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Jet Black Stare frontman Rod Black

Jet Black Stare frontman Rod Black

"I was pronounced dead."

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Last Edited by: Angela AJ Jenson July 29th, 2008.

Like with so many people I interview, I have no idea who they are before being asked for press time. More often than not, I am pleasantly surprised by who ends up being on the other end of the phone. Whether or not I fall in love with their music, I've talked to a lot of interesting people. Now, Jet Black Stare is up. Their first single, Ready to Roll is instantly familiar. The song reminded me of the album Uppers and Downers, a Sub Pop release in 2000 from UK Rockabilly Pop band, The Yo-Yos. The voice and the overall vibe of the music had me double checking to see if they shared any members. While The Yo-Yos only really had that one release, it's an album I still listen to today. Eh, c'est la vie. Sometimes things just don't work out, even when the music is good. The rest of the songs featured on Jet Black Stare's MySpace page sound quite different, but are still familiar. I found it curious. Every song reminded me of at least 2 or 3 other bands, but...I didn't mind it. I actually kind of liked it. I suspect we have liked a lot of the same bands over the years.

As Jet Black Stare take their first serious stab at the mainstream, they seem to be off to a good start. They have a new album, In This Life, out on Island Records, they're touring with 3 Doors Down, Hinder and Staind, they have a single impacting at radio, they have the look and they have the sound to be successful in the modern rock genre. I've said this about bands in the past who went on to do very little. Can Jet Black Stare succeed where countless others have failed? What will it take? Is this their destiny, or just something they would like to have happen?

Not everyone is meant to be a rockstar, so I hopped on the phone with Jet Black Stare frontman, Rod Black, to see if the force is strong enough in him to be more than a flash in the pan. After some phone troubles and Mr. Black apologizing roughly a thousand times for issues out of his control, I found myself rather excited. This guy is VERY Canadian. Why is that exciting? Eh, I'll get into that later. Once the phone situation was situated, I was relieved to find Rod Black and I share the same opinion of what makes a good interview- talking about nothing in particular for a very long time.

"I tell the labels this," he said, "if I have interviews to do, I need at least an hour and a half. I need at least an hour just for conversation." I didn't have the heart to tell him what he would soon find out. The PR company was giving us about 15 minutes. His heart was in the right place, though, and I was interested to converse with an artist that wouldn't be surprised by non-music questions. But let's get some music questions out of the way for a little context. (By the way, this ended up being a 2-parter)

Alright, I had no idea who you guys were when I was asked to do this interview. I checked out your music and read up on you, and I am actually quite interested in what you have to say on some things. But, for the readers, lay down a really quick history... how your band came to be and why we're on the phone.

In September of '07 in New York City, I was fortunate enough to sing for LA Reid and other execs. Me with an acoustic in his office. You can imagine what that was like. Talk about nervous! There was a contract on the table already, but there was a bidding war. We did our research and turned down a lot of record labels because for us, it wasn't about the money, it was about the team. I got my dream label, and I love it. 2 weeks later, I was in the the studio doing pre-production. We were in the studio, and we recorded the album. I had a bass player and a drummer. I mean I still have them, but the 2 other guitarists at the time didn't work out. Things happened really fast and they weren't up to being in the studio and then immediately going on the road. I have always said that we have to be honest with the show. Fans are not stupid. They want to be entertained, but they don't want to think that you're trying too hard. Be honest on stage, no matter how many people are in the audience. People deserve that. We did 9 dates across Texas. It ended up being a big challenge for me with the heat. I didn't know it would be so hot. Then, bam! We got on the 3 Doors Down tour. We're not the kind of band that lets it go to their head. We're good Canadian boys and we just want to entertain. Hopefully we can meet some people along the way and sell them a CD.

How was that?

Surprisingly good, actually! You talk really fast for a Canadian, by the way.

You want some background? My background is in the stock market. My uncle is a sports announcer and commentator in Canada. I know how to keep it short and sweet.

I can tell! I hope you're not offended by my Canadian stereotypes. I buy into all of them.

At least you don't think there is an ocean separating the US and Canada. I got that from a few people. I couldn't believe it.

I live in Oklahoma. Sometimes I come across people who are surprised to hear we have paved roads. They think Oklahoma is trapped in olden times or something.

Wow, people really think that?

Don't ask me why. I guess they don't get out much.

[laughs] You're probably right. But no, we don't live in igloos.

See, I'm not stupid, but I DO believe the stereotypes about Canadians. They're nice people who talk slow, love hockey and put mayonnaise on everything.

That sounds about right!

[laughs] I am easily sidetracked....

Oh! So, I don't know if you've gone into the bio, but the concept of the record is a totally different story. It hit like a hurricane. We're really enjoying it. We're learning from some of the biggest bands on how to act, and it's awesome.

You know, it's actually kind of funny that you're on this tour right now. When I was listening to your music, it kind of solidified something I had been suspecting for a while. There seems to be a change happening in modern rock. The quality of the songwriting is improving dramatically, but there aren't really any major changes to the music. It's the same chord progressions and drum tones and everything else, but it is somehow superior to what's been on the radio for the last 10 or so years. Actually, do you think it's a Canadian thing? A lot of these bands I talk to are Canadian...

I would have to say that it boils down to... you could have a really great songwriter and work with people... but it's the connection you have with people. A great song can stand on its own. Yeah, you can look at Chad [Kroeger] as like a big brother figure, but then you have Hinder that comes across the border that no one has ever heard of and you get great songs. I was impressed with their songs. I think it boils down to that connection someone has. It could just be right now because a lot is coming out of Vancouver. I take it as a compliment. But, there's a lot of amazing songwriters..

Well, I was being semi-facetious with the Canadian thing. I don't think it's really a territorial issue. I don't seems to be getting smarter. It's more intelligent. The other artists on your tour have fallen into some of the traps that have made the genre lose credibility. But there are all these new artists trying to bring it back. Even party songs are telling a story and the music is well-thought out...

You probably just answered the question, about it being smarter. What I have learned is that it's very tough. The economy is all over the map, gas prices and all that. Now you have a band who is listening to all these other bands who have success. So you're coming out and you have the big team behind you, you can't half ass it. I want longevity. I want to do charity shows around the world. It's gonna take me 5 to 10 years to do it. I would put my time in on the road. But, I'm not gonna fool myself. You got ideas, I got ideas and we're always really close. This idea is similar to that idea, so let's put them together and make it better. Make it tell a story. That's what's been missing over the years. I think it's a cycle. People want to have something they can relate to. You want to be smart about it. You want to take your time. In the last 10 years, people got lazy. Labels were rushing these bands and this and that. There are a lot of reasons for it. Maybe they had some depth in their album, but they just never got that chance. Bands now know they can't have a bad show. They can't make mistakes. There's a lot more going on now.

You're right. Bands today really have to be on top of their shit. They have to know their business. They have to understand how labels work, how the whole industry works, who their fans are, how they listen to music, what they're willing to pay for, etc etc. The quality of band is improving, as is the quality of music. But, isn't that counter intuitive? You would think the music would suffer as a result of being more business-focused.

My background is in the stock market, so I love the business aspect of it, but the music always comes first. If you chase the dollar, you will always be unhappy. Don't worry about how much money you're making if you're letting the fans down, cause you won't be making it long. You think you did well one night because you got paid, but no one will be there the next night. You want to make sure you're on the road as much as possible and giving back to the label as much as they're giving you. I don't think music will suffer if you're smart about it.

Is it possible for a band to be successful these days just by being artists, or do they need business savvy?

There's a lot of acts out there who have management teams... that's not always good but it's not always bad. You hear guys saying 'I didn't know I signed that.' That's an individual thing to me. Some of it is laziness. You don't need business skills to be successful in the music industry...unless you define success as being rich. If success is to be happy, then it's totally possible.

Ok, well we have barely gotten started, but your PR lady is telling me it's time to wrap up.

What?! Why???

Apparently you have another interview in a couple minutes.

Oh, well let's exchange numbers and pick this up later.

*number exchange*
[Just a little side note... I talk to a lot of artists. At the end of the interview, they pretty much always say 'let's keep in touch.' We'll exchange personal numbers or email, but then we never speak again. It's common practice to make the person on the other end feel like you give a shit about them beyond the task at hand. I honestly did not think he would call me back.]

So, let's get right back into this! How do you listen to music?

I do a lot of zen time. I love being alone at times. I'll sit there and I'll go on the computer and hit up MySpace or something. Just jump from band to band and listen to all kinds of music. It doesn't matter to me what it is, so long as it has some melody. I'm not the ipod, headphones walking around all the time guy. But I like to listen to a lot of new bands. I love listening to albums, too. But MySpace is cool cause it can lead you to new albums, but there is still some waiting involved. But there are times I will listen to Back in Black from beginning to end or Pearl Jam's Ten front to back.

What conclusions have you drawn from surfing new music?

There's a lot of talent out there. If I had the money and resources, I would get these bands out there. I would do it. There's a lot of talent. I almost have to ask why they aren't doing more. Maybe it's just my business background, but I want to go in and ask them what their 6 month plan is, you know? And come up with something realistic. I would love to pick their brains. I think people expect success overnight. 'We have all these friends and people love us, we're gonna make it!' If it comes overnight, it fades really fast. I would love to sit down with some of these bands I have come across.

How about for you? Things seem to have happened really quickly for you. Does that doom you from the start?

Well, it didn't happen totally overnight. All the guys in the band, they're all very talented individuals who have given up everything to do this with me. With that said, with the band and everything that's going on, we're just in our place right now. If it fades, it wasn't meant to be. I am all about energy, which may sound weird. But, if we're out there every night and we're giving people what they deserve and working our hearts out, one friend or fan at a time, we will continue. If it fades, there's nothing we can do about it. It's out of our hands.

I love challenges...that's why I worked in the stock market. We got 5 guys here who are committed to this challenge. We know there are other bands out there, we know there are critics, and you know what? All we can do is go out and give 100% every night. I love that it's out of our hands because if people are let down, it's because we were not meant to be. If we do well, it's because we worked for it. We have a personal relationship with fans... they connect to our music, personally, asking us to use songs at their weddings and things like that. That sort of connection is what it's all about.

Deep conversations with Rod Black...stay tuned.

[laughs] How did you pick the people in the band?

The two guitarists in the beginning decided it wasn't for them. We were all in it with a commitment so we wanted to find guys who shared that. We found it in Flip and Dave.

How did you meet them?

Flip and Dan were in a band together and I know the other guys just from playing around Vancouver. But you know what? You just know. It feels right. It's an energy thing.

Explain this energy thing, because you've mentioned it a few times.

It's putting out a positive vibe, you know? When we went into the studio, we were a 4 piece. Dan walks in and it's like 'weren't we supposed to audition someone?' Because it was like he was already in the band. Just put out the positive. If you put out negative, that's what you're gonna get. If you put out the positive, then you'll be happy with the outcome.

When I was 19, I was trying to impress girls at a party and drank 100 proof moonshine. I was pronounced dead. It was the most amazing experience of my life. I woke up the next day and thought I was dreaming. The doctor was astonished that I was able to walk out of there. He said he's never seen anything like it. 2 weeks later, I get in a car accident. I was in the back seat with no seat belt. The car rolled 5 or 6 times and I was inside for the whole thing. It was the same doctor who had just treated me prior to that, and again, he couldn't believe it. I had negative energy around me. I had to change my life. I had to look at what I wanted to do. I always wanted to be a performer, and this was my wake up call. It's what I needed to dedicate my life to, and it's been positive ever since. I am always so interested in how people get to this point in their life. Wherever they are, how did they get there? So that's where the energy thing comes from.

Are you religious?

Let's just say I believe. I don't want to get into details because I respect everybody and their opinions. I think there's a reason for us to be put on this Earth, and that's to love and learn. Not to get too much into it, but treat people the way you want to be treated. That's it. Make the most of your time on this Earth. We gotta turn things around and focus on what's good...appreciate the things we have. We have to feel fortunate because there are people in this world who have to walk for miles just to get dirty water they must keep boiling to get the disease out.


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