Catching Up With Mountain Man Stephen McBean
Stephen McBean does double duty, fronting the bands Black Mountain and the more experimental (and guest-heavy) Pink Mountaintops, who return on April 29 with Get Back, their first album since 2009’s Outside Love. Yet the guy never seems tired, nor has he come close to exhausting his talent for shaggy, garage-born, hippie freakout sludge-pop. I got the chance to talk to the master collaborator about toggling between groups, escaped panda bears, and “things just happening”—as apt a description of his music as any.
Get Back is the first Pink Mountaintops record in almost five years. Was that a very productive time? Did you have to burn through a lot of material to get the ten tracks you wanted?
I was just waiting for something to happen. The right people, the right time, the right sound. Some material was spur-of-the-moment. Other songs had been lingering for years, waiting for their chance to bleed open. Once the initial party hosts were sorted, the rest of the guests were without question. There were no bouncers.
This group has a somewhat expansive and fluid roster. Who were you excited to work with this time out? Did you end up playing alongside your usual Vancouver friends, or did you seek out specific collaborators?
It’s always exciting to work with new people. The butterflies tingling in your stomach. Wondering if they think your hair is cool enough. Everyone brought their unique vision to the record. Pointy shoes and sneakers together like Pretty In Pink.
Pink Mountaintops, for all its overlap, is thought to be the more “experimental” version of your band Black Mountain—but more generally, do you see each project as a respite from the other? To which sides of your personality do they correspond? Is it always clear, with a new song, where it belongs in the grand scheme?
Things just happen. Not a lot of thought goes into who’s sleeping with who. It’s fun to have two lovers!
I saw Black Mountain headline a show in London with Dead Meadow and Wolf Parade back in 2005, and it felt like you had the room in a trance. Does that kind of audience connection come naturally, or is it a constant struggle?
There’s so many elements at work with a live performance that it’s impossible to gauge what will happen. That’s the beauty of it. Can’t predict the future and whether or not someone will get electrocuted or attacked by an escape panda bear.
“North Hollywood Microwaves” is a track like none other, inimitable with its skronky sax and unapologetically spoken lyrics—it feels destined to be a favorite on the new album. Where does its peculiar anxiety come from?
That song appeared magically out of thin air. There was no plan. Life in motion. People having fun together and throwing shit at the wall.
Finally, since you must harbor a deep knowledge of garage and psychedelic rock, I wonder if you could recommend an unjustly forgotten album that your fans might enjoy?
Deviants – Ptooff!