Today’s Feature, June 6-7, 2007: Blacktop Mourning

January 18, 2008 at 6:25 pm (Today's Feature)

You might think the success of Blacktop Mourning is mind-boggling.
Rightfully so; after only two weeks of their music hitting MySpace in
late 2005, Blacktop Mourning was signing a deal with MTV. By the six
month mark, their songs had been played on 12 MTV shows and the band
had been selected as an “MTV Featured Artist.” All of which artists
ten, twenty, even thirty years their senior can’t attest to. The mere
mention of an artist being summoned by MTV, is cause for bragging. An
even bigger thrill might have been when Counting Crows front man (and
one of the greatest singer/songwriters of this generation) Adam Duritz
asked them to be on his label, Tyrannosaurus Records. Duritz even
offers back up vocals on a few songs off their highly acclaimed album,
“No Regret” (now available). Blacktop Mourning’s humble and positive
outlook on their music has everyone talking about them as the band to
watch in 2007…but I’d like to add 2008, 2009, 2010 and well, let’s
just say they’ll be the band to watch for a very long time. Humble
even when Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of Atlantic Records, called Max
Steger (18) “one of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen.” You can’t
help but feel you got a good thing going when that happens.

These guys from Chicago (Max Steger, Joe Levand, Shawn Nystrand, Greg
Gerard and Nate Wethy) are barreling through the tunnels of rock like
a stolen freight train; with an outcry of punk and pop anthems as they
trample city after city with an ingenious sound not found in any band
today. Why is this? Blacktop Mourning combines fierce drum-beats with
clever, almost surreal vocals and songwriting…just to start. Another
reason Blacktop Mourning continues to remain strong, is their youth;
which some people may view as a negative. In fact the knowledge of
trends, the internet and value of word of mouth, known only by the
“MySpace generation”, makes us realize we are dealing with some truly
intelligent artists. Many people want to discard the power of the web,
but the tens of thousands of kids forwarding along their songs
“Halfway to Midnight,” “My Only Heart,” or “Another Day”, with the
subject line reading, “Check this out!” (which someone sent me), is
the kind of influence that makes you have listen to Blacktop Mourning.
Rarely do we see a band with this much charisma, originality and
artistic vision, so early on. If you haven’t been listening, now might
be a good time to start. Read their XXQs to find out why…

XXQs: Blacktop Mourning (Interview with Max Steger)

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How and when did Blacktop Mourning begin?

Max Steger (MS): I wrote most of this album almost 3 years ago at age
15. Then I went looking for some great musicians to start the band.
It was my third band (my first was at age 11) and certainly the best.
Today, we’ve got a great line-up that we’re very happy with – and fans
seem to agree.

PEV: Where did the name Blacktop Mourning come from?

MS: We loved the word “Blacktop” because it just gave us all a great
happy feeling. We thought that childhood and innocence are reflected
on the playground. But soon life gets a bit darker, less secure, and
playground can reflect more dangerous opportunities (gangs, loss of
innocence, etc) – and that’s where the “mourning” came in. Our music
is poppy/pop punk melodies over darker lyrics and heavier guitars and
the name reflected that perfectly.

PEV: What was it like the first time you stepped into a studio to
record your own music?

MS: Let’s see. I was 10 the first time I recorded in a true studio.
It was an amazing experience and one that I loved. I felt at home
there and the engineer was experienced and great to work with. I’ve
recorded in a lot of studios and the first time I recorded my music,
it was difficult, because time and money were constraints. I wanted
‘more’ and there wasn’t enough of either to make it happen. All in
all, it was pretty good, but in retrospect, I was unsatisfied with the
advice I was given in that studio as well as the outcome. I did learn
a lot and continue to learn so much every time I work in the studio
with great people. Fortunately, I got the chance to re-do so much of
it with this CD.

PEV: You hit MySpace in December 2005 (surpassing 500,000 plays on >
MySpace.com) and within two weeks, you were inking a deal with MTV. By
the six month mark, your songs had been played on 12 MTV shows and
Blacktop Mourning had been picked as an “MTV Featured Artist.” How
does it feel to become so successful at such a young age?

MS: I don’t really feel we’ve been successful yet. We’ve definitely
achieved some big goals we had set for ourselves, yet I think “being
successful” is having a long career and being able to support yourself
with music.

PEV: What do all your friends and family think about your success?

MS: I know that for family and friends, it’s been an opportunity that
they can share with us. Everyone in the band has really supportive
families and you can’t do this (since 3 of us are just graduating high
school) without the support (financial and otherwise) from your
families. Our families and friends come to most of the shows – even
those across the country. They’re proud of all of us and our friends
are just happy to be around and play shows with us as well. It’s fun
to put friend’s bands on our shows.

PEV: What was it like when you received the call from Adam Duritz and
Tyrannosaurus Records to work on your debut CD, “No Regrets”?

MS: Really surreal – although we totally hit it off and talked for an
hour and a half. He’s funny, smart and very easy to talk to – and he
liked what we were doing, so it was easy.

PEV: How did having Adam Duritz lend vocals on “No Regrets” help your
music? And what was it like when you realized he was going to be a
part of the album (NOW available)?

MS: We were pretty shocked that he wanted to sing on our album and
sing my songs! That was one of my favorite things while recording “No
Regret”. I thought it added a different dimension to our sound when
Adam was singing. It was awesome to hear that super-familiar voice on
my own songs.

PEV: What can people expect from “No Regrets”?

MS: We try to have something for everybody on the CD. We go from
straight up pop rock songs to a more metal-influenced jam to a power
ballad and more…Yet, at the core I think every song is driven by
strong melodies.

PEV: Is there a certain atmosphere you surround yourself in when you
write music?

MS: I’ll write anywhere, any time. It doesn’t matter.

PEV: How has life on the road been for you? As well, with your new
release, what do think it will be like now?

MS: Life on the road is always fun. It can get a little tough on the
extremely long car rides (rides over 12 hours). But when the shows are
good, it’s hard to complain. With the record out, it seems like more
and more people know the words to all our songs and we seem to be
playing in front of bigger crowds.

PEV: If I were to walk into your studio right now, what is one thing I
would be surprised to find?

MS: You’d be surprised to see the environment. We did most of the CD
with a real DIY vibe. We recorded everything but the drums in people’s
houses. Counting Crows always built their own studio to record every
one of their own records, so they have a lot of gear. We recorded
guitars and some vocals at the Crows’ home studio and we recorded all
the backup vocals at our practice space in Chicago with an Mbox and a
$120 microphone. The acoustic songs were all done there as well.

PEV: When you are not performing, what do you like to do?

MS: I like to record music, whether my own music or my friend’s bands.
And I like to watch DVDs to chill out. Two of the guys are from
Michigan and are living in Chicago now, so they try to catch some time
at home. Joe, Shawn and I love listening to music and going to local
shows in Chicago Å0ä9 of which there are a lot of really great shows
on any given night.

PEV: People can download/listen to your music from your website. What
is your opinion on the heated debate over downloading music off line?

MS: Well, I think it’s very much a double-edged sword. On the
positive side, with the internet and the ability for people to
download, it’s certainly a lot easier for small bands with no money to
get their name and music out there. But at the same time, it’s made
CDs almost a dead medium. Most labels consider CDs nothing more then
promotion or your “calling card” for tours and not a means of making
money. I think it’s Å0ä5ok’ to download one or two songs to see if
it’s something you’re into. Then, if you like those, you should
absolutely buy the CD and support the artist.

PEV: What can someone expect from a live Blacktop Mourning show?

MS: It rocks a lot harder than the CD and it’s much more guitar- and
drum- driven. We change up our songs and slip in new sections. We also
have metal and almost hip-hop influenced jams at a few points. People
seem to like it. It does show a different dimension to each one of
the musicians.

PEV: What is the best part about playing live?

MS: Our goal has always been to play a great live show. We practice
virtually every day and love the whole feeling about playing live. Of
course, the fan response is most gratifying. Our last few shows were
wild and we had the best time. We invited the crowd onstage with us
for the last song –BIG MISTAKE! And really wild!

PEV: Who do you think is an artist to watch for on the scene right now?

MS: Silverchair is Joe’s and my favorite band. We just saw their
recent shows in NYC after they spent years pursuing other projects.
They always bring something different, exciting and rewarding
musically.

PEV: Saturday Night Live asks you to be the musical guest, who would
be your dream host?

MS: I am honestly completely indifferent on this question. Haha

PEV: Finish this sentence, “The most embarrassing time for Blacktop
Mourning was when…”

MS: Hmmm. Well, I guess it always sucks when our equipment
malfunctions on stage. At a really great show in Oklahoma, the power
blew, including lights, and Joe just continued singing Å0ä9 acapella-
for almost a minute. No on actually seemed to notice, they were
rocking so hard. Other then that I think I was most embarrassed
listening back to our first demos.

PEV: Of all the artists you’ve worked with, who was your favorite and
who do you hope to work with in the future?

MS: Hands down, Adam Duritz…Absolutely incredible to do our first
major release with him. In the future; Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters,
and Daniel Johns of Silverchair. Daniel Johns has been a complete
inspiration to Joe and me. We admire his music and his singing. He
never ceases to amaze us.

PEV: So, what is next for Blacktop Mourning?

MS: Hopefully just touring and getting to a point where we can do this
all over again…and again….and…

For more information on Blacktop Mourning, check out:
BlacktopMourning.com, http://www.myspace.com/blacktopmourning and
Tyrannosaurus Records

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