Kevin McKeown, lead guitarist of the duo Black Pistol Fire, spoke to Epiphone shortly after recovering from the loss of his prized Epiphone Casino. It was some solace that the group positively slayed the crowd at Lollapalooza in Chicago with Kevin using his other favorite Epi, a Sheraton-II. The two-piece power house calls Austin, Texas home and after moving from Toronto. A new album is on the way this fall and after many years of slugging it out in clubs, basements, and barrooms, Black Pistol Fire is poised to break out in a big way. And thanks to Chris Kies of Premier Guitar for the excellent photo of Chris below.
Thanks for speaking with us, Kevin. Sorry to hear you lost an Epiphone recently.
Yeah, we did a gig in San Francisco and unfortunately our van got broken into and we lost an amp and an Epiphone Casino
. We still trucked on for the rest of the tour. What are you gonna do right? It wasn’t so bad—it could have been a lot worse you know?
You’re originally from Toronto. Why did you choose to relocate to Austin?
We’re from Toronto and we’ve been playing together since we were kids. We had a
3-piece band in Canada. And when we came down to Austin, we didn’t have a bass player so we just started playing shows anyways and then we decided to never get a bass player (laughs). And we’re happy with that now. We’ve been here for about four or five years now and Austin is home for us.
Does the city still feel supportive to live music?
Oh, 100 percent. They really take care of the musicians in Austin and they’re really accommodating. And the level of talent in the city is pretty mind-blowing as well. Any night of the week, even the guys working at the guitar shops--everybody just seems to be a very talented musician in some fashion. It’s great place to be if you want to be surrounded by all of that. And yeah, the clubs and the venues are top notch. We played the Parish recently —the sound of that room is really great. We are completely in love with Austin, Texas.
photo by Chris Kies, Premier Guitar
Have you thought about recording in any of those venues?
Yeah, because a lot of times what we have on tape is not necessarily what you’d hear note for note live. And a lot of times when we play live, we like to play with dynamics, bringing things down, going into instrumental jams---a lot of that stuff you can’t do when tape is rolling without it getting pretty lengthy. So, it’s something we’ve been thinking about for awhile. Our management has been talking about doing a live recording out of their venue in Colorado. And we’ve also talked about doing a live taping —a dvd —but we’d like to get a decent live recording. Hopefully that’s something we’ll try to get going in the near future.
What was the music scene like in Toronto when you started there?
We were a there piece band playing rock and roll soaked in a little bit of southern punk but the scene in Toronto was a little strange. We never were really part of the scene there. There was a lot of indie rock, a lot of electronics bands, and there was a lot progressive rock, too. There didn’t seem to be a spot for us. Sure, maybe if we really started doing some digging, we could have found a litle niche for us in Toronto but that’s all that was going on at the time. And a lot of the music growing that I personally loved listening to was coming out of the deep south whether it be blues, r&b, or rock and roll—Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and then the Rolling Stones who were just playing the same things. For us, it seemed like a pretty natural decision to at least try it out with the hopes that you might soak up a little inspiration from the south. And then you get it and you can’t leave (laughs).
Was Austin what you expected?
I think Austin was even more than what I expected. I feel like Austin was always different from the rest of Texas. And on the way down, I didn’t stop anywhere else in Texas. My expectations were met when I first came to Austin. I went downtown with my girlfriend and we saw a 12-year old kid just shredding away on some Jimi Hendrix and “Texas Flood” and he was just killing it! And I thought I had made a really bad decision moving just because the kid could play circles around me (laughs)! But it was one of those moments where I thought: “Ok it’s real now! You’re here and this is what you’re gong to be surround by
.” But it’s not only a great city but a great motivator when you can a band on a Tuesday or Wednesday night and you think “Jesus Christ
!” When you see these bands where everybody is good, then you want to be better too. And I still haven’t lost the flame—the love for it.
Are you able to write on the road? You guys have been keeping a tough schedule.
It’s a little tougher but everyone once in a while, I’ll try to retire to the back of the van or at the hotel to work on a melody or a riff. But if we have a day off, it’s an opportunity to gather your ideas but it’s a little tougher not on the road. When I get home and I have some downtime, that’s usually when you get the real work done.
Some times getting all the things you wanted like management and publicity can eat away at your creative time.
Oh yeah! For the first two records, it was all DIY—putting the records out, paying for publicists—everything was just through us so it got a little tough. So, we realized by the third record that we needed some more team members and so far, we couldn’t be happier. Now that we have great booking and management and publicity--it’s the biggest team we’ve ever had—so it definitely put more opportunities in our path and generated a lot more buzz. And licensing our music has really taken off—tv shows, film—you name it. There’s only so far you can go when you’re doing things the old punk way; selling records from the back of the van, t-shirts--it’s great for a long time, but eventually you have to start bringing in more people. And it hasn’t been exhausting. We still have a 100% creative input. No one is influencing us in a way we wouldn’t want to be. I think we’re really lucky and grateful.
Do you see a time when the band might expand beyond just the two of you?
We’re just finishing a new record and we’re trying to figure out the details. This next record will be our fourth studio record plus we have a 5-song EP of Little Richard songs. We’ve gone pretty far with what we’ve done so far but from a writing aspect, I’m finding it pretty hard to figure out different ways to put something that’s interesting and fun for us to play live with just bass and drums. The temptation is always there to bring in a bass player or an organ player or some other element so there can be less pressure so I could experiment more with melodies. That’s what the challenge is. I love it and I hate it at the same time--to come up with a song that is well arranged enough that people don’t miss the other elements. If you have a great riff and a great beat, then people don’t care about the other stuff. So, that’s where the challenge comes in. I still love that challenge but who knows? With this new record, we’ve been experimenting with a lot of new sounds and we might start incorporating some new instrumentation to the live show. We’re always looking for ways to make it more interesting for us. If we did start to bring in other band members, I think we might have to call it something else because Black Pistol Fire really only works when it’s the two of us.