Photos by Maggie Davis
We met Small Black this year in the middle of their spring tour in a space on Broadway across the street from the newly renovated United Arts Theater and Ace Hotel. Just in from playing sunny San Diego, these Brooklyn boys arrived to sunnier Los Angeles wearing black winter parkas and starving. Our crafts services table consisted of Arrowhead Water, authentic tortilla chips, no salsa, and red solo cups. Not quite the rockstar fare, but we were on a budget and they were good sports. We recently reconnected with front man Josh Kolenik to recap the year that was 2014.
What’s the one word that best describes 2014 for Small Black?
Seasoned. Our old tour manager Paul told us once in his wildly charming Northern Irish accent “A you fellas are just figuring this out. Give it a few years. Then you’ll be seasoned.” So much of the beginning stage of a band is unpredictable, loose and confusing. That’s what’s exciting about it. But the transition where things start to clear up and you have a real idea of what your band is and how it exists in the world is maybe more enjoyable. Over the last couple years, stuff just came together for us in a natural and simple way. We’ve worked together for long enough now that there is deep trust and no ego. Writing and playing happens quickly and without over thinking.
What made this year stand out most for the band?
The growth of the live show. When we first started, Small Black was a recording project first and foremost and sometimes it was very difficult to adapt the material to the stage. I think we’ve perfected the process that works for us, and have been better about considering earlier in our songwriting.
Do you rehearse while on the road?
The closest we’ve come is when we jammed with Washed Out until 4 am at the Floristree in Baltimore and then slept on the stage.
What was your favorite venue to play this year?
The 9:30 Club in DC is one of the great larger spots. Also the Bottletree in Birmingham, AL. When we tour, it’s a godsend to show up to a nice green room where we can relax and a get a little quiet time. Both places are run by folks who used to play in bands, so they treat us nice.
That said, I really miss playing and seeing shows at DIY rooms in Brooklyn. We’ve been going to the shows that Todd P did for 10 years now and this is the bleakest it’s been in terms of places to play. Deeply miss 285 Kent, Dead Herring, Death By Audio, Market Hotel and soon Glasslands. So many bands were formed and met each other at the shows at these spots. Hopefully NY can recover and find this energy again, but the rising costs of everything seem to be pricing everybody out.
Best story from the road?
We went to a county fair in a lake town in Wisconsin and saw pig racing, and Foreigner play with 10,000 Midwestern folks at a dirt bike track. Juan is Argentine and he gets really obsessed with Middle America stuff, so his mind was blown, since he’d never seen it before.
Best discovery on tour?
Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ which is in the back of a gas station in Kansas City. It’s transcendent. We went there 3 times in 3 days there. The portobello BBQ sandwich is pretty special which made Ryan very happy as BBQ is tough for a veg-head.
Favorite bands this year?
I liked the Fly Lo record a lot. Took me back to the ‘90s and Digable Planets. But mostly I listen to old stuff. I’ve been very into The Byrds and delving deeper and deeper into Gene Clark’s solo stuff for the 20th time. The guy has an endless well of beautiful stuff. Dark of My Moon is my current favorite. Also the Caribou record was great.
Any underrated songs worth mentioning?
Sean Nicholas Savage .“Heartless” and “Empire” from his Bermuda Waterfall record are heartbreakers. You should go see him play live. Also Lust for Youth – “Illume.”
How’s the winter in New York going?
Just beginning and I’m terrified. One time I stumbled into working in Greece for the winter and I should probably figure out how to do that again. One thing that folks who don’t live in NYC don’t get is, you walk everywhere all the time. So in the cold, there is no escape. You just freeze and have to deal with it. There’s no warm car to get into.
What’s your reaction when the weather forecast calls for a “wintery mix?”
Put on the boots. Start crying. Freeze the tears.
What are you most looking forward to in 2015?
Building our live show into a totally free form and ever changing experience every night.