Small Black, the 4-piece Brooklyn band signed to Jagjaguwar (Bon Iver, Foxygen, GAYNGS), craft the type of atmospheric electro-pop that is born from children of the 80s who’ve danced countless times till dawn in Brooklyn basements and make music for the sunrise after – i.e. euphoric electronic layers that you blast as dawn peeks over the horizon and the sun makes your beer can-covered rooftop glisten.
Though the band started as a DIY bedroom keyboard experiment by lead singer Josh Kolenik and Ryan Heyner (keys/synth) in 2009, the group’s new album, Limits of Desire, and corresponding live show feel conscientiously grander and more evolved than any prior releases; their synth-heavy hooks are bolstered by Jeff Curtin’s live drums and Juan Pieczanski’s plumped-up bass/guitar licks, their progressions are more robust, more alive, and more confident, perhaps, and yet all the while retain a delicacy from Kolenik’s creamy vocals.
It’s sad we live in a day and age where we get excited that an electro-pop act doesn’t just press play on their mac to initiate the kick drum when playing live. But it’s true. Small Black’s buddy Toro Y Moi has to get the dance party started with one hand on his laptop, one hand fist-pumping. Small Black proved real is better, last Thursday, June 13th, at EchoPlex. We caught up with the soft spoken, introspective lead singer Josh before the show.
Left to Right: Jeff Curtin (drums), Josh Kolenik (lead singer) and Ryan Heyner (keyboard/synth), Juan Pieczanski (bass/guitar). (Photo by Faith-Ann Young)
LA CANVAS: Small Black originated as a smaller collaboration between you and Ryan. Did you always know Small Black would grow into a 4 piece?
Josh Kolenik: Yeah, well, we didn’t ever want to be two dudes on stage just playing Casios. That’s really only appropriate for recording (laughs).
LAC: How did you and Ryan meet?
JK: Ryan and I kind of did the EP ourselves just because we are best friends. Jeff and Juan are also best friends. We always knew Jeff and Juan were going to be in the band. Juan helped with some of the vocal production on the EP and Juan and I had this little side project we were working on.
LAC: What was the side project called?
JK: Cool Weed! (laughs) We never put anything out. It was totally a joke band. It was really funny music…We would jam on hip-hop loops on tape machines.
JK: No not like that. It was just…..psycho 4-track music.
Left to Right: Jeff Curtin (drums), Juan Pieczanski (bass/guitar), Ryan Heyner (keyboard/synth), and Josh Kolenik (lead singer). (Photo by Faith-Ann Young)
LAC: Wow. Seriously though, hip-hop is a strong inspiration for you?
JK: Especially on the EP – the song “Weird Machines” and the song “Goons” on New Chain were all pulling from rap tempo, which is a little slower than dance.
But I’d say in the new record, we kind of let that go.
LAC: Have you always played instruments?
JK: I’ve played music since I was 12 years old….in bands and on my 4-track. I started as a guitar player and then got into samplers later in high school.
LAC: Do you play guitar less now?
JK: I definitely write songs on guitar. The whole concept of Small Black was all of us are guitar players.
LAC: What’s your favorite song on the new album, “Limits of Desire” (2013)?
JK: “No Stranger.” It’s a really simple pop song and our second single. It’s kind of like my baby. We almost abandoned it a bunch of times. I just kind of like the sentiment of the song…..so I had to make it work for my own personal happiness.
LAC: If you were to create a mixtape of artists who you are digging right now (not artists of the past), who would be on it..?
JK: Hmmm.. Cass McCombs. A lot of our friends, like Washed Out and Toro Y Moi….Heavenly Beat who we are playing with us this tour, Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing. Oh – I love the Phosphorescent record – it’s really beautiful.
LAC: When you say a lot of these bands are your friends…do you all live near each other?
JK: Well I live with John from Heavenly Beat – and the Beach Fossils kids and Wild Nothing – we all live within a 3 blocks.
Left to Right: Josh Kolenik (lead singer), Ryan Heyner (keyboard/synth), Juan Pieczanski (bass/guitar), and Jeff Curtin (drums). (Photo by Faith-Ann Young)
LAC: I felt there was this very gauzy, atmospheric, beachy air to Limits of Desire. Was California an inspiration? Or what were your muses for the new record?
JK: I definitely feel it is much more city. Like “Shook Loves” is very city. We put the trumpet on 3 songs…..jazz is the sound of the city and when I hear a horn, it kind of places me there. I don’t know we get the beachy thing a lot. It’s not something that we ever really thought about……As long as it feels good as you are driving through the landscape, that’s OK.
LAC: Plans for the rest of the year?
JK: We are going to go on tour again in September and October through the US and Europe. And we’re going to work on some more songs when we are home!
SMALL BLACK AT THE ECHOPLEX JUNE 13th 2013
(Photos by Faith-Ann Young)