Black Wing Halo: The Crucial Cut Interview
In Black Wing Halo singer Josh Weinstein’s estimation, his NYC foursome sounds like “20 different bands.” That might be a conservative estimate. ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie,’ the tune that won them Diffuser.fm’s July Crucial Cut of the Month Contest, is a grungy punk rager laced with hard rock grooves reminiscent of Aerosmith’s ‘Sweet Emotion.’ It’s a tough-sounding tune that’s tough to describe, and the same goes for all six songs on ‘BWH,’ the group’s latest EP.
But creating an easily describable sound was never the point, and in the following email interview — Black Wing Halo’s prize, if you will, for winning our contest — Weinstein reveals how what began as a one-man acoustic project evolved into this strange and powerful beast. He also explains what bandmates Doug McGregor, Justin Hoffman and Stephanie Linn bring to the BWH sound and looks ahead to the future.
This started out as a solo acoustic project called decibel. Josh, what were the objectives in those early days? How’d you land in NYC?
Play. A lot. Get heard. But first, I realized I had to learn how the system works … I thought just since I played guitar, and I liked the music, I should get gigs, right? I thought I could walk into the Bitter End and just get a gig. So I just needed to learn the ropes and start making connections. I had just come to NYC after a year in D.C. Got off a bus and just felt this New York was the place for me to be. Wow, some of those songs were just atrocious.
You’ve said the Black Wing Halo sound is the result of adding new members and developing new tastes. Starting with the former explanation, had you always wanted to play in a full band, or were you originally drawn to being a solo artist?
Originally, no. I felt I would be able to translate everything in my head through some vocal effects and an acoustic guitar. But it just couldn’t get there. Doug, our bassist, who had also been recording the decibel stuff slowly convinced me that I needed drums and bass.
How did the songwriting process change once new people came on board?
Songwriting for me is a bit of repetition. You play the idea, you play it again, something else evolves from it, you play it some more, more evolution. Now the song cycles through that process by four people. Justin might not hear an idea I hear, but hears something a little different/more interesting/better. Steph hears a vocal line. Doug hears a way to keep the listener guessing. It’s like the evolution took some steroids.
How did your tastes change in between decibel and Black Wing Halo. Is there one band or record you can point to that made you want to get noisier and angrier and darker?
I got way too into Mike Patton. I got really into Tomahawk and how they can thrash and play so aggressively and loud, and then cut straight to a track like ‘Desastre Natural,’ which is think may be the most beautiful song in the world. I think they’re the perfect band, and I just wanted to do that: Play loud, play quiet, keep people guessing with elements from all over the map.
A lot of influences come through on the latest EP. You can hear Nirvana and NIN, but also some elements of classic rock, hardcore, etc., etc. Do you all listen to different things? Which band member has the strangest tastes?
All four of us listen to so much different s—. We all have pretty strange pallets. Steph and I discuss show tunes. Doug introduces me to everything from Clutch to Agnostic Front to Dog Fashion Disco to Kanye. Justin digests a new band a week. It’s crazy. We all add elements from all the different things we listen to, which is why I think all our stuff sounds like it was cut a pasted from 20 different bands.
You mentioned that ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’ was inspired by the movie ‘Funny Games.’ Are you a big movie buff? Do you get songwriting inspiration from watching films?
I’m a decent movie buff. I like some despairing movies, so yes, a little. But I also like rom-coms. And anything with Steve Martin.
If you could go back and write the soundtrack for any film, what would it be?
‘No Country for Old Men’ doesn’t have a soudtrack, so that would be fun.
What’s next for Black Wing Halo. You’re working on a full-length, correct?
Just working. We wrote about three more songs right after we recorded ‘BWH,’ so we want to write a couple more and record those. Keep writing and recording EPs. Then maybe make those into an album.
It took you a long time to reach this point — do you see Black Wing Halo going the distance and being a band that’s still around, say, five years from now.
Yes, I see Black Wing Halo continuing to evolve into whatever the next five years turn us into.