Imperial China and newcomers Black Clouds are two of DC’s more unique acts. They are both focused on writing music that does not fall onto the ears of mainstream music fans; however, that is not their intentions in writing this music, it’s simply the result they get by writing the music that THEY want to write.
While the name Black Clouds is relatively a new name thrown into the mix, it is made up of DC music veterans that come from a long history of bands that include (the now defunct) Solar Powered Sun Destroyer and Caverns. Imperial China is quickly becoming a household name for bands associated with DC’s music, having the ability to play large rooms to large crowds, yet fill their schedules with more intimate DIY shows. Both of these bands have been friends and fans of each other’s work for some time, sharing the stage with each other in different incarnations. While attending each other’s shows, they can be found at the bar after a set picking each others brains and dissecting parts of their songs and writing process over beers.
Brian Porter of Imperial China and Ross Hurt of Black Clouds decided to give TVD readers a look into what these music dorks enjoy doing off stage together: talking about each others music, in a TVD exclusive, band on band listening session and Q&A. Black Clouds and Imperial China will be joined by DC instrumental titans and vets TONE, this coming Saturday at the Rock and Roll Hotel for the digital release party of Black Clouds’ debut LP. It is rare to see an all local bill of this magnitude anywhere, let alone DC. If a person is a fan of just one of these bands, it would take a great deal of determination to not be a fan of all three.
Brian: I’ve known the Black Clouds dudes for several years now, having played with pretty much all of their former bands and incarnations. They’ve always been known to play music that was equally dynamic and heady. When I first saw them play this winter at Black Cat, I thought I had an idea of how they’d sound based on previous conversations with the band and their previous material (from other bands). They didn’t sound anything like I thought they would. The music had more energy, combining a more stripped down approach and louder, bigger sound.
Ross: Caverns and Imperial China have been friends that have played together for about four or five years now. Justin and Jimmy were the founding members of the short lived Solar Powered Sun Destroyer (which I later joined). The three of our acts had been playing out together for some time, and naturally talked candidly about each other’s music, the “scene,” the venues, the recording process, and more so supported each other.
We did this as fans of each other’s music, but also we found solace in these conversations because the shifting identity crisis that was (and still kinda is) the DC music scene was something bands like us did not easily find tera firma in… It’s a little different now with a great deal of acts exploring non-traditional song structures and sounds. For me, bands like Imperial China are not out to write music that pushes the boundaries of a genre, they more seem to define a genre through writing the music that naturally comes to them.
The music industry is in a sad state of affairs financially and creatively these days. Bands seem so focused on using confines of a genre like “djent” for example, to put out a record people will love. What’s left of labels these days pumps that shit out because they know certain genres have followings that are easy to market. With kids listening to crap as awful as Attack Attack! and Brokencyde, it’s no wonder you hear so much awful shit these days associated with labels.
That’s not to say there aren’t AMAZING acts out there, and not to say there aren’t great labels (Sockets for example), but I think the reason these standout bands are so good is because they are writing the music they want to write, and not what their audience or label demands. With that, here is my first pick of Imperial China tracks that everyone should take note of:
The first time I heard this song, Imperial China was opening for Caverns and Office of Future Plans. This was the song Imperial China Opened with. I remember standing next to Kevin (Caverns) and J. Robbins (if you don’t know who he is, you’re an idiot) and all three of us were like “FUCK….. Goddamnit…. this is fucking insane!”
Nervous to follow them on stage to say the least, Imperial China always seemed like a band that was teetering in between “we’re dudes just having fun” and “we are a band that should go out there and show people that DC’s scene has not turned into a giant pop/identity crisis.” It was within the first 30 seconds of this song that I started thinking, “This is the band that is going to turn the ole days of Dischord nostalgia level up to 11.” This is the song that cemented the feeling that I had for a couple years: there is NO band in DC and very, very few (successfully) doing what Imperial China has accomplished.
Ross: This was one of the first songs you guys debuted live off of the newest record. When did this one appear in the writing process of the record? How did this song evolve from idea into (for me at least) game changing song in your repertoire?
Brian: This song, along with “Limbs,” were the first songs we recorded off How We Connect. They’re two of the only songs that were not written during an 8 month period we took off from playing shows to write before the new record. “Creative License” was definitely a kind of bridge between our previous material and the new material. We wanted our music to be as huge as possible, but also avoid some of the issues we felt like were present with our previous material (constant changes and tangents in songs). We wanted to write more linear music.
I think of these two songs as together, due to the intro of “The Lodge” flowing linearly from the opening track. You guys are going to probably hate me for this, but I’m hearing some Pink Floyd in this. It sounds awesome. I feel like Pink Floyd did a great job of setting the stage in their songs with some real atmosphere. Both of these songs have that vibe, and it allows the songs to build naturally upon the opening. Plus, that organ sound in “The Lodge” sounds sinister as hell. The song starts out trippy and then gets huge.
I notice a lot of attention to atmosphere on this record. Were you listening to more Mogwai (kidding)? This song, like the others on the album, have such natural progressions and seem simpler in structure. What was the reasoning behind that in the sense that seemed a departure from your previous bands?
Ross: Atmosphere has always been such a huge part of Justin’s and Jimmy’s writing. When I first heard rough recordings of Solar Powered’s earliest stuff (when it was just the two of them), they said “we want to do something dark and spacey.” They had done just that at the time, but as the members of SPSD shifted, the sound did as well. It became something a lot more structured and format oriented. Ultimately we found that keeping that original goal was tough with five people all contributing to the writing process.
After SPSD broke up, Justin and I did a number of things to “enhance” our sound with some gear adjustments, tone adjustments, and just being dorks spending hours in a practice spot. A lot of the basic ideas that came out of it and turned into songs were almost happy accidents. Jimmy and I are definitely big Mogwai fans, but honestly did not look for inspiration from them (and other similar acts) while writing anything on the record.
Pink Floyd is another one that we have a great deal admiration for, but not one we pull from. I think we honestly listened to everything from Meshuggah, to NIN, to Clint Mansell, to M83, to simply watching dark and spacey shit on film as a source for inspiration. It is really hard to pinpoint any specific band, film, book, or sound we pulled from… this is really what the three of us have wanted to do for a long time.
“The Lodge” is one of probably the second full song we finished up that made it to the record, and it’s kind of around writing this one that we began to hit our stride. This song stemmed from this creepy guitar sound that you hear towards beginning of the song. To us, it sounds like something David Lynch would use on a score. Not thinking of any images or anything necessarily fucked up, we like making music or sounds that make us go “ugh” and feel unsettled.
The creepy organ sound is actually bass. I used to do a lot of volume pedal swells in SPSD to mimic a cello, but this time around used an actual cello bow to get some sounds. After that, the drums and format of the song came very naturally within a night or two. As far as “Telluric,” that track was not really an afterthought, but something we placed at the beginning of the record to give the album bookends (that is also the last thing you hear on the record).
We’ll have plenty more from Ross and Brian in Part 2 of our combo Feature and Ticket Giveaway, but for now—let us know in the comments below why you want to be at Saturday’s show at the Rock and Roll Hotel, and the most inspired answer of the bunch wins a pair of tickets courtesy of the lads on the evening’s bill.
We’ll choose one winner at noon on Friday, 5/11.