Big Black Delta

Home in His Hand

Oct 18, 2013 Issue #46 - June/July 2013 - Charli XCX Bookmark and Share


Eight months before the official release of Jonathan Bates' electronic-rock debut album as Big Black Delta, he found himself in the unlikely plum position of opening for Jane's Addiction on a leg of the band's summer 2012 tour. For a solo project that began on a laptop, it seemed that Bates was being handed an invitation from his portable studio straight into the belly of the rock and roll lifestyle. But there was little need for concern over the fate of his physical well-being or his soul, it turned out.

"You would think it's some kind of party all the time, but it's actually a very proficient, professional, efficient show," Bates remarked. "It was actually pretty G-rated, if anything."

The opportunity came about courtesy of Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, who became a fan from picking up on some early tracks.

"On social networks, he would occasionally mention us and stuff," Bates recalls, "and so when they went out on tour in the States, he asked if we would go, and it was like, 'Fuck yeah!' I was nervous, playing in front of just straight-up rock fans, but it was awesome. We were completely accepted."

Bates had fronted the band Mellowdrone for 10 years by the time he decided to try something new. After a decade of working with other players and conventional instruments in that band, Big Black Delta was born, in large part, out of the sheer convenience of his recently purchased laptop.

"It made the recording process very transparent, like it just wasn't there anymore," he explains. "That's how these songs came about, is just me fucking around in the middle of the night with this thing, whether it was in someone's backyard or in my girlfriend's bed."

An early version of the album, entitled BBDLP1, was released in very limited quantities. The new Big Black Delta, distributed on Bates' own Masters of Bates label, is a full-length split between BBDLP1 tracks and fresh material, ranging from the throbbing "Put the Gun on the Floor" and melodic chug of "Side of the Road" to the epic, vista-scorching instrumental "PB3."

The high-energy thrill ride "IFUCKINGLOVEYOU" and soaring melancholia of "Dreary Moon," in particular, were clear indicators to Bates that his creative direction was truly shifting from Mellowdrone's band dynamic.

"Those songs were proof to me that I really, really now was on my own," he says. "I couldn't blame anybody for anything. I couldn't say that I didn't have access to something. Now I could do anything I imagined. The work now is just trying to push my imagination."

While the laptop has served to move Bates into new creative territory over the past couple of years, in the grand scheme, he sees a common ground with other approaches, thanks in part to his interest in artists as diverse as Willie Nelson, Burt Bacharach, and Quincy Jones.

"I think all good music has the same underlying thing going through it. I can't quite explain this; if something's good, it's just good."

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar's August/September 2013 issue.]



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