Black Map may be a new band on the hard rock scene, but its members aren’t lacking in experience
Music fans don’t realize the immense amount of preparation it takes to successfully launch a new band. Schedules have to be arranged, songs need to be constructed and, most importantly, the members need to get along and work together. The countless, sweaty and long rehearsals held regardless of bad weather alongside the immense pressure each member puts upon his/her self can be daunting.
Although point of origin shouldn’t be an issue, hard rock band Black Map, which features drummer Chris Robyn (Far), guitarist Mark Engles (Dredg) and bassist/vocalist Ben Flanagan (Trophy Fire), have got all three potential problems working in their favor. Once more, they’ve garnered a strong buzz overseas by getting in front of people well before the release of their first full-length album.
The band hit it off immediately after playing together for the first time and were recording within a month, eventually touring behind the end product, the magnificent Driver EP. And while the band hasn’t really embarked on a proper tour to promote their new album—…And We Explode on Minus Head Records—let’s just say it’s in the works.
Fans of Sparta, Dredg, Far and the like will appreciate the new album for the ebbs and flows of the songs all the way through to the ambient outro “And We Explode Part 2.” “Code,” the opening track, kicks off the album after a nice atmospheric swell and showcases the band’s attention to both staccato rhythms and its open-ended chorus. “Chinaski” also finds the band expanding into emo-rock territory with great effect and rivals any of the members’ work with their previous bands. Also of worthy mention is “Head to the Hills,” which finds Flanagan and Robyn locking in perfectly amongst Engles’ handy fretwork.
Submerge caught up with Flanagan in San Francisco as he was preparing for two shows at Bottom of the Hill and Sacramento’s Blue Lamp, the latter of which would be canceled.
Has Black Map played out much thus far?
We’ve only played about 45 shows at this point and eight local shows. We also did a two-week tour with Chevelle in the states on the West Coast in July 2014.
You previously played in a band called The Actual. What was your experience like being signed to Scott Weiland’s Softdrive Records?
I joined the band after they already existed. There was a lot of pressure from Scott and others to add a second guitarist/singer. Before I even played a note, I was in their music video. Scott is one of the most talented performers and is quite esoteric. We also were fortunate enough to do a couple weeks touring with Velvet Revolver.
You also played with another well-known band, Dredg. Do you have plans to go out as a backing vocalist/guitarist?
Dredg is very much a band and, yes, they’re still active. They recently toured in Europe without me. Me playing with them is just a matter of scheduling and need and depends on the material they’re playing since they have done album anniversary shows.
Your last record with The Trophy Fire was released in 2013. What’s happening with that band?
The band is dormant but not dead. The guys are close friends and we don’t have anybody yelling over our shoulder to keep busy. Right now I’m concentrating on Black Map and promoting this record.
Where do your bass lines come from?
I pretty much write all my bass lines. The skeletons of the songs come from either Mark or myself. Of course, when it comes to the songs I wrote, I write everything.
“And We Explode Part 2” has an early M83 vibe. Are you into electronic music?
I love ambient electronic music, Depeche Mode and ethereal Brit-pop. We recorded this over much time and decided that we would end the album and cleanse the listener’s musical palate.
What was it like working with Aaron Hellam and his Hellam Sound studio?
Aaron is a really great friend and we have great history with him. He knows how to talk to us but he is definitely helpful with adding little extras and 90 percent of the time he’s right when giving input. It’s cool, though, because his studio is in a building connected to our rehearsal space. It’s called Jack London rehearsals.
Where did you end up meeting Chris Robyn [drummer of Far] and how did this collaboration with Mark Engles come about?
It’s pretty random. Dear Kerosene was my previous band. We needed a lawyer to do a trademark on our band name and Eddie Meehan from ground(ctrl) recommended our music. There’s a song we had called “Trust” that he liked and we developed a mutual admiration for each other’s music.
How are you going to promote the new record in 2015? Touring?
Definitely. We’re in the midst of booking more shows in the West Coast and then hope to head back to Europe early in the year. At present, we don’t have a booking agent but we are looking hard for one now for national and international tours.
Any festival plans for 2015? SXSW?
It’s definitely possible that we will play. We got asked last year to play two parties, but it wasn’t worth it financially.
How was the tour of the United Kingdom?
It couldn’t have been better. The Driver EP came out long before the European tour. We purposely had the four-song EP so we could have something to sell. We also have vinyl coming out soon.
Any Bay Area bands that you’re currently into?
My two favorite bands are called Picture Atlantic [Brit-pop trio] and Eyes on the Shore, who play earthy rock ‘n’ roll.
What bands would you like to support or open for next year?
That’s a loaded question. There are so many bands we’d love to share the stage with. Obviously, Queens of the Stone Age, Baroness, Failure and Deftones are high on the list. There are many others that I can’t think of but there are definitely many more. We’ve talked to Abe Cunningham from Deftones and have our fingers crossed that they’ll have a slot on one of their tours.
San Francisco is expensive. How can you afford it and still tour?
I am a bartender at a place called Leopold’s in San Francisco. It’s Austrian and German fare. Minus Head paid for a lot of things like transportation costs and have been awesome thus far.
What can fans expect from your upcoming show other than, obviously, songs from the new record?
We’re going to play the record in its entirety since we haven’t played “Stranger” and “And We Explode Part 2” in Sacramento yet. We’ll also try to do a cover song or two to break things up.
Have you been getting good feedback from social media?
Yes. I think we all are responsible for that. All of the band members outside of Black Map support us and you will find information about us on their Facebook pages and websites as well. There’s no reason it all can’t be shared since we all have the common goal to be seen and heard by as many as possible.
Where is your biggest fan base outside of the Northwest and California?
I think in all the markets we’ve played with Chevelle have helped us gain some new fans. We still haven’t played the East Coast or Midwest yet but hope to play all over this year.
Any plans to return and play Sacramento proper in 2015?
Since we had to cancel our show for personal reasons, I’m going to rebook this early in the year.
Have you heard any rumblings from the other members of Dredg or the other guys’ bands about Black Map?
They all seem to like the band, and I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback.
Any extra songs in the can for the next record even though yours was just released in late October?
We’re just starting the process of writing. We’re not a band that wants to put out something every two years. We plan to write well throughout 2015.
Do you feel like Black Map is getting more response than any of your projects?
Yeah, definitely. My previous band, The Actual, had some pretty big legs under it since we were signed to an imprint through the majors. It’s just nice to see the reaction, and we’ve all put in a lot of time in this industry.
To order …And We Explode and to keep up on their calendar, go to Blackmapmusic.com