Black Cards: Synthetic Rock 'n' Roll

Rock ‘n’ roll is more than just music—it’s an attitude that you can find in all types of art. Kurt Vonnegut, Mozart, and Pablo Piccaso have more in common than most people realize, and somewhere out there, I’m sure there’s probably a barbershop quartet that’s punk as fuck.

It’s no surprise that the rise of American EDM is partially due to bands with a pronounced rock ‘n’ roll edge. We’re not talking about ravers who moved on to Black Flag and Buddy Holly, but rather kids with a rock ‘n’ roll spirit who organically integrated themselves into the scene. Before Sonny was Skrillex, he was the singing in the screamo band From First to Last, and it’s safe to say that his current music (which is awesome) partially reflects his time spent in that terrible band.

Shifting from one style to the next often leads to uncharted territories. Take the Beastie Boys for instance. When they started out, they were playing punk shows with Bad Brains, but like all the best artists, they refused to be confined, shifting to hip-hop and creating a hybrid that made them unique. Their sound derived from the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, and that helped define the band.

We sat down with two similar musicians, Pete Wentz and Spencer Peterson, to talk about their new EDM project Black Cards and what it’s like to blend the old style with the new.

Milk Made: So where did you guys meet originally?

Spencer Peterson: We met in 2005, on Warped Tour somewhere. We played beer pong against each other. He wasn’t really drinking at that time…

Pete Wentz: He was a maniac, he really liked to drink, and it’s great playing beer pong sober against drunk people…

SP: That was the first time we hung out. I was like, okay, that’s Pete, I’ll play him at beer pong. But we didn’t really hangout until I was on tour with Cobra Starship when we were playing with Fall Out Boy.

MM: How did you start the band? Did you just call Spencer and say, “Hey, I want to do this thing?”

PW: The initial stages were in August of 2010. I was trying to figure it out, kind of like I had a rough idea in my head. When you’re in a band for a long enough time, you’re band’s essentially a marriage, but sometimes you have a next-door neighbor with big boobs, you know? Spencer’s the next-door neighbor.

SP: But I look more like Wilson from Home Improvement, just peaking over the fence.

PW: So I had the idea and thought Spencer would be great to play drums in it. It was such a bare bones idea to begin with. I think when the world knows you for one thing, it’s the nature of the world to try to relate everything to that one thing.

For me, Fall Out Boy was such a verbiage-based band, based in words. That’s what I contributed the most to the band, and outside of Patrick (Stump)’s voice, that’s what we were known best for. But when you’re playing six or seven shows a week, it’s more like it was the last music I wanted to listen to. You expand into other things. So it was cool to be working on a thing that was a breath of fresh air. It was so much more sonic. And it was cool cause literally no one could relate it to what I was doing before.

I think most people want to do more art then possibly you just assume that they’re good at. Things can be passion projects and don’t necessarily have to be this Top 40 thing or blockbuster movie. To me, it’s something fun to do, and that’s what it is.

MM: Do a lot of people act surprised that Black Cards are so much different than your previous bands?

PW: The thing is—and I’ve been guilty of it before—is it’s like, “Why is Michael Jordan playing baseball!” [laughs] I hope nobody thinks I’m comparing myself to Michael Jordan! But yeah, there’ve been times where I’ve had to talk to people and be like, “Here’s the deal. I’m not doing that right now, so I could either sit here on my couch and do nothing or I can come out and do this, and we can appreciate it for what it is.” When it’s put on that level, most people get it.

MM: So when you started Black Cards, did you think the band was going to end up sounding the way it does now?

SP: It was kind of a full band to start with. I was playing drums, we had a singer, but then at one point Pete began DJing, and that’s when the DJ thing came into play.

PW: It’s been an interesting project so far because it’s taken on so many forms. One of the interesting things is that usually when you start something artistic, nobody pays attention in the beginning, and you have time to figure out what the fuck it is. I mean, at the beginning of Fall Out Boy, we were literally the worst band on the planet. It takes time to gestate, to figure it out. But this has been interesting because it’s been done under such a microscope that it wasn’t necessarily given breathing room, especially by press and fans who were like, “What is this thing?” It’s funny, as we were writing songs and working on stuff as a band, we started doing remixes, and had more fun doing that. It felt natural.

MM: How collaborative is your song writing process. Is one of you responsible for making the beats and the other for conceptualizing the arrangements?

SP: It’s mostly collaboration between the two of us but we also collaborate with other people too. We actually worked with our friend Matt Koma on a couple of the songs, where he and Pete would work on a vocal idea, and then Pete would take the lyrics and develop the theme of the track. I’m the dude who’s microscopically EQing shit at four A.M. But that’s what makes the project balance itself out.

PW: It lets us work with other people too.

SP: That’s been the beauty of the project, even from day one. Best idea wins. That’s kind of how the culture of art is right now, especially with the Internet. The nature of that collaboration, where it’s less about worship and more about the collective idea I think is really important.

To talk about the Internet, that’s how we got Amba (Sheperd) on a track. If we’d been doing this twenty years ago, you’d have to fly there, have a meeting with her and shit. But we just had to send her a track, and she could sing on it and sent it back.

PW: Its certainly not as concrete of a collaboration as say, We Are the World, but… did we just compare ourselves to Michael Jackson? [laughs] But yeah, it allows for quicker collaborations.

MM: What’s your take on the current EDM scene?

SP: Obviously in the last three years, it’s come up a lot bigger than it was previously…

PW: I think that the culture has shifted over the years. I remember when Fall Out Boy took out Panic at the Disco! on their first tour, and people freaked out because they had an IPod. They literally couldn’t make certain sounds live, and people freaked out. I feel like there was this idea that making music had to be done in a certain way for a long time, like two guitars, bass, whatever, and then hip-hop came and people were like, “Well…” I think that there had been people holding back in America.

SP: Yeah, America hung on to Twisted Sister and that type of rock ‘n’ roll just a little too long.

PW: And when you see Skrillex, it’s like, that’s what heavy rock music would be today. It’s hard to dispute it when you see the show.

SP: I think that Americans have caught up with the rest of the world as far as EDM culture goes and I think that kids are more accepting of a person who’s there to M.C. a good time, to kind of curate the evening. So when we started doing remixes, it just made more sense. Two dudes can’t emulate a whole band. DJing is the vessel for creating these songs.

We’re actually performing and mixing live, but all the hard work is done in the studio prior to when we go out. I’d go see somebody like Stanley Clarke actually play bass, to see him actually pull off his shit live, but with us, it’s more like we’re DJing and throwing a party. It’s a collective experience for people. You cater to the vibe.

MM: Define the philosophy of the Black Cards.

PW: I think that the culture has been about creating something that feels like a synthetic version of rock ‘n’ roll. Naming the E.P. “Use Your Disillusion” is obviously a play on Guns ‘n’ Roses. But I think there’s something to be said for rolling up with your laptop and have people being to hang bang and stage dive and have fun doing that. And I think that anytime you have someone saying, “That’s just noise,” it’s like, well, you’ve officially been lapped. That’s rock ‘n’ roll.

SP: Yeah, and I think it’s something that can always exist no matter what we have going on. It’s not like there’s a timeframe to it. We can just make music whenever we want. We want to develop it and move forward, but we could still have Black Cards in fifty years.

Mike Abu

Photos by Martha Galvan

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