It’s not every day you see a guitarist crowd surf at the Sinclair, but when the audience lifted Kevin McKeown of Black Pistol Fire high into the air he just kept on banging out gritty riffs. Once based in Toronto (but now more at home as part of Austin’s strong bluesy rock scene) the guitar and drum duo is known for their explosive onstage performances. In anticipation for their return, we spoke with lead vocalist and guitarist Kevin McKeown and drummer Eric Owen about their upcoming material, favorite lyrics, and album art. Catch them live at Brighton Music Hall this coming Tuesday, May 14th.

KB: On “Bottle Rocket”, you say “every day is like the Fourth of July.” What do you guys usually do on Fourth of July?

BPF: I’m pretty sure for the last few years in a row, we’ve been on the road. And it’s usually a day off where we happen to be driving or flying unfortunately. I think we’ve driven by some cool fireworks displays. It would be ideal to be having a cool beer and hanging with some great folks at a bbq, but we don’t always get to have that.

KB: If your music was a room, what would it look like? (Or, if you want to pick one album specifically, that works too!)

BPF: It would be a combination screened-in porch and a game room. The calm and soothing atmosphere of the porch mixed with the chaos and sounds of 3 pool tables and 5 pinball machines being played at once.

KB: Can you tell us more about the album art for Don’t Wake the Riot? Who are some of the designers you’ve worked with/who creates your album art, and are you guys involved in the creative process?

BPF: One if our oldest friends Kiel Perchinig of Epigram Design in Toronto does all of our artwork. Everything. The idea of the cock fight, which is obviously a gross and completely horrific activity, was meant to symbolize the two of us on stage. That was a real image that we used. We didn’t make it up.

KB: Please describe your music without using genre names.

BPF: Dynamic! A constant roller coaster. Lows lead to mids, lead to huge highs. Mad crescendos!

KB: You’ve got a really distinctive, energetic live set, and I’ve read that you incorporate a lot of improvisation into your set. What is your favorite song to play live and why? Additionally, how do you two decide your set list—is there a certain flow you create, or are there certain songs you use as a break from other songs that may take a lot out of you?

BPF: I really love playing Lost Cause! It’s a shorter one in the set, but it’s a very fast surf-punk song. It’s got some grit but it’s still danceable. I love the buildup!
We usually pick out the first 3 or 4 songs of the set ahead of time and we know the last one. Everything in between, we just figure out as we go. There’s definitely times where we need a breather. But the biggest factor in choosing set flow is tempo. We don’t want to have 2 fast songs back to back, or 2 slower songs. It’s about balancing the energy of the songs the right way.

KB: Dream collaborators?

BPF: The fellas from Cage The Elephant! Trent Reznor would be interesting or maybe the fellas from Odesza. Ty Segall, Dr. Dre, there’s so many!

KB: You moved from Canada to Austin, which you’ve said has a scene that welcomed you in a way Canada hadn’t. Tell me about how you fit into the scene and how the scene has helped shape your music.

BPF: What’s interesting is that in the last two years, Canada has REALLY embraced us, which had been so great. Definitely something we’re very proud of. But for years, no one cared. In Austin, we got great support almost immediately from the local alt weekly paper, The Austin Chronicle, and local NPR Radio affiliate KUTX. They have been such great supporters and really helped us expand our audience from the beginning. There were those elements available to local bands.

KB: You guys must get a lot of really great photos taken of you because of how much movement there is on stage. I know you were definitely one of my favorite bands to shoot. Do you have any favorite shots?

BPF: There’s a great one of Kevin crowd surfing at Lollapalooza. And another one from a show we did in Toronto with Gary Clark Jr. Kev must’ve got 12 feet of air off of my riser and I’m not a complete blur for a change, which is cool!

KB: Favorite line you wrote, and why? Favorite song title you came up with, and why?

BPF: “Black Halo.” The line, “Never walk alone, got my shadow and a Black Halo.”

KB: Tell me more about the recording process—are all your songs recorded live? How do you create the gritty effects?

BPF: Drums and the main guitar track are recorded live, both of us in the same room playing it together. Once we get that, it’s bass (usually on the synth) any lead guitar licks, then percussion if the song has some, then vocals. Definitely recording live contributes to the gritty sound. Also 97% of our songs are recorded onto tape. Yes, we still record with a tape machine.

KB: Eric, I know you’ve tested out using gloves in the past, as well as band-aids, to prevent blisters. Have you found anything that’s worked, or are you doomed to have raw hands on tour?

BPF: Yes, I retired the gloves about 3 years ago. They would basically wear out in the spots I would get blisters anyway. Plus they would carry a pungent odor with then after a few shows. I did the blister band aids, which were perfect! Until Walgreens discontinued the size I used. Now they are all too small and slip off. Liquid Bandage spray is what I’m onto now. So far, it’s been good, but we’re early on on the tour…

KB: Anything you two want to say about the new music?

BPF: YES!!!!! We’re really stoked about everything coming out this year. From groovy hard rock, to beach punk, to psych dance, we’re switching it up a lot! BUT, the song we’re most excited about comes out in the middle of May. It’s called “Pick Your Poison.” We recorded it in Nashville with Vance Powell. Think it’s pretty special. Very hooky with a fast garage rock verse.

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