Black God: “Everyone’s a Friend”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Black_God_Everyones_a_Friend.mp3|titles=Black_God_Everyones_a_Friend]
In 2000, Louisville-based Black Widows emerged from local hardcore powerhouses Rob Pennington (By the Grace of God) and Ryan Patterson (The National Acrobat, Coliseum). The amalgamation soon became known as Black Cross, which went on to release two full-lengths and a couple of seven-inch records by 2004. Though Patterson admits that the band “faded out of activity,” that hasn’t stopped the collaborative efforts of its founding members.
The most recent incarnation of Black Cross hasn’t evolved much in terms of a band name or even its founding members. Now performing together as Black God, Pennington and Patterson have recruited the likes of fellow Black Cross alum and Young Widows’ Nick Thieneman on bass, as well as the younger Ben Sears (Prideswallower, Mountain Asleep) on drums.
Last month, Black God released its second EP, II, which adheres to a pair of self-imposed rules: no song more than two minutes and no record totaling more than six songs. For some, these limitations might hinder creativity, but Black God seems to relish the challenge. With Pennington’s distinct, restless bark and Patterson’s driving riffs, II is a 10-and-a-half-minute romp bearing all the earmarks of aggressive punk and hardcore — and an aesthetic that each has spent decades to cultivate.
ALARM recently caught up with three-fourths of Black God to discuss the band and its new EP.
What prompted the formation of Black God?
Patterson: Black Cross kind of faded out of activity, although [it] never really broke up. Then when Rob and I wanted to start the gears turning again, it just didn’t happen. So we decided to continue on together in a new form. Rob and I have been doing our run of Black Widows / Black Cross / Black God for almost 12 years now, so it just made sense to continue the collaboration. We’d wanted to play with Ben for quite a while, and Nick was the last Black Cross bassist and a very close friend, so it all came together easily and made perfect sense.
Sears: Ryan and Rob asked me if I wanted to be in a band with them. It seemed like they wanted to continue their musical relationship, but in a different way than Black Cross.
Sonically, how does Black God compare to the members’ other bands?
Sears: It’s definitely more straightforward than anything I’ve done in the past. This is the most active band I’ve ever played with in terms of songwriting. Our schedules don’t really allow for much touring, so it’s different from my other band in that respect.
Patterson: I don’t spend a lot of time comparing the output of my various bands; they all come from a similar place in terms of ideas and inspiration. It’s the various groups of people that create the different atmospheres and personalities. I did approach my guitar playing differently with Black God, focusing more on single notes and down strokes [and] less [on] chords.
Ben is the only Black God member who was not involved with Black Cross. What has that dynamic been like? Do the other three have their own sort of language when it comes to writing music?
Sears: It’s been interesting writing with them because they’ve been playing music since I was in elementary school. They have the benefit of years of songwriting, which helps when we are working on songs. We all clicked musically during the first few practices, so there is never an issue of not being on the same page.
Pennington: I love working with Ben. He helped me out by doing a By The Grace Of God tour with us this summer and did a great job. His low-key personality is perfect for dealing with my nonstop spasticity.
Patterson: Ben and I wrote a few of the songs from the first seven-inch before Nick had joined on, so a bit of the general vibe of the band was in place. Then Nick added his parts and the sound of the band completely came together. Ben has become a really excellent and inventive drummer. I think we work great together and already have a shorthand that can sometimes take years to cultivate.
The band writes very quickly and focuses on the inspiration rather than doing a ton of refining; we’re more likely to throw out a song we aren’t happy with and move on than to waste time revising something that we already don’t like. I think Nick’s bass lines and melodic sensibility is much more present in Black God than in Black Cross. Nick joined on for the last Black Cross LP, and most of that band’s music was written by my brother and me.
Rob and I have a very long history together and a very quick and intense way of working together in the studio. It almost seems antagonistic to an outsider, but we hash out ideas in such a cool and blunt way. I think Rob has always been an incredible front-man, but I’ve seen him become a really incredible singer over all the records we’ve done together. His phrasing and melodies always take me by surprise and are consistently incredible.
You guys have two rules as a band: 1. No song over two minutes, and 2. No record over six songs. What are the benefits of these limitations? Do you see the band compromising these rules in the future?
Sears: We love the concision and spontaneity of seven-inch records. Keeping it short means it’s fun and stress-free. Rules are made to be broken, so I don’t know what the future will hold.
Pennington: I guess it would not be punk to hang too tightly to a set of rules, but in the short term, we are sticking to this creed.
Patterson: We have many more rules: no record larger than seven inches; no cover songs; no splits. It’s all in good fun, but at the same time, it’s part of our initial idea of keeping the band fun and stress-free. There can be a lot of internal and external pressure for long-running bands, [which] is obviously something we’ve experienced in Coliseum and Young Widows [and] even in Black Cross. So keeping Black God simple and fun is very important. It keeps the music spontaneous and enables us to keep the focus concise.
What are some of the themes that you attempt to explore on this record?
Sears: I don’t know of any themes we tried to explore. With this record, we were more comfortable playing music with each other, so the songs have more of a unified feel.
Pennington: This album is fairly uplifting in terms of lyrical content. There is a theme of self-advocacy that runs through it, which I perceive to be especially critical in these days.