A devoted regional following has been building around The Black Tones since their beginnings almost a decade ago. But a succession of knockout live shows in recent years (including a slot on the Paramount Theatre’s 90th Anniversary concert alongside Death Cab for Cutie), an assemblage of killer tunes, and near-deafening buzz has put the Seattle band within spitting distance of breakout status in the last few months.
On paper, the foundation of lead singer Eva Walker’s scrappy but nuanced guitar and twin brother Cedric David’s muscular, driving drums couldn’t be more traditional. It’s the personality bleeding through the time-honored framework that makes Cobain and Cornbread, The Black Tones’ full-length debut, one of the most exhilarating records to come barreling out of the Pacific Northwest in a long time.
Walker and David pound and swing at the same time, informing the heft of the heaviest primal rock with a strain of hip-activating soul and blues. Little details—swatches of Hendrix-informed wah-wah, throwdown funk, and exotic psychedelia—gild the songs (props to veteran boardman Jack Endino, who does production honors). And Walker imbeds her soulful shout with almost gothic theatricality.
Eva Walker took time out to correspond via email about the anticipation around the band’s debut album, balancing power chords with political awareness, and the virtues of mashing a groove into the ground.
There’s been a lot of local buzz about this long-player, and a lot of accompanying expectations. How have you been navigating that buzz/hype?
It’s flattering and it’s exciting, but I can’t let it distract from the main focus, which is just making music we like to make. There is some feeling of pressure of course, but I am also coming to accept the fact that some people will love it, some people will hate it, some will not give a shit, and some might think it’s the best thing they’ve heard in a while. I don’t know. But we did it, we like it and we’re happy to get it out there.
How did you get hooked up with Jack Endino? I figure he must’ve been something close to a dream choice…
We got connected to Jack through my fiancé, Seattle writer Jake Uitti. He sent Jack one of our songs without me knowing, and Jack wrote back how much he liked it and that he could “record the shit out of these guys!” I was so excited when Jake showed me his response and connected us via email, then we set up a day to meet each other and the rest is history.
What’s the biggest lesson you took away from Endino, in terms of being a musician, and in general?
I think one of the biggest things I got out of our sessions was not being afraid to experiment, and listening. Jack has an incredible ear. It’s pretty unbelievable.
There’s a readiness to stretch a groove like taffy on the record, in a good way: Quite a few tracks clock in at over five minutes. What’s the lure for you in stretching a song out in that way?
I’m a big fan of riding the groove if it feels good. I listen to music that does it, Fela Kuti, Funkadelic, Kraftwerk are all artists that do this along with many others and they are some of my favorite artists to listen to. Some people can’t hang for over 3 minutes and that’s fine. I’m that way with some music, but you know when it’s over and if that means the end isn’t near, then don’t end it. We’re not on anyone else’s clock. The groove will have its death when it’s lived a full life.
Your voice is a unique instrument, and the vibrato that punctuates the end of each line you sing is a super-distinctive signature of your vocal style. There’s something gothic, even operatic, as well as soulful, about your singing.
I appreciate you saying that. My maternal grandma use to hum around the house a lot and she would have a lot of vibrato in her humming, and it was always really comforting and pretty. I incorporate her humming, Billie Holiday and Jim Morrison in my singing. Those are probably my biggest vocal influences currently.
There’s a sharp balance of socio-political conscience and good-time grooves in what you’re doing. Do you find that balance difficult or easy to maintain?
I got to reflect the times. As Nina Simone put it, an artist’s job is to reflect the times. I sing about anything. From the political state we’re in, to my irrational fear of spiders, to sex, to an old working class variety store and my grandparents. I write about it all. I like to rock hard and love to groove. I don’t write ballads, haha.
That 8-Bit Black Tones video game is addictive, and funny as hell. What spurred its creation?
Some of my favorite childhood memories were of my siblings and I playing video games on our Super Nintendo. I love video games! I’m not very good at them, but I even just love watching people play them. We had the idea of doing a fighting game and we thought, you know, why not fight hate groups? So we decided to create the game and my fiancé hooked us up with a programmer he knew named Corey Kahler, and Corey brought in a game designer, David Brender. We modeled the game after the 8-bit fighting game Kung-Fu. I think this is the best idea we’ve ever had, haha!
I also love how the band inverts female objectification by putting a scantily-clad dude (Cedric) on the cover.
I would always hear after shows from the audience how cute, handsome, beautiful, etc. they think Cedric is. Haha, he’s a heartthrob! As the lead vocalist, I’m always up front, but we are equals in this band. Cedric is the reason The Black Tones exists, not me, [and] he deserves the role of being on the front cover. He made this happen. Also, people like looking at him, haha!
What artists (local and/or national) are really rocking your world right now?
I’m inspired by pretty much anything…rock n roll, blues, hip hop, country, rap, jazz, anything. I don’t like to limit myself.
I’m really into Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, and [I’ve] been listening to a lot of compilations of 1970s Nigerian psychedelic rock, and Kraftwerk. I also like to go down YouTube wormholes and find the most unusual stuff.
You and Cedric are already video game stars/avatars. I’m thinking action figures need to be next. If there were to be Black Tones action figures, what would be yours and Cedric’s respective super-powers?
That’s a good question! I’ll take laser eyes and Cedric [gets] super strength! Haha!
[Cobain and Cornbread officially drops on April 12, and The Black Tones celebrate its release with a gig at Chop Suey tomorrow night, April 11. Tickets are going fast, but a few are available here.]