Small Black Escape Brooklyn
Delaware, forever memorialized as “The First State,” is probably closer to the fiftieth for most indie rockers. But it was home for several weeks of this year for Small Black. The purveyors of sweetly rough Casiopop normally make their home in the more conventional Brooklyn, and qualified as one of the borough’s buzzier 2009 acts. But when it came time to work on material for their debut full-length, due out this fall, they steered clear of Williamsburg and Bushwick and headed for bassist Juan Pieczanski’s parents’ house on the shore, converting it into a live-in studio. “It was invaluable to get out of Brooklyn,” says the band’s Ryan Heyner, and be some place where at midnight on Saturday there was nothing possible for us to do other than focus on music.” Quiet time allowed for prolific music-making: “We probably have 23 or 24 new songs, and we’re gonna narrow it down to ten for the album.”
Isolation worked the first time around, when Small Black worked on its debut EP, self-released last year and reissued this week on the band’s new label, Jagjaguwar. Heyner and bandmate Josh Kolenik recorded the EP at Kolenik’s Uncle Matt’s attic on Long Island—a bedroom approach to music by two longtime friends whose earlier band, Slowlands, aspired to things grander and more guitar-driven, and generated a lot of blog interest themselves circa 2006. “We did this big, kind of ornate sounding record with our friend Shane,” recalls Kolenik. “And it kind of shaped our attitudes toward recording and songwriting. When that project kind of faded, Ryan and I channeled our writing into something that was gonna be a bit smaller and more intimate as far as the production style.”
From the release of their lead single “Despicable Dogs,” a fuzzbox of synthesizers, drum machines, and far-off vocals, Small Black found themselves tagged as “chillwave,” Summer 2009’s new micro-genre of artists that appeared to collectively turn a faded collection of 80s Polaroids into wistful song. A bit wobblier than the radio-friendly Neon Indian, but with more bounce in its step than Toro Y Moi or Washed Out, Small Black carved out a niche. As for the c-word, Kolenik has surprisingly little problem with the label. “I think people are always going to want to classify what you do. I think about ‘grunge’ and what a ludicrous name that is for something, but now years later it’s like, that makes sense.”
In fact, he and Heyner thank bloggers for bringing one of those like-minded artists to their attention: Washed Out’s Ernest Greene, who’s become a friend and collaborator. First they traded remixes, with Greene taking on “Despicable Dogs” and Small Black reworking “You’ll See It.” On a joint North American tour, Small Black served as Greene’s band for part of his set, en effort the two bands will repeat in Europe beginning May 25.
Meanwhile, Small Black’s ranks have grown from two to four with the full-time addition of Pieczanski and drummer Jeff Curtin, the re-released EP includes two new tracks, “Baby Bird Pt. 2” and the animated “King of Animals.” Another new song, “New Chain,” is already in the live set and will be included on the full-length, likely out in September or October. Heyner says he “Doesn’t feel pressured” to hasten things, least of all from his label. Kolenik agrees, “They want us to put out something that we’re really happy with. To us, the biggest nightmare would be rushing something that we weren’t 100% behind.” Especially, he adds, not with their debut. “It’s our first real statement as a band, and we want it to be exactly what we want.” All in all, rather chill.