Peter 'Blackie' Black: ‘Don’t You Have To Get Back On The Horse?’
Peter “Blackie” Black of The Hard-Ons and Nunchukka Superfly talks to JODY MACGREGOR about recovering from a violent assault and finishing his second solo album.
Two months after a shockingly violent attack that left Peter Black with swelling on his brain and a fractured skull that required 16 stitches, he’s still suffering from the aftereffects. As soon as our interview ends, the self-described “exercise head” is planning to spend a sunny Sydney afternoon in the park doing stretches and push-ups, the kind of light exercise he’s encouraged to do as part of his recovery. He’s happy about the fact he’s been able to start jogging again, but he’s even happier that he’s been given the OK to tour. Gigs with The Hard-Ons have already been planned for later in the year and there’s also his new solo album to support.
Black’s solo material isn’t like the one-two-fuck-you punk his other bands specialise in. It’s gentle acoustic pop; there are even strings. It’s a side the guitarist has become more and more confident in showing, first on 2010’s Break Bread with the Mono Brows and now on his second solo album, No Dangerous Gods in Tunnel.
Like a lot of people, I was shocked and saddened to hear you were attacked back in May. How long were you in hospital for?
I was in there for a week.
How has your recovery process been?
I’m fuckin’ frustrated as fuck that I still suffer from the dizziness and vertigo, but I was told that’s really normal. I have to be patient and calm about these things and just take it slowly and not push things. But man, it’s hard, because I had – well, I still do have a Japanese and a European tour booked. Being told to take it easy and that sort of thing, it’s a lot easier said than done. I don’t have it in me to cancel an overseas tour. I mean, this is everything that I do.
Fuck, I could spend hours spelling it out. Look, it’s frustrating. I’m sure my healing process is going well, I’ve always been a very fit dude and even my doctor has been very positive and surprised that I didn’t crack a vertebrae or anything. As a good friend of mine, who was always coming to see me in hospital, goes, “Yeah, you get dizziness and vertigo but you’re fuckin’ jogging. You walk up and down stairs with no problems and you started doing solo gigs. You don’t fall off your fuckin’ stool. Do you remember when I was going to see you in hospital, when you were going to the toilet you had to hug the wall to get there? For the first two days you had to hang on to a nurse’s arm to get to the toilet.” Like, oh yeah. When you look at it that way, it’s like, yes, I’m definitely getting fucking better.
After it happened there was this outpouring of support from the community, with benefit gigs and things like that. How did that feel?
Amazing. Like, no other way to describe it except amazing. I think the music industry is so fucking tough, at times it’s hard to see there’s any heart in there for people on our level. It’s just like, “OK, I want to record a solo record. OK, now this is going to take me a year to save up for because I’m just not gonna have any fuckin’ money or help,” so you do everything yourself. Then you put out a solo record, you barely sell how many copies and people go, “Oh man, I downloaded it.” Shit like that. You go, “Fucking hell, I’m never even gonna get close to getting the money back.” But then, something awful like this happens and the support and help afterwards, man, what words can I use except amazing and astonishing? So fucking heartwarming that I literally just couldn’t believe it. I am grateful beyond what words could describe.
I’ll ask you about your new album, but I’ve got one more question about all of that and that’s whether you’ve gone back to taxi driving?
Man, my girlfriend yells at me about this. Look, I’m not allowed to drive still. I’ve just been given the OK to fly so – phew! – I’m going to Japan and I’m going to Europe with The Hard-Ons. I go, “Yes, I can fly!” She goes, “Yes, and you’ll be unpleasant to sit next to. It’s not gonna be fun for you, but it’s not gonna be dangerous.” I’m like, “That’s all I need!” I’m on there. And driving? She goes, “No. Small steps at a time.” So A: I’m not allowed to drive and I was even told that if I did I would be in legal trouble because I guess I could be a danger with the dizziness shit. It’s fine when I’m looking forward and keeping my head still, but if I’m looking over my shoulder and shit I could have a bit of a vertigo attack that might be a little bit dangerous. So no. But afterwards, when I recover, what other job am I gonna do? If you’re a fuckin’ muso that always wants to tour, you have to have a job that’s as flexible as that one. I don’t know, it’s a hard one. So no, not yet, but don’t you have to get back on the horse?
That’s what they say. Let’s talk about No Dangerous Gods in Tunnel. Who did you work with on this album?
It was purely by myself but recorded with Chris Townend (Grand Salvo, The Mess Hall), who is very easy to work with and a dear friend. Plus I made a record with him years ago as well under the title of Chrackie. I wanted this to be as solo as possible. I’ve done everything myself except for strings, which was done by Samantha Fonti, who’s just brilliant with that crap. Um, crap? Brilliant with that stuff. Basically just those two people. Someone to record and someone to do the strings that I had in me head.
Does it feel lonely, not working with a band?
No, not at all. It’s just a different challenge, a different musical outlet. I approached it in an entirely different way and, you know, what you’ve just said is actually one of the benefits of it. Working with a band is phenomenal – if you go into a room and try out a song with two other people, when the three people gel and it happens it’s pretty insane, but that also requires getting three people into a room. Whereas a solo thing, it’s like, man, it’s so spontaneous. I’m here by myself, I don’t even have to go to rehearsal space. I do it in my flat. As long as I don’t do it after 10 o’clock, because then the neighbour will do the old broom-against-the-ceiling. There’s disadvantages and advantages to the solo and band format, but the disadvantages are minor. But no, it’s not [lonely]. I have to admit, I fucking love it.
Peter Black - 100 Miles by Mess+Noise
Do you wander into the studio whenever you feel like it or do you set aside time and treat it like a job?
What I do is I’ve got a mini home studio. I’ve got a 16-track thing here where, when I’m working on something, I’ll do it all here. No, I can’t afford to just go in the studio because it’s just too expensive, but doing good-quality demos here is a total option and the home recording thing that I’ve got is quite good because I also take it to the studios and record the bands when need be. You can put drums and bass and all that sort of stuff and then I can take it home and work on the harmonies and vocal melody lines and whatnot. So yeah, it’s a very, very handy tool.
Was there stuff that you’d learned from doing your last solo album that you did differently on this one?
Look, the first album, I keep saying that it was a bit of a chicken record because it was my first one, so I took it quite easy. And even – not took it easy, but I still had a lot of tracks that were in a band format, although I might have played everything except the drums because I couldn’t drum to save my life. But you know what I mean … they were quite easy to convey and present. And also on the first record there’s a song, I think it’s called ‘Sent’ – I’m quite bad with my song titles because I usually make them up as I’m doing the artwork – where I had an idea for a string section but didn’t know whether it was going to work, so that was probably the most experimental thing I did on there.
For me it was very “How is this gonna turn out?” And because it worked out so well and I had a pretty good rapport with Sam, who does the strings for me, I thought, “OK, for my next record it’s just gonna be acoustic. It’s going to be very representative of what I perform live.” But at the same time I don’t like listening to acoustic music that sounds like it would sound better in a band format. So these songs, to me that’s the best way to present them. They’re meant to be intimate, they’re meant to be quiet, and they’re meant to be embellished with strings. I knew I could do that as well, so they’re the things I learnt from the first record and I just wanted to take it to a further place on the second one, which I have to admit, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s really hard to make a record and be happy with it, because you always go, “That wasn’t done properly” or “Aw, I had a better lyric line." But with this one, when it was finally mastered and sequenced, I was like, “Fuck, I feel good.” I’m very happy with it.
How do you do the strings live?
I do it without the strings live. Just me and an acoustic. I guess if I had a bit more money and time, it probably would be nice to rehearse with a string section to do something fancy like that. But yeah, time- and money-wise, I just don’t have the facilities.
It’s the same old story.
Yeah, isn’t it?
Peter Black - Stove Panther by Mess+Noise
What was it that made you want to release these solo albums?
For quite some time I had a bunch of songs that were too mellow for the bands. For both of them. On the first record the song ‘Spanish Movies’ I actually performed once with Nunchukka Superfly. I thought, “Nunchukka Superfly could do this track, it’s kind of psych,” but the guys weren’t into it. They were saying it was too quiet and didn’t fit the band aesthetic and shit. I still disagree, but when you’re in a band you have to be a bit more – well, not a bit more, it’s a democracy. It’s like, “Fair enough, if you guys don’t want to have to do this track, you don’t have to,” but I still really liked it. I had songs that kept piling up and up and up, so that was one of the reasons. The other one was, and it kind of sounds bizarre and corny, but I was at this party years ago with a friend and there was a guy playing an acoustic guitar there and he handed it to me and goes, “Carn, you’re a guitar player!” And I thought, far out, I can’t really do anything with this. As a guitar player, that’s a challenge. Then other little thoughts kept creeping into my head. Like: I’m using electricity for power; could I get power without electricity, purely from an acoustic point?
Another one was a quote by Jonathan Richman. Someone asked him, “How come you made your first record, this really well-known proto-punk album and then afterwards you went and did, like, novelty songs on the acoustic?” And he said, “I like what I did, but I kind of felt it was just weird that kids couldn’t enjoy my music too. I felt too loud, exclusive.” Or inclusive; whatever the proper word is. I’m not saying I wanted to make kids’ music, but for some reason that quote stuck with me. It was like a whole bunch of different things. As you get older I think your art should expand. It’s an outlet that I never attempted and I thought, “Man, I’m gonna do this. It’s hard and it’s a challenge and I can’t fuckin’ play acoustic to save my life, so get working.”
What did you wind up doing at that party? Did you hand his guitar back or did you give it a play?
I didn’t even take it off him! He sort of handed it to me, I put my hands up in the air and go, “Nah, not me, buddy.”
‘No Dangerous Gods in Tunnel’ is out now on Citadel.
PETER BLACK ALBUM TOUR
Thurs, Aug 9 – Port Macquarie Hotel, Port Macquarie, NSW
Fri, Aug 10 – SCU Uni Ba, Lismore, NSW
Sat, Aug 11 – Prince of Wales, Brisbane, QLD
Sun, Aug 12 – Tym’s Guitars (arvo show), Brisbane, QLD
Fri, Aug 17 – Bridge Hotel, Castlemaine, VIC
Sun, Aug 19 – The Tote, Melbourne, VIC