Eric Ronick and Than Luu have toiled away in the background for years, so it’s nice to see their hard work paying off as Black Gold. Both original members of the Brooklyn-based band served as backup musicians for acts as varied as Panic At The Disco and M. Ward. Look no further than the video of Ward playing on Letterman to see Luu whacking away at a bass drum and a car hubcap for proof of this. With a song on the soundtrack to the movie “Valentine’s Day,” a seemingly continuous touring schedule, and the addition of two members to the band (Alistair Paxton on guitar/vocals and Kerry Wayne James on bass), Black Gold stand as a great hope for intelligently constructed indie pop with serious crossover appeal.
On a terribly rainy day in Boston, Ronick, who handles lead vocals and various instruments, sat down with Blast in a booth at The Middle East to talk about their interesting record label, their creative process, and the sheer joy of being responsible for their own project.
BLAST: How’s the tour going so far?
ERIC RONICK: The tour is good, man. Winter tours are grueling. I was talking to our bass player, Kerry, and he was saying how he thinks we’ve caught every kind of weather by now. There was a stretch of snow and ice for a minute there. One of the bands on the tour flipped their van earlier on, but they managed to make their way back- I admire their conviction. You’ve got to put in the work when it’s winter, but it’s worth it. You can’t stop everything just because it’s cold outside.
BLAST: Where are you heading after this, any trips to SXSW (South by Southwest)?
ER: We’re not, because of this tour. Last year, we hit South By so hard, maybe six shows in three days. It was awesome, but we needed a break. It’s hectic, but incredible. It’s unlike any music festival I’ve ever been to. We’re kind of zig-zagging up and down the east coast now, going to Virginia, and then back to New York.
BLAST: That’s kind of a haul.
ER: It’s a big haul! The routing of this tour has been kind of funny, but sometimes that’s how it works out.
BLAST: You guys played with Echo And The Bunnymen last month. How did that whole thing come together?
ER: Hell yeah, we did! That was a lucky break for us. First, we got put on this festival in Australia — it’s like Coachella, but on a way smaller scale. It’s a traveling festival that goes throughout the country. The guy who puts it together is really deliberate about who plays, so it was amazing that we got put on it. Luckily, our tour manager put us on more dates with them. I’d like to say that we got to know them better, but it wasn’t really that sort of vibe. We hung out for a minute with them, but the shows were amazing. They killed it every night.
BLAST: Your song "Shine" recently ended up on the soundtrack to the movie Valentine’s Day, which has basically every celebrity going right now in it. How did that feel?
ER: The whole thing is crazy. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so that’s my bad. I might see it just to see my name in the credits. It’s filled with so many famous people, and so is the soundtrack, except for us [laughs]. It helped us out a lot, has been getting us attention, and these days you need every little bit that you can get. It’s not the golden days of the music industry anymore.
BLAST: You’re also now on Red Bull Records.
ER: Weird, right? It’s a bizarre idea that an energy drink would want to start a record label, but the weirdest thing about it is that there is nothing weird about it at all. They act just like a regular label, like no other label, really, because they’re supporting their bands. Everything else seems to be going under and sinking left and right, and so everybody is trying to bet their money on the pony that is going to win, real quick, but Red Bull is different about it. They believe in us, and they’re in it for the long haul. That’s unlike anyone right now. As far as the drink and the record label, they’re not worried about it. They’ve never asked us to play on stage with an inflatable Red Bull can or anything.
BLAST: I noticed there are only two bands on the label right now, of which you are one of them, which affords a lot of personal investment with their artists.
ER: Well that’s their whole key, is that they’re only trying to maybe sign about one artist per year, and they’ve been in business for two years, and we were the first ones they signed. So far, so good. Right now we’re in a lucky spot.
BLAST: Do you ever feel like you have to defend it, though? There are going to be the naysayers that are all like â€˜Oh, they’re on an energy drink label,’ and just dismiss you right out.
ER: Right, and people have all sorts of ideas about corporate associations, and I get it. I remember when I was 16, a conversation I had with a dear friend of mine when I was in one of my first bands. I was like, "Listen man, if I ever let any of my music in a commercial, go ahead and shoot me in the head, because that’s it for me," but it was a different time then. You could be a musician and not associate with anything commercial. It’s like, every man for himself now. It’s forcing us as musicians and industry people to get down to business to make something that people like, rather than shoving things down people’s throats.
BLAST: It’s also a lot easier to be idealistic when you’re 16, when most people are still living at home with a practice space in the garage or basement. I’d love to be able to sustain myself just using music.
ER: Yeah, and we’re in a spot where we’re working with this big corporation, but they’re not treating us that way at all, so as long as the relationship is good, honest, and open, which it is, I mean, I talk to the people at the label nearly every day. Other people in bands talk to their label maybe once a year, if even that, if they have to. So, that’s what I say when I talk to people about it, is that the relationship isn’t like that, and if it was, I’d be the first one out the door.
BLAST: Now, to shift away from the politics side of things and talk about your music for a while. I know both you and Than have done a lot of work with other musicians, so how does Black Gold differ from your past musical endeavors?
ER: I think that for Than and I both, we were fortunate enough to be musicians who could make a living on making music. We picked up gigs and played other people’s music, and that’s a beautiful thing in its own right. It’s its own art to understand what people are trying to get out of the music they wrote and help make that happen, and I think that’s what Than and I both did, helped people realize their visions, and it was gratifying to do that, but when we started this, it was our baby. It was our chance to show our vision, how we want it, but we’re definitely not tyrants when we work with other musicians. It’s just really rewarding. After a certain amount of time when you’re up there playing someone else’s songs every night for a year or two, at some point it feels a little funny. You lose touch with what it’s all about. Here, it doesn’t matter if we’re playing in front of 10 or 100 or 1000 people, because we’re playing our songs. We’re playing the songs that we believe in, and luckily I still believe in it. I’m not bored of it yet. Talk to me in five years when I’m still playing the same songs [laughs].
BLAST: I listened to your most recent album, Rush, and I don’t want to say that it’s all over the place, but every song manages to be different while still being coherent. It doesn’t run together, and each song manages to have its own personality. With that in mind, what kind of stuff are you working on for your new album, and how it sounds?
ER: I think that you’re right on it. You figured it out, and that’s the thing about Black Gold. It’s something that sets us apart from most bands. I hear most things, and you can describe them pretty quickly, like, they sound 25% shoegazer, and 30% 80’s pop, or whatever. With our band, it’s very different. We’re diehard music lovers. Than has 7,000 records in his apartment in New York, and they’re all over the place. It’s not just, y’know, post-punk from 85-95. We’ve got records that are Chopin, Miles Davis, or Duran Duran. Good music is just good music. We’re down to do anything; anything is fair game, and if we like it, we’re going to do it, and that’s what you can expect. We’re zeroing in on whatever makes Black Gold what we are, but it’s definitely going to be an eclectic record with several different sounds.
BLAST: I don’t know if I’m completely off base with this, but the one genre tag that came flying out at me while listening to Black Gold was glam, especially in your vocals.
ER: That’s a lot of me coming through there. I’m obsessed with David Bowie, Freddy Mercury — as far as singers go, that’s what I’m into. We differentiate from the glam stuff because we don’t have a lot of the theatrical elements.
BLAST: A lot more grounded sounding, if anything.
ER: Exactly, you’re right in thinking that. The songwriting is very similar to that, they way things are constructed. Especially during the making of Rush, I couldn’t get enough of Bowie.
BLAST: I know Than has another project, called ShushShush. Do you have any other outlets right now, and if not, is that something you have any interest in doing?
ER: I think that will be something to do someday. I’ve been thinking about it, but for so long for me…all the other bands I played in were my bread and butter, and Black Gold was my side project, my own thing. But now that I’m in Black Gold full time, I’ve asked myself the same question, like "Why not put out my own record?" I think I’ll get to that in a minute, but right now we’re so entrenched with this, and I’m sure Than will say the same thing. I’m sure he’s dying to get back to ShushShush, but that’s what happens when you get busy. The fact that this is such a creative outlet for both of us, that we’re not dying to get away and do our own things, that we’re trying our best to let ourselves express ourselves.
BLAST: You and Than recently added a second guitarist and a bassist to the group. How did that come about?
ER: We’re going through a bit of a metamorphosis, yeah. This band started as just Than and I because that’s who was around, but we always had a vision of it being a full band, not just the two of us playing with some random people. I’m really excited that we’re all a full band, we are a four piece now. Alistair plays guitar and sings backups like a fucking bird. Kerry is also an amazing bassist. I’m proud of the last album, but now we’ve taken on a whole new shape, and we’re creatively collaborating now. Al joined up with us two years ago when we opened for Panic At The Disco. Kerry has been with us for a year. It took us a while to find the right bassist, because it wasn’t about the player, it was about the person. It’s about getting in the van with a person every day, and having to look at them in the fucking face, and smell them every second, and it wasn’t until now that we felt like we were a family, like brothers.
BLAST: Was there an exact moment when you came to this conclusion?
ER: For me at least, I was on the hunt for the right members. I was looking from the beginning. Than and I play enough instruments that we can play everything on record, but someday we were going to have to start playing this stuff live. We got lucky with Al, finding him right off the bat, but it took meeting Kerry before it finally all clicked. Maybe there might be another member someday. I like to think of it as a growing project. I’m not a dictator about it. I just like seeing what happens when I get a bunch of creative people together and let them work, instead of telling them what to do. That’s not how good music is made, not to me at least. Right now, things are perfect. We can take our four piece and play anywhere at any time.
BLAST: To jump back to your work with other people, do you feel like success is now owed to you, for all the work you did for other people in the past? Not to make yourself sound self-aggrandizing or anything like that, but do you think that now is your time, that you deserve a payoff?
ER: I don’t expect anything. I tend to be the worrywart of the bunch.
BLAST: There always has to be one in every band.
ER: Yeah, I’m definitely it. I’m always the one wondering if things will work. We’ve caught all these big breaks: the record deal, playing with The Pixies, with Echo and The Bunnymen, and we’ve traveled the world, and all this amazing shit, but I’m always the one who worries. I think we’ve all paid our dues already. When you’re a band just getting started, you haven’t paid anything, but we’ve all been doing this for a long time. I’m definitely not as accommodating as that 18-year-old kid who had the "you name the place, I’ll play there" mentality. I’ve played to tens of thousands of people, so to some extent, I feel like I’ve paid my dues already. However, at the same time, we’re still a new band, and we’re paying our dues now. But, I’m happy, and I’ll keep paying my dues for as long as I have to.