The Ambassadors of Good Fucking Times
Black Maria’s overdue debut
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
In the pack of snarling dogs that is a music scene, scraps of praise, stage time and fans are hard-won. Somehow, Black Maria finds itself with more meat than it can eat. You won't see members badgering social networking friends with notices or merch. Fans spread the word, and they do it well. A Black Maria gig doesn't happen all that often, and when it does, it's an event of towering amplifiers, volume you can feel in your chest cavity and a big, rowdy audience.
These guys didn't make an album they'll have to wheedle 50 people into taking home. Instead, show-goers have been rallying for a disc for years. "People were actually getting angry with us," says bassist Brian Banks. "They're like, When is your CD coming out? And I'm like, Ahhh, next year, next year. All of a sudden people are like, When the fuck is your CD coming out?!?"
So what was the holdup? "People were having babies," says guitarist Gordy Andersen. "People were having interesting relationships with the judicial system. I got cancer and lost my kidney. I mean, I was out for almost a year. Yet these motherfuckers stayed together and even wrote songs about coming to visit me in the hospital." It's called "Pain Button," and it's the third track on the band's self-titled debut.
They don’t consider Black Maria stoner rock or metal. Instead, it's got a lot more to do with amped-up rock and roll, punk and skateboarding. "We all came from that culture as well," says Andersen.
These guys remember Albuquerque’s early scene, a time when there weren’t many rock venues. So when Black Maria started playing together eight years ago, the band drew its following the way you did back in the day—by throwing and playing house parties. But before that, there was a period of incubation.
To hear Black Maria tell it, the band didn't mean to grow into the giant that it is. In a basement in an area of town members won't name (the landlords are still looking for them), they started a regimen of practicing and partying but never intended to leave the bunker. "If ever the subject came up, it was like, No, we're not going to play out. This is really fun. We're not going to spoil it with that," says Andersen.
One night, they lugged their gear up the stairs and into the kitchen for a massive gathering that became Black Maria's first show. "We were grown men, but we behaved like retarded 14-year-olds," says Anderson. The party patrol showed up and a barrage of officers stormed the house, recalls singer Marc Crovella. The police collected I.D.s, looking to bust underage drinkers. "I was the youngest person there. I was damn near 30."
Eventually, Black Maria hit the bars. The shows were thriving, and the club owners loved the band because its fans drink a lot of alcohol. But in all the years of fast living, members never had a band fight, and there's never been a fight at a show—that anyone can really recall, anyway. Instead, three couples that met at a Black Maria show fell in love and got married, says guitar player Terry Sells. "We're ambassadors of love, goodwill, happiness and good fucking times," adds Banks.
They throw crass jokes into each other's stories ("Like your ex!") and abuse one another as old friends do (Alibi: “I thought I saw an older woman at a Black Maria show once. Who was that?” Sells: “That was Gordy.”). Fervent fan, friend and roadie Cole Brown refills drinks throughout our interview. Banks pulls the moral from every tale. "All of this, I guess it could be sad to some people," he says. "But to us, it's normal. We're good guys, but we're degenerates."
So why do people like Black Maria so much? "That's what we were wondering," Banks jokes. "We were doing something at the time that wasn't being done, and we were doing it well and providing a spectacle."
They began playing with acts from Austin, Texas, like DixieWitch, SuperHeavyGoatAss, Amplified Heat and Full Stride. On their recommendations, Black Maria checked in with David Elizondo at Republic Studios in Austin. The band traveled, recorded an album and played shows. "Black Maria loose anywhere, much less Austin ... ” Andersen trails off shaking his head. "By the fourth day, I'm so proud of various members of this band, that we were able to record."
And the long-awaited disc sounds—even through miniature speakers on a $30 job from Wal-Mart—not unlike Black Maria live. The tones are right. But there's one noted difference, one the band doesn't shy away from: You can actually hear drummer Brent Sells (guitarist Terry's brother) and the vocals. "I'm a music guy," says Banks. "Lyrics and all that, I don't really care about. When I finally hear what Marc is singing, I'm like, Holy shit. That's fucking good stuff."
For all the talk of accidental local herodom and keeping it basement, Andersen says there's nothing more humbling and gratifying than the love fans show them. And for a split second, Banks even goes, as he says, a little Hallmark. "The album is kind of like our thanks for everybody doing what they do for us."
Marc Crovella, singer, on:
Song topics: All you want to write about is sex, drugs, drugs and drinking.
Playing rez shows: There are grandmothers, mothers, children, fathers—everyone. We started playing, thinking, They're going to leave. Everyone stayed.
Learning to sing: After a few years, I was like, I can go up there sober, and I think I can get away with it.
Terry Sells, guitarist, on:
Audience: I always think at all our shows, This is the last time anyone shows up.
Family: My dad's missed only like four shows in the last eight years.
Brian Banks, bassist, on:
New bands: That's like one of my pet peeves is these bands, you know, they go to a show and they see somebody and they're like, Oh shit, I can do that. So they get their three friends together, they practice for two weeks, they record a CD, and a week later, they're playing at the Launchpad. And, you know, they suck. It's like, Man, stay in the garage.
Guitarist Gordy: He's got this quirkiness about him. If it wasn't for that, we would be a straight kinda ba-na-na-na band. You add the salt to the fucking pork, baby.
Album Art: The name Black Maria, I got it from Texas Chain Saw Massacre. That's the album art. Bring it on. Sue us, motherfuckers. It's so blatantly taken from the movie.
Gordy Andersen, guitarist, on:
Brotherhood: We're held together by a common bond of questionable lifestyle choices that don't ever seem to follow a logical pattern of learning from mistakes.
Motivation: This wouldn't even exist if it was just us. We had people that believed in what we were doing and were mad that we weren't doing more—and super mad that we didn't care that we weren't doing more. If you look at the executive producer credits, those are people that stepped up and said, for whatever reason, I have this much to contribute to get you dumbasses to do something.
Singer Marc: But look at him, he's beautiful. He has cool tattoos. He's so charismatic. It's like, Does Mark sing? Who cares?
Success: You don't want to admit you won the science fair. You don't care. You just love thermodynamics.
Life: We don't have to wait for a certain event to have the time of our lives.
Black Maria's best song: The next one.