Interview by patchen
Play the Guitar Like a Percussion Instrument Until Your Fingers Slowly Start To Bleed
"What does an amplifier at full volume sound like when it and the jackass playing it gets steamrolled? Hopefully there'd be someone recording." Blackfire Revelation guitarist and singer JR Fields says this in response to my asking which historical riot they would play in if given the opportunity. I asked this with the MC5 in mind. Their performance during the Chicago riots in 1968, while all other scheduled bands save for the Fugs took off running, was one of rock's greatest moments. Somewhere along the line rock became unable or unwilling to be that brave, and I'm not just talking about the pre-punk days when we had Journey and the ill sight of Rick Wakeman performing rock symphonies on ice skating surfaces. Even post-Punk, we have a scene with little interest in really standing up to power, or for anything, whether it be Green Day passing themselves off as the new Clash when they are really the new Monkees, or heavy metal reduced to boring, monosyllabic grumbling. There is even a scene where people re-enact 80's hardcore shows with cover bands and"period dress", perverting the original DIY spirit and turning it into some twisted kind of Civil War, Trekkie way to have a/avoid having a life. Then there is, in what might be the worst moment in rock history, the Jefferson Airplane selling the rights to the fearless song"Volunteers", originally a call to defiant action, to a stock brokerage firm to use in their commercial. It is like we have to invent punk all over again.
The recent 5CD anthology of the MC5 is called Purity and Accuracy, two words which also describe The Blackfire Revelation. Though they have only released one EP thus far, Gold and Guns on 51 (Fat Possum) for me they are already one of the best hopes for a rock world gone soft and surface.
Fields, along with drummer Hank Haney, are both frightening and inspiring live; though only a duo, their sound is monstrous and overpowering. You can feel the seriousness of their intent. Influenced by the like of heavy no-compromisers like the 5, Blue Cheer, and Melvins, they have a sound that goes for broke, and they love touring and sharpening their sound even more. Fields said that"One of the main reasons we started this band was because both of us wanted to be out touring and travelling constantly. We're just happy to be able to do that right now. We both get a good laugh about the fact that we get paid to do what we do. (We) drive all day, meet 30 people, drink, scream, spit, cuss and sweat for a half hour, drink, talk shit, then run like hell before anyone realizes what just happened or what they paid us for."
This duoâ€”"We just never had the patience to sit around and wait until we found the perfect bassist to do this with" Ironically has a website that seems at first to be a loving tribute to a bassist, the late great Metallica hero Cliff Burton- from New Orleans by way of various "Southern Woodlands" has a great mix of grit and smarts; the Gothic literature of their turf, especially that of Cormac McCarthy, has seeped in, as has Charles Bukowski, who must a patron saint of anyone trying to expose madness and rise above it before being killed by it.
"I care. Genuinely. About 40% of the time. That's when I try to write lyrics", says Fields. Most of their lyrics, like the MC5, are not overtly political, but feed off the energy of the music. The MC5 could have sung about Fruit Loops and made it sound like a call to revolution; so with the BFR. In my review of the EP, I said:
"Lyrically, originals like "Battle Hymn" and "Act Like A Believer" are classic punk, indictments of complacency and posing that have a long history in the best rock, but which sadly seem lacking out there today. The band seems to call on the listener, as the best bands do, to wake up, stop being sheep, and leave your own trace. The perfectly chosen covers, The Troggs' "I Want You Right Now" and Blue Cheer's "Second Time Around" are righteously shredded."
Again, the lyrics are a reinforcement of the sonic assault; Bill Hicks was a comedian who shamed his competition, because he dared speak the truth that other comics only rarely did. Some were pushed by him to take risks, others were still content with Comedy Central specials and boob jokes on Leno. The Blackfire Revelation is poised to be one of the bands that pushes. When Greil Marcus wrote about the Sex Pistols' final gig in San Francisco, he said that it sounded like Steve Jones was playing a guitar factory instead of one guitar; JR Fields sets up shop in the same aural warehouse, with drummer Hank Haney provides the appropriate brutal counterpoint. There are riffs here and sheets of sound that have been bubbling in the background since John Lee Hooker showed up around Detroit with an amplifier and in a big bad mood. And they are soulmates with much of the best Detroit rock, that city which spawned more raw power than anywhere this side of Australia. You can name those bands as well as I can."
This summer they have been up at THE MONEY SHOT in Oxford, Mississippi, Fat Possum's studio."They've got a really good set-up up there. An old house back in the woods with a bunch of analogue equipment and a double-wide trailer parked in the back yard for us to stumble over to and crash out in when we're done recording." The record they are working on is called"WE COME FROM THE WOODS" and it will be out in January of '06. An August tour looms, which suits them just fine. Fields says that he"started getting sick of being in the crowd at oversold rock shows. It seemed like there was much more room onstage; that's where the real fun was going on and that's where I wanted to be." Here's hoping that the people who listen to the BFR will be sick of what they were listening to prior and get on board with something real. At the time I emailed my questions, he was kicking back and listening to some old favorite records. Why was he listening to T-Rex's Electric Warrior?
Because"I too have been dancing since I was 8. As for reading, mostly I've been looking at maps." And charting a course few bands are willing to travel these days.