By Thalia Stopa
VANCOUVER — Black Mountain frontman Stephen McBean is something of a rock guru in the Canadian music scene and beyond.
A musician since he was a teenage punk, it’s been 11 years since Black Mountain released their debut album but the 47-year-old has plenty of ideas to share on his longevity.
“Like most people that are creative, you keep finding ways to challenge yourself and find whatever the spark is or whatever makes you happy or sometimes whatever makes you miserable. Whatever fuels it,” McBean says while wandering the streets of Vancouver during a couple days off between a very extensive summer touring schedule.
This pearl of wisdom is just one of many interspersed as he rambles on foot through the West End past “some bongs, some bongos and reggae on the street,” towards a vaguely remembered Greek restaurant on Denman Street. McBean’s two-day stopover back at home base between European and North American tours coincides with the marijuana holiday, 4/20. Talk veers to politics and nachos. By his account, funds from government-controlled substance dispensation should funnel into free munchies so that stoners on the street could “dip into some community nachos at your leisure.”
The seasoned performer admits that often nachos or something equally ordinary will be in his thoughts while playing a show. The ideal frame of mind when playing is something transcendental. “You wanna get to that place where you’re kind of out of yourself [and] you’re just travelling along with the music and the sound and the audience,” he says.
McBean has garnered many fans over the course of his career, through both Black Mountain and his equally towering side project, Pink Mountaintops. One of the things McBean appreciates most about Black Mountain is its unique sound that appeals to a diverse crowd, from metalhead kids who want to rock out to their guitar riffs, to those in awe of singer Amber Webber’s powerful and melodic voice, to the music nerds interested in their vintage gear.
Black Mountain is currently touring in support of IV, released last month on Jagjaguwar. It’s been five years since their last release and the passage of time, combined with a yearning for freedom and the joy of reuniting, makes it their most spacious-sounding album to date. The band (rounded out by keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt and drummer Joshua Wells) also has a new bass player, Colin Cowan. Cowan didn’t play on IV, but he did just complete his first European tour with them. Of the five musicians who auditioned for the band, Cowan was the only one McBean didn’t know. It was clear though that their musical chemistry and personalities gelled. “He’s a great musician and he’s really good at being a freak, which is good. It takes the pressure off of me,” McBean laughs.
McBean embraces the highs and lows of the road, and there’s no mistaking his passion for it all. “Getting five people in tune with each other and then the audience, the electricity – that’s why it’s so exciting. There’s so many variables,” he says. “You’re given the luxury of reinterpreting the album every night. If you’re a famous painter, you paint your masterpiece and then it’s placed in a museum under a controlled viewing environment at the right temperature and with a weird velvet rope around it.”
There are no velvet ropes around McBean and his band of psyched out bandmates while they emit their sounds at blank canvases all around the world. And it seems that, so long as McBean keeps on moving and rambling, so too will the music.
Black Mountain performs at the Marquee Beer Market & Stage (Calgary) on May 19 and the Commodore Ballroom (Vancouver) on May 21.AB, Alberta, BC, Black Mountain, British Columbia, Commodore Ballroom, Marquee Beer Market & Stage