WRITTEN BY REYAN ALI
It doesn't look like The Black Heart Procession will wrap their career up any time soon, but when the day of their dissolution does come, "The Waiter" saga will surely be remembered as one of the high points in their career. The ongoing, loosely sketched story, which consists of one song devoted to each part (we're currently on "The Waiter #5), revolves around the titular character being stuck in some wintery way station. In a literal interpretation of his name, The Waiter exists to perpetually wait--all with the hope that someone else will eventually return for him.
The "Waiter" songs are indicative of what the Procession are like at their best. The tracks are minimalist (but ambitious) set pieces, with their scenery set by dreary keys and strings, and Pall Jenkins' foreboding voice.
Even though it avoids directly adding to the "Waiter" series, 2009's Six, the group's most recent full-length, is filled with equally bleak scenarios. (Song titles such as "When You Finish Me," "Wasteland," "Rats," "Liar's Ink," and "Suicide" should give you an idea of what they've been up to.) Misery and melancholy are crucial to their universe.
On Wednesday, December 14, the San Diego band plays Crescent Ballroom with Scrupulous. Before the show, we spoke to guitarist/vocalist Jenkins about The Black Heart Procession's origins, his relationship with hip-hop, "The Waiter" series, and why the band chooses to shade their music with such dim tones.
Up on the Sun: The Black Heart Procession started as a side project when you and Tobias Nathaniel were also in Three Mile Pilot. Did you have any specific ambitions for this band compared to the other?
Pall Jenkins: I think in the beginning, we didn't want there to be any rules. The idea was that we couldn't say no to the other person's ideas, which didn't really last that long because it's just inherent for bands to argue or whatever. But that idea kind of stuck with us: to be able to feel free and try what you wanted to try. If Toby had an idea, then I would cater to his idea and give it a chance to work into something and vice versa.
Were there any specific instances you can remember of not being able to say no to the other person?
I think a lot [of that idea] came out of Three Mile Pilot, and that's not a diss towards them, but it was like, "Oh, you know, I want to play the saw." They're like, "You can't play the saw." And then in Black Heart, I was like, "Now I'm going to play the saw," so that's a perfect example of putting saw or weird sounds or darker music [into our work]--just kind of feeling free within the music to do things and not really worry too much about who we were pleasing in a sense. The first couple of records, we didn't really care what people that were listening to it thought because we had nobody listening to it, you know what I mean? It was so new to us. We didn't know what the response was gonna be, and then of course, any time you're in a band or a project for a while, you kind of start caring more about something and you start thinking about these things a lot. "I hope the people who like our music are going to like this next thing," y'know? [Laughs]
You once described The Black Heart Procession focusing on the nightmarish side of dreams. Why focus on that versus the happy stuff?
I think [with] a lot of the music, we don't really tend to think about what we're like. When we get the urge to write a song, we just write. We don't really have an idea of what the song's going to be or a topic or anything, really. A lot of it is just creative writing and getting in there and just letting things happen.
The band's vibe has interpreted and discussed with so many different adjectives. What would you be comfortable saying about the vibe of the band?
I think a lot of what people say is rather accurate. It's dark, it's moody, it's sad, it's depressing, it's hopeless--all those things. But I also think that at moments, people find hope in it and there is light in it. I think if people like darker music or films or books, they find those things in it. At the same time, just as much as I appreciate a spooky movie, I enjoy a funny movie.
In another interview, you discussed your interest in hip-hop. What kind of stuff are you into in particular?
Well, I recorded a band from San Diego called MC Flow, which is a lesbian hip-hop band. What else? Parker & the Numberman is a band from here, Adequate is another band, but as far as larger [bands go], my all-time favorite is Public Enemy. That's not very underground at this point in hip-hop, but Public Enemy, to me, had it all. They had great sounds and great beats to great lyrics. Chuck D was awesome with his lyrics. I don't think there's ever been a band that's come close. N.W.A was really great; Wu-Tang Clan, all that is really good.
You've also mentioned being into country music and synthesizers.
Yeah, I like all kinds of music [as] long as it's what I deem as good. If it hits me in the right way and I like it, it doesn't matter what genre it is. I don't like new country, I like older country. And then synthesizers, I've always been into the sound of synthesizers, so we've had them within our music.
Moving onto "The Waiter," why are you guys so interested in this idea in the first place, and why continue that thread?
We wrote the first "Waiter," and I think there was something about the idea of this guy waiting out in the snow and having this idea of time passing by and kind of serving a sentence sort of idea, so when it came time for the second record, it was like [unintelligible] wanted another "Waiter" vibe in there, and then we started getting into the idea of having a "Waiter #2" and where the story continues. From there it kept going [to] where every record we thought, "Okay, what's he doing now?" It was always a little challenge for every record: "Okay, now let's get into the "Waiter" song and figure out what's his story now."
Have you gone as far as to plan some kind of conclusion to this idea?
No, we haven't really thought about it too much. We did do a series that was a box set that was all the "Waiters" together on one CD, and then we added another song. And we felt like we were trying to conclude it, but we didn't want to say for sure. He might come back in. He's kind of a ghost character. As we're writing, if suddenly we realize that it's a song that could be "The Waiter," then we start bringing that to life.
In one past interview, you mentioned that you were a superstitious person: "Don't break a mirror and you won't have bad luck." Do you have any superstitions that relate to the Black Heart Procession?
I'm kind of weird about flying. I would always take a little emblem or something along with me. I had a chain I would always wear when I would fly. Then, not so long ago, I lost it and forgot this other one, and then I realized that I was on a plane with none of that shit. [Laughs] I was like, "Oh, well. Here we go." I kind of dropped that. I'm more scientific about things in a certain sense. I'm not very superstitious, I'm not very religious. I guess I would be more spiritual than religious. I don't really pray to or worship any one thing, so unfortunately, no, there's not a deep story behind that. Things are very more matter of fact in my mind.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.