Black Tide Grows Up On Stage

It's a little more than an hour after getting offstage at Leeds Academy in England, and Gabriel Garcia of Black Tide has just had a phone thrust in his face for an interview—this one. Perhaps he's worn out from the show or burned-out on doing press. Either way, his responses vary between one-word answers and sentence fragments. He may just be exhausted, but there's another possible culprit: the fact that he's 16 years old—not the most verbose of ages.

Now I know how my parents felt when moaning about their "uncommunicative teen."

Although his interview banter may not be at the highest level, his musicianship is well beyond his years. As frontman and lead guitarist for the Miami-based Black Tide, Garcia and his band have taken their precocious talent to a major-label deal, worldwide touring and acclaim from music magazines as one of metal's most promising young acts.

At just 8 years old—when other young boys were mastering Punch-Out!! (or maybe Halo for his generation)—Garcia was handed a guitar by his cousin and taught the basics. Before long, he was jamming along with and improvising over metal standards such as Metallica's Master of Puppets album (although he is adamant in his preference for Megadeth's solos) and Iron Maiden's Somewhere in Time.

At age 9, an embarrassed Garcia performed in public for the first time, at a Burdines department store in a Miami mall for an audience made mostly of family members and a few bemused shoppers. Two years later, Black Tide was formed, and once the band met the requirement of having at least one member in high school, they were winning local battle of the bands contests against older competition.

Within a year of that, the band signed a deal with Atlantic Records.

For the most part, Garcia says his band hasn't run into any age-driven bias—impressive for the metal community, where street cred and longevity in the scene is sometimes as important as the music itself. The only hurdle was a sticky situation on the 2007 "free" Ozzfest tour, but one that ended up working out in the band's favor: Black Tide was originally slated to play the festival's second stage, but because of a Jagermeister sponsorship, the underage band was forbidden from playing on a stage with alcohol advertisements. Instead of getting booted from the tour, Ozzfest organizers gave the band a leg up and bumped them to the main stage.

Not bad for Black Tide's first full-fledged tour.

"We kind of went backward," Garcia says. "We went up on that stage, the biggest and scariest thing we'd ever done, and then started playing smaller and smaller shows. And now we're on our way back up. "

In the meantime, Black Tide went through the usual paces of being in a band while in school—getting recognized by kids who had never talked to them before, pushing aside the discontent of "haters" and, perhaps unfortunately in retrospect, ignoring the potential of increased attention from girls. Sure, they're probably doing just fine on the road, but there's always the mystique of the ones you knew way back when—even if, for Black Tide's members that only means people you saw last week in English class.

Still, this is a band that clearly knows its stuff: One of the shining moments on Light From Above, Black Tide's thrashed-out and exuberant debut, is a cover of "Hit the Lights," the first song a young Metallica ever put to tape. It's obvious why Black Tide picked the song: because of the clear parallels between the two bands at the early stages of their careers; doing so was simply a matter of Black Tide staking its claim within a genre dedicated to an attitude and a lifestyle—by covering one of the more direct songs about said attitude and lifestyle. Right?

"No," Garcia says.

Then why?

"I don't know. We all like that song."

Fair enough. Perhaps he has the right idea and is leading by example.

So just shut up and let the kids play.

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Chris Steffen