each of them in the future and if we meet someone new along the way, we may try it out.


Cedric: It has been quite the honor to work and know Jack Endino. As Eva mentioned, my current brother-in-law did us a solid and sent Jack one of the songs. Once Eva told me that he wanted to record with us we both knew it was a no brainer. He is masterful in what he does behind the board and always allows room for the artist to be creative while also offering up great advice on when and what part of a song you are working on needs more or maybe even needs less. His humility and humbleness for the greatness that he puts into anything he produces is admirable and something I definitely look up too.


Your family is originally from Louisiana, but you were born and raised in Seattle, right? How big of an influence does Seattle have in your sound? I mean, we can hear a little bit of Jimi Hendrix and a little bit of grunge in your music (and the title of your record, of course). But we can also hear a taste of U.S. southern music, blues and gospel as well. Did all those influences come up naturally or did you try to incorporate all those things in the music in a more conscious/intentional manner?


Eva: Our household was very musical as there was a lot of music always playing. My grandparents loved jazz, blues and big band music. My mom was really into 70’s soul and R & B, pop, and jazz. All of that stuff is part of the journey of what we create. I started getting into gospel music when I was exploring mid century blues recordings. When I learned about the influence blues and gospel had on rock n roll, I further explored it. There was something about it that felt nostalgic and like home. We grew up going to church twice a week, but not baptist churches or ones that had the big soulful choirs. We were a Roman catholic family, so the music was a lot quieter. I did like some of that. But sometimes we would go to those other churches with a band and gospel choir and I remember loving those! I feel like music influences can come from anywhere, even non music sources. I’ve been inspired just by the aesthetic of my grandparents house we grew up in. The southern dialect my grandparents still used when speaking and the southern cuisine we grew up eating everyday. Being raised by southerners in the northwest creates this sort of hybrid of soul and rebellion. I like to tell people to imagine eating red beans and rice wearing boots and flannel when it’s raining and cobain is singing in the background. Or headbanging while eating gumbo. This all felt very natural and right. Our music is just a reflection of these experiences. 


In the past few years, Tina Bell has kind of been "rediscovered" by music writers. What's your view on her work as an influence or even as a "founder" of grunge music? And why do you think she's been kind of "erased" from Seattle music history for all these years?


Eva: I think Tina Bell is just incredible! I can’t believe she was real sometimes, but she definitely was. The same reason why a lot of black people get erased from history as an influencer. Racism. White supremacy. Stereotypes. The list keeps going. There is a narrative that America wants to keep about black people. To not see us as individuals and especially not in a genre that has been now dominated by white people. Hell, most of us didn’t realize or know a black woman invented rock n roll all this time until a handful of years ago. The country’s narrative and mission historically, has always been to celebrate and credit white people. That’s why the recent wave in historical information of who actually invented this stuff is so shocking to people. They weren’t expecting it to be us because that has never been the narrative nor a priority of the country. 


Some of your songs have long instrumental parts with little to no vocals whatsoever... Where does this come from? Do you listen to this kind of music a lot? What are some of your influences when it comes to instrumental music?


Eva: I don’t always have something to say vocally in a song. I don’t believe in taking up room in a song for vocals just for the sake of having vocals, because you think every song needs lyrics. Sometimes the instruments themselves have more to say. I play what I love and I play what I feel and sometimes that doesn’t require any words. I do love instrumental music, I think the 70s is one of the best decades for music. I love how kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Herb Alpert, and many more can make songs that don’t require words on every song or any song. Fela Kuti was the king of hanging on a solid groove for a good 10 mins before singing anything. If you feel it, let it be. If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. Sometimes a song sounds better and can take you on a completely different journey and experience if the singer would just shut up sometimes.


What about Eva's fear of spiders, that inspired her to write "Mama! There's a Spider in my Room"? Is there a real event that inspired those lyrics? If so, what happened to that poor spider? Did daddy kill it dead? :)


Eva: I really genuinely do not like spiders. I’ve been afraid of them since I was a little girl. I don’t remember a time when they didn’t scare me. I write songs about things that make me happy, sad, puzzled, scared, etcetera. Spiders scare me. Although I feel like my fear has slightly (very slightly) subsided the older I get. I can handle really small ones if I see one. But overall, eck! I can’t stand them. I think a more accurate song title would be Cedric! There’s A Spider in My Room! Since he killed most of the spiders for me!


How much of a role does religion play in your music? And is that why you recorded Jaybird Coleman's "Rivers of Jordan"?


Eva: I sing about Jesus in more songs than I thought I would. As I mentioned, we were raised catholics and sometimes I like to address that in music. I love love love gospel music. The passion, the instruments, the vocal work, everything. I am no longer a religious person but my favorite song of all time happens to be a religious song called Judgment by Rev. Sister Mary Nelson. I first heard Jaybird Hawkins Rivers of Jordan about the same time I heard Judgement and fell in love with the song. I was just starting to teach myself harmonica and that song immediately became a goal of mine to learn. Loved the harmonica work, loved the historical message of crossing the river of jordan, which represents freedom of oppression and bondage.


Tell me a little about your relationship with Pearl Jam's Mike McCready. You recorded a 7" for his label and you also had him play guitar on your cover of U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)". How did you meet? And how the idea to cover such a classic song came about?


Eva: Mike is such a great dude! He has been a champion of local musicians here in Seattle and it’s really such an honor to have been supported by him. I had gotten an email from his manager a couple years ago saying that Mike had watched our performance on a TV show called Band in Seattle and was really impressed by the performance and wanted to release some music from us via his label. I was so surprised to see this because you never know who’s watching or paying attention or who even cares about what you’re doing. So we of course said hell yeah, and wrote and recorded two singles The Devil and His Grandmother, which was named after a Brothers Grimm fairytale of the same name and Where Do We Go Now. Fast forward to the U2 song, we were approached by SMASH which is an organization that supports musicians healthcare here in Seattle. They were putting on a benefit and wanted to have musicians collaborate on a song with the theme being Songs of Hope. The song that immediately came to my mind was U2’s Pride (In the Name of Love) a song they wrote about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We had stopped at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee, which is where MLK Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 and is now the Civil Rights Museum, a few months prior when we went down south to play a festival in Mississippi. So that song was really in my head during that time and it’s a song I had dreamed of covering since I was in high school. So we connected with Mike who gladly wanted to collaborate on the song. We talked on the phone about it and Mike was just the coolest down to earth person. What really made me teary eyed was when he told me “The first time I heard your song The Key of Black, I was floored.”. Here’s a man that’s in the Rock ‘n’ Roll hall of fame, has accomplished everything there is to accomplish as a musician, wanting to work with us, expressing admiration for what we do and so encouraging. It really makes you feel validated as a smaller, local, indie band. It makes you feel like you belong here in music and have something to say that’s just as important as a mega rockstar. It will remain one of the most memorable moments of my life.


Some of your lyrics have strong political content, especially regarding racism, police violence and all those issues. Please, tell me a little about the activism that you do as band, what are the main causes you support and how can fans get involved?


Eva: Nina Simone said an artist’s job is to reflect the times. That's what we do. We can’t pretend the issues of today aren’t affecting us or people who look like us. Our activism is in some of our music. Some of it is monetary. We have done things from donating money we’ve made from shows or songs sold to music schools, requesting that the money goes directly to the music instruction of black students. Last year, we took our band budget and brought Christmas gifts for black families, something we are looking at doing every year. Yes, we have a video game where you can fight hate groups as either me or Cedric at which only works for desktop right now. 


Cedric: As Eva said all we are trying to do is reflect the times in front of us. From donating money, to donating Christmas gifts, to being members of the Keep music live board here in washington, we try to help out where we can. I have also had the honor to join and am in the midst of a project for the Black Music Collective for the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Grammy association. 


Last year, when the Black Lives Matter movement hit big in the U.S., Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) released a statement with a proposition to create a program that would allow songwriters to share a percentage of their profits to organizations that support black communities. How do you feel about that? Is that something that can truly make a difference? And what else white artists could do to support antiracist causes, in your opinion?


Eva: That’s a really cool thing and a step in the right direction for sure. I think supporting black businesses is a really great thing since historically speaking the playing field was not even. Other than money, education is so important and access to opportunities. I think something white people can do is have tough conversations with other white people about what needs to seriously change from the conditioning that’s been ingrained in a lot of people in this country. To give credit where credit is due, to make your board meetings and office staff, and the people at the top more racially inclusive. To support kids of color in education, to lobby for better schools and destroy this school to prison pipeline. Invest in communities of color, teach about stocks and investing, change how this country views and devalues black people. We are black, that’s what we have in common. We are diverse individuals. We aren’t all poor, we aren’t all from the hood, we don’t all like the same foods, music, clothing, whatever. We want to be seen as individuals. We come together as one when we see we are being murdered in the streets unarmed by bad apples in law enforcement and no one believes us or says “well they’re black, I’m sure there was a good reason”. That’s why we black individuals come together as one to say stop this now!


Cedric: I agree with Evas sentiments on this one. Giving to black businesses and helping Black communities are very important and such a lovely thing to see when people are trying to help uplift communities of color. In addition the tough conversations about race and about people's mis-conception of people of color need to be addressed. We can give all the money in the world to people but also education is how we unlock the door to understanding each other. Without education there is too much room for ignorance and ignorance is what keeps us as a nation and even globally from moving forward and understanding each other's cultures. Empathy and understanding can take this world a long way. We just have to learn to embrace these two qualities over greed and ignorance. We will be infinitely rich with a more empathetic and understanding society.


What about Brazil? Have you gotten any offers to come here, after our sanitary situation is better? We'd love to have you!


Eva: Not that I know of, but oh boy would I love to come to Brazil!


Cedric: I don't think we have, but as Eva said that would be AMAZING to be able to come down to Brazil and play for y’all!


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