Black Pistol Fire, an unpretentious two-piece blues rock band à la The Black Keys and White Stripes, will be hitting up The Hollow in Albany on Friday, June 8th. The duo, featuring Kevin McKeown on guitar and lead vocals and Eric Own on drums, has steadily built a following and a reputation for wild live shows since relocating to Austin, Texas from Toronto. They’ve released three albums and their latest, 2017’s Deadbeat Graffiti, continues to proudly fly the band’s dirty-guitar-blues banner. If you haven’t heard them on the radio, it’s likely you’ve heard their music in commercials, video games or movies. They’ve come to find out their brand of music is labeled “swagger rock” in the marketing world. They aren’t disgusted or embarrassed. They’re just happy to get their music out there. The Alt chatted with drummer Eric Owen this week.
David Howard King: You’ve stressed in previous interviews how critical it was for the band’s success to relocate to Austin. Did having a supportive scene allow you to develop more quickly as musicians?
Eric Owen: I think there were two distinct things. First, being in Austin, there is a competitive nature between bands. It’s not a bad one but a good one that serves as a drive. There was more rock and instrumentation in Austin and we had to up our game. Secondly, us coming down here enabled us to reach a U.S. audience. If we had just stayed in Toronto we might never have reached the point in our career that we have. We tried for a long time to get a record deal, an agent. We could have been a Canadian band but not really have been able to go elsewhere. There are a lot of bands that go around Canada and hope they can do tours in the US. There are very popular theater acts in Canada and when they play down here, they get 30 people. There is a Canadian music ecosystem that’s hard to escape. Canadian radio promotes Canadian bands and that’s great but it’s hard to move beyond.
DK: You’ve been labeled as derivative of The Black Keys and the White Stripes. I imagine though that playing straight guitar rock these days isn’t exactly the most lucrative business. Most alternative radio stations these days seem to be playing a lot of synth pop and stuff that frankly sounds like house music to me.
EO: I don’t listen to much traditional alternative radio. But what I’ve heard sounds just like a pop song and not quite alternative. So we pay attention to it a little. We note that people are liking this and that, and then ask, “What can we take from this and add to what we are doing?”
DK: What is your songwriting process like with two people in the band. Is it just going to the basement and letting the riffs fly?
EO: As we speak, we’re at a rehearsal studio and we’re taking a break. Normally Kevin has a song or a song idea and it is sort of letting it rip and other times he has very good idea for a song and he knows what it sounds like but we flesh it out. We have to figure out where to add parts, or where not to, because you don’t want to repeat yourself. We try to let go of the “what ifs” because I think the best songs kind of just happen.
DK: Your drumming is a bit more full and lively than some of the drummers in the bands you are often compared to. Do you feel the need to be more expressive as a drummer because you are in a two piece?
EO: I really used to. I go back and listen to our early stuff and I’m like, “Oh my god there are so many drum solos!” We realize now is that most people who hear our songs aren’t paying attention to that. So I’ve been sort of going back to a kind of simpler patterns and rhythms I can do while I’m playing bass on the synth with my other hand.
DK: How have things developed for the band since moving to Austin? Has it been a blur?
EO: It’s been a real steady but slow build. We’ve had a lot of good things in very small incremental steps. We’ve been getting good placements, syncs with our songs on video games, shows, movies. We signed with the William Morris Agency recently and playing festivals has been a huge part of building our following. It was huge to play to a couple thousand people opening for Gary Clark Jr.
DK: What was the craziest place you’ve had one of your songs placed?
EO: Probably the coolest one was this movie that came out called Edge of Seventeen with Woody Harrelson. It’s something my girlfriend and I would have gone to see anyway but we went and one of our songs was played for a few minutes. We were on the soundtrack with Portugal. The Man and Phantogram. The weirdest had to be this T-Mobile commercial we did. It was a 12-hour day on set and we had a blast playing through this fast punk song over and over.
DK: Are there any current acts you take inspiration from?
AO: Definitely the OC scene with Ty Segall. And we’d really like to play a show with Cage The Elephant.
DK: What is touring like now? Have you escaped the van?
EO: This will be our last van tour. We’re getting ready to get a bus. As of right now we’ve been in a van. We are starting to go overseas a lot. We have a big following in Britain. We’re now headlining venues in the UK and our big summer tour over there is doing really well. I believe Manchester is already sold out, or close.
DK: What’s your routine when you come into a town to play a gig? Do you have time to explore?
EO: Really, my favorite thing with a day off is to cool down and have a really good meal—find a place to have a nice dinner. Kevin actually has a friend who lives in Albany so we’ll be going to dinner with him when we’re in town.