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Q&A with Jan Paternoster of Black Box Revelation

One half of the Belgian, garage rock group talks about their bluesy influences, legendary tourmates, and the joy of spending most of your life in a rock n’ roll band.

Mainstream music’s gotten a bit soft lately, hasn’t it? Not to disparage bands of the moment like Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes, but it sometimes feels like the snarl’s gone out of rock n’ roll, that the music of right now is more appropriate to be played in coffee shops and boutiques than blasting out of bombed-out dive bars. However, if you like your rock n’ roll with some of the grunge and howl of MC5 and the Stooges’ proto-punk or even last decade’s garage rock revival, you would be wise to give Belgian duo, Black Box Revelation a listen. Built on the one-two punch of Jan Paternoster’s fuzzed out guitar and Dries Van Dijck’s thunderous drum beats, their music brings to mind “White Blood Cells”-era White Stripes, echoing that group’s penchant for shambling tunes and colossal, fist-pumping choruses. Between supporting slots on tours with the Meat Puppets and Beady Eye, Jan was gracious enough to take some time out to answer a few of my questions.

Check out the video for their latest single, “High on a Wire“.

Your music clearly reflects a deep affection for both garage rock and the blues. What specific bands or artists do you count as your major influences?

We always loved the Stones, they’re probably our biggest influence. We love raw, pure music and that’s exactly how we record our music, havin fun playing music, all live in the same room, catch the moment. For our new album Neil Young has been a great influence. The way he plays that guitar is just magic.

What is the significance of your band’s name? It carries an ominous tone, given that the term “black box” is most readily associated with airplane crashes.

This actually is a big mystery to ourselves as well. Our name was there, all of a sudden, and we think it matches great with the sound of our music.

Ostensibly, your first language is Dutch, what influenced your decision to sing in English? Do you have any plans to record a song, if not an entire album in your native tongue?

Haha, if you’re hungry to hear us sing a song in our native language, browse youtube and you’ll find one song, a cover of a famous Belgian singer. We recorded it as a tribute to his career. Now, for our own songs we never thought of singing in Dutch. All of our favorite bands are American or English, or at least they sing in English. And by singing in English we got this great opportunity to play all over the States. We love it!

Jan, your vocals have a very distinctive snarl, kind of Mick Jaeger crossed with Iggy Pop and Billy Corgan. Are there any singers you’ve consciously taken cues from when shaping your own voice?

Oh, not at all. At least not consciously. Mick and Iggy are both one of my favorite singers. I like the tone of their voices and especially their attitude. Wow! My voice is pretty nasal I know, and I just try to give the best performance I can with it. Raw power.

You’ve spent nearly half your lives together in a band, how have the dynamics of the inner workings of the band shifted in that time?

We’ve been playing music together since our childhood. We were 11 and 13 years old. Since then it’s always been a pleasure playing music. Mow that we have more years of experience, we jam and improvise a lot more. So after all these years the two piece thing has always given us more and more freedom.

With your latest album, “My Perception” and its supporting tour, you seem to be making a dedicated effort to break into the U.S. music scene. How have American audiences responded to your music so far? Have you noticed any disparity between American and European audiences at your gigs?

We’re so happy to tour the States, reactions are so positive!! It’s cool to see people at our shows being so excited! There are always a couple of bloggers in the crowd and to be honest .. we only had great reviews so far in the States. Europe is amazing to tour, you get so many different cultures and languages, which is really cool. But the history of blues music lays in the states and that’s what we like about U.S. audiences, they really love music, it’s great to see so many people going wild on our tunes.

Given your music’s hard edge and raucous energy, what’s your take on the mainstream’s increasing interest in softer, folk-inspired rock? 

It’s not always easy to play loud rock music on radio during the day. I bet some people like it a bit more relax when they’re hanging at home or wherever. Energy rich rock music will always be a winner when people go out to have fun. There’s notting better than watching your favorite rock band live on stage right in front of you.

Garage rock has had a rough past few years, with once heralded bands like The Vines, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and The Fratellis either splitting up or falling out of favor. Do you see garage rock’s demise in the mainstream as a possible roadblock to Black Box Revelation’s success?  

Not at all! By touring the states so much we play for so many people who all love garage rock music. We think the amount of people liking garage rock is really big, bands just need to come back to the same cities over and over again so the fans can see them live. In this genre of music it’s all about the live scene and the contact with your fans. We’re from belgium which is the other side of the world but we’ve been touring the States more than most American bands do. Here’s an example; we play Minneapolis 4 times in 1 month. That’s how you create a buzz and build a fanbase.

What was it like working with Alain Johannes on “My Perception”?  How did working in Los Angeles affect this album’s recording process in contrast to your previous albums’?

We like recording music somewhere far away from home. This creates a certain vibe where we can focus more on the music only. Nothing else than jamming and recording and having a good time. Working with Alain was so amazing, we recorded the whole album at his home in hollywood. He’s a really inspiring producer with great ideas. The kind of man who knows exactly where to add a certain shout or whatever to make the music even better. He has so many rare and weird instruments at his place which was another extra boost for our inspiration.

Where do you see your music developing from here? Do you have aspirations to experiment with other genres? “New Sun” has a heavy Delta Blues element to it, is that a sound you might be interested in further exploring?

Oh, we love delta blues, I just bought some new (old) records and the way those guys play music is so raw and soulfull. Amazing! New Suns is one of our favorite songs, together with High on a Wire and Sealed with Thorns. It’s hard to say how our music is going to develop, it might get more bluesy or psychedelic. Who knows haha… we’ll see!

You have some impressive supporting slots coming up with the Meat Puppets and Beady Eye, how did these shows come together?

We played with the Meat Puppets in june and had such an amazing time that they asked us to join them again on this fall tour. It’s so much fun to play with them, they’re the godfathers of grunge music and it’s really cool to be their support. Cris Kirkwood actually joined us on stage in Chicago and Minneapolis. The first time ever that a bass player played on one of our tunes. That’s been one of our best experiences while being on tour in the States. We’re really excited for the Beady Eye dates as well, what an opportunity to play so many great venues with such a legend!

Your future touring partner, Liam Gallagher has cultivated a reputation for his hell-raising, rock n’ roll antics, how do you think you guys stack up to him in that regard?

I think we will have a great time. We’ve been playing with so many bands already, and the cool thing is we always get along very well with those other bands. The Beady Eye tour will be amazing, it would be cool to play some tunes together with them. That would be sick !

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