Black Tambourine

The Maryland foursome of Mike, Brian, Archie and Pam known as Black Tambourine are the The Velvet Underground of fuzzy noise pop; not everybody bought their records but everyone who did formed a band. They’re all still very active within the genre and music in general with specific kudos to be given to Mike for keeping the Slumberland label going strong and recently celebrating its 20-year anniversary. ION was luckily enough to catch up with all four of them to spitball about the reissue of their complete recordings, Eric’s Trip, their song about The Pastels and Seattle based bands namechecking them in songs about being twee.

Is re-issuing this record just for your fans, to put feelers out for a revival or adorable self-indulgence?
Mike: I guess it’s for the fans but also a little bit self-indulgent, what with the gatefold sleeve and all. When putting this together I tried to imagine what a fan would want to have, hence the nice sleeve, extra liner notes and documentation. I don’t think we left anything out.
Brian: To me it was a great way to help promote Slumberland on its 20th anniversary, and it’s hard to imagine there would be a better time to do it given the attention that noise pop music coming out of Brooklyn and elsewhere is getting now.


Are you involved with that Brooklyn noise pop scene at all? Do you have some favourite acts?
Brian: I’m only involved as a fan. I really like Crystal Stilts and Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
Archie: I love a lot of that stuff, particularly the Pains, Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls, the Girls at Dawn, and the now-defunct Cause Co-Motion!. I got to mix a bunch of the Pains’ songs for Slumberland, and it was probably the most satisfying music-making experience I’ve had.


A lot of the myth that surrounds your creation refers to Black Tambourine as a reactionary band to UK staples of the time like Sarah Records. Were you directly influenced by the goings on across the great pond or was there a more organic beginning?
Archie: We were very much influenced by that stuff, particularly the noisier, Psychocandy-influenced bands. We were all fanatical record-buyers, and we were really excited by a lot of things coming out at the time, or from the previous few years.
Mike: For sure, I think we all were very inspired by the pop coming from outside of the US, the UK and New Zealand in particular. There were a lot of common influences—Ramones, Shangri Las, Byrds, Buzzcocks—with a lot of those bands, so when I’d hear records by people like Shop Assistants or Bubblegum Splash or Razorcuts I just felt a real kinship.


How did a band from Silver Spring, Maryland get noticed before the advent of blog culture and MySpace?
Archie: For the most part, we weren’t noticed. But just as we were able to keep up with a bunch of new, obscure stuff through resources like the K Records newsletter or Parasol distribution or really great record stores like Vinyl Ink, people who were into our kind of music were able to find out about us through the same kinds of things. It just took a bit more work back then.
Brian: We used more primitive means of communication: pen and paper, wired telephone, public and private transportation.
Pam: In addition to hanging out at the record store, trading fanzines/cassettes/records and word of mouth were all great ways to find out about small releases of vinyl on independent labels. Getting mail you could open and put on the turntable and sending a note with a mixtape were mostly yesteryear activities that I confess I miss.


There was a strong compilation culture in the late Eighties with records like SpinArt’s One Last Kiss and Creation’s Doing It For The Kids. With it all but gone do you feel there is something missing from the organic stumble-across culture of discovering bands?
Archie: Honestly, I don’t. Personally, I really, really miss spending hours at record stores, but I feel like it’s actually pretty easy these days to stumble across new and exciting music through the internet, especially blogs.
Mike: It’s definitely different now. I feel like there’s a little less community, a little less of actually meeting fellow music fans face-to-face and a bit more just sitting at home downloading stuff. I won’t say it was better then, but the amount of effort one had to go through to find out about and actually hear new music made it seem much more valuable to me.
Brian: There’s definitely a devaluation of the music with the ease of access now, but at the same time for me now as a father of two kids with very little time it’s great to have quick and easy access to music via the internet. I’m not sure how I’d feel about it if I was 20 again.
Pam: I wouldn’t say compilation culture is all but gone. I’m definitely buying less music these days than I used to, I don’t have as much time and disposable income as I did 20 years ago, but I still buy actual records and CDs instead of downloads and I’m still hearing great bands for the first time on compilations from the likes of Matinee Recordings and Jabalina and Where It’s At Is Where You Are. I’m more likely to buy-and-try a comp over one band’s LP if I’m impulse buying things I don’t know much about, but maybe I’m in the minority here.


Black Tambourine


We’re a Canadian magazine so I have to ask you if you ever listened to/played with/were friends with Eric’s Trip. They were our fuzz pop heroes.
Archie: I think Black Tambourine broke up before Eric’s Trip released anything over here. Brian and I were subsequently in Velocity Girl, who were Sub Pop labelmates with Eric’s
Trip, but we never met or played with them. I always liked what I heard by them. If it’s any consolation, Velocity Girl played shows with Jale, Sloan, and Zumpano…
Mike: You can count me as a fan—I have a few of their records and like them a bunch.
Brian: I remember playing a show in Halifax and hanging out with Jale, with whom we’d toured quite a bit, and thinking it felt like such a great supportive music scene there.
Archie: Brian, dude, Eric’s Trip were from Moncton.
Brian: It’s just an elk’s ride down the road right?


Could you describe for our readers what “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is about and what your relationship with The Pastels was like after the release?
Pam: I was a big fan of the Pastels and had seen a great video on SnubTV for Crawl Babies—I just watched the video again on YouTube and that cracking tune definitely stands the test of time—where Stephen was spinning around singing on a bridge. Out of that unrequited popstar crush came a song featuring a crime of passion. I don’t guess at the time I expected the Pastels to ever hear that record, but I did meet the Pastels after that and they were as ace as you would expect (and thankfully not grudge-holders, either).


How does the band feel about the Tullycraft song “Twee”?
Mike: I’ve never heard it.
Archie: Me neither.
Pam: I think Mike should start putting Slumberland guitar cases on his merch table!


Have you actually never heard it or are you sarcastically avoiding the question and taking the piss out of me?
Mike: I’ve really never heard it.

Brian: I really haven’t heard it either.
Pam: I have heard it and I was serious about the guitar cases.
Archie: Nope, really never heard it. I’ve heard “Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend’s Too Stupid To Know About” though, and it seemed like a pretty cool jam.


What is everyone spending their time on currently and what’s next?
Mike: I try to spend as much time as possible with my little boy, though work and the label keep me pretty busy. I’ve got a single coming out in a few weeks by my most recent band, called Manatee.
Archie: I’ve been recording and mixing some songs of my own after my daughter goes to bed. I’ve released a couple of them on Slumberland over the past few years, and hope to finish a record someday.
Pam: I’ve got two fab daughters in the five-n-under set and I work freelance from home at night after they go to bed, so I don’t have enough time as I’d like to for getting up to non-work craft and music stuff. But when I can I make things with a sewing machine, print things on the Gocco and letterpress, do a bit of recording in the kitchen and some hanging out in the garden. I’m one third of the Gregory Webster Trio—we’re recording some new songs this month—and I sang some songs with my old Shapiros bandmate on the new Bart & Friends CD that just came out.


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