Small Black Discuss the SXSW Tragedy and the Rebellious Inspiration For Their New EP, Real People | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Small Black Discuss the SXSW Tragedy and the Rebellious Inspiration For Their New EP, Real People

The Barefoot Bandit Leaves His Mark Once Again

Apr 04, 2014 Web Exclusive Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share

Minutes before Small Black‘s energetic and dance-fueled set at one of Under the Radar‘s SXSW 2014 parties last month, they were lamenting the somber feeling that hovered in the atmosphere, amid the cool spring breeze and food truck smells. This was, incidentally, the afternoon following the accident in the downtown Austin area that claimed four victims and caused several severe injuries when a reckless, and possibly intoxicated, driver plowed into a line of people waiting to get into the Mohawk venue.

“SXSW is sort of this decadent, hedonistic party, so to start off like that…we kind of don’t know where to go,” says singer Josh Hayden Kolenik about the dark turn the festival had taken the night before. “We were just shook. We just took a walk afterwards. We just didn’t know what to do. We didn’t want to go home.”

The band was already inside The Mohawk to see Tyler, the Creator at the moment of the crash, which took place on the street right outside. They say the moment was surreal, and that it took a minute for everyone to realize exactly what was going on.

“I just heard people screaming, and we looked out the window and saw bodies,” Kolenik says.

Kolenik’s bandmate, Juan Pieczanski, describes the confusion that filled the room as Tyler, the Creator waited for the crowd to come in to see him.

“It was crazy,” Pieczanski says. “He didn’t understand why people weren’t coming into the room. And then it was‘Okay, that’s why.’”

“He didn’t know what was happening for a second,” Kolenik says. “And they canceled Tyler’s set. I don’t know. It was a good decision.”

There is a heavy pause before Pieczanski sums up their feelings. “That’s been SXSW,” he says.

Kolenik and Pieczanski are clearly disturbed by the violence of the incident, but speak about it with a dignified blend of respect and fascination. When the subject turns to the inspiration for their just-released Real People EP, Kolenik offers the same kind of respect, but with an even more eager dose of amazement.

“Yeah, I was really obsessed with this kid Colton Harris-Moore,” Kolenik says, referring to a fugitive the press dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit,” a thief and runaway who was sentenced to prison in 2011 at the age of 20. Harris-Moore sparked the idea that would turn into their EP’s title track, “Real People,” which features guest vocals from Frankie Rose. Kolenik says he considers Harris-Moore a modern day Jesse James, but marvels at the idea of someone so rebellious existing in an era tied to modern convenience and technological ennui.

“He pretty much lived by himself in the woods in Washington and would break into people’s houses,” Kolenik says. “He was kind of a survivalist and he developed all these crazy skills, and as he got older he became more and more brazen and started stealing boats and eventually taught himself how to fly planes on YouTube.”

Kolenik enthusiastically recounts Harris-Moore’s escapades, from stealing airplanes and crashing them in Bloomington, Indianawhere Small Black’s label, Jagjaguwar, is basedto eventually flying off to the Bahamas and hiding out for a few months.

“He finally got caught because he left some clue,” Kolenik says. “He posted a YouTube video or something.”

Harris-Moore’s story does sound like it is ripped straight from a Graham Greene novel, but it is those qualities that kept drawing Kolenik back to his story as a source of inspiration.

“He’s so interesting,” Kolenik says. “He’s this modern folk hero. He’s like a throwback to these American archetypes that we love. He feels like such an outlier in today’s super-conscious Internet world that, I don’t know, I was really inspired. The title, ‘Real People,’ was a meditation on how this kid exists and how he came to be and how he’s so separate and distant from me and my life.”

In some sense, the new EP was born out of its own rebellion. Originally composed for the band’s 2013-released sophomore album, Limits of Desire, “Real People” never quite managed to work on the full-length album. Like its renegade inspiration, the song didn’t fit in and had to branch out on its own.

“We weren’t happy with the final version of [‘Real People’] that was in consideration for the last record,” Kolenik says. “So we redid that and used it as a jumping-off point for a new set of songs.”

Kolenik and Pieczanski still obsess over the wild details of Harris-Moore’s adventures. Kolenik explains how Harris-Moore would scribble “C’ya” on the doors of houses he broke into, when Pieczanski chimes in. “That’s a pretty chill thing to leave behind, if you’re gonna steal,” he says.

“He didn’t steal that much stuff,” Kolenik says.

“Just the airplane,” Pieczanski says.

Kolenik walks it back. “I guess he stole a lot. But the fact that he just taught himself how to fly…”

“On YouTube. That’s crazy,” Pieczanski says.

They even flirt with the idea of recruiting him for the band once his stint in prison is up.

“Maybe you can play guitar full-time, and he can play bass,” Kolenik says to Pieczanski. “You could probably teach him.”

“He’ll just learn on YouTube, man,” Pieczanski says.


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