By Eric Schlittler
Since the mid-aughts, the Scranton-based group known as Das Black Milk has made its presence known both in the Electric City the members call home and points beyond. The band’s upcoming release, “Jewels and Elements,” out Oct. 4, continues the group’s recent hot streak of DIY post-punk-informed hijinks. In light of the group’s new album being released this week, we decided it was time to have a chat with the group about its past, present and future. Below, check out the exclusive debut of album track “You Know Me.”
For any intrepid readers not familiar with Das Black Milk, can you guys speak a little about how the group came together?
Nate: Me and Brian began this group in 2007 to explore different musical ideas that weren’t always accepted in the standard “Rock Band” format. In most ways, that is still what we’re doing to this day.
Craig: We were born in the ooze like any self-respecting team of supervillains. We met at the midnight hour, and the rest has been summarized best by the court stenographer.
Brian: We’ve always been together.
Your label Leopard Libido proclaims itself, “The True Sound of Scranton.” How do you think living in Northeastern PA informs your sound and approach?
Brian: Northeast PA has the feeling of equal parts isolation and paranoia. We’re close enough to the “big city” to absorb the culture but far enough away to cast judgment as observers. There’s a feeling that our conditions are unique and that we are something that is separate. That we are something that came into this world not something that comes out of it. I think that is probably a commonality that exists in most towns and unfortunately in most people. Tapping into this in an independent, disconnected way allows us to capture the feeling of observing the observers. From this lens we are able to speak about the human condition from a completely isolated, righteous point of view. To give opinions and observations that are beyond reproach because we are not a part of this world, we were dropped into it.
Nate: Scranton is a great city to live in. I lived here my whole life. Regardless, there is no one “scene” or “product” that is exclusive to this area. There is freedom for an individual to do something truly creative and original (granted they harness their energies properly). This is the “true sound” of which we speak.
Craig: While we appreciate a good pierogi as much as the next guy, the real secret sauce is funneling all those fumes that come down the line from the Alliance Landfill into our rehearsal bunker. We’ve got coal dust in our veins just like you, and we think people know what we mean when we open our yaps and say, “It’s good!”
Nate: The DBM is Brian Emmert, Nathaniel Kane and Craig Metcho
Brian: Currently it’s Libra, Gemini and Taurus. The House of The Undivided Earth.
Craig: You’re all in this with us! Don’t you dare think that you’re leaving us with the bag!
There were a few years where you guys took a hiatus. What were you doing in those wilderness years?
Nate: I fronted a solo project of sorts, called Cold Coffee, which included various backing musicians (Brian was one of them). I took it as far as it could go, though.
Brian: I grew a beard and waited outside of Peter Criss’ apartment.
Craig: Can’t speak about this nonsense. Craig here was off blazing the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail. Didn’t work out.
What were some of the biggest influences on your latest album, “Jewels and Elements,” both musical and otherwise?
Brian: Seltzer water, coffee, meditation and stomping out mediocrity. I tried to not listen to much music when writing this album because I specifically didn’t want to be influenced by it. I really wanted to try and create this album from a void with no connection to genre. I’m sick of the nostalgia and puritanism that seems to inform today’s music.
Craig: Quartz, tungsten, bauxite, opal, aluminum, cobalt, and boron. But seriously, we’ll let you in on a little secret. The album was originally slated to be a concept cover of Jewel’s cult underground album “Sand Elements,” but there was a typo when we went to print.
Nate: My musical influences at this point might be too varied and far-reaching to be able to comment on how much or how little they affected the making of this album. To put it in a nutshell: I’m influenced by art with a strong sense of urgency. Sometimes, though, my personal heroes’ sense of urgency can be taken to almost comical extremes.
The video for “Ain’t Talking About Love” has a very distinct visual sensibility. How important is the group’s multimedia presence to you?
Nate: Right now, we think it’s more important than ever. The way people consume art has changed. What was “multimedia” is now the norm across all platforms. Once “Jewels and Elements” was completed, there were immediate talks about new ways we can present this music to challenge the audience…and ourselves. The presence of video/film and structural design going forward will continue to figure into the equation, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Craig: Das Black Milk prioritizes an eight-dimensional physical manifestation. You can get a teaser to maneuvering the fifth dimension by signing up for our exclusive New Lifestyle conference at the Wachovia Arena, only $39.95 for the nosebleed seats. The other three dimensions? Learn how to walk before you try to swim, son.
You guys are super prolific. Can you tell me a bit about the group’s writing and recording process?
Brian: I was sitting on the porch and heard a bird chirping in a tree. It didn’t care who heard it or who was there. This bird understood true freedom and happiness. For all my advantages to that tiny bird, it has the life I am striving to attain. The funny part though, was that this bird was not trying to attain anything. It was just living in the moment. The bird had no idea of time or space and didn’t care about perception or value, he just sang his notes one after the other after the other. He was not separate from his surroundings or the time he was in. He was not diluted by the systems we have created, or a slave to the medicines we take to enhance or dull our minds and bodies. He didn’t have a past or a future, he was just doing something, now. Make a noise, one after the other after the other. Just do something, no good, no bad, live in the moment. There is no confusion this way.
Nate: We’re always working and sharing ideas. Over the last year, we have been starting to adopt more of a cut-up technique. Using loops, beats and samples allows us to tweak ideas and rebuild the songs into wholly different creations than how they started. There is definitely a lot of open communication between the members of the group during songwriting and production and I think it is reflected in the final product. Of course, we still tear it up in the rehearsal room on a weekly basis!!!!
Craig: It starts with good parchment. We write everything first in an east Hungarian dialect (not saying which!) to protect our thoughts from outside intrusion. Intellectual Property protection is very important to us. We’ll need an NDA on file to say anything further.
If money and time were no object, who would your dream producer be?
Craig: Michael Jordan already turned us down. Still waiting to hear back from Mick Foley.
Nate: My knee-jerk response is always Steve Albini, but we don’t use acoustic drums right now, so I don’t think it would work out between him and the group. My shortlist also has Trent Reznor and Mutt Lange.
Brian: In no particular order: Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Chuck Keller
What is one thing that might surprise the reader about Das Black Milk?
Craig: You’re not sufficiently surprised yet, reader?
Nate: All the surprises you need are on our new album, “Jewels and Elements.”
Brian: The other day we were working on a song and I was like, “Hey, Nate! Check out this sound” and he was like, “Oh, cool.” Craig was all like, “We should do bang, bang, click.” and I’m like, “No, no, no. Bang, click, bang.” Then we all stood in a circle and tried to not look at each other.
Can you talk a little about The New Lifestyle, is that a mission statement?
Nate: It’s a way of life. It can only be achieved through hands-on learning. The New Lifestyle is not something we teach. We just provide the template of how to live it. I can say that the New Lifestyle does change the way you strut!
Craig: You can talk about the New Lifestyle just as easily as you can draw the wind. You can only feel it by living it, on top of a mountain, in solitude and in the awareness that you are everything, everywhere, simultaneously, a breath in the mouth of the gods.
Brian: The New Lifestyle isn’t a mission statement nor does it have a mission statement. It has no doctrine and requires no system of beliefs. Simply put the New Lifestyle is the cure for our own culture. We spend so much time thinking about thinking that it prevents us from action. We read, judge and decide what is right and wrong, good or bad, losing sight of the fact that the positive cannot exist without the negative. The New Lifestyle encourages you to simply be yourself in the present moment. Don’t think too much. Don’t judge. Let yourself be yourself and that self is extraordinary. Don’t be defined by society, change society. The New Lifestyle wasn’t our invention, but it is our way…and could be yours too.
Any touring plans in the works?
Craig: We plan to conquer New York City on October 20, then send our army of peons to Massachusetts the following Monday to spread the good propaganda across the New England airwaves. After that, we’ll return as heroes to support our friends, Kali-Ma and the Garland of Arms, at their album-release party. In between we’ll be working on our tan lines.
What items are in your 2019 punk rock starter kit?
Craig: Miter saw, combination square, T-bevel, carbide drill bits, notch trowel, 4-foot level, plumb bob, two 14″ pipe wrenches and a good rubber mallet. Like we always see here at Das Black Milk – Measure Twice, Cut Once!
Nate: A drum machine
Brian: A library card and Das Black Milk’s “Jewels and Elements.”
Any final thoughts?
Nate: Das Black Milk vows to obliterate fraudulent earnestness, exhaustive categorical hashtaggery and social media hucksterism from popular culture! The DBM is working around the clock to cast an impenetrable veil of personality and moxie to restore mysticism to pop music! And we’re gonna have a good time doing it! We promise!
Craig: This has been a delight. See you all in the next universe.
Brian: The New Lifestyle is waiting for YOU!
Lead photo by Luz Carolina