Black Flak And The Nightmare Fighters are a band that means a lot to everyone at Veil of Sound and of course we had to do an interview with them about their new record Ad Meliora which will be released this week on July 22nd! We talked with them, we laughed with them and don’t miss the nerdy moment between McKay and Thorsten talking about some “wild life”!
What could we say that we have not said before? The band has changed their sound a bit by adding the fantastic vocals of singer Kate and of course that means a lot for a band that formerly was completely instrumental. However, please do not think that this band lost any of their grit and grind. The band is still a post-rock band and everything about the record oozes exactly that.
We recorded the interview a couple of weeks ago but due to some technical problems, we can not show you the video footage but can only give you a transcript of the interview. But now without much further here the transcript of our interview with the four guys from Black Flak And The Nightmare Fighters (sorry that Kate couldn’t make it, but it was lots of fun nevertheless):
First of all I have to ask where does the name come from where where did you get the inspiration for black flag and the nightmare fighters?
McKay So there’s an old world war two poem by randall jarrell, I think that’s how you pronounce his name called Death of the Ball Turret Gunner um and in it it he talks about how he’s like woken up by black flak and the nightmare fighters uh basically like he’s in the ball turret of the plane and is like woken up by the Flak and stuff around him.
So it has got nothing to do with the old California punk band?
Dan no we were completely unaware that any other bands had that name when we came across this name, this poem. We all thought it was really cool and we’re like “Yeah let’s do it!” It kind of fits the vibe that we’re going for.
Sam: The black Flak?
Dan: No, there’s a black flag
Sam: Okay, yeah yeah all right yeah
Dan: But we actually discovered that someone else had used that name [Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters, not Black Flag] long ago as a music project but it was like not a rock group, it was kind of a solo project and that’s the name that he used. But it was something that fizzled out and I [thought] “Oh someone else has this name out there! … It’s a nobody we’ll use it anyway!”
I think it’s a very good decision. When I first heard the name I had two ideas running through my head. And the first one was escapism you know like as if you were running away from something whatever that be, or the other of course, coping with trauma. You know fighting your inner nightmares. Do you think there’s anything to either of the two ideas that fits to the band and the music?
McKay I would lean more towards coping. At least that’s the message I try to put into my music. I know that our last album was pretty dark and despairing and kind of like got away from that, but I think that ultimately our message that we want to give out is like cope like you have to fight those nightmares.
I think that’s also a very good idea generally for post rock you know I think that’s also the difference between post rock and post metal: A lot of post rock is trying to deal and cope with stuff whereas I think a lot of post metal is really trying to run away from it. But just a quick one for everybody who might not be totally familiar with you as a band - what are your roles in the band?
McKay: I’m a guitarist and one of the writers for the group.
Dan: I play bass; we’ve kind of evolved in our roles I would think. When the band originally started it was McKay and Sean, who’s no longer in the band, and they kind of germinated the idea, came up with the concept, came up with the songs, the name - the band hadn’t been named yet - but they had a list of songs that they were working on and then I joined them and we completed the album as a threesome. I was able to provide some input on a couple of the songs then and we kind of grew for the next album. It became more of a team effort spearheaded by one individual and then everyone threw in their flavor and we carried that forward into this one where it felt like each of the songs was spearheaded by somebody and then everybody kind of threw in their flavor to it. I’d say McKay did most of the writing for the majority of the songs but there are a couple songs here and there that other people were the spearhead for it. I did a lot of the production stuff for this album and coordinating but really McKay did the bulk of the writing I would say with with all of our input. And our parts, our contributions to it we like to let everyone have their lane you know like I won’t tell Sam how to drum and I don’t tell Tyson how to play guitar and I don’t expect them to tell me how to play the bass because we’re kind of we respect each other’s musicianship and talent. So we work well as a team like that where we all kind of contribute our flavor.
Sam: Dan just gave it away, I play drums, I’m Sam and I provide the rhythm. I’m a living breathing metronome; I supply the band with tasty treats and beverages and just try to have a lot of fun I think we all have a ton of fun here. Keeping things positive and just using this music that we create and the friendships that we have to really have a place of refuge here at our studio. So yeah whenever we’re here, most of the time, we’re having a blast playing the music that we love to play
Kyson I play guitar and I contribute a lot of the more like the ambience in this last record that we’re recording right now we’ve already recorded.06:51 I also contribute to a lot of like the lighter tones and like the lighter melodies, so it’s a lot of fun.
It’s very interesting when when one listens to you four describe your contribution to the band it sounds as if everybody I don’t want to say thinks of his part but at least it sounds that way and when listening to your record it all sounds very very organic. So how do I have to imagine you guys writing?
Dan: I would say a lot of these songs started with the idea, that concept and a little bit of a blueprint, but we really jammed them out. I think the best work we’ve done comes when someone comes with an idea and we just jam it out and we come up with stuff; someone will play something and we go “Yeah we like that!” or “No let’s let’s keep working on it!” It comes very organically as we work together I think those are probably our favorite songs from the album - when it was something that was born as a group.
Sam: I’ve been in other bands before where it was one person digitally creating the whole song, and with the exception of a few deviations and corrections to make it more palatable in a live actual instrument setting, it was pretty much just like “Here’s the song and learn it!”. And so being here with Black Flak, since I joined, it has been that organic feel, where someone has an idea and we build on it and we have fun with it and just try and make it the best that it can be and we all have so much freedom too just like Dan was saying: no one’s dictating, no one’s controlling, no one’s just saying “No this is exactly how it’s gonna be!”. I think that’s why this is some of the best music Black Flak’s ever put out.
I would say so too although I also know that there are a few people who remarked the addition of vocals in a more negative way than I would. I think that it’s a very very well done evolvement and development, but how did it came to be? How did the singer Katie come in?
Dan: Yeah it was probably a year ago now that we started thinking about it, talking about it, wondering if we might want to bring on a vocalist. [Well] I think she joined us about a year ago so it must have been earlier than that that we were talking about it. But [only] as an additional layer of sound. We didn’t want a traditional pop rock singer or songs. We wanted to still have our sound but just added that next instrument, really viewing the vocalist as another instrument.
That’s the way I feel about it too because it’s not the way that in some ways she degrades you to the background band of a vocalist ,but she is just a fifth element, which is very interesting because a lot of post-rock bands struggle with that and therefore stay away from having a vocalist. How did you find her then?
Sam: Well I Kate and I worked together and we had been friends a couple years before she joined and one day we had gone out to brunch and she said “Hey I did like a little bit of recording with a friend of mine at his studio, just some little solo things that I wanted to do. It’s not a whole lot, it’s not super produced, it’s just kind of bare minimum.” But when I heard it I thought “Damn Kate, you have a terrific voice, you really need to continue to pursue music!” So, a couple years after that, when the the four of us really wanted to bring in this fifth piece, I think we had a person or two audition and it didn’t go really well. And then I think you Dan kind of expressed a little bit of frustration like “this guy wasn’t that great but he was a good singer just not what we’re looking for” and I said “Well what about Kate?” because she had come to some shows of ours and really liked our music. Dan was just “why didn’t you say that before?” and I said “Her voice is really good!” She came in, we talked and the rest is history.
Dan: Actually, we were going to have a guy come in and I wasn’t really feeling it, kind of felt like it wasn’t going to go anywhere. Then, when he brought up Kate as an option, I was like “Kate sings?” We all knew her, she had come to our show and we had got to hang out with her. We thought she was a lot of fun, so we knew personality-wise that wouldn’t be a problem. I pulled up her instagram and sure enough, she had some little audio clips of her singing with the guitar. I listened to it and I knew that’s a perfect sound, that’s going to be exactly what we want. So we, all five, talked and it was just it clicked and there was really no debate at that point.
Sam: I would like to add something quickly along those lines. You, Thorsten, talked about how difficult it is for a lot of Post-Rock fans to make the transition to bringing in vocals. I think that this new album Ad Meliora, when you listen to the album there’s a lot of Kate but they’re also still just “instrumental songs”.
True and it’s still Kate as a member of “Black Flak and the Nightmare fighters”. I think she did a terrific job and also that production-wise you did a very good job, because she just fits perfectly into the soundscape. That is also something that I would like to talk about: When you start recording is there anything like an idea of what the sound of a record should be like?
Dan: Interesting question. I think it’s done on the spot. Well where we experiment we try stuff out and before we decide to record the album was pretty much produced and the demos were done, we liked them, we had spent a lot of time on our demos, getting them to where we wanted them in terms of the rewriting and changing things. So we went into the studio pretty set on how we wanted it. Thankfully we had an amazing engineer who was able to elevate that. So Wes, the engineer…
Sam: … at Archive Recordings in Salt Lake City …
Dan: … yeah he was really cool, he let us be comfortable and do what we thought was best, but had some very professional input as well in terms of little things here and there that maybe needed to change. But overall I think it comes through [as] a group effort, as we’re writing and the sound that we’re looking for. We find, through the process, we don’t start out saying “It needs to be like this” because the original ideas maybe do carry through that, but they grow. They they grow into something that becomes more of a…
McKay: I did have like a concept that I wanted to present. Going into this album, having sean leave, who was like pretty much the main writer for the first two albums, having him leave it drastically changed our sound. Adding in Kyson drastically changed it as well because he just brings that awesome ambience that’s just so beautiful and happy. I know as a listener sometimes such a stark contrast from previous albums can kind of turn me off, so I tried to transition this album from start to finish of sounding more like where Black Flak could have gone, had sean stayed, and where we are now and where we’re hoping to go in the future now that we feel like we’ve got our roots in the ground and know who we are as writers. It’s kind of like a little introduction to who we are now.
Dan And the concept of the album, the songs, the progression of the songs, the way they change from beginning to end and throughout the album, tells that story. It really is a place of where we’re coming from and where we want to go. It’s actually kind of a segue from the last album in terms of the story that it told: very dark, very emotional, intense, tragic, and then an ability to move on from that to move towards something.
So you’re talking about this record being some kind of sequel so is the story now over or will we get a third part?
McKay: Actually, we decided that our three albums are all part of the same story where album one tells the story of a soldier who you know goes to war deals, with all the trauma that happens in war, in action. Then the second album is where he or she comes home to a significant other and just starts dealing with the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and the stuff about the trauma left over from war and ultimately deciding to take their own life. And then Ad Meliora is the story of the significant other dealing with survivor’s guilt and moving on. So it’s kind of we’re calling it the Ad Meliora-saga and I can neither confirm nor deny that the saga is completed.
Dan The final move towards better it’s kind of a trajectory; it’s a catapult; it’s moving us to where we hope and aspire and want to be as a band, as musicians, as friends. So yeah our future projects, the stuff that we have kind of brewing and stewing on and are going to start working on more cohesively, is going to be transitioned from where we’re coming from. I think it will continue, whatever shape or name or concept that takes. We all can like to geek out on the concept albums and storytelling and that’s how I like to view our work. As an expression, as a storytelling through music and people can interpret that story however they see fit, however they feel it.
That’s very interesting. I mean also when you think about the fact that you said “Okay here we have a story that is in some ways ending with Ad Meliora”. And then we also have a band which is evolving in sound and probably also in songwriting, that would be probably pretty difficult to put [the story] into another stage. So I think the decision is very cleverly done and apart from the fact that everybody should listen to Ad Meliora, I think that sounds as if we can expect a lot more from the five of you. And I have to ask: I know that Dan was in the army, so anybody else who was in the army or who has some kind of connection to that first part of the story?
Dan: I think it’s it’s not limited to just military because I think everybody experiences trauma in some way, shape or form in their life. For that first album it was actually not even my input for it to be a military war theme. That was all McKay’s and Sean’s concept. But I I dug it, I loved it and was happy to be able to provide my little bit of input. But in reality it’s not even truly about just like the army or fighting. It’s more of a kind of struggle, the concept of conflict and how, in that regard, it plays out on the world stage for everyone to see. But this concept of conflict and struggle and strife between individuals I think is something that everybody can certainly relate to.
Sam: Even though just like what Dan said, it’s not just limited to that and Dan being the praise to him for doing that but I have a theory that Kyson here is some sort of spy and he probably has a lot more experience than we think he does. So we know of just one in the band
Kyson: Well, now I have to kill you.
Well, but you know the Utah scene is so big you know drummers are everywhere…
Dan: We’ve been through a few. We’ve really worked out with Sam. Turns out like Sam was that girlfriend that got away and or that girl that got away that you’re really chasing after. She turns you down, she’s not interested and then like years later she’s finally interested and you totally score. That was Sam’s story.
Sam: I was a little preoccupied with some other music, when they needed somebody and I had to turn it down and then years went by, some other things fizzled out and then I said ”Hey, I want to be back!”
Dan: It was before our first album had come out. McKay and I went to a local show, we met Sam, he was doing an amazing job on the drums and we fell in love with it. We asked “Do you think you want to play in our band too?” So, gracious [as he is], he’s like “That’d be awesome but I’m just too busy sorry.”
Sam: No, I wasn’t gracious, I was like “For a bunch of nobodies…”
Dan: We actually played shows with them on a couple of occasions and we remained friends and then when that band ended, we thought the stars aligned. We needed a drummer and he was available.
I meant, I know that Salt Lake City has a pretty big scene. But when I look at the bands from Salt Lake City, or Utah in general, I still have a feeling that you are a bit of an outsider with your music and maybe you can correct me on that. Are there any other Utah / Salt Lake City – Post-Rock bands that we should check out?
Dan: Definitely! I mean our predecessors I Hear Sirens have been around a long time. They’re kind of the pioneers of Post-Rock in Utah, they’re still going strong. We’re good friends with them and labelmates. They had a great album last year and we’re very honored to be friends with them to get to share the stage with them from time to time. We actually planned a tour last year to play shows with them leading up to Post.Fest but the pandemic kind of nixed all of that. There’s an up and coming band that we’ve fallen in love with and become friends with The Great Silence. They’re a little more Post-Metal but I still think of them as Post-Rock it’s really kind of an approachable sound they have.
McKay: There’s a really neat one; I’ve heard them several times live; a really neat three-piece instrumental band called Catalogue and it’s really unique stuff and it’s really fun to to watch them play, they’ve got some stuff out. It’s Sam’s other band…
Sam: I’m actually going out on the road this weekend.
Dan: Yeah, we’re actually calling it the weekend-tour, just a three-day tour of playing a show every day or every night at least and um just trying to get out there and spread the sound to the great people of Idaho.
Sam: just to make sure the band is called Catalogue going on tour next weekend.
How often do you how often do you have the time to hang out in your rehearsal spot? Just once a week when you rehearse or more often?
Dan: It’s usually about once a week; if we’re going to play a show then we sometimes pick that up a little bit and do maybe two a week leading up to it. But for the most part it’s about once a week. Kyson and McKay live together so they hang out all the time.
But coming back; you’ve spoken about Post.Fest that you were intending to play last year; as far as I know it’s the biggest one in the States. What would be other festivals that you would like to play no matter if it’s in the States or outside?
Dan: Well I think like my personal plateau of goals would be to be invited to play at Dunk!Festival. I think that would be an amazing experience and an amazing achievement for the group but also just an awesome experience for me personally to be able to pull something like that off.
McKay There’s also a festival in japan that Mono, Envy, Toe and Downey all put together, I would love to play that. I know that Explosions In The Sky played the last one that they had in 2019.
You’ve just mentioned Envy and that’s something that I can pick up: What are your favorite bands just to listen to not that influence you? Maybe everybody can drop one that he loves to listen to.
McKay: One that I love to listen to right now is La Dispute, their album Wildlife I think it came out in 2011, I found it within the past couple of months and it is just blowing my mind that I’m so mad at myself for not finding it sooner but I’m definitely enjoying it now.
Yeah I also have to give a shoutout to La Dispute for recording the one and only Hardcore song that makes me cry with ”King Park”. Honestly if you listen to that and if you know that it’s based on a true story like all the songs on that album. It’s 6.30 minutes [real emotional] hardcore; a story told from an outsider’s perspective and from the insider’s perspective, and one sentence is still like the strongest sentence that I heard in hardcore for the last, (oh let’s exaggerate for everything after Refused) when he screams ”Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?” - if THAT doesn’t give you goosebumps! Good choice! Dan what would be yours?
McKay: Thank you for geeking out with me, awesome!
Dan: I have to say like one of the like highlights of the stuff that I like to listen to when it comes up on my shuffle list is Daturah! When I first learned about them and started listening to them I was so deeply saddened to know that they weren’t making music anymore and this was maybe four or five years ago when I discovered them. When I listen to that music I’m like “wow they are so good!” It’s like great music writing, great recording, great production. It’s like really good music that I really enjoy.
Sam: I really love a Chicago Post-Rock band Outrun The Sunlight. Got to hang out with those guys a couple years ago and we were supposed to play a show together in another band that I was in but sadly it got cancelled so we just hung out and talked. And Austin’s a really great guy, he’s really into the Post-Rock and social scene and always out there and helping people out. So yeah their music’s awesome, particularly a song called ”Red bird” man if there’s one song by them of which I should say people should go check out to fall in love with this band with, it would be that. So Outrun The Sunlight, ”Red Bird” - awesome music, really good people too. so
Kyson: It’s kind of a tie between mewithoutyou and Tides From Nebula.
What I like about your choices is that there is a lot Post-Rock in there but also some other stuff. I like that because I also think that is something that shows in your songs. I mean they are talking Post-Rock songs but it’s very dynamic and I think that there are a lot of sides to it that are not generally proto-stereotypically post rock which I like a lot and I think that even shows more on Ad Meliora.
Dan: We’re fans of music and and just because we’re really big fans of one genre doesn’t mean we’re not fans of other genres and we do listen to a lot of wide variety amongst the five of us. That are two very different things and something that really speaks strongly to one maybe doesn’t to the other but it doesn’t mean that it can’t still influence the sound of a group and so we can each bring in those things that speak to us and and apply it to the music that we’re creating together. I don’t feel like we are really just one niche genre we can cover a broad variety of things and bottom line is it’s what we like we’re creating stuff that we like and that’s what is the most fulfilling part.
So then we come to my last question already: How often do you guys listen to your own stuff once it’s recorded?
Dan: It takes a while for me to go back and want to listen to it because right when it comes out I listened to it repeatedly just to kind of, I don’t know a little bit of ocd [obsessive control disorder] about me to pick stuff out. But during that creative process and recording and finally putting it out I’ve heard those songs thousands of times each to the point where I need a break from it. I’ll use the last two albums as an example it probably takes a good year or so before i’ll go back and listen to it and re-fall in love with it and then those memories flood back of what led to the recording process, of the writing process. It takes a little while for me to go back and rediscover it.
Sam: For me, I am not very technically inclined, I can barely operate my phone, I have been listening to our music for about two months because I can’t find the link Dan sent me but to get it; [He sent it] like five times right I’m scrolling through text messages, I’m checking folders, I’m trying to look through storage and downloaded stuff on my phone; I can’t find it I’d love to listen to it but I can’t I.
So it will be interesting to hear you guys play live because maybe Sam is just playing something else but.
Dan: Sam’s just freestylin!
Well, thank you guys, maybe you can help Sam now find the link. Take care and hope to see you on the road at some point!
All: Thank you very much!