Shortly after the release of their critically-acclaimed 2015 album I’m Going to Kill Myself, California post-metal crew Black Sheep Wall called it quits, seemingly out of nowhere. The Moorpark five-piece had a new album almost entirely finished, but they weren’t happy, and it was showing. Their vocalist was struggling with his alcoholism, and the other members were struggling with the potential loss of the friendship that brought them together in the first place. Faced with either burning bridges or taking a step away from the band, Black Sheep Wall chose the latter.
“I think the initial hiatus came from all of us reaching a boiling point from tensions within the band,” says guitarist Scott Turner. “Truth be told, at the time, Brandon [Gillichbauer, vocals] was going through some pretty well-documented issues with addiction, with alcohol. It got to the point where we couldn’t function as friends, and that boiled over to not being able to function as a band. We had recorded the entirety of the album’s instruments, and when it came time to do vocals, we just weren’t ready. Brandon wasn’t prepared — in truth, we weren’t prepared, either. I don’t think we knew how bad everything was until it reared its ugly head the day Brandon got into the studio to lay down vocal tracks. We needed time away from each other, and time to heal. I think in the backs of our heads we all knew it was important to maintain the friendship.”
While losing the five years after Kill Myself was a bummer for Black Sheep Wall, it also might have been a blessing in disguise. The band have since completed their stymied album, this year’s Songs for the Enamel Queen, and in the process have shown the world a new side of their music. Where their previous albums have been all about pounding sludge, Enamel Queen is a frantic mixture of tempos, harmonies, feedback and screams that feels like a genuine venting of their frustration and sidetracked ambition. For Turner, switching things up from the purposefully-tedious groan of their previous record was absolutely necessary.
“We were ready to do something more dynamically and musically as a band,” admits Turner. “With I’m Going to Kill Myself, we look back on that record and we’re proud of it, but there’s definitely some shackles around it, in the sense that when we conceived of that record, it was, Let’s make the most boring, best album we can. Let’s make it repetitive. We wanted to make people annoyed, but at the end think, Whoa, do I actually like this? It’s kind of a stupid idea, but it’s kind of why we liked it. But at the end of the day, when you get the album and focus on that element, it sort of just ends up being kind of boring. We were proud of ourselves, but I think we stretched ourselves too thin on that idea, and were thinking, Hey, cool that we have an album where we only hit one fret for an hour, but let’s do what we can to write a much more dynamic album.”
At what point did you guys decide to return to your unfinished record?
“It wasn’t until after we went on hiatus that we started talking again, but even listening to the unfinished tracks, all it unearthed was unhappy and hurt feelings. That’s why it sat on ice for so long. I was reminded by Jackson that I had initially proposed the idea — because it kind fo seemed like the album was never gonna come out — of maybe releasing the instrumental tracks online for free, just shitting them out on our Facebook or something. And I think at that point, it was the first time we were able to go back and listen to those tracks without all those negative feelings, and think, Whoa, okay, maybe this is too good to shit out with no rhyme or reason. And we did put a lot of effort into this, and we’re at a spot where we want to hang out, be together, be creative again, so let’s do it!
Was that return to the album pre-COVID?
That was around 2019 — obviously, the pandemic happened, and that pushed things back about half a year or so. Once we were able to figure things out, we got into a studio, and needless to say, Brandon had done a complete 180. He’d been clean for a long amount of time, and was prepared. And funny enough, as much as we wanted the album to be done when we were first in the studio, I think the time away, and the time it gave Brandon to prepare his vocals, did wonders for that recording, because he was an entire new beast, and it sounded tremendous.
So often, you hear about bands saying, ‘Off the bus, we don’t hang out.’ It’s cool to hear you guys are friends first.
That’s how we all knew each other. I’ve known our drummer Jackson since kindergarten. Come middle school, I think we were locked at the hip, musically. I met Brandon in middle school, and he was my gateway to heavier music; I was into like bands like AFI and The Misfits, but Brandon introduced me to the Meshuggahs of the world and the more extreme side, Napalm Death and such. And Andrew, our other guitar player, is one of Jackson’s friends from college. So we were friends first, before a band. Another thing about Black Sheep Wall that benefits a friendship is that we weren’t a career band. We didn’t tour to pay the bills, we didn’t put out records to pay the bills, it was just a creative outlet to have fun, and just some cathartic, therapeutic thing for all of us to work together on. And truthfully speaking, touring for me is a very anxiety-inducing thing. Being in a van, cramped up, not knowing where you’re going to sleep — I already have anxiety as is. So any time w’ed go on the road — I love playing music, and I love playing live, whether that’s to ten people in the heart of Arkansas or some great show in Portland, Oregon, with 200 people, it’s not mentally great for me. I don’t stress about not being able to tour.
I’ve never thought of it that way — you romanticize being shoved in a van and driving to a new town every night, but that’s gotta wear on you after a while.
Maybe if I were younger still — I’m in my 30s, but when we were touring when we were in our early 20s, there was an element of that that was exciting. But we did a run in 2014, right before the hiatus, and it was just like, ‘…I just miss my wife and my bed!’
When the pandemic hit, did you think, Fuck, now THIS? or Whatever, what’s another year at this point?
Obviously, we were eager to get into the studio, but it was like, what’s another year? It’d already been four, and it’s not like anyone other than us knew it wa coming out. But at the same time, now that we’ve started operating in the pandemic, it’s kind of a great space for us to exist right now. We’re kind of spread across California — it’s not super logistically easy for us to get together and jam and whatnot, so for us to be able to exist and be relevant during an era where shows aren’t really a thing, it kind of benefits our place right now. It makes sense.
When returning to the album, did you want to leave the music as-is, or did you write new material?
Musically, it didn’t really change from its initial tracking in the sessions that we put together. I think vocals were the only thing that benefitted from it. There were some songs that had finite vocals when we first went into the studio, that by the time we revisited the album all those years later were different or had different patterns or the lyrics had changed. The thing is that we didn’t realize how much we were going to fall back on the process when we were back int he studio. In retrospect, even though we were all on the same page, and all comfortable with each other, I think it was kind of like, ‘Okay, let’s not get TOO close to this, because last time it burnt us.’ Ince we got back into the process, it was so much fun, to feel that kinetic energy and bounce ideas off of everyone. Knowing that, it would’ve been great to try and write some more things, flesh out a few ideas, but given the circumstances, I’m totally happy with the way it came out.
Tell me about the character of the Enamel Queen (who, for the record, looks terrifying on the cover).
The Enamel Queen is Brandon’s brainchild that he conceived with our artist Jeff Rogers out of Reno, who’s done our artwork from [2012’s] No Matter Where It Ends to now. And for Brandon, it represented failed relationships, addiction, unnatural urges. She has a necklace of teeth — he conceived that because a lot of times when you’re drying out and recovering from addiction, you have these dreams where your teeth are falling out. Jeff is one of the most talented artists we’ve ever worked with, and he’s very collaborative, so him and Brandon just bounced ideas back and forth. And for this one, Jeff took it an extra step and got a model for the artwork — well, obviously, not the face!
It’s interesting to imagine Brandon bringing not just the pain of addiction to this album, but the pain of recovery.
And I think that while a lot of the themes in the album are dark, and they’re very heavy issues, in the end it kind of comes from a place of triumph. It’s throwing it on the table, being like, Yeah, this is the fucked-up shit I’ve been through, but here I am standing on top of it, looking down on it and reflecting.
Overall, what are you most excited for people to hear on the album?
In particular, I think the opening track, “Human Shaped Hole” — that one has been in our back pocket for a while. We lovingly refer to it as “the hit single,” just because it sounds like Black Sheep Wall, but it’s the first song we’ve done in forever that’s around the two-minute mark. It’s kind of fast, it’s a little dynamic, the elements of the song are squished into a two-minute period so it’s a little all over the place. Also, “New Measures of Failure,” the second single we put out, was another one we were really looking forward to showing everyone. Every track has every little unique element that’ll surprise people who have been fans of ours for a while. And I’m excited to hear what those people think.
Black Sheep Wall’s Songs for the Enamel Queen drops February 26th via Silent Pendulum Records, and is available for preorder.
Words by Chris Krovatin