The Blackwater Fever interview (Shane Hicks)

"When Tool's "Aenima" came out, it blew my little 18 year old mind"

04/09/2013 @ 14:14
The Blackwater Fever are one of the best kept secrets in the contemporary Australian rock music scene. They chose their components from the albums by artists like Mark Lanegan, Alice In Chains, Dax Riggs, ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughn in order to form their dark and badass sound. This year’s "The Depths" is their third effort and their first step towards establishing their position in today’s music map. There’s little universal promotion, just people, magazines and sites (like which dug them out for their brilliant quality and recommended them. Singer/guitarist Shane Hicks talked to us about what happens when the electric blues world and the alternative rock world collide.

The Blackwater FeverHey there Shane. First of all, I’ve got to tell you that I appreciate a lot of new Australian bands. Yet, the vast majority plays either alternative/indie rock (The Drones) or alt-prog rock (Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus). So it came to me as a surprise to listen to band that loves the electrified blues so much. Is there a so-called scene?
I few years back I guess we sort of felt like we we’re a part of a scene. We toured with a bunch of like minded bands… There was a bit of that electric blues revival in the form of young garage rock bands that was happening in Australia. These days I personally feel a bit out of touch with our local music scene. And as a band I think we’ve always felt like a bit of a black sheep in the local and Australian scene.  I think mainly because our albums aren’t really genre specific. Which can work a little bit against you. I mean if we were specifically a metal or say even a country band for example, if feel they’d be more of a change to slip into and be apart of a community or scene.

The Blackwater Fever - The Depths"The Depths" is your third album. What did you do different this time? As the title forebodes, it is darker than your previous efforts, plus it’s got many grunge influences...
We recorded The Depths between Andrew’s and my place. We both have basic home studio setups. I also mixed the album. Both these things were a first for us. We’d been demoing and dabbling in recording but never took it seriously until The Depths. The first two albums were recorded by other people at the controls.

When I listen to you I feel as if ZZ Top are drinking whiskey on stage and then, out of the blue, we see Pearl Jam and Seasick Steve getting up there to jam with them. Which artists are your heroes? And which of them would you say that played the most important part in shaping your sound?
I think I got into music pretty late. I really started to latch on to stuff when I was about 18. When Tool’sAenima came out it blew my little 18 year old mind. I started playing guitar at 19 and learnt all the Tool stuff out at that time. I really did consume every element of that band back then… and you could say it was the foundation of my guitar playing… at the very least,the starting point. And although I haven’t listened to their music is years, I think their mind set and approach to music has definitely rubbed off on me subconsciously.  But yeah I listened to Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Kyuss, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumkins, Nirvana… all that sort of stuff back then. These days my music collection is more open minded. From Howlin’ Wolf to Massive Attack, Drive-By Truckers to Truckfighters, Beastie Boys to Frank Zappa.

The Blackwater FeverHow difficult is it for a band like The Blackwater Fever to gain reputation? What means have you got toward that direction?
It’s tough. There’s so much good (and bad) music coming out all the time these days. And everyone’s out there pedaling their own stuff just like us. I think we’re pretty consistent when it comes to writing music. So as trends come and go… I think all we can do to make our mark in the music world, however big or small that may end up being, is to just continue to persist and focus on releasing good music. We, and the people around us, see the potential in our music. But just because the music is good doesn’t guarantee yousuccess. There’s so many cogs in the machine that takes a bands into the forefront of the music world. And sometimes good music has very little to do with it.

Which would you describe as the best moment in The Blackwater’s Fever history so far?
We played 2 sets at the Byron Bay Blues Fest back in 2011 which was awesome. Also opened for The Black Keys a few years before that. It really comes to together for us when we’re playing to a theater or tent full of like mind people. Both of those experiences were definite highlights. A personal bestwould be releasing The Depths. I’m very proud of that album. Particularly because it was the first album we recorded and mixed ourselves. It’s a bit of a moment in time that’s changed the process for us. We can now write, record, mix and release our music 100% independently.

The Blackwater FeverI don’t know if you have been told so, but your music would fit incredibly well in the soundtrack of The Sons Of Anarchy TV series. Has anybody mentioned that?
Yeah we get that from time to time and we do try and create a moody, cinematic tone with a lot of our tracks. We’ve had a few music placements in the past in ads, tv series, docos and movies. We had 2 tracks used by HBO to advertise their monthly movies a while back… X-Men, Terminator 3 and Transformers. It was awesome to hear our music backing these huge epic Hollywood explosions and cinema. Bit of an eye opener.

My favorite songs are “Oh Deceit” and “Won’t Cry Over You”. I’ve listened to them many many times. Which are the songs that you’ve written and are most proud of? Furthermore, are you aware that the first seconds of “Won’t Cry Over You” bear a strong resemblance to a song by Crippled Black Phoenix (“Rise Up And Fight”)? Do you know this band?
No, I’d never heard of Crippled Black Phoenix until you mentioning them. We had a listen to their track…and you’re right, it’s very similar! Spooky almost. But although I’m very proud of the over all song Won’t Cry Over You the opening riff is nothing ground breaking. I mean we’re just chugging away in the key of E.  So it doesn’t surprise me there’s another tune out there that is similar. As for favorite tracks…. I also like Oh Deceit. Can’t Help Yourself, The Depths,… Songs like Better Off Dead and Lovesickhave stood the test of time for us playing it live. Writing, recording and mixing a track as a band you get to hear a song way too many times… so if it ends up making it to the end of that process, we’re into it.

The Blackwater FeverWhat are the lyrical themes you mostly work on?
My track record theme wise would be the tried and true blues theme of love lost, cheatin’ and hard times... But I’ve been trying to step out of those sorts of ideas and I made a conscious decision to do so when writing lyrics for The Depths. When The Night Comesistrying to create an excited or anxious feeling that something big is about to happen. Can’t Help Yourself is about addiction and helplessness, Don’t Fuck With Joe was inspired but those old spoken word country tunes, End Of Time is loosely themed on mother nature or god threatening his/her wrath upon the human race.

If you were able to choose to play at any festival, which bands would the line-up of this festival consist of?
Tom Waits, Grinderman, Them Crooked Vultures, Dub Trio, Portishead, Blues Explosion andScreamin’ Jay Hawkins in hologram from like Tupac at Coachella ;)

What do you do backstage, the minutes before you are about to perform?
Usually I have a guitar backstage and I’m running through the parts of songs I feel a bit unsure off. I don’t practice guitar… except at the very last minute!

The Blackwater FeverWhat is the stranger record in your collection?
Miguel's "Kaleidoscope Dream". It’s a stranger in my collection for sure. Even a little embarrassing.But as for a guy going for that mainstream pop market, I think he’s very smart. It’s modern, futuristic yet classic and soulful all in one. I’m pretty anti pop so I was surprised I kept coming back to this album.I enjoy dissecting all types of music

Name five albums that you‘ve been listening to lately.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Specter At The Feast
Captain Beefheart - Strictly Personal
Deftones - Saturday Night Wrist
Jonneine Zapata - Cast the Demons Out
Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul

What are your plans for the future?
We’ve got a few Australian gigs planned for the rest of the year. Jed and I have been working on solo albums. I’d like to finish mine before the end of the year. We’ve started writing for the next BWF album. I’d like to start focusing on that.With a 4th album done, I’d like to start touring outside Australia.

Thanks for your time, Shane. Keep providing us with great music.

Manos Paterakis