EXCLUSIVE BLACK METAL INTERVIEW: MY MORNING JACKET’S “TWO-TONE” TOMMY BLANKENSHIP
A month ago we told you about “Holdin’ On to Black Metal,” a little ditty by My Morning Jacket, not a band you’d really expect to write a song about the darker side of music. Based on the song’s lyrics we suspected someone in the band might actually be a fan of the genre, and through the band’s publicist we came to find out that that man is bassist “Two-Tone” Tommy Blankenship. So we did what any hack journalist would do: drafted up a few black metal-centric questions and emailed them over.
After an epic answer to our simple opening question, Tommy lets it all out: he grew up on Obituary and Slayer, really digs the new Krallice record and doesn’t rule out a My Morning Jacket version of Venom’s “Welcome to Hell.” Our quick Q&A after the jump.
What inspired you to write a song about black metal?
The snow was packed hard but if I wasn’t careful my feet would slice like tiny pie cutters through the crusted top and I’d topple over. When you’re a kid it’s dangerous to go alone. Even venturing through the woods behind my house. I might as well be an ant making itself at home in a dollhouse — everything looks safe and gentle but its scale threatens to hurt you at every turn. It was this sound that grew as I followed it, of water running on such a still, frozen day, that led me farther into the trees than I’d been before. Their limbs were bare, the sky was a great blanket of slate but bright, making it easy to plot my way, though it was increasingly difficult to see my house. Ahead was a cluster of trees, evergreens, their mossy fingers laying thick atop and between one another.
I stepped inside the congregation of trees and noticed, cupped in their collective hand, was a large concrete bowl, almost as tall as me, and full of clear water with tiny fish darting about. They looked like miniature black ink pens all writing stories as fast as they could imagine them in a blur of words I couldn’t make out. From a small port on one side ran the small stream of water whose sound I’d been following. I began to wonder if I’d absentmindedly trekked all this way. If it wasn’t just unbridled curiosity on a snow day that drew me this far from home.
Then worry set in – hid ‘neath the trickling was the bellowing moan that called me here. It quickly swallowed up the stillness now that its prize had arrived. Its sound so great it seemed to blot out the gray light of day with its girth. I turned again toward the bowl finding now it was twice as tall as me and wider than before. The snow and earth around it sloughed away. In a great shot of water the bowl purged itself of the ink pen fish. Some fell below me writing in the snow, slow enough now I could read, a story with one word: “RUN”. But I was too far to be called back home, frozen in horrific curiosity as the rim of the bowl cracked, parted in two, and the opposing sides closed to meet one another like lips. From the ground beside me a red stone eye emerged. And as its gaze found me the cracks at the corner of the lips spread into a jagged grin. I was spending my snow day in the clutches of dark evergreen fingers with a great concrete whale for company. The bellow quieted as he rose above me. His crimson eyes bulging hungrily from their perch, high enough they seemed to meet the sky. There was a snap then as his grin opened violently wide. He stood like that just long enough that I crumpled under the dark weight of his shadow, in forfeit. My hope shattering in a storm of glass tears. Letting out a last booming call the creature crashed down, his grinning bowl of a mouth enveloping me in darkness, swallowing me whole. Me, an ant now making his home in the belly of a whale where the scale of nothingness threatens to hurt me at every turn.
Did you listen to any black metal as a youngin? What were some of your favorite bands/records?
Eighth and Ninth grade were my metal years, but I wouldn’t discover black metal till a decade later. I didn’t even have access to Metallica records until a friend stumbled across a real record shop in Louisville. Growing up in a small town outside the city limited my cassette purchases to whatever was available at the Wal-Mart down the street. So the “Weird” Al catalog and 300 copies of The Eagles’ Greatest Hits.
Other kinds of metal and metal bands you listened to growing up?
These were the tapes I wore out in 8th grade: Obituary Slowly We Rot, Slayer Seasons in the Abyss, Metallica Kill ‘Em All, Megadeth Rust in Peace & C.O.C. Eye for an Eye. Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power and Chaos AD by Sepultura were the last metal albums I bought before I got into the local hardcore/punk scene and started playing music myself. After college Neurosis’ Times of Grace was my gateway back into the genre and is still, for me, the benchmark of modern metal.
Are you in touch with the modern black metal scene at all? Any favorite bands?
Black metal’s still relatively new to me. I really really love the new Krallice album Diotima – it’s brutally beautiful and the first listen reminded me of discovering thrash all those years ago. The songs are well constructed epic journeys, the vocalists are insanely good and it’s nice to HEAR the bass on a metal record.
What’s your opinion on Varg Vikernes / Burzum? Can the man be separated from his art?
Any knowledge I have of Varg is from how he’s presented in the documentary Until the Light Takes Us. Strangely, I found I had more respect for him than I thought I would after hearing his story. That said, I don’t find any logic in his crime, in violence in general, or of making light of the act of murder or making a celebrity of a murderer. With some of the other musicians it felt like black metal was just an act — a fashion show, latent teenage rebellion or a weird art experiment. But he seemed to have some real conviction in rejecting the breakdown of his heritage and culture from this worldwide homogenization that plagues us all and channeling it through the music. If only he had expressed it solely through art.
It’s a tough call about separating a person from what they create. Because most of us make albums to be timeless pieces of work that will, hopefully, live on long after we’re gone. But in his case it’s quite possible that his legacy will outlive, will forever eclipse, anything that he’s done creatively.
Will My Morning Jacket be covering any Venom tunes on tour soon?
“Welcome to Hell”? Just kidding. But maybe some day Jeff Ament and I could do a dueling bass version?