But it also is a business, which is something the band's come to accept of late. Recently, they've entered the music placement fray; the epic "Entrance Song" off their phenomenal 2010 release Phosphene Dream was recently used in a Target ad promoting Justin Timberlake's clothing line, William Rast. Allowing the song to be used in the ad was something of a difficult decision for the band, as Maas told us when we caught up with him recently to talk in advance of the band's stop at the Loft in Dallas for a gig coming up tomorrow night. But friends in the industry -- folks who know a thing or two about having their songs used in commercials, like The Black Keys and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club -- convinced the band that it was a good idea.
And, Maas says, it's worked out for the best. Anything, he says, to keep him from having to pick up a second job as a janitor.
After the jump, read our conversation with Maas in full. In addition to music therapy and ad placements, we talk, specifically, about "Entrance Song," which in referencing highways I-35, I-45 and 75, has some serious local ties. Although not about Deep Ellum, where all those roads convene, it was written there. And, in an interesting reveal, he tells us what it's really about: Back to the Future, oddly enough.
The Black Angels -- "Entrance Song"
Between the last record and this latest one, I know you worked with Roky Erickson a little bit. What else happened between the two discs?
Well, we've been on tour with Roky. We're still recording with Roky
Did any of that have any effect on you guys as a band?
Working with Roky really affected us, just because it made our communication as a band better. We taught Roky some of these old 13th Floor Elevators songs he wrote in, like, the '60s -- just kind of re-taught him. And, in doing that, I think that we obviously had to step up our game a little bit. But it was really cool, it was a really interesting experience.
What was the goal, moving forward with this record after the last one? It's on a different label, for one thing...
[Laughs.] A lot has just happened! We've done a lot of flying back and forth to Europe, we played on the David Letterman show...
Is that all overwhelming? How are you feeling about all that? You guys have been on a steady climb for the past couple years, I'd say.
That's exactly what it is. It's not, like, a jagged sharp climb where we have thousands of people at our show every night; it's been a steady, slow, kind of building thing. I think that's always how it's been for us -- I never thought we were going to have overnight success. At this point, I would never expect our music to be popular overnight. I knew it was gonna take a lot of touring and tons of shows, playing live in front of people -- not to prove ourselves, but just to show how we play these songs and what the live show experience is like.
It's kind of interesting how you guys sell your records: The last label, Light in the Attic, was known for doing a lot of reissues. You're working now with Blue Horizon, which is kind of like a resurrected label, just for you guys? Is that just random, or is that intentional?
It was totally random. We thought we were going to release this last record ourselves; Blue Horizon kind of came out of the blue. [Laughs]. They wanted to release the record, and I was like... I'd never heard of Blue Horizon, but I'd definitely heard of people who were signed there, and I was just like, "Wow, these guys want to put our record out? That's amazing - let's do it!"
How much of your plan kind of changes when you're looking at putting the record out yourself versus working with a label?
I think it definitely opened up a lot of doors for us. I mean, we throw this music festival every year [Austin Psych Fest], and putting a record out, too, on top of that, would just be tons of work, and I think it would enable us to better our live show and tour a lot. We don't get tour support from labels; if we ask them for something, we'll get it, but you don't ask for money unless you really need it. [Laughs.] So it kind of gave us a little bit of that, "Oh, all right, everything's gonna be OK." It's scary having a record and no record label. It's usually the opposite: You have a record label, then you make a record. So this was kind of a backwards approach.
You guys are clearly interested in more than just the music in that regard. You were thinking of putting out the album on your own, you do this festival... Is that something that it's fair to say is of interest to the band?
I think, when it comes down to it, honestly, we have these ideas and nobody else wants to do them, so we're going to fucking do them! [Laughs.] If we have an idea, and nobody's backing it, we're going to do it ourselves. That's the bottom line. Therefore, you get involved in the music business. I mean, I've changed what my label is. I'm in the music therapy business, I'm not in the music business.
How do you mean?
Once I realized why I was playing music, it helped me deal with people. I mean, it's therapy. It's how you and me and everybody -- it's how people get through the day. Really, looking at it as therapy, it's a lot easier to perform. It seems to me like less of a superficial thing.
That makes sense too, with your music. It's designed to kinda stir.
Yes, yes. Sometimes it's designed to stir us, and it stirs other people... sometimes it stirs other people and it ends up stirring us. [Laughs.]
I wanted to ask you specifically about the song "Entrance Song." I have a theory about it -- that it's about Deep Ellum here in Dallas. All those highways you sing about convene right there.
Yeah, that's a good point. And we wrote that song in Dallas. The song wasn't specifically about Deep Ellum, though. A lot of our songs have a lot of different connotations. I'm from Houston, and highway 45 runs through Houston. 35 runs through Austin, of course. And then Dallas is where all three of them kinda convene. We were kinda hashing out weird ideas -- I can't remember whose floor we were sleeping on when we wrote it, but we were hashing out the ideas, and we were just kinda like, "Wow, maybe we should just throw 75 in there too; it's kind of like the convening of all three of these highways." The song is almost about time travel...
How do you mean?
Just the idea of time travel, whether it's possible or impossible. Kind of a Back to the Future kind of nod, you know?
What? I don't hear any reference to flux capacitors or anything in there. That would've been awesome, though: "Rolling 88 down 75..."
Yeah, yeah! Actually, if you look at our starting notes, and if you listen to other versions of the song, you'll hear that!
Before the song was recorded, when we were playing it out live, you'd hear that.
lux capacitors and 88 miles per hour?
We said 88 miles an hour. Obviously, we were going, like, supersonic hyperdrive, so there's elements in there that are little nods. At the end, we just kind of opened it up a little bit more to interpretation.
Interesting thing about that song: It got picked up for those Target ads for Justin Timberlake's clothing line. Is that the first major placement you guys have had like that?
Yeah, it was. And I didn't realize it was for Justin Timberlake's label until I saw the commercial. To me, it looked like a Levi's ad. [Laughs.] It sounded cool, so we just went for it. We've turned down a lot of those opportunities before, and when you turn those opportunities down, it's like, "Oh, jeez, I wouldn't want those people listening to our music." But I talked to Pat Carney of The Black Keys and people from the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and I asked these people what they would do. I don't just make rash decisions on my own, so I asked these people, and they were like, "Dude! Do it! More people are gonna hear your music. That's an opportunity that might never come around, and I know you guys need the money."
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Does this represent a philosophical shift for you guys?
I think that it was harder for us to make those decisions in the past. I mean, we still don't have any money. The thing is, we wanna do this for a long time. I don't wanna be a janitor when I'm older. I wanna be in the music therapy business when I'm old. In order to make that a possibility, you have to make your music played for as many people as possible. And I think, yeah, there is a philosophical shift. In the '60s, when pop music was a good thing, it wasn't a bad word. Music was soulful -- it was like The Ronettes, and Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers, and even stuff later than that. Pop music was a good thing. We look at Jack White and what he was doing -- he was trying to take over the mainstream and make his music popular, and make pop music cool again. So if you can look at it from that perspective, it makes a lot of sense. If everyone starts listening to psychedelic music again, and psychedelic music is all of a sudden pop music, that would be amazing. That would be amazing for the world, I think.
It would be therapeutic.
It would be very therapeutic. It would be an eye-opening change for the music business in general. People would hopefully stop singing about bling and cars and shit like that, like rims and stuff; they could focus on other things.
Like time travel.
Yeah, time travel! [Laughs.] Or how powerful the Internet is. There's tons of things.
It sounds like you have the idea, then you come up with the song, as far as the overall theme. Or is it the other way around?
It's actually the other way around. It's funny; we write the music, and the music paints a landscape of lyrical content, and that's kind of how the songs are written. Lyrically, there's a feeling -- it's like, I don't know if we can make this into a song, and all of a sudden, there's images that go into my head, creep into our minds, and we describe them, and they're kind of like scenes. There's a mood. Looking at it like that, it makes the creative process a little easier. It comes out as just describing the score of the movie you're making.