Professor Black - Chris Black

The biggest reason to schedule an interview with a band is the release of a new album. With that in mind, and seeing PROFESSOR BLACK releasing three LPs (!), just forced METAL KAOZ to track down Chris Black and learn all about the context of putting out so much music in such little time. If you read the entire interview, you may also learn that there is a bootleg Athenar out there... So, check it out!

Professor Black - Chris Black

Hello Chris and welcome back to METAL KAOZ! How are you?
I’m good, Dimitris. How are you?

I’m good. Let’s start right away; the first question that came to mind while browsing the three records is this; does having the PROFESSOR BLACK moniker outside the albums give you all the degrees of freedom you would like to have as a songwriter?
The answer is absolutely yes; and that was my motivation really. It was kind to giving that freedom to myself rather than like starting a new project with a new band name and a new logo to host the musical idea I was having. Rather than just keep doing that over and over, it was easier to just get a bigger container, you know, that could essentially hold a wider variety of ideas. What I also wanted to avoid was maybe forcing something into the wrong container – I’ve talked about “Night Of The Hammer” from DAWNBRINGER; there are a handful of songs there that I personally enjoy very much but in hindsight and even at the time I had this sneaking feeling that maybe these songs are the beginning of a new project, maybe I’m kind of trying to force them into this particular box. And you know, that wasn’t a good feeling. I was unsettled by that. But again, it kind of took me a few more years after the fact to find this solution.

Yeah, and you happen to be one of the lucky ones because if you had a band with lot of ‘original’ members, then it would be difficult to say “ok, disband the band and do something with a more ‘generic’ name”.

On the other hand, there are too many bands than I care to count that have fallen into the trap of their own fame and name.
Yeah, and things can get very repetitive. I mean, looking at my backcatalogue, my previous projects, with SUPERCHRIST the concept was “don’t change”. That was kind of the whole philosophy behind the SUPERCHRIST albums – “let’s make ten albums that all sound exactly the same”. That was kind of the other extreme as compared to PROFESSOR BLACK. But while it worked, it worked. On the other hand, DAWNBRINGER was more kind of a wider boundary, a bigger space, but still had its limits and still there were expectations from the part of the fans and what would expect from a DAWNBRINGER album. Now, there is nothing that says I can’t still use some of those elements when I choose to, but not only for myself but for the audience. I want to be clear that as PROFESSOR BLACK they should be expecting surprises.

Oh yeah, I think we’ve been used to getting surprises from you and that brings us to the three albums that one is different than the other.
Sure, they have very little in common. I think that with the three albums – I’m the drummer on all three – and I think that’s it (laughs). I think this is where the similarities end.

So, let’s talk about “I Am The Rock”; are there any MOTÖRHEAD influences in this album (laughs)?
Maybe one or two; I’ve heard a couple of their songs once or twice, so yeah, it’s possible (laughs).

So, what was your intention for this? I mean, did you write those songs specifically to make this type of album or the songs ended up demanding to create an album like this?
Yes, it was kind of like this from the start; I’ve been playing for the last few years in a MOTÖRHEAD cover band in Chicago which is a lot of fun – it’s pretty casual, we do maybe one or two gigs per year. As I was kind of learning those songs, the different patterns and the patterns of the vocals and the different types of tunes that MOTÖRHEAD always doing, I found a lot of inspiration that I thought to myself “maybe I can write some original material that would kind of be – I don’t wanna say a tribute, but a study”. It’s kind of a study, I guess, in the different types of tunes that they would have, and of course I’m talking about the late ‘70s / early ‘80s – what’s commonly known as the classic era of MOTÖRHEAD. It’s definitely included that but I also very much love what they did later in the ‘80s and in the ‘90s and even forward from there. So, it’s kind of meant to be, hmm, kind of a retrospective but I also like the celebration about that.

To me, it’s nice to hear some songs that remind some MOTÖRHEAD tracks, like “Shakedown” that reminded me “No Class” a little bit, so it’s really fun to listen to, and it’s really a party-album; this is what I like.
Sure, that’s the idea. And it is for fun, but there is a seriousness to it also – at least I took it very seriously. I wasn’t trying to rip anything off but at the same time I tried to work within certain parameters. And one of those parameters was yeah, for it to be fun, for it to be, like you said, a party-album; fun to listen to, fun to talk about, it will hopefully provoke some memories in people that they will enjoy.

Memories, or hopefully will entice the younger generation because we are at an age that nowadays there is a huge gap from the ‘80s, so now we have a new generation coming in, so it’s nice to have this type of albums.
And we need to get to them before the other bastards do, right?

(laughs) Well, yes, but in this modern age with how fast the younger people are absorbing or being exposed to new information is too fast for my old gear – I dunno.
It’s hard to comprehend, yeah.

But let’s not sound like old geezers.
(laughs) It gets harder and harder.

Of course. And then we have “Sunrise”; so, are there any BATHORY influences there (laughs)?
Yes, sure. Actually I wanted to have... [interrupting himself] my wish at the beginning of writing those songs was that they would have even more of a BATHORY influence but I didn’t want to force anything or having any kind of unnatural influence on those particular songs. I had to come let them lead the process, but yes, definitely, I’d say the album cover has a big BATHORY vibe and that’s not an accident, of course.

To be honest, listening to those songs, I could have easily mistaken this album for a DAWNBRINGER release.
Yeah, especially with “Night Of The Hammer” and the EP that came after that, there is a definite link there. These songs aren’t from that period, are relatively new, but yeah. I hear that too.

…And am I wrong when I say I hear some W.A.S.P. influences in “No Way Black”?
No, totally there are and probably is not only in that song. You can also hear this in the chorus of “Fire In The Rain” where there is definitely the ghost of Blackie Lawless. I have this term that I use – I don’t want to sound silly – but here it goes; singer songwriter Metal. This is an imaginary genre that includes bands like BATHORY, W.A.S.P., RUNNING WILD, you know, that are bands in a sort of way; well, BATHORY was not exactly a band like W.A.S.P. who play live, and the same goes for RUNNING WILD, but I think the songwriting and the studio process for those bands were more like solo vehicles. I have seen Rock ‘n Rolf basically saying the same thing when during the '90s he felt like RUNNING WILD was more of a solo-riding vehicle. I think those three groups / bands / acts or whatever you may call them are the influences that I would point to.

Yep, I could not agree more. And then we have the strangest of the three LPs; “Lvpvs”. This was not a product only of your songwriting hands, right?
No, for “Lvpvs” I give a lot of credit to the bassist [JWW] and the keyboard player [J Lehtisalo]. What I contributed was the very basic shapes, I kind of built the floor with the drums and the rhythm guitar and then everybody else built these structures on top of what I had. In the addition to being the strangest of three albums, it is also the most collaborative.

There is also some AKTOR vibe there too; I guess this is due to Jussi’s keyboard melodies…
Yes, you can hear some of the same synthesizer tones and actually Jussi and I had talked... I guess now it is ten years ago since the first time we talked about doing some music together. I said back then “ok, let’s do it, I’ll see what I can come up with”. It was “Lvpvs” that I came up with and I showed it to him and he said it was cool. Then, both of us got side-tracked; he was and is very busy, this was back in between 2008 and 2009, HIGH SPIRITS were just getting started for me and I was often running with that. We did not forget about the project, but it was not a priority for many, many years. And in the meantime, we did the AKTOR stuff together and we were like “oh, we finally did some music together” and then, we thought about pulling out those old tapes out and try working on that. And the time was finally right. I did not want this to be sitting there forever.

Sometimes that always bugs me with instrumental tracks is how bands chose the titles.
(laughs) It’s delicate... Originally, the album was not meant to be instrumental. My original idea was to do all kinds of experimenting with my vocals. I wanted to a lot of like chanting and choirs and some backwards vocals...

[interrupting] Well, there are some in “Habeas Corpus”…
Yes, there is a little bit of this at the beginning of the first section, and there is some choir vocals at the end of the third song as it is fainting out. And I did experiment with the most recent stuff while we were recording and I tried a lot of different things vocally and in a lot of different places but it did not sound right. It made it sound too human... I mean, the instrumental tracks leave room for the listener to add some imagination to it; you know, if there is some image they are associating the music with. I guess, you can say this; I found that the vocals were getting in the way of the music reaching to connect with the listener. Honestly, anything I tried made it worse so we just dumped it all together. The keyboard stuff and to an extent also the bass turned out to have so much melody in themselves that there was nothing for the vocals to do melodically. There was no a fit for them; the space had been already taken up and that’s cool and also made it easier to mix.

Do you see yourself using any of these tracks live?
There are a couple of sections that I would like to try, like the first half of the first song, and a couple of other things along the way. Obviously, the live band that I have is completely different set of musicians and I don’t want to punish them too much...

I don’t mean punish them with the music itself, but by asking them to learn this ten minutes of material and then play it in the room to be like “meh, it does not really work live”. I don’t want to – you know – waste people’s time when we could be learning something from DAWNBRINGER for example that we know it is going to work live. But that’s the long answer, and the short one is "maybe".

Fair enough; in this album there is also Matt Johnsen among the collaborators and this kind of gives me an assist to ask about PHARAOH; are you still involved in the band?
Yes, we have been working really slowly but we have been working on a new album. We are kind of recording it in pieces like many recordings are done nowadays. You know, people have recording software at home and we have always been kind of a session / studio band and we are very accustomed to it. And nowadays it is very common for bands to be working that way. Like we were saying earlier, everybody is older and has jobs, kids and all those responsibilities but this does not meant that we are any less committed; it just means that it takes more time because we are adding all those schedules together. I am hoping to finish my drums in the next three to four months. The problem is that I don’t have yet a full set of songs and I am still waiting for Matt to send me the last two or three songs, so we’ll see if I will catch up before he does that. I know that all of us have agreed to have a new album out within 2019.

Awesome! I guess the next step to do is a Chris Black festival and bring AKTOR, PHARAOH, HIGH SPIRITS, SUPERCHRIST (laughs)…
(laughs) That sounds impossible, man!

What about HIGH SPIRITS; is there any activity from that camp?
I think the next move for HIGH SPIRITS will be to make another album. We might do a couple gigs here and there next year. When “Motivator” was released I think we did around thirty or forty shows all over the place to support that album and this for some bands is nothing, but for us is a lot. So, I think we are going to let people start to miss us a little bit, do another record, and then do more touring. I mean, there is a handful of places we would still like to play and have never done so, and also there are places that we would love to play again. You know, there are a lot of options.

They would love to see HIGH SPIRITS again in Europe.
We did get over there earlier this year; we went in the UK for a week and then hopped to Germany at the end, so we have not been completely quiet. But you know, with the PROFESSOR BLACK stuff coming out and some other things that have been going on in people’s personal lives, it made sense to lay back for the rest of the year.

I have a bonus question that I may delete it from the published interview because it may make me look bad; when you did that show at Cobra Lounge in March, in one song there was a guy onstage wearing the trademark MIDNIGHT hood singing with you, so my wife and I were asking each other “is this Athenar? – No, he couldn’t get that big suddenly”. So, what was this guy’s connection with MIDNIGHT?
(laughs) There is a PROFESSOR BLACK and MIDNIGHT 7’’ that just came out and it’s not really a split, it’s more like of a collaboration. I wrote the song, I play the instruments, and Athenar did the vocals on the song “Too P*** To Fuck”. And for that show, we wanted to play the song, so I got ahold of Athenar saying “is there any chance you wanna drive to Chicago six hours to sing a three-minute song that you didn’t write, with us onstage?” And he said, “hmm, let me think about it, no” (laughs). So, he understandably wasn’t able to come, so I asked him “did you mind if we get a bootleg, a fake Athenar and do it”? And he said (laughs) that it was fine with him, so we hired a bootleg Athenar to sing for the show. Later, after the show, I sent Athenar a video excerpt of the song – somebody filmed it on their phone – and his reaction was “that’s great, I always wanted to be taller” (laughs).

Yeah, that makes sense (laughs).
So, that’s the story there.

I don’t remember what I wrote in the live report, but if I did a mistake and stated that guy was Athenar, I won’t change it. It’s an honest mistake.
Oh no, that’s fine. You had good photos on that. Someone had taken one with beer spraying in the air, but I remember yours being cool for sure.

Ok, Chris, again, thank you for taking the time to talk to METAL KAOZ for all those cool stuff! See you this Friday, September 28th.
Thank you very much, it’s my pleasure always. We’ll see you guys on Friday.