If you’ve never listened to Black Pistol Fire, it can only be described by the band’s drummer, Eric Owens, as “[Taking] a sword from medieval times — not the restaurant —the age, hollow it down, break half of it off so it’s not pointy on the end, but a jagged sharp edge, then dip it into molten lava, then use that hot sword to cut down a dead tree limb.” Or, in other words, “Just sweaty, fiery, rock n’ roll with swords — the sword is a metaphor for Kevin [McKeown]’s guitar.”
Bluesy rockers Eric Owens and Kevin McKeown have taken over the rock-and-roll airways with their band, Black Pistol Fire. Originally from Toronto, the duo is now based in Austin, Texas, releasing hits such as “Suffocation Blues,” “Hipster Shakes,” and “Lost Cause.” Owens, the drummer, spoke with The Varsity last year about competing and performing.
The Varsity: Why would musicians or artists who are dying to make it onto the scene or are trying to release more of their art go to Austin, Texas, as opposed to Hollywood, California? You know, the cliché.
Eric Owens: I think the thing with Austin is no one really goes there to make it, necessarily. Because like you just said, there’s not as much industry there as there is in LA or New York or even Nashville. I think the reason people go there is it’s just an interesting, creative hub and the level of musicianship. I don’t think you go there to become a star by any means, but you want to be surrounded by really good competition, healthy competition and as far as really good musicians — which exists everywhere — but it’s kind of like a lower pressure situation.
TV: You’ve been able to release four albums in the last four years. How do you create music so consistently?
EO: I think a big part of it is just work ethic and liking to do it. Kevin constantly writes, I mean, all the time. His mind is constantly going, constantly at it. I had a friend ask me, “So, when you’re not on the road, do you just hang out, binge-watch Netflix all day?” Absolutely not. We’re constantly trying to come up with new stuff and make some new music. So yes, I guess part of it is work ethic and the love for it. Having a partner who is very, very hard working is a big, big plus.
TV: I find that drummers always have their own superstitions around the way they like to perform. When I was looking at your live sets I noticed that you’re always wearing what looks like batting gloves or golf gloves. What’s that about?
EO: Yes, so those are older sets. I haven’t worn those in about two to three years, but I used to. And that wasn’t so much a superstitious thing — I use these really big, stupid drumsticks, that are like big marching band drumsticks, and they’re fine for one show, but if you’re playing multiple shows, the blisters will get so bad they’ll start to bleed. So [the gloves] were a way to alleviate that. I found that over time the gloves ended up doing nothing after a couple of shows, and they would wear out on the spots I get blisters. Then it also just smelled horrific after a couple of days, like a hockey bag or something. So, I had actually abandoned those, but my new superstition is blister band-aids and [I] preventably put them on the spot before every show. It’s kind of like a ritual doing that, just taping up the fingers.
TV: What’s the song that really challenges those blisters?
EO: The toughest one, there is a song we play near the end of the set called “Run Rabbit Run.” It doesn’t sound anything like it does on the record — I mean it does, but we take it for a ride. It ends up being somewhere between eight to 10 minutes. By the end of that I think both of us are gassed, because it goes peaks and valleys, it speeds up, it slows down, it gets intense, then it softens up. It’s kind of a rollercoaster, so that one’s always a bit of a challenge, but also very fun and rewarding to play.
TV: When it comes to two-person bands or duos, I think people are very quick to associate them with other duos, even if they’re more dissimilar than they are similar. Do you still get that as much as you used to?
EO: I would say it’s definitely happening a little less than it was. It still happens of course. It does happen a little less. At first it was just inescapable, but it definitely happens a lot less than it did. People are still very excited to say, “Do you like Royal Blood?” or, “Do you like this band?” Yeah, they’re two guys, cool. I mean, they’re fine, I guess. Yes, interesting it’s almost like some people, a very small fraction, like to make it like a genre, even though the music maybe doesn’t sound similar. But, yeah, there are great duos out there, of course, some that we aren’t as fond of, but there are some that make really good music.
TV: From the Phoenix Concert Theater to Lollapalooza, what’s your favorite kind of venue and atmosphere to play in?
EO: A big festival with a lot of people like Lollapalooza, or we did a really big one in Madrid last [July] called Mad Cool where there are thousands and thousands of people. I mean, it’s pretty hard to beat that atmosphere. But a big sold-out large club show where everyone knows the words and are fans of the band, and it’s just your band, that’s also a really good feeling. I wish I had an answer for that. Yeah, they both serve a different purpose. Festivals are just a lot more people which is amazing and it’s really cool to see. There’s a good fun energy, but there’s something special about a club full of just your fans that know the words to the song and everything. So it’s definitely not one or the other, they both serve a different purpose and a great purpose.
TV: I talked to Jason Pierce, the new drummer of Our Lady Peace, and when I asked him a similar question, he said that one issue with smaller venues is that people can really read you and they can tell if you’re terrified or nervous. Do you feel the same way?
EO: I don’t know if people can read it as well. I’ve never had that feeling or thought about that about smaller venues. My issue with the smaller venues, like a very small venue, occasionally the sound might not be as good as it sounds. I’ve never had that thought about smaller venues that they can see and tell. That’s interesting.
TV: What can we fans expect from you in the near future?
EO: There’s going to be some music released. It might be just one song by the end of [last] year. It might be two. It might be three, but I think definitely at least one that we have ready to go fairly soon. It shouldn’t be that long; it’ll be before [December] and once we have it all, kind of figure it out. We’re doing some back-end stuff on the business side of things, getting a release planned for all that. But there are songs in the chamber.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.