Black Kites are a breath of fresh air for the New Jersey hardcore scene with a genuine and emotional approach to crafting songs, recording, and touring. Since the band’s inception in 2006, they have jumped to the forefront of their up-and-coming music peers. With a string section of one, guitarist Tom Schlatter not only fills the void of two guitarists and a bass player, he is single-handedly reinventing the game with a multi-amp rig that he has been developing for years. Black Kites are far from one-dimensional and approach recording and playing live as two completely separate entities, creating an aura of timeliness that is both engaging and uplifting. Complimented by the unrelenting lyrics and vocals of Jeff Guerriero and longtime drummer Jay Wiggin, Black Kites are a band to keep an eye on as they prepare to embark on their first European tour in August in conjunction with a new split LP with RI’s Convulsions being released in Europe and the US. We are very stoked to have caught up with entire band for a full-feature interview.
Joshua BTS: Greetings! Thank you for taking time to answer a few questions for Blow The Scene readers around the world! Let’s begin by having you introduce yourself and declare your onstage weapon of choice with New Jersey’s 3-piece, hardcore-punk powerhouse, Black Kites:
TOM: My name is Tom and I play guitar.
JEFF: My name is Jeff and my onstage weapon is my fists…or a microphone…I sing.
JAY: I’m Jay. I play the drums.
Joshua BTS: You are gearing up for a European Tour in August, super rad. Is this Black Kites first time in the EU? And what can fans expect from Black Kites on this tour and what bands will be joining you?
TOM: This is the first time Black Kites will be going to Europe. For this tour we will be releasing a split LP with a band called Convulsions. It will be released by Adagio Records in Germany and Glory Kid Limited in the United States. We will be doing the entire tour with a band from California called Ghostlimb. I’m extremely thankful to get to do a tour like this, I went to Europe on tour back in 2003 and never thought I would get another chance to go again.
JEFF: Not only is this Black Kites first tour of Europe but personally, this is my first time ever in Europe. I could not be more excited, not only do I get to do some travelling but I’m also doing it with great dudes playing music I love and getting to meet a ton of new people. It couldn’t be any better!
JAY: I’ve only been to Europe once before and it was not with a band. I’m excited to tour somewhere other than the US. If we have any fans, then I look forward to meeting them. And those fans can expect us to be sleepy. I’ve been told that shows run pretty late over in Europe; far past our bedtimes.
Joshua BTS: Before we get into your current happenings, let’s zip back to early days of Black Kites. How did you three find each other and what were the circumstances surrounding the formation of Black Kites?
TOM: The worst way to put a band together is to post on a messageboard, but that’s what I did. Most of the people my age were slowly dropping out of hardcore and all the old friends and musicians I had played with were either not interested or already playing in an established band. Jeff and I had met before at shows and he contacted me saying that he was interested. We played at first with Pete Martin on drums. We couldn’t find a bass player so I figured a temporary solution would be to just run the multiple amps. Pete ended up moving to Philadelphia and we were searching for a new drummer. Jay was playing in a local band at the time called Zhenia Golov. We asked if he would want to play in a band that sounded like 108, Unbroken and Deadguy and he was interested. After one practice with Jay everything clicked and rather than look for a bass player we just began playing shows.
JEFF: Pete Martin is also currently in a great band out of Philly, PA called Bonjour. But yeah, the distance just didn’t work out. Before meeting up with Jay later on in our lives I met him when I was probably like 14 years old. Our crappy high school bands played together…we’re both better off right now.
JAY: One of my personal weaknesses is that I will agree to play drums for almost any band. Thankfully, it paid off when I joined Black Kites. I encourage anyone reading this to start learning to play the drums. I know, I know, everyone wants to be a cool guitarist, but the world needs more drummers.
Joshua BTS: I can honestly say, Black Kites is genuinely one of the loudest and most intense 3-piece bands going today and I don’t think anyone misses the bass guitar. I know Tom incorporates quite a smorgasbord of amps and cabs into his live rig. Can you take us through some of your gear picks? Any pieces of equipment that you truly couldn’t live without?
TOM: I’ve always been a pretty frugal person. I hate spending a lot of money on something if I think it can be done with just as much quality for less. With Black Kites I’ve gone through a few amps figuring out what would sound good and what doesn’t. Right now I use three high wattage tube amps (140 watts, 160 watts and 320 watts) and when choosing speaker cabinets I use high wattage cabs. I tune down to drop A so I feel that I need a little bit more power to push the low end and not have it fall apart. My pedal board is pretty essential to playing a Black Kites show. In an effort to emulate two guitarists and bassist I run three different signals from one guitar, each with their own tones and effects tied to them. I’ve had fun figuring it out and shaping the sound, though it’s quite a bit of responsibility and can sometimes be very stressful.
JAY: Tom is being modest when he says we’ve gone through a “few amps”, by the way.
Joshua BTS: With such an intense and detailed live sound, how do you approach the recording process? Do you find it difficult to re-capture the huge live presence of the band on wax and tape?
TOM: Steve Roche has been recording my bands for years and has become pretty familiar with how to work with my sound. Chris Ross recorded the Advancement to Ruins LP and he did a great job recording and shaping the tones. I’ve been very fortunate in working with people in the studio who are not phased by the unorthodox set up. Recording and playing live are two totally different elements, so I never expect them to sound the same. I pretty much approach it like that.
JEFF: I honestly don’t think we’ve been able to capture the live sound/energy till Songs Written While Things Were Changing and I think we kept it up with the Convulsions split. Before these two recordings I was always told we were a better live band than recorded. Its an odd compliment and I’m glad that people are agreeing that we kind of caught our sound finally on these last two recordings.
JAY: I recommend that people see us play live if they like the music they’ve heard recorded. You can turn your stereo up as loud as you want but it will somehow never quite compare to what we’re like live. It’s not just a volume thing, either, it’s the feeling of the soundwaves moving your insides around. Okay, so that’s a volume thing. When you see us live you get to laugh and cry along with us. People tell me we’re a funny band. Or, specifically, that Jeff is a funny person on the microphone. We also occasionally say stuff related to how we’re feeling at the moment or what feelings we were feeling when the songs were written which I think is an important aspect of our band. If you can, come see us in New Jersey; that’s us in our element and at our most fine-tuned.
Joshua BTS: Your early releases, Advancement to Ruins and I Won’t Accept What We’ve Become saw lyrical themes that stepped between personal and political lines. What are some of the current lyrical focuses of the band?
JEFF: I just write about whatever happens to be on my mind at the time. Which is why I think both of those records have a mix of personal and political. But when Songs Written.. was being written, as the name implies, we were all in a weird point where our lives were changing. I was really unhappy with a lot of things that were more personal, and it certainly came out in that record. On the Convulsions split I think its back to being a mix of the two, but probably slightly more politically skewed. I like that I don’t feel the need to stick to one theme and so the themes of our songs can go from speaking out against rape jokes to my tendency to be uncomfortable when trying to speak in between songs. On the latest record there is even a song about finding what it is that makes you happy and focusing on that so you don’t end up miserable all the time. How many hardcore bands have a song about being happy? haha
JAY: Too much death obsession in hardcore these days. Down with skulls, up with sunny days! Down with hatred, up with love! Punks is hippies, as GISM used to say, apparently.
Joshua BTS: Your most recent release, Songs Written While Things Were Changing is out now on Protagonist Records. Give us the 411 on this record. When, where and whom did you record with?
TOM: We wrote this record when all three of lives were really taking on new forms. I was going through a divorce while both Jeff and Jay were graduating college and figuring out the post graduation life plans they had ahead of them. It was a strange time for all of us and there were many shows at that point in time that were very cathartic. We wrote the record with all this in mind; it’s a little more of a personal record lyrically, mainly because that’s where we were at that point in our heads. Brendan and Bill from Protagonist had express interest in doing a record for us. They are both old friends of mine and I love and respect their view of hardcore and ideals. It was great to do this record with them. Steve Roche recorded it at his studio in Philadelphia (Permanent Hearing Damage Studios). We recorded the whole thing in about two days. I really love the way the record came out, and I’m very grateful to produce something like this in my thirties.
JEFF: I think Tom answered this question perfectly. I’d just like to add that this is the first record I’ve ever been apart of that I’m 100% happy with. This is something I’m very proud of.
JAY: I’ll say a little about the art, since that’s the part of the record I was most responsible for. Like Tom said, we were all in a rough spot in our lives during this record. I had been throwing ideas around for the album art but none of them seemed to be worth the time. Jeff, jokingly I think, suggested a collage of us as babies. Even if he was joking, I thought it was a damned good idea and it was exactly the opposite of what I’d been thinking about for art. I’d been interested in dark, brooding aesthetics and here he suggests pictures of us as innocent, happy kids. So that’s what I went with. It’s nostalgic, for sure. Every day that I see I’m happy for, but I can’t help but miss the simplicity and innocence of my childhood.
Joshua BTS: I understand you are all vegan/ straightedge. What are some of top picks for food on the road?
TOM: It’s funny, Jeff and I were discussing this last night. In the past, touring with my previous bands, food was always really bad vegan fast food, or whatever you could get that was vegan at a convenience store. With Black Kites we’ve seemed to have lucked out. We’ve never eaten fast food on tour. Off the top of my head, Brick Road Pizza in Grand Rapids Michigan, Chicago Diner in Chicago and Soul Vegetarian in Washington DC are some of my favorites. We also tend to cook a lot on tour. Burritos are usually are go to food when cooking.
JEFF: Tom forgot to mention that gross CiCi’s all you can eat pizza is also perfect and should be eaten at daily while on tour. He probably didn’t mention this because both he and Jay would disagree with this statement. But deep down, they know just how good cheap and bad pizza is.
JAY: When you’re part of the team (XVX), touring is really just a poorly disguised excuse to go eat delicious food with your friends all over the country.
Joshua BTS: What is the story behind the name Black Kites?
TOM: Pete Martin came up with the name and we liked it. He told us it was from a Q and Not U song, though I’ve never heard it.
JAY: Hey man, I joined the band after it had a name. But we’re Black Kites. That’s just how it is. Nothing else would make sense.
Joshua BTS: Black Kites stay very active throughout the East Coast. What’s your take on the current punk and hardcore scene of the East Coast? Any bands out there really exciting you right now?
TOM: We’re pretty fortunate in New Jersey to have many bands that are quite good here. Suburban Scum, Flesh Temple, Troublemaker, Changes, Disobey..there’s a ton of bands I like seeing around here. As for the rest of the East Coast, I really love Convulsions, Veloz, Soul Control, etc. We are spoiled here. The distances are so much shorter than out in the Midwest, so it’s much easier for bands to do small weekend trips. We get to see so many bands due to our geographic location.
JEFF: As Tom said, we’ve got a lot of good in NJ right now. From heavier hardcore like Suburban Scum and Troublemaker to more punk orientated bands like Teen Wolves, Phibes, and Secret Police. I love it all and am glad I can see most of these bands just about every other weekend.
JAY: The only band I care about is Convulsions. I’m being hyperbolic, but I think that they are onto something seriously unreal. When you hear the new split with us you’ll understand. I live in Brooklyn and “spoiled” is an understatement. I live in a building that hosts massive shows pretty regularly. This is great for me and for New York; it’s DIY, all-ages, low cost, no cops/security, and people generally respect the few rules in place. However, New York is so prone to elitism and that nonsense. So it makes it pretty hard for all of the disparate subgenres of punk to do well here. Plus there are 40 shows a week and people burn out fast. It makes me miss New Jersey, where every show was at least a little special and you could always count on 30 kids to show up regardless of who was playing. I don’t mean to sound too negative, but that’s how it goes.
Joshua BTS: What are some of your favorite venues to play and why?
TOM: I think just about any space can be great when it’s run well. Non-smoking, alcohol free spaces that don’t tolerate fights or any other type of disrespectful behavior are usually my favorites. Places like ABC NO RIO, THE SECRET ARTS SPACE and SIREN RECORDS are spaces that I enjoy seeing shows at and playing.
JEFF: I still love playing basements. Sure, its not always the best run, but I feel like there is something special about someone opening up their house to a bunch of people they don’t know all that well, having bands come from all over the world to play, and having local bands being psyched to play there. There is something about it I just can’t get over how cool I think it is. However, the DAAC in Grand Rapids, Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park, and ABC No Rio in NYC have always been real kind to us.
JAY: Punk belongs in the hands of the punks. Sometimes that works out for the best, sometimes not so much. Anytime I show up to a basement of some kids house who’s stoked to have a bunch of degenerates mosh around, I swell with pride and admiration. All the venues mentioned above that aren’t houses are cool for precisely the same reason. I’ll also shout out the Badlands in Syracuse. Josh and Meredith are the best!
Joshua BTS: Best aspects of being in a band from New Jersey?
TOM: So much is available to you. Being in New Brunswick we are privy to basement shows on a regular basis. It’s also a great geographic location so many large cities are within a days drive (Boston, Providence, NYC, Philly, Baltimore, DC, Richmond).
JEFF: I feel like since its smaller we have a tight knit group of people. Even when shows don’t do so well as far as attendance goes it still is a good time.
JAY: Opportune geographic location, good group of like-minded punx, and a strong scene. It’s Jersey; there’s a feeling you have when your there (I’m sure it’s like any insular, localized scene) that’s just awesome.
Joshua BTS: Worst aspects of being in a band from New Jersey?
TOM: It’s very expensive to live here, so it’s harder to take off work and do extensive touring. There’s also tons of traffic, so getting together is not nearly as easy as we’d like it to be.
JEFF: Majority of the scene here is a college crowd. A lot of them only come to shows for the party and don’t actually pay or support anything. Some of them are just here when school is in session and come summer/graduation they’re not heard from again.
JAY: It’s too expensive for a lot of people to sustain. I know that I won’t end up there again, unfortunately. I have my sights set north…
Joshua BTS: What does the rest of 2011 look like for Black Kites?
TOM: We will do this European tour and release the split Lp with Convulsions.
JAY: Perhaps a small tour up to Montreal, Toronto, and Syracuse. I have to hammer out the details and see how we feel after three weeks of tour, but I’d love to get up there, ideally with some band we’re tight with.
Joshua BTS: Where is the best place online for fans to keep up with Black Kites?
JAY: We also have a blog at http://weareblackkites.blogspot.com. Jeff always says he’ll start using it but never does. I aspire to have regular tour updates through there while we’re on the road.
Joshua BTS: Thank you for sitting down with Blow The Scene readers today as we look forward to keeping up with your future endeavors. Any final thoughts or shout-outs?
JEFF: Thank you for your interest in us and coming up with some honestly well thought out questions that I had fun answering. I think we name dropped enough bands in this interview so let me just shout out RTF Records, check it out. Watch pro wrestling.
JAY: Life is worth living and it’s worth living it the way that you want. And I want to play hardcore with my friends. And I’m happy I get to do that and that you are interested enough in us to ask about it, thanks!
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All Pictures Courtesy of Christopher Z Photography