Learning to drive is, traditionally, a rite of passage into young adulthood. Stephen McBean, frontman of Vancouver psych rockers Black Mountain, is pushing 50. But he’s not about to let that get in the way of his coming-of-age moment.
“I was trying to find new things in life that would excite me, and do things like George on Seinfeld when he became Opposite George,” says McBean. “So, I got my licence. It was a bit terrifying at first with the freeways, but I decided to dive in and then I was like, ‘Oh damn! This is fun!’”
So much fun, in fact, that Black Mountain’s new album Destroyer is inspired by the newfound freedom, and anxiety, of getting behind the wheel for the first time. Produced by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans), it builds the band’s best parts — resin-stained riffs, pop sensibilities, and space-prog ambitions — into a turbocharged, efficient package that pulls ahead of their stoner rock rep. Not that McBean is totally opposed to that label. “A lot of bands operate in a similar mindset as us — you’re letting the song take you someplace cool and dark and magical. You know, with little gnomes running around.”
However, not all bands have the distinct honour of marking down Dave Grohl as an official fanboy. The Foo Fighters front man gave the Black Mountain a heavy Twitter co-sign a few years ago, thanking them for inspiring him with their song “Florian Saucer Attack.” Helping one of world’s biggest rockstars find their mojo again will surely raise the profile of any band, but it’s something McBean pays little mind to.
“I mean, that’s something the label might send us sometimes — like a graph of our streams, pre and post Dave Grohl shoutout,” he says. The way he prefers to gauge the band’s growth, he says, is by surveying the demographic makeup of the mosh pits at their shows. “We played on Conan years ago and after that there were like 10 rock dads at every show for a couple weeks. And then you meet little kids who started bands because they heard the first Black Mountain record. We sometimes get generations coming to our shows, like a dad and his daughter, and the dad’s into Deep Purple while the daughter’s into the Flaming Lips, but they’re both into our music. So that’s cool.”
Though the West Coast rock vets have now been space truckin’ for a solid 15 years, they found themselves in a jackknife when OG drummer Joshua Wells and singer Amber Webber departed the band after 2016’s stellar IV. Instead of calling it quits, though, McBean and keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt wanted to see if they couldn’t steer out of their predicament first. “At first it was a pretty heavy blow, like Damn, first we lost Josh and then Amber!” says McBean. “And then we kinda had like a little group huddle, like, Do we want to continue or not? And me and Jeremy, we wanted to at least try to continue, so we figured the best way would be to work on a record, not knowing if it was gonna be Black Mountain or something else.”
Among the co-drivers that helped the band navigate out of the skid were singer Rachel Fannan (Sleepy Sun) and drummers Adam Bulgasem (Dommengang), Kliph Scurlock (Flaming Lips), and Kid Millions (Oneida). The roving, revolving gang recorded 22 tracks in total, eight of which made Destroyer. It’s named after the discontinued single-run 1985 Dodge Destroyer, and appropriately so: the LP is a high-speed chase into a post-Apocalyptic desert wasteland, guns blazing and engine roaring, leaving rubber and smoke in its wake. It’s a monster bong hit of thrash, punk, and doom that still feels potent in the new millennium, proving Black Mountain’s still got plenty of mileage left.
Ever the sensible one, though, McBean has a PSA for his fans: don’t toke and drive. “It’s probably not a good idea. Instead, just park somewhere in the desert, hotbox your car, listen to the album, and, you know, chill out and look at the stars.”