Austin-based duo Black Pistol Fire performed Trees in one of their first shows since the start of the pandemic last month. Seeing posters by previous artists on the walls in a packed house reminded them how much they had missed the stage, especially in one of their favorite Dallas spots.
A week later, they were playing Lollapalooza for rave reviews. Selena Fragassi of the Chicago Sun-Times praised their performance, noting that drummer Eric Owen “beat his kit so furiously… it could have broken some laws” and that “guitar gymnastics… could be their own sport in Tokyo” from the guitarist and singer Kevin McKeown.
“The heart of our band is the live shows,” says McKeown. “And not being able to do them for that long was crazy. Going from no play and no absence to a 100,000 party festival was a bit overwhelming at first, but everyone is hungry again and delighted with the live music, so the energy was pretty crazy.
McKeown and Owen grew up in Toronto, where they first met in kindergarten. They started playing music together when they were in high school, when they formed a band. Various members of the group came and went, but the two always stayed, and Owen’s parents’ basement, which served as their rehearsal space when they first started, became a second home for the duo.
After trying out a life in Nashville, Owen’s drum patterns, combined with McKeown’s bluesy, southerly vocals, were key factors in their decision to move to Austin in 2009, where they felt their sound would resonate better. with the public.
“It’s like when an actor moves to Hollywood,” McKeown says. “Nashville and Austin were two hot spots that we really wanted to immerse ourselves in and try music full time.”
When they arrived in Austin, the two took on various gigs to make ends meet. McKeown remembers delivering flyers for Papa John’s during the day while performing sixth Street bar residences at night. In their free time, they trained in garages, rehearsal rooms and “other really dirty places”.
“In the end, we loved playing music,” McKeown says, “whether it was for three people or 300 people.”
Since living in Austin, they’ve become mainstays at Arlyn and 5th Street Studios, where they’ve recorded most of the material for six albums. McKeown says they recorded their first four albums using tape and reel, as opposed to digital software. The duo would enter the recording session with the music and lyrics well rehearsed and try to define the tracks in as few takes as possible.
“In the end, we loved playing music … whether it was for three people or 300 people.” – Kevin McKeown
Black Pistol Fire tried a mix of digital and analog recording methods for their latest album, Look alive, which was released last January. Originally slated for release in 2020, many tracks on the album were recorded “about two or three years ago.”
Even so, songs like “Look Alive”, on which the duo “try to look alive, when they drop like flies”, as the song says, are quite timely, taking on a strange new meaning.
“We kind of had to maneuver a bit,” McKeown says. “The overall vision and inspiration for the album has been an ongoing process. But a lot of the lyrical content relates to the current situation and what’s going on in the world.
Between returning to the stage at various music venues and festivals and witnessing a renaissance of rock and alternative influence in pop music – through artists such as Olivia Rodrigo, Willow Smith and Billie Eilish – McKeown thinks music is “in a good place right now.”
“I’m sure most bands will tell you that after you start recordings five, six, and seven, it becomes a bit difficult to figure out where you can go with what with the tools you’re working with,” he says. “And I think for us, we just don’t want to do the same album over and over again, you know? I think the music that comes out is incredibly inspiring right now.