A week later, they would play Lollapalooza to rave reviews. Selena Fragassi of the Chicago Sun-Times praised their performance, noting that drummer Eric Owen “beat his kit so furiously ... it might’ve broken some laws,” and guitarist and vocalist Kevin McKeown’s “guitar gymnastics ... could be their own sport in Tokyo.”
“The heartbeat of our band is the live shows,” McKeown says. “And not being able to do them for so long was crazy. To go from no playing and no shows to going into your festival of 100,000 people was kind of overwhelming at first, but everybody's incredibly hungry and stoked for live music again, so the energy was pretty wild.”
McKeown and Owen grew up in Toronto, where they first met in kindergarten. They began playing music together around their time in high school, when they formed a band. Various band members would come and go, but the two always remained, and Owen’s parents' basement, which served as their rehearsal space in their early days, became a second home for the duo.
After trying out a life in Nashville, Owen’s drum patterns, combined with McKeown’s bluesy, Southern-influenced vocals, were key factors in their choice to move to Austin in 2009, where they felt their sound would better resonate with audiences.
“It’s kind of like when an actor moves to Hollywood,” McKeown says. “Nashville and Austin were two hot spots that we definitely wanted to just immerse ourselves in and try music full time.”
When they first arrived in Austin, the two took on various gigs to make ends meet. McKeown recalls delivering flyers for Papa John’s by day while performing residencies at Sixth Street bars by night. In their free time, they would practice in garages, rehearsal spaces and “other really dirty places.”
“At the end of the day, we just loved playing music,” McKeown says, “whether it was for three people or 300 people.”
Since living in Austin, they have made mainstays out of Arlyn Studios and 5th Street Studios, where they recorded the bulk of the material for six albums. McKeown says they recorded their first four albums using tapes and reels, as opposed to digital software. The duo would go into the recording session with the music and lyrics well-rehearsed and try to nail down tracks in as few takes as possible.
“At the end of the day, we just loved playing music ... whether it was for three people or 300 people.” – Kevin McKeown
Black Pistol Fire dabbled in a mix of digital and analog recording methods for their most recent album, Look Alive, which was released this past January. Originally planned for a 2020 release, many of the tracks on the album were recorded “around two or three years” ago.
Even so, songs like “Look Alive,” on which the duo “try to look alive, when they're dropping like flies,” as the song goes, are fairly timely, taking on a new, eerie meaning.
“We kind of had to maneuver a bit,” McKeown says. “The overall vision and inspiration for the album has been an ongoing process. But a lot of the lyrical content relates to the current situation and what’s going on in the world.”
Between returning to the stages at various venues and music festivals and witnessing a renaissance of rock and alternative influence in pop music — through artists such as Olivia Rodrigo, Willow Smith and Billie Eilish — McKeown believes music is in “a good place right now.”
“I'm sure most bands will tell you after you get into record five, six and seven, it gets a little tricky to figure out where else you can go with what with the tools you're working with," he says. "And I think for us, we just don't want to make the same album over and over, you know? I think the music coming out is incredibly inspiring right now.”