From Aural Innovations #35 (January 2007)
Black Sun Ensemble - "Bolt of Apollo"
(Camera Obscura 2006, CAM077CD)
Bolt of Apollo celebrate's Black Sun Ensemble's 20th anniversary and is their 11th studio release. From Tucson Arizona BSE is guitarist, founder Jesus Acedo and this CD features drummer Ernie Mendoza and former Sidewinders guitarist, Rich Hopkins. THE SHINING ONE starts with a bell and then goes into Middle Eastern sound. Badass. I've never heard any of the previous albums but I did see Black Sun Ensemble play in my friend Trey's back yard in the Spring of '04 and it was awesome. This CD sounds just like you'd hope Black Sun Ensmeble would sound! Great psychedelic rock with killer sound/production. HEART OF THE MASTER - Total Bad Ass modern Psych!!! Engineer Eric Johnson did a great job! PARFEDIA'S NEST - First song with vocals...the Hit?
"Bolt of Apollo effectively fuses the sun-baked, raga-esque qualities of the Ensemble with other influences ranging from British Invasion, progressive rock and ambient music" says the press release, and I can only agree. THE MERCURIAL INCENSE OF MELQUIADES - What great song titles. I can't say enough, how awesome, kick ass, this CD sounds!! These songs are so beautiful and perfect, what can you say? They sound is totally familiar the first time you hear it. SCARLET WOMAN - The sax gets a little old but this is killer rawked out psych! LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO TONIGHT - Beautiful Doors-esque intro, this is one of the songs not written by Jesus but by Eric Johnson. It has that early 70's hard rock sound like Atomic Rooster or something? KING OF THE LOCUST - Very structured Psych Rock here with Jesus Angel kicking out the solo guitar jams. BAPHOMET'S CURSE - This would be a top 40 hit if we all lived in Jesus Acedo's universe! Maybe we do!!?! A good friend of mine told me Jesus believes he is "the Jesus"!!! That would explain why his music is so inspired!!!! There's popping on this, like from a vinyl album! Artistic popping!!! It's come to this has it? ST. CECILIA - Arena rock guitar histrionics but still cool, some International artist-esque harmonica!
Bolt of Apollo was recorded and mixed at Slowburn studios with the members of Tucson's Sun Zoom Spark, and is also an enhanced CD with a video encoded onto the disc!! Good Job to Camera Obscura for putting this out!!! And ST 37 and Primordial Undermind are thanked in the credits. Jesus, you are the man!
Thanks to Eric Johnson for facilitating the following interview and providing the photographs.
Members of Black Sun Ensemble Jesus Acedo, Eric Johnson, Brian Maloney and John Paul Marchand, were interviewed separately (1/2/07). Jesus Acedo refused to answer all but one question, citing that he wasn't "in the mood", and will not be "in the mood" for a while.
Aural Innovations (AI): Bolt of Apollo is all instrumental. But on the Live at KXCI Volume II album Jesus makes a comment during one of the interview segments that the album will have a lot of vocals. What changed between then and finalizing the album?
Eric: I think we all have come to the conclusion that BSE's music is the most effective when presented in an instrumental fashion. Jesus did write lyrics for all of the material on BOA. The lyrics are included in the layout for each of the songs. I think there was talk about getting Howe Gelb from Giant Sand to sing this stuff. That obviously didn't work out.
Brian: Originally Jesus had written lyrics for the majority of songs that appear on Bolt of Apollo. Unfortunately, Jesus has never been a strong vocalist and there was some effort spent on finding someone to sing for the project. It was finally decided by us all that it would be best to leave the songs as instrumentals and have the lyrics appear in the liner notes. Jesus was somewhat reluctant at first, but as we listened back to the scratch vocals it was clear that the instrumental versions were much stronger.
AI: I notice there are 3 tracks without Jesus. Were they recorded outside the BSE fold and just seemed to work well for the album?
Brian: Jesus went through an extremely productive period when we recorded the sessions for Bolt of Apollo and the follow up record, "Across the Sea of Id - The Way to Eden" (not released yet). Although he did try to do some overdubs on the other tracks, it never really came together. Jesus is a great guitar player and comes up with bizarre arrangements that he can remember note for note. Playing over standard changes that do not marry well to his Eye of Horus tuning is much more challenging.
Eric: Jesus had come up with most of the material for BOA, but was a few songs short. So I wrote "Longs Days Journey Into Tonight" and Brian Maloney wrote "The Mercurial Incense of Melquiades." Both songs were recorded with Otto Terrorist on the drums. Otto (aka Bryan Kohl) played on both our "Starlight" and "Hymn of the Master" CDs, as well as several Sun Zoom Spark projects. I have worked with him since 1989 and is an old friend and a unique drummer. He musical sensibility is quite different than Ernie Mendoza, who plays on the rest of the album, creating a very different feel to those songs. Just as a side note, I was going include a new version of an old song that I wrote for Jesus years before I ever moved to Tucson, called "Icy Lucifer." In the end it didn't make the CD because we felt it strayed too far away from the vibe of the rest of BOA's material. So it was replaced with "Audio Valencia," a sort of found-sound piece that allows the album a little rest in the middle of such cacophony.
AI: How did the "Jewel of the Seven Stars" video on Bolt of Apollo come about? Was the band in Beijing???
Eric: Jesus in China!? Are you kidding? The video for "Jewel of the Seven Stars" was written and directed by an old friend from college, Jonathan Levitt. Jonathan, who has been living in Asia for years, attended film school in Beijing and was able to lead of team of people to get the video shot. I think Jonathan did an excellent job with "Jewel." It appropriately captures a visual interpretation of song that is long and often abstract - no small feat!
AI: I like the poetry by Jesus printed along with the song titles on the Bolt of Apollo CD jacket. I guess it was on the BSE web site but I read that you have published some books of poetry? Tell me about that.
Brian: Jesus made two volumes of the lyrics that he wrote into a self published book of poetry he entitled The Lycian. They primarily included lyrics from Hymn of the Master and the Starlight albums. They also had some of the vintage lyrics such as Sapphire Sky from Lambent Flame. There were a few originals, one of which can be heard on the first KXCI recording "Little Wudgies", which was quite amusing.
AI: As part of preparing these questions I revisited the earlier albums and the post-1999 BSE is clearly the best yet. Do you (Jesus) attribute this to personal recovery and years away from the music, the new band, or both?
Jesus: The old band was blurred by egos and drugs. Now that I am stabilized schizophrenic, I take the music more serious, I guess. I have matured as a musician/magician and have found music can make me feel better. It makes me feel better knowing I can hang with a new group of musicians who are a bit younger. I do have to say that I am very proud of the Goldfish album (s/t Black Sun Ensemble, Reckless 1988). Talking about the old days, it was when the band was more together, working together. On Lambent Flame, I didn't really give 100%. I spent most of my time following Peter Pan (Odin Heligson) around. I let him do whatever he wanted. Egos. On Elemental Forces - egos. On Tragic Magic - big egos, we really delivered an unprofessional performance because we partied too much before the show. The Psycho Master El record was just insane, insane music - not a happy time. But the most important reason why the newer stuff sounds so good is because of Eric Johnson. He produced all this stuff and added his spice into the music. The new band has worked hard to support me, I am very grateful. So you see, like Uncle Ben's rice, we are perfect every time! (Ha, ha)
John Paul: I think the support, musicianship, and respect we have given Jesus has allowed him to create/compose, perform, and once again illustrate over the last few years what the Prince truly is: A musical genius and one of the best and innovative guitarists in rock.
AI: Speaking of the post-1999 lineup, I see from the web site blog dated April 2006 that Eric Johnson is no longer with the band. Is this any indicator is more lineup changes to come?
Brian: The line up has changed for nearly every project that we have undertaken. It is not infrequent for past members to reappear on later projects. At this point, we have been focusing on completing the follow up record Across the Sea of Id that Eric Johnson has been engineering and doing quite a bit of playing. When Jesus is ready, I'm sure we will have a band that will feature some past members and friends from the greater community of Tucson musicians.
John Paul: Yes, Eric has sadly left the band. The band as a whole is in serious question right now, but that has happened before so who knows. Jesus has entered another dark chapter unfortunately, and our prayers are with him. There is honestly not much we can do. Brian and I have said that if Jesus shows us that he has the focus, lucidity, and sobriety to carry on, we will play music with him. It's rather a holy trinity of cosmic ingredients that is needed for Jesus to play. It's his life, we can aid him within the creative realm, but beyond that it's his gig. Jesus can certainly surprise however. Just when you think his demons have forced him to hang up his guitar for good, he comes back to plug in his amp, at least for a good spell of time. Eric is still involved with BSE, in that he is doing the final mixing of yet another album that will be released in 2007. He is doing an amazing job, and I think Black Sun Ensemble fans will be pleased with the one Eric is finishing up. I have done the album art for this upcoming disc, which is a huge honor to me.
AI: Does BSE enjoy support in your home base? Do you get to perform regularly (local or otherwise), or just special occasions like SXSW?
Eric: No, BSE does not enjoy a strong local following in Tucson. I think that is because of two reasons. The first simply is that Tucson audiences aren't really excited by challenging music. I get the feeling that many don't "get" the band. What is popular is usually stuff that is more from a singer-songwriter perspective - mellower, lyrically driven - great music, but coming from a different tradition than BSE, I guess. Tucson isn't really a rock town, kick-ass rock and roll with heavy-duty guitar solos isn't considered all that hip. But the other reason, which is probably more relevant is that over the last 20 years, Jesus has burned almost every bridge in town. Tucson is a small town - that apparently doesn't forgive or forget easily. When Jesus had his break down in the early 1990s, it was very public and he has remained "eccentric." He is very difficult person to deal with at times. Sadly, many don't have the patience. There have been times when we have performed regularly, but gigging has become more difficult because Jesus is unpredictable or because he simply isn't interested in rehearing and putting in the time. That is why I left the band. There is only so much you can do without Jesus being present. The studio has always been more comfortable for the band, even in the beginning. I think some of the best gigs we have played in the last seven years were in Austin at the SXSW festival, it was nice to be so well received there.
Brian: It's interesting that the bands that tend to play out of Tucson really do not play a lot of shows locally. Calexico, probably the most popular band from Tucson, typically plays once a year around the holidays. The local venues have typically featured bands with a country rock flavor that have sometimes been referred to as "desert rock." BSE typically puts a live show together for a larger event as the music is challenging to render in live performance.
AI: One of the things I've always loved about BSE is, though Jesus' guitar influences are well known and can often be discerned from the music, the band really do have a unique sound in the psych-rock world. Can you describe for me how your Tucson surroundings influence your music and inspiration?
Eric: I think there are great parallels between BSE's music and the Sonoran desert. Not to sound trite, but at its best, BSE music is a dichotomy between the sacred and the profane, the beautiful and the tragic, harmony and dissonance. Jesus, as a person, also really embodies these qualities too - which I have found intriguing. And these qualities are our desert. Its intensity is both beautiful and haunting at the same time. We joke that the airport should play "Dove of the Desert" when people get off of the plane, like "welcome to freaky Tucson. Be careful!"
Brian: I find the desert surroundings to be a tremendous influence on the music. In my mind, BSE's signature song is "Dove of the Desert", which is named after the Mission at San Xavier del Bac. The Mission is a rare example of Mexican baroque architecture and was built in 1600. Today it has been restored and stands on what has become the Tohono Odam reservation. Perhaps the sky and mountains are just so big, but I often have a forlorn feeling of loneliness coupled with the wonder that the surroundings can inspire. It's these sort of BSE songs that truly capture that mood and feeling for me.
John Paul: Many rock journalists both local and national in the past mention many bands when writing about the "hey day" of desert rock (the late eighties and early 90s) in this part of the country. Sometimes they give BSE it's due, but not enough in my opinion. I am saying this as a fan, because for the moment I am speaking of the "Lambent Flame" album and it's era (1989). Listen to this album and you will hear THE desert rock band. No other bands came close to the Black Sun in my mind at that time or now. Not in the originality or power of music, no way. Giant Sand, The Host, Al Perry, were and are fantastic, but Jesus CHANNELS this land. We, as the other members of the band, and the bands I just mentioned, we are all outsiders. Jesus is a native and it can be heard in the sincerity of the music, and specifically in the guitar playing. It's shamanic to this day how much I feel his music and this very strange town in the desert coalesce. It still stands true as the Black Sun Ensemble being THE desert rock band, and "Bolt Of Apollo'" shows it as well. Calexico is great and they are fantastic musicians, and sure they have the mariachi thing, a nice gimmick in my mind more than anything, but Black Sun has Jesus's angelic AND demonic guitar playing! Its no gimmick. It's true power. The desert terrain, with all it's beautiful plant life that have such intense defense mechanisms (the cacti I am talking about)... the searing heat, the beauty and harshness, the sacred and the profane aspects of living here, are all reflected in the music The Black Sun. Even the name is perfect from which this band originates. Listen to "Dove of the Desert" and you will HEAR the Sonoran desert. I have always been intrigued by how much Jesus has been influenced by the music and land of the Middle East as well. That sonic theme is also channeled I feel, not emulated as some claim. See him play live and you would see what I mean. Jesus has made this combination of both desert worlds the foundation of his compositions, and it is what makes us unique. (Not to mention his alternate tuning and insane style). Jesus was born here, his heritage can be heard in his playing, the incredible majesty of his compositions, they are majestic and open, just like the big sky of the south west. Incredible suffering and incredible beauty, incredible joy and sorrow. It is life, but it is Tucson, Arizona too. I believe Tucson is a spiritual battleground. Check your pretense at the door if you want to live here. The desert will kick your ass and burn your bullshit off. I think the Black Sun Ensemble has always harnessed that aspect of this land musically.
AI: How has being on the Camera Obscura label been in terms of exposure and distribution?
Eric: Its been fine. They have generally been supportive of our efforts and have made it possible to get our music all over with world. Cheers to Tony Dale.
AI: What's next for BSE? Any current activities or future plans you care to share?
John Paul: Well I mentioned the album slated to be released later this year on SlowBurn Records, and I am about to begin work on a BSE short film/video based off the BSE song "Dove of The Desert". But don't tell Jesus! It's a surprise!
Eric: Yes, we are currently in post-production on a new CD called "Across the Sea of Id: The Way to Eden." Its mostly an acoustic album with minimal arrangements, very different than Bolt of Apollo. Thanks Jerry!