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A musical ablution via ‘Washed in the Sound with Black Nite Crash’: An interview with Jim Biggs

3 December 2022

Let’s start with a bit of background, Jim. Tell me about the musical path that got you all to where you are today and also how you came to work together as Black Nite Crash.

Jim: Wow – Big question. Short(ish) answer: I didn’t care about music at all until I heard U2, and then everything changed. Growing up on the east coast in the 80s and discovering college radio fairly early (by way of WXAC, Albright College radio, where I would later be a DJ) was a big thing… I was utterly obsessed with music by my late teens and found my way into my first “real” band when I was 20 or 21 (…. we were called Goggle, and we were terrible).

It took me a while to find my way to Seattle in the 90s, post-grunge, but once I was here, I discovered no matter what one was into, musically speaking, there were at least twenty other people that were into something like the same thing. It took a few attempts before I found my way, but eventually, I figured out what it was I was after, which was back to the basics of noisy rock and roll (see also: The Stooges, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3). There have been many iterations of the band since that “eureka” moment, but ultimately they all boil down to that basic philosophy. The current lineup of the band has only been together for a couple of months. Over our 20 years, there have been something like 34 iterations of the band, so folks have come and gone frequently. This version is mostly put together from friends of friends and one internet ad. If there’s one thing that brought us together and bonds us, as obvious as it might sound, it’s our deep and abiding love for creating music. I think we were all fans before we were in bands…

Your single, “The Take”, reminds me of bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Are there any apparent influences or reference points that find their way into the songwriting?

Jim: Absolutely! I’ve long held that if I ever had a totally original songwriting idea, my head would literally explode. I feed off of everything I’ve ever heard. I’ve also had a long-held belief that the best songs sound familiar, possibly/probably referencing familiar or existing things, but adding something new, a riff or a hook or something, to make it fresh, to make it its own thing. The new album pulls from shoegaze, baggy, Nick Cave, The House of Love, French psychedelia, David Lynch, post-punk, The Stone Roses, The Earthmen, glam, Jackson Pollock, and Phil Spector, to name but a few. Strangely, as much as those two bands you mentioned are influential on what we do, neither one directly influenced The Take… I could tell you what specifically inspired “The Take”, but then I’d have to kill you…

Black Nite Crash has had a long and ever-evolving career. What has changed over the two decades you have been on this journey – both within the band and perhaps in how you work?

Jim: Strangely, not much has changed beyond the specific personnel. I’m the lone constant in the band (not by design), but every iteration of the band has been its own democracy. We’re a tiny indie band, so I can’t pay people to be ‘here,’ but what I can offer is an artistically open arena for collaboration. And part of the joy and the allure of music to me is the collaboration. I’m most alive as a musician when I’m playing with, and bouncing off of, other people. As it happens, I’m also my own worst enemy as an editor. When I work with other folks, I find my footing. I find confidence when I have people around me to coach me, correct me, and collaborate with me. The sound of the band, over the years, has changed somewhat, with everyone adding their own flavors to the mix, but, much to my amazement, the band sounds reasonably close to me now as it did 10/15/20 years ago. I’m not sure everyone would agree with that assessment, but to me, it all feels very much like the same thing, give or take the occasional Thompson Twins cover…

The music seems driven by an urge to return to a more straightforward way of making rock music. Would you say that is fair? What else motivates the musical output you are producing?

Jim: Definitely fair. It feels very much like “ROCK” is dead. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. But that’s what we do, make rock. I avoided that term for a long time, “rock,” but that’s really, ultimately, what we do. Alternative? Sure. Indie? Sure. Shoegaze? I guess. Rock? Yep. Do we use modern tools? Absolutely. We’re trying to incorporate more electronic elements, and we love click tracks for editing purposes, but I also hang my hat on allowing chaos to infiltrate everything I do. I like the human elements you can still hear in old records, singers missing notes just a little bit, unexpected feedback or weird harmonics between instruments. I feel like there are too many songs that are so perfect now as to be ‘airless,’ for lack of a better word. They can’t and don’t breathe…

The shoegaze/dreampop genre (into which we have often been dropped) can be especially guilty of this… but it seems to me the root sources in those genres were very much living, breathing warts and all rock bands, all good, but also a little sloppy, a little human… And we certainly aspire to that kind of ‘real’ sound. I’m a huge fan of abstract expressionism and the idea of just attacking the musical canvas, letting the aural paint land where it will is extremely appealing to me.

The Stone Roses seemed to get that in the beginning and we certainly take some tips from their best work. I don’t think that happens all the time under the current ruling music paradigm of perfection… And the anchoring drive beneath all of that is a desire to make music I want to listen to. I remember years ago hearing Morrissey talk about not being able to listen to himself, and I found that deeply perplexing. I listen to my stuff a lot because I try to make stuff I, and hopefully some other folks, will genuinely like.

With your new album on its way, what can we expect from Washed in the Sound with Black Nite Crash?

Jim: More of the same, but different. As much as we espouse the old ways, we’re always looking to try new things. Look, man, we’re not getting any younger. If we’re going to make some noise, leave a mark, we need to try new things, and so we have here. I mean, we’re not turning into a jazz fusion project or anything like that, there’s still some noisy guitars, and a lot of reverb, but there’s some beats, too, some quieter bits and pop tunes mixed in. It’s also worth noting, as part of the program, this album is meant to be listened to loud. I mean, I get it, every band says “turn it up,” but this albums’ secrets can only truly be unlocked at volume. Will you end up with tinnitus? Maybe. Have I? Probably. But what price true art? YOLO!!!!

The album seems to have been the product of a time of change for the band, with established members leaving and new players coming on board. How much did this affect the way the album was made?

Jim: It’s always a time of change for the band. Seriously. At this point, there have been so many folks that have blown through this band (30-ish), the changes have very little net effect on the end product. This iteration of the band is probably most notable for the addition of Claire Tucker, not just because of the material she has written, but also because of the way in which she has pushed me (and the rest of the band) to be better. That’s not to diminish anyone else’s contributions. Tony Zuniga, who is now the second most senior member of the band, drives the music like no one before, and we’ve had some pretty great drummers.

Jasun Hadaway, who plays bass on the album, was the heart of the band for many years and his replacement John Parker has picked up Jasun’s work and run with it, already contributing the kernels for a few new songs. Sharim Johnson, our third guitarist on the album, brought the music for what’s one of my favorite songs on this, or any other, BNC record (SPMU) and his replacement James Stone is the new kid, but is already impacting the sound of the band, adding new sounds to some old songs, re-sculpting them without changing their essence.

One of the other things that helps keep consistency through the years is our producer/engineer/secret extra band member Matt Brown (Trespassers William, Hannah Ramone). He’s been working with us on our last four albums. Aside from me, he’s really the most stable ‘member’ of this circus… (And as long as I’m naming names, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Adam Straney, who has mastered our last few releases… the man is magic. He is really skilled at taking songs from different sessions and sources and making them feel like a coherent whole.) The whole thing, the process, the history, the music, just seems to blend together in such a way that things evolve subtly without ever radically changing, if that makes sense.

With the music scene changing so drastically during Covid-related lockdowns, how has this affected what you do in terms of recording, playing live or otherwise? And how are you managing to spread the word about your music in the post-pandemic landscape?

Jim: Well, we used to play out a lot, and now we play out a little. Though that might also be due to our collective age… As far as spreading the word, we’re trying to gather our financial resources as much as possible and, quite frankly, pay to spread the word via advertising and publicity. We’re under no delusions… if the best band in the world doesn’t get the word out there, no one will know who they are.

Are we the best band in the world.? Shit… I think so. If I didn’t, I don’t think I’d still grind this at my age. But does anyone find out about us unless we have folks shouting that from the hills? Nope. And how do we get folks to shout it from the hills? Real talk: we pay them. Should we have to? I wish not. Do we have to? Yes, if we want those shouts to be heard beyond our own backyard. Word of mouth doesn’t happen like it used to. Bands don’t seem to shout each other out like they used to, probably because we all have to work so much harder to get our own bands’ names into the conversation. Folks are definitely not going to shows like they used to. (Hopefully, that will change as we get Covid under control… eventually… I hope…) Social media once seemed like a boon to the process, but their algorithms don’t seem to work very well unless you put a few quarters in the slot first. It doesn’t cost a million, but it doesn’t come for free.

And so, where next for Black Nite Crash?

Jim: Number one: Some live shows to celebrate the album release and close out the year, including an appearance at Tremolo here in Seattle in mid-December, which is a little indie festival skewing to psychedelic /shoegaze/post-punk

Number two: a new EP made up of some songs from the Washed in the Sound sessions that didn’t fit on the album. We’ll do a soft drop of that in December, with a proper release early next year. I don’t wanna say it’s every bit as good as the LP itself, but it is. Maybe a little bit louder, too.

Number three: We’re deep into recording our next album, with 6 new songs tracked and another 8 or 10 written that we’re ready to dial in. Expect some more changes around the bend stylistically… but we are who we are; really, we just get a little bit better every time, IMHO.

Number four: We really wanna find the music director for the upcoming Apple TV+ show Sinking Spring, because I think we have something to offer on the soundtrack front; our stuff can be very cinematic. Also worth noting: I actually grew up in the town of Sinking Spring, and what could be a better hook for that? Set me up. Someone. Really.

Number five: We’re trying to get some tour dates set in early 2023, which would be the first time we’ve hit the road since 2009…

A pleasure talking with you, best of luck with everything in the future.