Sessions: Jonathan Bates of Big Black Delta

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  • February 23, 2014
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Photo by James Moriarty

I am going to be very straight-forward here. No overly-dramatic, wordy fluff. Simply stated, I am a huge fan of Jonathan Bates. I have been for many years. I was first introduced to his work when he was the front man of the Los Angeles based rock band Mellowdrone. Their first EP and full-length album “Box” were a permanent fixture in my music rotation. After the release of their last album “Angry Bear”, Jonathan, along with his band mates, Tony DeMatteo and Brian Borg, had decided it was time to take a break. Mellowdrone was put on a very long pause.

Admittedly, I was musically jaded for a while. Music had been in this weird dubstep flux, and I was just completely uninterested in it. So, I had clung onto the old regulars in my music collection, Mellowdrone included. On one unusually rainy day in late April (2013), I came home to the sounds of 80’s-esque electronic melodies booming through my house. As the songs progressed and the vocals became familiar, I shouted, “Dude! I’m an idiot!!! Is that Jonathan Bates of Mellowdrone?!” Sure enough, it was. I had no idea he had hopped back on scene with his new solo project Big Black Delta.  One run through of the full length, self-titled album and I was completely hooked. Not only was the musical composition amazing and clever, it was incredibly refreshing to hear something new from a musician I admired.

So, let’s fast forward to this year. I’m sure you can all imagine my excitement when I was able to get in touch with Jonathan Bates for an interview. When he graciously agreed to interview for 30 Miles East, I was ecstatic. So, with that said, I am proud to present to you “Sessions” with Jonathan Bates of Big Black Delta.

 30ME: It has been nearly a year since Big Black Delta’s full-length, self-titled album debuted. What has the last year been like thus far?

JB: The life of a musician is one fraught with uncertainty.  I just hope I’m getting better at what I love to do.  I want to believe that the best idea always wins.  This last year has taught me to just do what you think is right.  And tell those that you love, that you love them as much as possible.

30ME: The musicians you work with on stage may not be the same from one live show to the next. Do you foresee Big Black Delta as always having interchangeable parts?

JB: A lot of the time, the answer to this boils down to simple economics.  Its usually a question of “can I pay the people that I want to hire”?  Every show/tour has a different budget.  Since (so far) I create the music, I need people to play the parts I wrote.  You mentioned you’re friends with Blas.  Blas is one of the best musicians I’ve ever met.  If one could afford it, wouldn’t one want to be around the best?

30ME: Was having two drummers always part of the equation?

JB: No.  There was never an equation.  At the time, everyone I was hanging out with were drummers, and it presented itself.  So it was more about having more friends around.

30ME: The music video for Huggin and Kissin was released in January. What was the inspiration behind an animated video as opposed to a “traditional video”?

JB: It was a very natural thing.  I had seen a caricature that the artist Adam Osgood had made of me.  We got into contact about doing something and the only thing I told him is I wanted something visually to center around my cat, Jacob.  That was it. Everything else was his interpretation.  I love the idea of an artist of another medium using something I made to create their thing. Its so cool.

 

30ME: You have toured all over the US and beyond. Do you believe each city emits its own unique energy? How do you absorb and digest those energies when you’re on stage?

JB: Absolutely. Shit, in LA, vibes and people change just miles from each other.  Kind of like in the UK: where neighborhoods have their own accent and vernacular.  As far as digesting anything on stage, I go somewhere else.  I understand how cliche that sounds, but the guy who is answering these questions leaves the body and something else takes place.  Its cathartic and recommend it to everyone.  Or it could be all just stage fright.

30ME: From what I understand, you have synesthesia. Do live shows ever engage your senses differently in comparison to what you experience during the writing process?

JB: Writing is very personal and introspective, and live shows are by definition extrovertive. The synapses happening in my brain are very different in each of those settings.  Therefore the extra-sense reaction to these settings differ greatly.  The colors, brightness and patterns are different, but just as intense.

30ME: How did the tour with Gary Numan come to fruition?

JB: He and his management reached out, and I am humbled to say that I said yes ten times over.

30ME: Would you say there is a heavy “80’s music” influence with Big Black Delta, that includes the likes of Gary Numan and others of that era?

JB: I just want to make cool shit.  It just so happens a lot of songs written during the “80’s” are fucking rad.  Just trying to feel the warmth from its light, you know?

30ME: How did “Master of Bates” (record label) come about?

JB: I just want to put shit out, and not wait to impress a partner.  The simplest way was to make what some would call a label, and just DIY the shit.  Thats not to say I’m anti or pro label. I just feel better when things move faster and efficiently.  However it maybe.  Best idea wins.

30ME: You started off your music journey as a self-professed shredder. Do you have any Metal recordings in the archives?

JB: I’m sure, but I wouldn’t know where to find them.  I haven’t really played guitar in several years, so I’m afraid the shredding hasn’t been as glorious as when I was younger.

30ME: Do you ever envision yourself returning to your shredder roots someday?

JB: As long as everyone in the room is having a good time.

30ME: Are there any new bands, musicians or artists that are currently on your radar right now?

JB: I just spent a week in the studio with Susanne Sundfør, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear her music.

30ME: You performed at the FOX Theater in Pomona back in 2012. Can fans east of Los Angeles hope to see Big Black Delta back out this way in the near future?

JB: Beside the Gary Numan dates, I’m concentrating on finishing the next record and producing friends.

Well, Mr. Bates, we may not be seeing you out 30 Miles East for a while, but we are all eagerly awaiting the next record. I’ll cheers (and dance Into the Night) to that.

 

 

Featured Photo by James Moriarty

Images captured from Big Black Delta’s Music Videos, “Side of the Road” and “Huggin and Kissin”.
Videos retrieved from Big Black Delta’s YouTube channel.

 

 

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