Any given area’s local music scene or community can be shaped by any manner of things. From location, to history, to events, the art, expression, or entertainment unique to a city are a direct reflection of any and all facets associated with the people who live there. As a St. Louis, MO-based media outlet, we at Damnation Magazine wanted to really know more about what it means to be a “local band” in our hometown.
For most of 2014, we’d been trying to organize a sit-down with Black Fast, a band formed in 2010 just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in Edwardsville, IL. We were finally able to do so on November 30, 2014, not long after Black Fast had announced their signing to eOne Music for a record deal. In addition, this date was only a week after the incidents in Ferguson, MO following the announcement of the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting case – an international incident in which the eyes of the entire world observed the St. Louis region.
That night, Black Fast was scheduled to open for Battlecross (friends of Damnation Magazine and our first EVER band interview), Wretched, and War Of Ages at The Firebird – a venue that, along with several others in St. Louis, has experienced a sudden increase in artist van break-ins (which we found out that Black Fast themselves were nearly victims of THAT VERY NIGHT). With so many different recent events for anyone in the St. Louis region, we certainly had a lot to talk about – including Black Fast’s own creative and musical writing style, known only as “castle.”
I want to start with the basics, for those who either may have little to no knowledge of Black Fast. How did the band form? What are the origins of the four of you getting together and making the music that you do?
Aaron Akin (lead vocals, guitar): …Take it away, boys.
Ryan Thompson (bass): You mean like the very, very beginning? Like, when you guys met in line at McDonalds? [Laughter]
Trevor Johnson (guitars): They [other members] had a band that they were playing with for a while, and then Luke and Bill moved to South America or something. And that’s when I met Aaron, and that’s when we started jamming different types of stuff, more metal.
So we had a rock and roll party house that me and this guy [Ross] lived in, these two dudes [Trevor, Ryan] went to school together for jazz guitar… We were in Edwardsville, IL so we were playing all the time with people and meeting friends, and just having parties every night until four in the morning, just playing music. And then, we were all friends, and then eventually we just had a bunch of riffs. Me and Trevor had some riffs, and then Ryan was like, “I’m in.” He was a jazz guitar player too, but he picked up the bass for us and was fuckin’ nailing it… And he’s our friend, so…
It just made sense.
Pretty soon we had a show booked and we had some tunes, like four or five songs.
Ross Burnett (drums): That was still one of the craziest shows.
Yeah, our first show was in the lounge at Fubar, before there was a stage, they were just pushing chairs out of the way. It was with Havok and Cross Examination…
…And I Stabbed My Landlord. [Laughter]
There was a fuckin’ circle pit like right when we started playing, there wasn’t even a microphone, I don’t think. I think Cross Exam broke it before they played, so it was killer. We were like, “Hey, we’re getting a reaction! All right, right on!”
It was stimulating… Stimulating enough to keep us at it.
So it came together easily. It’s what we all wanted to do, we’re all in that town [and] music-minded, to do something; start some kind of band, not knowing what it would be.
…I wanted it to be a metal band.
I did to. [Laughter] I just wanted to play with people, but in my heart of hearts, I wanted it to be a metal band.
If it wasn’t metal, what would you guys be playing instead?
We all play a little bit [of everything]. Aaron’s been picking around with singer-songwriter stuff, Ryan has like a whole acoustic album thing.
I keep my options open as a musician, but Black Fast is [my] bread and butter.
Yeah, metal is what I want to do.
Congratulations on being signed to eOne Music! What was the process like to getting the record deal, and how does it measure up on your list of experiences within the history of Black Fast (as if I really needed to ask)? What can we expect from you now?
Well, we couldn’t have gotten to this point without Jonna [Robertson, manager] at all. I mean, with her and her team she has… they got us to that point. Because we don’t know any producers, we don’t know people on labels, we don’t know any of that stuff, but they do.
We put out that record [Starving Out The Light] last year and… we didn’t know anything about growing a fan base outside of our hometown and, like, talking to labels and agents. We didn’t know any of that shit, we were just trying to write cool tunes and put out an album that we were proud of. We didn’t have a marketing engine behind it, when we put that record out, and it got some good exposure, just kind of on it’s own; it got people talking, and just through us selling it on Bandcamp.
Shipping it to fuckin’ France, Thailand…
Yeah, just making weekly trips to the post office, shipping records all of the world through the post… losing money every time just because I’m like, “Ah cool, I’ve got one going to Taipei today! All right, far out!” Like, this is wild; I didn’t know how to actually do it in a business sense. So it’s been a transitive and formulative year, I think.
And it’s good experience, now that we know how to do that.
To answer your question, it’s a pinnacle achievement in our musical careers. [Laughter] We tangentially avoided the question from the get-go.
[Laughter] I never would have guessed that it was that high on your list of accomplishments.
Yeah, the achievement’s insane and surreal, and fuckin’ awesome… And everything else that means “good,” you know?
All the other synonyms for the word.
So what’s going to be the process going forward with this album deal?
We’re figuring out where we’re going to record it… We don’t know; we’re talking to some people, producer-wise, and hoping to record a record in the spring and have, like, a summer release that we would be able to tour on. That’s probably the next six or eight month plan of where we want to be, we want to have a summer release with eOne… And we want it to be cool [laughs].
Being a life-long St. Louisan and a metal fan, as well as someone who tries to stay aware of concerts going on around town, I feel like I don’t see the name Black Fast pop up on show flyers very often. Is this intentional on the band’s part? Do you try to shift your focus on the types of shows you play rather than just playing any show at every given opportunity? Why or why not?
Well, we’ve been a band for four years. So the first two and a half years, we would play… two or three shows a week, five or six shows a month. We would play all the time just because we wanted to play and get our live chops and some exposure, and have some people in the town know who we were because nobody else anywhere else knew where we were, and we were just playing anything that was offered to us… To answer your point, yes, at some point [we were] being more strategic about booking shows and not overplaying once every six weeks, once every couple of months; if you’re only playing in St. Louis that much, then there’s obviously more of a demand for people to come out, more of a draw, and support the touring band better. You want to have people show up for the touring band, and if they’ve already seen you twice this week…
Then they’re going to show up late.
You just don’t want to oversaturate how often you play to like, twenty-two dudes every month. [Laughter] Unless the next show’s going to be completely fuckin’ different three times a week, then you don’t want to play three shows a week.
Yeah, and you better have a catalogue of like, six or seven albums so people actually know what you’re going to play and give a shit [laughs]. “Check this out! I wrote this in my bedroom last night.”
Are there types of shows or bills you prefer to play, or crowds you prefer to play for?
The more, the merrier.
Yeah, not really. We play super-diverse shows. We’ve had a lot of fun playing with punk bands, we have a good time playing with… a local band called Final Drive; we’ve played with them, and it was like a good rock-and-roll crowd, good turnout, people were into it – it was like different bands, different scenes, but everyone was cool… So yeah, we’ll play any gig, I think.
I don’t have a preference, I’ll play for everyone.
There are a lot of, what seems to be, understood norms or rules on within the community of metal music, especially among fans at either ends of the spectrum; from the big mainstream acts all the way down to the most underground. Do you feel that Black Fast is a band that is – or should – be a band that only fits into a certain niche or style, is that a philosophy or mentality that you try to stay away from altogether, or somewhere in the middle?
I don’t really think about it. I don’t think any of us really do, we just write riffs and parts that we think are cool and just arrange them together. We all have different brains, but it all seems to work. And if something’s not jiving very well, then we’ll just scrap it or try to redo it.
We don’t try and necessarily try to be anything. It’s organic, it’s what it is and if we like it, it’s rock and roll or metal, then fuckin’-a, we keep it. We’re not TRYING to BE something.
I think… I want to be able to play in any room full of people and whether they get it, or are into it, or like metal or not, they can at least see that we’re playing our asses off and having fun… there’s something that translates no matter where we’re playing. Not saying we want to win over every single crowd, but we want there to be something where people go, “…Oh, OK.” Because, you’re entertaining, give them a show… No, I don’t give a shit if we fit in with the niche crowd, or the cool crowd, or the mainstream crowd, I want THAT.
Passion is, kind of, universally understood, as long as we’re extremely passionate about it.
Transfer the passion and the energy… So if that translates, then we’ve hit our mark and we’ve done our job.
Black Fast’s music is described as “progressive blackened thrash metal.”
Yeah! That’s a mouthful [laughs].
What does that mean exactly? How do you personally bridge the gaps between the subgenre styles and techniques?
Ask the person who said that, because we didn’t. [Laughter] Progressive blackened thrash…
Yeah, we definitely didn’t give that [title] to ourselves.
We call it “castle.” If a riff is “castle,” then it’s cool. Like, “That riff’s not fuckin’ castle enough.”
Or, “That riff is castle as fuck.”
“Put a castle chord on that riff and then we’re on to something, that shit don’t jive.”
I think that kind of gives us our sound, too. Because that’s where our sound comes out, the big stretches… You don’t hear a lot of people doing that.
Yeah, the big, creepy chords… If we’re fuckin’ headbanging in the practice room, then we’re on to something. And basically, we have just had so many riffs, that we’re just, like, constantly cutting riffs down and making shit work, and that’s how we just go about writing songs. Like, “What are the fuckin’ most AWESOME riffs that we have, and the coolest way that we can put shit together?” So, a lot of times, it’ll get a little wacky, because we got a lot of shit, you know. Sometimes it’s [more] straightforward.
I think we’re becoming better songwriters these days, though. The more you do it, you know.
We certainly don’t set out to be “progressive,” or “blackened,” or “thrash,” you know. We fuckin’ love thrash metal, and black metal, and elements of the technical progressive shit… but there’s no rules, it’s anything goes. There’s no boundaries to what we do. It’s not like, “No man, that riff’s not thrashy enough.” Fuck that.
It just depends on whether or not it’s “castle.”
Yup! [Laughs] …We’re idiots, by the way. [Laughter]
Trust me, you’re in good company. [Laughter] So, when you’re writing “castle,” what are you writing about? What makes something “castle?” What concepts or topics do you include in your lyrics and why do you write about them?
And he [Trevor] is talking musically. Musically, it needs to be a pressing, urgent, desperate thing… Like being chased by a tiger – that’s what playing a show is like, it’s like running from a fuckin’ tiger! [Laughter] It’s like life or death and it sucks.
It’s dark and smoky, too.
Thematically… I don’t know. Lyrically, [I] just write about…
That was heavy, dude. [Laughter] Shit, I need to go take a nap now. [Laughter] …I don’t know, some of it’ll be, like, a little sci-fi veiled in metaphor about some shitty thing happened in somebody’s life, or my life. It doesn’t even always have to be shitty, it can be empowering, just in a hopeless way; just violently sorrowful.
THAT was heavy. [Laughter]
But I fueled it, I was the catalyst with “life.” Damn right.
Empowering in the most hopeless of ways.
Is that already a song, or is that going to be a song now?
I don’t know, I just said it. I’ll probably forget it when I walk away [laughs].
As a St. Louis-area band that has played outside your home market, what are your thoughts or observations on the metal scene or community as a whole, compared to within the St. Louis area, or for you guys, Edwardsville? Is there even a difference between Edwardsville and St. Louis?
There’s certainly not a metal scene in Edwardsville, IL [laughs]. There’s a ton of fuckin’ amazing musicians because of the school there [SIUE], the music programs, all sorts of people out there. Around [and] in the city of St. Louis in general, yeah there’s a dozen or so bands that I think are easily top-tier metal bands that I look up to a lot. As far as scenes in other cities, we haven’t toured THAT much yet, so I don’t know where all the great locals are there. There’s certainly a lot of fuckin’ bands that we look up to… I do like the scene here in St. Louis, I think that’ it’s strong.
Everyone’s really friendly, super fuckin’ positive atmosphere. To an outsider looking in at a metal scene, it may seem like the scariest fuckin’ thing in the world [with] all of the beards and tattoos and loud music, but it’s really positive and rewarding.
I get genuinely more excited to see my friends’ bands like The Gorge and The Lion’s Daughter more often than touring packages. I get fuckin’ stoked when The Gorge or The Lion’s Daughter’s playing… Bastard, those guys all rule.
…OK, here’s kind of the big question: What are your thoughts on the rash of artist van break-ins and thefts that the city has seen? …I was getting ready to ask if this ever happened to you, and it sounds like it at least was attempted by someone to happen to you, TONIGHT??
…It’s a fuckin’ drag, man. [Laughter] It’s a bummer, but I’ve had my locks ripped out of my van, it’s already been broken into multiple times. It just happens.
What were the license plate numbers [to the would-be thieves]?
I wrote it down… I’m not going to sit here and dump shit on the city of St. Louis for all of the band break-ins, I’ll just say it’s sad and it fuckin’ sucks. I hope it stops! I don’t think it’s inherent to this city.
Do you think that there’s a way to stop it? Do you think it will, kind of, stop on its own? Is there anything that anyone can do to help curb it?
Invent a super lock that can’t be broken. [Laughter]
Or how about a fingerprint recognition that either electric shocks and immobilizes you, or is like sticky and you can’t get away?
Flypaper your van.
Super locks, bro; that’s the ONLY way.
Invention ideas with Ryan. [Laughter]
I mean, all you can do right now is be mindful of your gear, don’t leave stuff in your van. There’s nothing else you can do about it, you can’t be out there standing by your van all night. It sucks.
My last two questions are going to get a little on the heavier side, and you can choose not to answer if you don’t want to. Obviously our area has just gone through a huge event with negative outcomes in parts of the area – of course, I’m speaking of the situation in Ferguson. Do you think this is something that will affect the metal community or music community as a whole, both locally as well as for touring acts traveling or planning to travel into our area?
I won’t speak much to it at all other than to just say that it’s sad and it’s not a metal or a music issue, it’s a human issue. I don’t personally have too much else to say.
I’m not going to say a whole lot either, but with all of the coverage on the news and stuff, the entire world is looking at the event that happened… I joke to other people, “Oh, [now] we have to go through St. Louis with all this shit [going on],” but I don’t really think it’s going to hit the music community too hard.
With emotions high on this subject, do you think it’s something that will be – or should be – openly addressed by a band on stage? Do you think that would make things better or worse, or would that depend on how it’s approached?
Oh I’m sure people will speak out, and that’s their right; if somebody feels the need then, you know, first amendment… I don’t have an opinion one way or another if someone wants to speak out about it and their feelings, sure. It’s the U.S.A., you should be allowed to say it.