From day one, the members of San Francisco’s Black Map possessed one common goal. So what united singer and guitarist Ben Flanagan (Trophy Fire), guitar player Mark Engles (Dredg), and drummer Chris Robyn (Far) in 2013? Simply, to create a band that was both heavy and beautiful.
They find it on their full-length debut for minus HEAD Records, …And We Explode. Sharing a long history, Trophy Fire supported Dredg many times on the road with Ben even filling in as a touring guitarist, while both groups embarked on full tours with Northern California icons Far on more than one occasion. The three musicians clicked from the jump. Musically, a wall of distortion wraps around polyrhythmic percussion as Ben’s transfixing vocals instantly captivate. It ignites their career together and fuels this undeniably heavy journey.
Within a month of their first jam session, the trio hit Hellam Sound in Oakland with producer Aaron Hellam behind the board. They cut their independent Driver EP and went on to support Chevelle on tour and play various shows with the likes of ††† (Crosses), Tombs, Pelican, and Kill Devil Hill. In early 2014, they inked a deal with minus HEAD Records for the release of …And We Explode. The name Black Map suggests unexplored territory and uncharted waters. That’s precisely where these artists have gone, and they’ve found exactly what they were looking for at the start of the journey.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Flanagan to discuss their journey so far. This is what he told us.
When did you begin writing the material for …And We Explode?
When we recorded our four song EP we just kind of went ahead and did it; there was not too much thought in exactly what our plan was. After we signed with Minus Head we had our sights set on a full length. We loved the four songs from the EP and knew we would want to absorb them onto the album. We essentially just kept up the writing process that this band had started with: not overthinking, just getting in the room together and trying to come up with songs that felt powerful, beautiful and we were proud of.
How does Black Map’s creative process differ from the of your previous efforts in Dredg, Far and The Trophy Fire?
I can really only speak for myself but the writing process is not entirely different from my other projects but the final outcome differs. This band is generally heavier than our other projects.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
The song “Chinaski” went through a lot of phases. The verse chords were completely different during the songs inception. I wasn’t able to find anything vocally that was making any of us feel anything so we went back to the drawing board and Mark and I sat down with an acoustic guitar and completely revamped the song. We are so much happier with it now.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
I wrote most of the music to “Eyes on the Prize” on an acoustic guitar in my bedroom. Even though it isn’t the heaviest track on the album it changed its shape pretty drastically once we got in a room. It started off sounding probably somewhere in the middle of Elliot Smith/Sun Kill Moon and ended up sounding like a huge Black Map tune.
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
Nope. This one was all us. we spoke about it. maybe down the line.
Who produced the record? What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
Our close friend Aaron Hellam produced the album. I had worked with him many times in The Trophy Fire and we did the four-song Driver EP with him as well. Not only does Aaron get great tones but he has an amazing ear and great musical mind. The three band members definitely wrote all of the material but he is masterful in communicating how to get the most out of every take, especially vocally. We have a good enough report at this point he can tell me if something I am doing is shit and I won’t get offended.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
The album is mostly about a reaction to discord and chaos: how we react when faced with the insanity of the world. Sometimes we face it, sometimes we run away.
Have you begun playing these songs live during your tours with Tombs, Chevelle and Crosses and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
We have played every song from the album with the exception of the final song “And We Explode pt. 2.” ” I’m just the Driver,” “Code,” and “Melee” are definitely live favorites.
Mike Hill from Tombs is a long-time friend of ours. He’s super into mixed martial arts. Did you get any workout tips from him?
Nice. I did not know that. I remember they were very good but I don’t remember too much about that night. I think we took down a bottle of Jameson pretty expeditiously backstage. I probably tried to my own brand of drunken Kung Fu at some point that night.
Chevelle has asked you to join them in Europe, right? Are you excited for that tour?
Nope. Not at all.
Fuck yeah we are! Touring with them in the states was absolutely bonkers! They have amazingly awesome fans and are (I hope they wouldn’t get mad at me for saying) the nicest guys in the world. We get even more fans reaching out to us from Germany and the rest of Europe than in the states so we are really excited to get out there and play for them.
Have you begun writing the next record yet, or are you concentrating primarily on the album cycle for this record?
I came up with a riff on the piano I liked the other day, but that is as close as any songwriting I have done for the next album. Hope to begin writing soon.
(Visit Black Map here: http://www.blackmapmusic.com/.)