Interview with Josh from Small Black - April 2010

Interview by Aline Giordano

Small Black As soon as I heard the song Despicable Dogs I was hooked to the melodies, the electro-beats and the discords of Small Black. I sent nine questions to Jagjaguwar, the host to many great bands like Okkervil River and Bon Iver, which released Small Black’s EP on April 26. These were passed on to singer Josh Kolenik who kindly replied with the answers below.

You wrote Small Black EP in your uncle’s attic. I can think of many great artists writing/recording in attics and other secluded places (e.g. Bonnie Prince Billy and Bon Iver). What was it about your uncle’s attic that made it a special place for you to write this EP?

Josh: For us, seclusion is always going to dramatically help us to get the recording/writing process moving along more quickly (We’re also doing our full length at a little house in Delaware). Living in Brooklyn is a dream, but it’s hard to find the silence needed to finish music sometimes. My grandfather pretty much built my uncle’s house from scratch when my dad was a boy. So it was a comfortable place that I’d been going to my whole life. Ryan and I would spend the weekend up there in my uncle’s workout room surrounded by weights and drinking crystal light. It was a great place to get perspective and clarity.

To me it feels that your tracks are a continuation of My Bloody Valentine’s music but taken a step further in the mastered noise, discord that turns into beautiful melodies and the melancholy. Would you say it’s a fair description? How would you describe your music?

Josh: Ryan and I have a deep love for MBV. Loveless blew us away as teenagers and it’s definitely something we always revisit. With the EP, we tried to take harsher sounds and layer them all on top of each other, so they’d become new and different and lush. Noisy beat-pop seems like a good description of our music.

I know there are many definitions for romanticism… but I would argue that your music fits with the broad characteristics that underpin romanticism, for example, individualism, emotional expression and the disregard of rules and therefore I’d be tempted to call Small Black a romantic band. How do you feel about that? Do you think the characteristics suit you?

Josh: I always want to consider songwriting and lyrics with some amount of honesty, but also I think it’s fun to idealize and romanticize. Really as much as seems appropriate for a song and concept. I don’t feel forced to be autobiographical in any way, but I do want to inject myself into the song. I love Werner Herzog’s ideas of blurring reality and making things better than they really are and embracing that. It’s liberating and challenging. Hope to go more towards that direction as we go forward.

Some websites refer to you as a pop band. Does that offend you or do you feel honoured?

Josh: Definitely honoured. The goal in pop always is to make the most infectious and memorable tunes possible and we angle that way as much as we can. Current pop music is so advanced now too! We freaked out watching that Lady Gaga/Beyonce video last night. So wild when they poisoned everyone in that restaurant!

Moving onto the technology side… did you feel at any point restricted by technology? Did you, for example, have an idea of what you wanted something to sound like and get frustrated at the ‘machines’ because you could not get that sound?

Josh: NO! I love the machines. I just hadn’t spent enough time to figure them out until the past few years. All the most exciting music right now to me seems to be coming from pushing the technology in ways it just hasn’t gone before. It was huge for us to get comfortable with Pro Tools and with the LP we’re working on, Juan and Jeff add a serious new set of skills to play with. Non-linear recording just seems unlimited in scope! Can’t stop finding new ways to use it.

Would you say that Small Black and bands like Crystal Castles are the missing link between indie rock music and dance music?

Josh: It seems like the past decade has been filled up by artists attempting to fill that void, with lots of success I think (The Rapture, Herclues and Love Affair, LCD Soundsystem come to mind) I think our newer stuff is a bit more dance as well. Getting away from some of the simple rhythms we’d been using and getting more into drum programming. Played some Crystal Castles dj-ing after a show last week. So many memorable and danceable songs. And just so fierce live.

What's the song ‘Kings of animals’ about?

Josh: Kings of Animals is about something that gets away from you. Something that you thought you had control/influence over and that moment you realize that it’s not that way anymore. I had a picture of psychedelic ghost horse in mind running out of my bedroom when I was writing the lyrics.

How is the album shaping up? Any particular avenue you’re eager to explore?

Josh: We’ve got most of the basic tracks recorded and we’ll be finishing up after tour in Delaware. It’s a real step up from the EP as far as production value and we’ve brought in Juan and Jeff as collaborators. They add so much versatility and have amazing ideas. We’ve done so many songs (over 20) and will be narrowing it to 10-11 in May. Can’t say there is a specific theme. I think it follows quite nicely from the EP though.

I work in a university in the South of England (UK) that offers a digital music course. Have you got any tips for the students on the course who are studying to produce digital tracks?

Josh: Don’t be afraid to do the exact opposite of what you’re told. There are no rules to this stuff and having taken some classes, sometimes the framework can be a bit limiting. That said it’s invaluable to get your head around all the technology and have the skills to make your music even tighter and better. But I definitely think the “worst” decisions I make technically are the ones that end up making the most interesting recordings.

For more details, visit… Small Black's blog/website

Listen to…Despicable Dogs