Published Jan 01, 2006Side projects are for musicians who can't hold down two day jobs at once. Vancouver's Stephen McBean doesn't need a side project he fronts two different bands full time, and astonishingly he's pretty laidback, verging on comatose, as he explains his demanding musical duties. "It's good to have them because you kind of get tired or get burnt out on one," he says.
Over the last 18 months, it's safe to say McBean has been active: he released and toured his sexed-up first album as Pink Mountaintops; transformed his uncanny alt-country/rock band Jerk With A Bomb into critically and publicly adored Coldplay tour-supporting psych rockers Black Mountain; recorded another Pink Mountaintops album, which he's about to begin touring in support of; and has already begun the second Black Mountain record. All without losing his mind at least not from stress.
"It's an addiction I can't stop, you know? [Music] just kind of fills my head and takes over," says McBean, who's been making music for 20 years, from his amateurish, punk-filled teenhood to his Metal Blade-signed crust metal band Mission of Christ and hardcore outfit Gus. Surrounding himself with busy, like-minded Vancouver individuals has also helped him not only progress with his music, but also fill the Black Mountain band and the touring line-up for Pink Mountaintops. "My main thing with music is I like sitting in my room and making up little songs. As long as that keeps me happy the rest is... I don't want to say icing on the cake, but all of us would be doing this stuff regardless of whether we were playing in front of people or not."
Last year proved to be an awakening for McBean and his pals when, only a few months after the release of his self-titled Pink Mountaintops debut, the self-titled Black Mountain album reached peaks of hype all across the globe. "[Black Mountain] was made as we formed, and we hadn't even played a show yet. Since, we've played 150 shows and toured for the last year." That included supporting Coldplay as the opening act on their North American jaunt, a job that gave them widespread attention while taking many by surprise especially the suits at the label of Britain's biggest band. "We knew we didn't quite fit. I think Coldplay are awesome, [especially] their integrity for taking a band out on tour who are not known and a lot of their crowd may quite dislike," says McBean. "When we were in Europe, I heard that in some Capitol Records board meeting some stuffy old guys were like, Who the hell is this Mountain band?' It's awesome of them not to buckle under the pressure of the corporate dollar."
Instead of cashing in and riding the Black Mountain buzz, McBean retreated to write and self-record the second Pink Mountaintops album, Axis of Evol. Without needing to consult with others, McBean managed to knock out the album in no time, a skill that obviously helps him split his schedule between recording and touring with both bands. "I made Axis of Evol when we came back from Europe in three weeks." Originally designed as an EP, his burst of creativity was so fruitful that he ended up finishing a full-length, to his surprise. "It was one of those things where I wasn't necessarily trying to make a record, it just kind of came out and I was like, Huh, this seems like a record.'"
Though aided by a choir filled with Black band-mates and friends, this is McBean's one-man band an outlet that allows ample room to do as he pleases. "There are some things on the new album where I really wanted to strip down to a super-minimal sound," he says. Whether it's the pulsating gospel of the electro-trashy "Lord, Let Us Shine" or "Slaves," a nine-minute, strung-out Spacemen 3 homage, Axis shows that McBean has no limitations.
"Black Mountain have more fine details; there are five people and some of our tastes are similar and some are just completely opposite," he explains. "With Pink Mountaintops it's usually trying whether it's recording or for a show to keep it loose and raw, and not go over things too much. Sometimes it's more of just a party vibe to see where it goes, like controlled chaos. This one is more about celebrating the beep there are lots of beeps all over this record."