San Francisco’s Black Map are bringing Rock and Roll back to the city with their first thrashing record released last year,…And We Explode, and a gig at Slim’s on Friday, June 19th.
Conceived of members from Dredg, Far and The Trophy Fire, Black Map might not sound like one would imagine. Heavier than any of their aforementioned bands, they’re threaded together by an adoration of heavy music. Influences of their individual pasts are evident as Mark Engle’s guitars are harder hitting and pragmatic and yet still hold those alluring reverberant lead melodies that embody his craft. Drummer Chris Robyn, previously of Far, resembles his former self, infused with a punk rock attitude while singer and bassist Ben Flanagan offers the perfect contrast, singing wistful lyrics about humanity with more guttural flare than his previous band, The Trophy Fire. We caught up with Ben to talk about the differences of being in Black Map, the admiration of Charles Bukowski, the bay area’s booming craft beer scene and what it’s gonna take for the Warriors to win the finals.
How did this project develop?
We’re all friends and we basically had this inkling to do a project that was really heavy, at least heavier than other projects that we’ve done before. We just got together and started playing in our studio in Oakland. It started as this fun thing, then we wrote a couple songs that we really liked and it grew some legs.
There’s definitely influence from your other bands. Were you going for a certain, distinct sound or was it more spontaneous?
We want the music to be heavy to a degree, but we made a decision to not overthink anything. There was more catharsis with this band, and if we were feeling it, there was no reason not to do. This is so cliché, but we do love all different kinds of music, but as far as playing music, this, for me, is the most fun as far as picking up an instrument and letting it all out.
You’re still a fairly new band but the album seems fairly comfortable. Do you think being friends first made the process easier?
Yes. The three of us are all very comfortable with each other so it’s easy to communicate without feelings getting hurt. I’ve known our engineer for about ten years, so the process has been pretty smooth.
In the video for “I’m Just the Driver,” was it Mark’s idea to have his face licked?
I don’t think so. I think it was the directors’ idea. I think he willingly accepted, but I don’t think he slipped the director a note. We had an overall broad idea of what we wanted the video to be like. We showed up and Frank Door had all sorts of other ideas. I’m glad he did because we aren’t directors. It was a really fun video!
You have a song called “Chinaski.” Are you a big Charles Bukowski fan?
I’m a huge Bukowski fan. The lyrics are kind of a combo of what I thought his perspective was in “Ham on Rye” and “Factotum” and a yearning to let that artistic side feel free and not be bogged down by work and the daily grind. That was a reaction to him. I would never speak for him.
He does have a penchant for illuminating beauty through mostly pessimistic and harsh perspectives…
He has apathy on some levels, but also has this intense passion in life, and has an interesting way of showing it.
The title of the record, …And We Explode, is very profound. Were there any specific themes you were trying to convey?
A lot of the record, that song “Chinaski” included, is just sort of looking at the way that we as humans accept change in a functioning society, and one of those reactions that we feel is an explosion of sorts. The title wasn’t supposed to fully envelope everything.
You just got back from a handful of shows in Germany. How was that experience?
It was awesome. It was our second tour there. We were out there with Chevelle in November/December, which was cool to lay some groundwork. This time was beautiful. We started off with two festivals playing to a lot of people, and played a lot of shows with Circa Survive. I was a hired gun for the guitar player’s band Psychic Babble, so we’re all pretty inner connected. They’re a really inspiring band. We ended with a headlining show in Hamburg. It was a fantastic trip.
You played the Rockavaria festival. Did you stick around to see Kiss that night?
A couple of people in our crew saw Kiss, but I was drinking Jägermeister somewhere. We got there the day before and saw Muse and Incubus, and caught Limp Bizkit side stage- that was really fun. We also saw an amazing band called Arcade Roots.
Now that you’ve released your first record, what are your main focuses for Black Map? Is there anyone you’d particularly love to tour with?
Right now we’re writing and looking to put out more records. When the time is right we’re looking to get back into the studio followed by more touring. We’re trying to map it out right now. No pun intended. It’s fun because we’ve been able to tour with a few bands we wanted to. We played with Crosses and Circa Survive- Deftones would be awesome. Baroness from Atlanta would be awesome, they’re really intelligent very riff oriented. Anything that’s hard rock and gonna get us in front of a bigger audience.
Do you find that there are more challenges being in a rock band from San Francisco?
I don’t know yet. We played our first show in the city early 2014. The one thing we can’t start doing is looking at the zeitgeist of what’s going on around us and trying to augment that. We’re just happy playing the music we like playing. But yeah, there’s not much hard rock in SF these days, which is weird to me because it had such an amazing history of bands like Metallica, Primus, Faith No More and Machine Head.
There is a surging Craft Beer scene happening in the bay area right now. What are some of your favorite beers?
We rehearse in Oakland and we always go to Beer Revolution during breaks. As far as relatively close breweries, I love Anderson Valley and Russian River’s “Pliny the Younger” when it comes out. I always like a good Anchor Steam as well.
Are you a Warriors fan and what are your series predictions?
Yes. Mark and I are huge Warriors and Giants fans. There’s my predictions and what I want to happen. We just have to figure out how to hold Lebron to under 40 points and Curry needs to start playing like he’s down the whole game instead of just the fourth quarter. We should start Iggy to guard Lebron. They’re playing a little tepid and our whole team is better than theirs aside from one person.