Photo courtesy of Black Gum.
While off the grid at the moment, Austin-based garage rock band Black Gum began to make a name for themselves a couple years ago, entering the scene as a timeless, synthesized jam band, creating rustic ballads with their electric guitars and smoky voices, and keeping it real by releasing music on old-fashioned physical formats. Going forward, they intend to maintain such enigma. Their self-titled EP came out in 2011 on cassette tape, and the group additionally released two singles this year, “Surf” and “Sludge,” as a duo set on 7” vinyl that can be streamed online. Now on a short hiatus, the Texans intend to reunite in the near future, and promise to give their fans all the same good stuff and more, perhaps even on a new direction next go around.
In an interview with BTR, guitarist Travis Kent and drummer Rachel Badger explained the premise behind their music, and offered a hint about their next move as a unit.
BreakThru Radio: So, how did you all come together in the first place?
Rachel Badger: Black Gum started in 2010 with Travis and I playing on our days off. We found out right away that we had similar inspirations for making music. At the time we were both listening to a lot of Black Tambourine, Beat Happening, and random surf music, and had a lot of common interest in punk and psych music. We experimented with different sounds, and ultimately landed on something that we felt evoked an energetic surf sound. We added our friend Brian Koepfer after that and officially formed Black Gum in July 2010. Brian left on a traveling adventure and Travis and I played as a two-piece for a time, but agreed that we preferred the fullness of a bass sound. David Israel offered to take on the bass role, came to a practice to see how things flowed, and hasn’t stopped coming to them since.
BTR: What’s the meaning behind your moniker?
Travis Kent: Nyssa sylvatica, also known as black tupelo or black gum, is a medium-sized deciduous tree native to New England, but can also be found in Florida, Eastern Texas, and Mexico. It typically will grow in or near creeks. It’s commonly known as just tupelo, black gum, or sour gum, though it does not secrete a resin like that of a sweet gum tree. Also, trick gum? Ever seen Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure? Kinda like that.
BTR: How do you define “surf sludge” as a style of music?
RB: One day we were throwing around ideas about what we sound like or wanted to sound like and came up with “lighthearted surf sludge.” At first it was a very apt description, but as our songs started becoming more nuanced we dropped the lighthearted bit. I think it represents our sound well, and also fits with our naming convention: black (sludge) gum (surf). I like to think it has [an] interesting duality, and basically it means light dark, fun pain, hot coldness.
TK: ‘50s and ‘60s surf music was pretty clean and even-tempered, you could say our waters are choppier than that, and dirtier.
BTR: You seem to enjoy humor from your Tumblr page – What’s funny to you? What makes a good entertainer?
RB: Who doesn’t like to have a good laugh? I think we are all pretty sarcastic. I like humor that is almost not funny because it’s so ridiculous or offensive. I also like really dry humor and obvious silly things, like the pizza sweatshirt I posted recently. I think our sense of humor comes through in our music. I’m not sure what makes a good performer, but I personally lean towards being energetic and sincere.
TK: Yeah. I thought that “Lion tries to eat baby” video was pretty funny. Part 1 and 2!
BTR: Why release music on a cassette tape?
BADGER: Listening to something on cassette lends its own quirks to the sound. We wanted it to sound warm and dirty, which is what the music is like. I definitely enjoy the warble, decay, random tape snaps, what it can sound like when your batteries are running low, etc. The songs sound really different to me on the digital versions, which is great. I think it’s interesting that you can have two very different experiences with the same set of songs, depending on what you listen to them with.
BTR: If somewhere were to give you five minutes to talk to any artist, dead or alive, who would you want to talk to and why?
RB: Five minutes isn’t very long! I’ve already talked to one of my favorite drummers, Zach Hill, for longer than that, although we did not talk shop because I wasn’t a drummer at the time. I only started drumming seriously a couple of years ago. I think we talked about Spencer’s, of Hella, fake doctor shirt and then they gave me a poster or something. It was a long time ago. Other than Zach, I guess I’d be interested in shooting the shit with Jaki Liebezeit, the drummer of CAN.
TK: Ha, I would be nervous that most of the musicians I geek out on might be assholes, or just crazy.
BTR: What can we expect from Black Gum in the future?
RB: We are going to be working on a lot of new songs when we get back in the saddle. We’ve been playing a similar set since the beginning and I think we’re all looking to try some new things, especially within our process. We will let you know when we’ve got it all figured out.
BTR: What’s the most important thing to know about your band?
RB: That we wouldn’t be around without the support of our close friends. They’re a great and go to all of our shows, buy our shit, and make us laugh.