B L A C K I E"I miss that feeling when you got the mic and they don't!"
Portrait by Michael Craft
At 27, Houston musician B L A C K I E has already staked a legacy in the American underground rap, punk and noise communities that he has moved through for over a decade. In a continuum of iconoclastic H-Town musicians that includes DJ Screw and Jandek, B L A C K I E's extreme and explorative music - synthesizing genres as disparate as rap, noise, hardcore, jazz and grime - has influenced and inspired countless artists across the board. Known for his relentless live show and continual desire to push things forward, B L A C K I E's singular and perpetually moving style makes him a true force (and a bit of an unsung hero) in modern American music. Always intense, always surprising, and always exceptional: it was an honor to speak with B L A C K I E about life and music.
Alright, let’s start at the beginning. What were you doing before you started B L A C K I E?
I played in some punk bands when I was a teenager. Those bands broke up we started doing math rock.
How old were you?
That started when I was 13 and I was doing that up until I was 17.
What was the main inspiration around starting B L A C K I E at the way beginning?
I had already been making really wild loops and beats for a long time but like, as soon as the bands I was in broke up I was just making it non-stop, full-time. I showed it to one of my friends from the next town over and he really liked it. And his girl liked it. And they told me to keep rapping and make more of it.
At this time were you doing vocals on these beats or were they just instrumental?
I didn’t do vocals on the beats until another kid from my town dissed me. That’s when I started doing vocals. I was never really, from the beginning, really "rapping". I was pissed off. I had just been in punk bands and I had these beats. I was already screamin’ on ‘em.
And your response, that was a rap track.
Not really, it already had all the elements of what I would do for the next ten years or whatever, which is blown apart, kind of rhymin’, mostly screaming. Not exactly like how I am right now but real close, primordial.
So the foundation of B L A C K I E was kind of already there?
Do you still have those recordings?
I can’t find that particular one, man. That’s the one I want to find ‘cause that was the one that predated everything. That one was from 2004. It was only 40 or 50 seconds long. It was already on the kind of power violence thing where it starts with a sample and it blows up and I’m screaming over the static and then it comes back to just whatever Winnie the Pooh sample, whatever weird kind of stuff I made.
So were you listening to power violence back then? What kind of power violence bands were you into?
I thought the hardcore bands had broken up in the eighties. I was into all the old school hardcore. But all of a sudden my friends showed me newer stuff “oh, there’s this band, that band”, “Mike, let’s go to this show downtown.”
Were you listening to rap around this time, too or were you mostly listening to…
I never stopped listening to rap, no matter how weird my stuff got or was, noise or screamo, whatever I was into, I was always, like even now, I still listen to rap.
So, what were your first 50 shows? Were they all around Houston?
Yeah, Texas, yeah.
So you were playing more punk rock shows, right?
Yeah, my first show, I probably played my first show when I was 13 or something. The very first show we ever played we got kicked off the stage.
There was this thing here that they do around every summer called the Strawberry Festival. Somehow our band got on it. We played last and we were way more aggressive than all the other bands and our singer was jumping in the crowd and our drummer was breaking everything. And they kicked us off. They made us stop playing. Then the organizers turned off everything, it just antagonized everybody more… so our singer & our drummer just kept it up. But yeah, it’s kind of a weird thing now but that’s my whole existence. They still turn my microphone off. The last show I played in Houston, the mic broke, the house PA broke and I had to keep screaming. That’s the whole thing. We’ve always gotten kicked off. Everything always broke. They always unplug me. Since I was 13.
And how old are you now?
What was the first time you went on tour? How old were you? Where did you go?
The first time I went around Texas with my friend.
Was that as B L A C K I E?
Yeah, that was B L A C K I E.
And what year was that?
January 2009 with Brett Taylor.
And were you bringing speakers with you at this point? Did you have a version of your current speaker set up?
Back then I had more gear if you can imagine that, but we could only cram two JBL speakers and a 5,000 watt amp in my friend’s car.
Between 2005 and 2008 or so, when you were playing shows locally, were you playing a variety of things or were you doing primarily punk shows, or rap shows?
I would play as far as an hour away from my town, which is still in Houston. I played on anything I could get on. I would just bug anybody to play anything. Played at bowling alleys and churches. Got the cops called on the churches. I would rent a generator and put on my own mini-festivals at skateparks until the cops came.
At what point did you start to see a sort of progression in your fan base or progression in how you’re perceived outside of your hometown?
People started getting with me in 2008. That’s when I started playing within the actual city of Houston. I stopped playing in these weird bowling alleys and community centers. I was just focusing on playing clubs and bars downtown. That’s when it got to the point where I could just jump out in the crowd and not get hurt ‘cause people would catch me. That’s when it started and it really clicked. It happened kind of quick ‘cause just what I was doing and how loud it was, kids, they just had to kind of get with it.
From all the footage I’ve seen from that era, the crowd is , it skews maybe towards punk kids, in a very general sense... Punk meaning anything from hardcore to noise or whatever.
There was one show in particular, I was opening for HEALTH, again. I opened for them a year before with my friends Cop Warmth. It was a real weak show. It was a year later and I jumped out in the crowd and they caught me and carried me out the club screaming. Before the show, HEALTH didn’t remember who I was. They weren’t really being friendly to me. But then after the show, they told me I needed to go on tour. They told me I needed to meet this guy, his name’s Juiceboxxx, he’s from Milwaukee. They told me about you after that show!
That’s amazing ‘cause B.J. from HEALTH played drums for me when I was hanging out in LA.
That’s word, that’s word.
So around 2008 maybe you’re starting to play with, I don’t want to say, “the right kind of bands,” but you’re starting to play with some national acts that kind of get what you’re doing and are really psyched about it. After that, when was your first real national tour?
The first tour was stupid. I only played five shows but the tour was almost three weeks long. I went to New York City and back but I didn’t have any shows on the way back. Only had shows on the way up there. You know what I’m saying?
That’s a rite of passage, your first couple DIY tours have to be a total train wreck but if you come out of that still loving it, then it usually gets a little bit better, which I’m sure it did.
Yeah, yeah. That definitely separates who does this for life and who’s just gonna go home and go back to school or get a job and cry to their girlfriend.
So those tours were rough but you were still psyched coming out of it enough to keep going?
Man, to be honest, they weren’t really that rough. I mean totally they sucked but, this is by my standards, you know? Even though everything was fucked, I loved it.
Every record you put out is changing and it’s always entering some weird new, unchartered territory. And that’s really where I think you separate yourself from a lot of your peers. I don’t know, I guess this is a long-winded way of me asking you what you think about, you've undeniably had a good amount of influence on music over the past five years, but you’re always moving into a new zone. Do you feel pressured to keep moving forward or is it just something that’s intuitive to you?
Man, that’s a good question. I don’t know why I do it. There ain’t no answer. I just don’t know. I just do it. Why do they cut my microphone off or unplug my gear? I keep doing it. Fuck them that’s why.
Do you ever feel you wish you were in a different position right now or are you thinking more about your longevity and less about just the current moment?
It's B L A C K I E forever.
What was it touring overseas? What was the first time you went overseas?
Two thousand twelve.
Was that a big moment for you to be able to go to Europe and play?
It was, but the crazy thing was that my son was two months old or three months old. So it was wild man. I just had a baby. I went out there. I had bought a car & a house after I got back. My life was going up.
Those things mean the world. I feel the same way, you know? So how are you right now? We talked a lot about kind about how you came up. How are you now? What are you working on now?
I ain’t really forcing nothing. If I want to make something, I’ll make it. If I feel I want to play something, I’ll play it.
I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad place to be in if you’re trying to make music.
I feel I created what I wanted to create with "Imagine Yourself In A Free And Natural World". I got the peace, the inner peace of knowing that I created exactly what I set out to create. So I mean until I feel energized again to make another kind of art piece, I’m not gonna force myself to do anything.
Are you gonna be touring any time?
I’m only playing 10 shows a year on the road from now on until I feel different. I still feel like rapping, like rapping for real and also attacking the crowd. I miss that feeling when you got the mic and they don't!
I haven’t toured as much recently either because I have this band that I play with now and the expenses are higher. Would you ever consider bringing more people on the road with you?
I want to, but it’s finding the right people. You know what I mean? A lot of people want to work with me, want to ride with me, but it’s like look man, what’s the longest you’ve gone without eating? Can you really do this? You know, let's say you're driving and I'm sleeping on the passenger side. Are you gonna stay awake? You gonna keep both of us alive or are you gonna fall asleep and kill both of us? It’s just sometimes I’m like man, let me just do this stuff by myself. I know I’ll stay awake.
Yeah, it’s intense for you because it’s just you and a bunch of amps, right?
Yeah, man, sometimes. It’s a real journey out here. I got to ride the fear. I called my friend when I was on tour. I told him, "Hey, man, we have to tour more. We gotta be like Black Flag and those bands that used to do this for real." He was like, "Yeah dude but Black Flag wasn’t a lone black guy driving through the southern United States."
How important is volume to what you do?
It’s everything to me.
When you were younger, what shows, what bands kind of set the standard for you in terms of volume?
That guitar player in Melt Banana. His rig is so goddamn loud, still. It just hurts your brain.