Originally released in 1958, the Jazzmaster® was overlooked by the artists it was designed for and eventually discontinued. Left to dwell in pawn shops and dusty stock rooms, it was discovered and embraced by musicians who used it to create entirely new sounds and genres, from surf and noise rock to shoegaze and alt-country. 60 years after its introduction, the Jazzmaster remains the go-to for the misfits and anti-heroes looking for new ways to push the creative boundaries of music.
For as long as The Black Angels have been making music, they’ve been labelled a psychedelic band. Listening to the Austin-based five-piece, it’s not hard to grasp why. But for multi-instrumentalist Kyle Hunt, who plays guitar, keys, percussion and bass in the band, pigeonholing them as definitively ‘psychedelic’ is seriously selling them short. “I don’t want to ever say we’re just a psychedelic rock band. The band is definitely heavier than psychedelic music—or like, traditional psych, if there’s even such a thing”, he says.
For Hunt, the very definition of ‘psychedelic’ is problematic. “Obviously, there’s all the cliché stuff that goes along with it, like the hippy-dippy ‘60s movement and that sound. And like, yeah, that’s the origins of that type of music, but for me, psychedelic is one descriptive that I use in my whole entire vocabulary.
I guess to me, all it is is a more finite version of experimental, and those bands were pushing boundaries with sound and recording techniques, and what got called psychedelic, to me, is the image that was put around it, with the flower power, the Grateful Dead, that whole vibe.” But Hunt never bought into any of that. Instead, he drew inspiration from a completely different—more literal—dead vibe. “You also had the Velvet Underground in New York City, looking like they’re vampires, and that’s more psychedelic to me, honestly.” So then what exactly should you call a band like The Black Angels? “When people ask me what we are, we’re a rock ‘n roll band”, says Hunt.
The Texan rock ‘n roll band has long championed the use of analog equipment to capture their unique sound, but Hunt is quick to explain that he’s no analog purist. Happy to incorporate new technology into the recording process, he says that for him, “It all boils down to not being a purist, but what helps work flow. Like, new tape is funky now—we bought four rolls of tape on our last record and we used used tape instead of the new tape because the used stuff worked better. And in hindsight, we could have probably just gone straight to the computer—it’s getting so close.”
Still, if you’re going to embrace technology, it’s important to practice some restraint, or it’ll be a long and painful death by over manipulation. “A lot of times what happens is people are scared to commit to a sound or an idea. So they play it safe and get through their takes and then they go in and dissect and it’s like ten plugins on one instrument and it’s like, ‘No, you don’t have to do that!’”
Whichever route you take, the process of recording is kinda like remodeling a house: if the bones are solid, there’s a ton to work with. But if the foundation is weak, then it doesn’t matter how much you add to it. Or as Hunt more eloquently puts it, “You can pitch correct everything, you can pitch correct guitars, you can pitch the notes on an instrument, move MIDI notes around one at a time, but at the end of the day, does that make the song any better or the sound any better? No, it’s just over manipulating things.”
For Hunt and The Black Angels, there’re no rules when it comes to making music, and they’ll utilize whatever they can get their hands on to ensure the quality of their sound. “To me, it’s all just throw it at the wall and see what sticks, and use everything that you have to get from point A to point B. Maximize your resources, as they say.”
Sixty years ago, Leo Fender introduced the Fender Jazzmaster as the top-of-the-line electric guitar; later the sound and easily modifiable style attracted counterculture players who rarely hesitated to personalize their instruments. A modern, triple-pickup take on this hip, classic instrument, the 60th Anniversary Triple Jazzmaster is an homage to the mod ethos that permeates the cult of the Jazzmaster.