You know those bands that seem as if they’re on the verge of becoming massive? Those bands that sound instantly perfect and exciting, making you wonder how you didn’t already own all their albums, t-shirts and rally towels?
The Black Box Revelation is a garage rock duo which formed in Dilbeek, Belgium in 2005. The band consists of Jan Paternoster (vocals, guitar) and Dries Van Dijck (drums).
Belgium may not be known for producing great rock and roll bands, but don’t tell that to 22-year-old Jan Paternoster nor his 20-year-old sidekick Dries Van Dijck, who have been playing together for a decade, already releasing two albums, 2007’s Set Your Head On Fire and 2010’s Silver Threats (recorded in London’s legendary Konk Studios) that established the duo as a serious force to be reckoned with. A cross between R&B-inflected garage-band rock that takes its cues from mid-’60s Stones and The Kinks to the most gut-bucket, electric delta blues evocative of Led Zeppelin by way of The White Stripes, The Black Keys and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Black Box Revelation is just that… a musical revelation that can’t be boxed into a single category.
Coming to America to record their stateside debut, My Perception, with producer Alain Johannes in his L.A. home studio, Jan and Dries felt right at home in the country where so much of the music that inspired them had been made. The result is their most accomplished album to date, with sound and noise now coalescing into real songs like the title track and “Rattle My Heart,” which might have come straight from Out of Our Heads; the spooky acoustic strains of the Beatles-meets-Kinks British Invasion vibe of “Bitter,” the haunting, stark acoustic “New Sun,” the thick ambience of “2 Young Boys,” the percussive beat of “Shadowman” and the psychedelic blues of “White Unicorns.”
Dries Van Dijck- drums & percussion and Jan Paternoster- guitars & vocals talked to Todd about their impending ascent to the top of the mountain.
TDOA: The sound of the band is what drew me in. Live, I’ve read you play through three amps to get that full range that includes a good bass sound. What about in the studio? How many guitar tracks am I hearing on the new record?
BBR: Our studio setup is exactly the same as our live setup. Like you said, 3 amps, 2 vocals and a drum kit. We do fool around with sounds a lot: get different amps for different songs just to get the right sound for that particular song. The first two records had more overdubs than the My Perception one. I think we only added five extra guitar tracks while recording seventeen songs. Almost nothing. We focus more on the way of playing together to get the right vibe and that pure sound instead of getting more and more layers of instruments and sounds. After all, we’re a live band, and that’s what we try to capture on our records, a great, pure vibe of real music.
TDOA: What influence did Alain Johannnes have while producing the new record? Did he get involved in song arrangement or was he purely there to craft the “sound” of the record?
BBR: It was great recording at Alain’s place. His studio is awesome, with loads of foreign instruments from all over the world. He’s so talented he can play all of those instruments and I think this had a positive influence on the record. Al didn’t make big changes on the songs themselves but did have a great influence on the sound of the record, yes. Loads of specific microphones and old compressors, some of the same ones the Stones used for their Exile on Main Street record, which was one of our influences during recording.
TDOA: Can you indulge the guitar geeks among us and talk about what amps, guitars and pedals you’re using? I know you have a lot of pedals, if it’s too much, perhaps just tell us your favorites?
BBR: As I said before, I use three amps. I always get some different ones so my sound evolves over time. Right now I’m using Dr.Z’s and an old Selmer from the 60s. That Selmer is one of my favorite amps ever. Every time I play it I still get blown away by its massive sound. I love the POG pedal of EHX, not the new one though; their first issue was the most versatile and had most character I think.. Anyway, that’s the one I use. Next to that, loads of basic pedals like fuzz, delay or reverbs. I just got some great fuzz pedals from a friend in Minneapolis. Ear fuzz pedals. Really cool stuff with an organic sound, and it’s all hand-wired and hand painted.
TDOA: Your three albums into your career now. How do you feel you songwriting has changed over the years?
BBR: If I listen back to all three records I would say the biggest change are the lyrics. I think they’re much richer now with better stories or ways to express myself.
Musically it has changed a lot too. We’ve been playing live shows all the time for six or seven years now. This just made us much better musicians. It’s just awesome to jam for hours without having to discuss what you wanna play, we just feel what we want to do and let the music talk.
TDOA: Any plans to release the first two records, over here in the U.S.?
BBR: Sure, we definitely want to release the first two records here, as well. We just didn’t get to it yet. Too busy with the new album, haha! We toured all year with our My Perception record and an EP to introduce us to new crowds. Now that they get to know us, and that they know all the songs of My Perception, they just get curious to hear more and start digging for new stuff, in our case, older stuff from the first two records. They wanna know what’s been going on over the past years and why they didn’t know about us back then.
TDOA: Are you tired of the Black Keys comparisons yet? Seriously, do comparisons to other bands make you consider changing your approach to avoid the annoyance of someone making a lame comparison?
BBR: I think every two piece will get compared to bands like White Stripes or Black Keys or Kills. Black Keys are just one of the biggest rock bands in the world right now. It doesn’t surprise me people talk about that and compare you to something. Once they see a live show or listen to our record they instantly know we’re a complete different band with more energy or deeper vibes.
TDOA: As a duo, I would think having a good soundman when playing live is critical. Have you had to adapt your stage set-up over time, to make it “bad-club-sound-guy-proof”?
BBR: Haha, our European sound guy had some issues with us being too loud in small venues, but then we just try to adapt to the place. The base is to get good levels on stage and then there’s not a lot of hassle to make it sound great.
TDOA: You have a reputation as an amazing live band. It seems like you’ve been touring endlessly for quite a while now. What inspires you to continually get on stage and have a high energy level?
BBR: The crowd is different every night, so we want to show them what we stand for and what a great live show is about. Some days it gets more exhausting then others, especially when playing for a small crowd it might be harder to reach the same energy level than on a sold out show, but I think we always manage to do that, or at least almost always, haha. We don’t make set lists anymore. We play whatever we feel like and that changes the set every night. More exciting not knowing what the next song will be.
TDOA: Jane’s Addiction seems to have a habit of picking great bands that aren’t “major label” label-mates. Do you know how you got picked for that tour and did you get an opportunity to interact with any of the band? Any good road stories?
BBR: It was really awesome to tour with a great band like Jane’s. They just picked us as their favorite band to support them on that tour, which was a great opportunity for us to play for big crowds here in the states.
And even though they are such a legendary band, they’re such a great persons with their hearts in the right place. They just hung out with us every night after or before the show. They even invited us for a great lobster party after the show in Portland, Maine!