[Interview] Big Black Delta Frontman Jonathan Bates Loves Space, Electronic Music, Love Songs

credit: @sproutdr | Big Black Delta @ Pianos 8/9/2912Last month when I stepped into the back room at Pianos to catch Big Black Delta, I wasn't really sure what to expect. As we stood around waiting for the band to load in, I remember being confused by some of the gear they were bringing in. There were these two racks that looked a lot like they were supposed to hold shirts being lifted on the stage. Instead of shirts, however, they had these long electronic strips hanging off of them. It took a few more minutes before I put two and two together that it was part of their lighting setup. Soon the room was pitch black, the first couple of beats from "Put The Gun On The Floor" started to pound through the room, and I was about to leap out of my skin in anticipation. The next half hour I watched Jonathan Bates, the brains behind Big Black Delta, sing, dance, and program his way through the set in between a pair of drummers with a very focused but effortless look on his face. Weeks later I was able to chat with him on the phone for a few minutes and learn more about the man who put on one of the most memorable shows that I've experienced at Piano's to date.

For those just tuning in, this isn't Bates' first musical project. Prior to Big Black Delta, he was the lead singer of the rock band Mellowdrone, which released multiple albums on Columbia Records in the early 2000s before they disbanded and went their separate ways. After the breakup, he took a couple of years off, which I figured was a means to recharge, but according to Bates, "It wasn't actually a recharge, it was actually the opposite. The longer I stayed away from making music and doing stuff like that, the more severely bored I got. Then it was just like, if all I have to look forward to is getting a bigger flat screen in life, then like, I'd just rather not. I had to go back, I had to make something creative."

While Mellowdrone was primarily a rock band with indie rock, experimental, and lo-fi bits thrown in here and there, Big Black Delta is purely electronic. The one thing that drew him to making electronic music was the space. "My favorite kind of electronic music has a lot of space to it," he said, "And you know, guitars and distortion and white dudes on stage seemed to take up a lot of frequency and I wanted to something completely the opposite. The same thing with performing, which is like, 'What is the most naked scary thing you could do?' Which is stand up there without an instrument. I've been playing guitar my whole life, so to stand up there just with a microphone and see if I can do it. I wanted to make something simple *laughs* but it never ends up coming out that way."

"I just wanted to project what I see when I hear my music with my eyes closed."

"Simple" is far from how I would describe Big Black Delta. In addition to his multi-dimensional songs, the live performance is all over the place, especially for Bates. As he went on to explain, with the aid of programs like Abelton Live, "I can sync a light show to my music and I can also play the lights in front of everybody. […] I'm like remixing on the fly and producing my vocals at the same time, and then I'm hitting light cues and things like that." You would think that would be pretty overwhelming to be juggling all that during a performance, but he didn't see it that way. "I love it." he said, "If I get too bored up there then I feel like… I don't know. I love falling down the stairs and then landing on your feet kind of thing." With so much already going on in the early stages of the project, I was curious to know what he daydreams about adding to future performances as the band becomes more successful. "More lights," he replied, "If I could add a choir and a brass section and things like that, you know, I'd totally Peter Frampton the shit out of it." What's interesting about the live experience is that none of it is there for the sake of being flashy. As Bates put it, "I just wanted to project what I see when I hear my music with my eyes closed."

Every visual aspect of Big Black Delta is deliberate and was dreamed up with help from visual artist Caspar Newbolt. Bates told me that he had been initially approached by Newbolt at a Mellowdrone show at the Mercury Lounge years ago. He explained, "[Newbolt] was like, 'I want to do your artwork' and then we just kept in touch after that. He actually did the artwork for the last Mellowdrone album. Then I fell off the map for about a year or two. I hit him up with this music one day and was like 'Hey, what do you think about it?' He was very kind and responsive and wanted to be involved" From there he detailed how the two would trade images until one day Newbolt "Came the closest to what I see. [Newbolt] is amazing" Bates recounted. "I really believe in 'You hear what you see'" he said, "It made it easier for me to work on the music knowing that there was someone that can handle 'the conversion' if you will."

A lot of the imagery in Big Black Delta is very space-oriented. This primarily stems from Bates' fondness of Ufology, which is essentially anything UFO-related. As I attempted to gauge how far was down the rabbit into Ufology he clarified, "I view Ufology like Greek mythology. You can't believe anything. You can only collect stories and I've collected as many of them as I can. Some of them are fucking insane." He told me about his favorite story, a man named Phillip Schneider who was supposedly murdered in his apartment back in 1996 for being outspoken about allegedly being one of three who survived battling grey aliens in an unclassified government area. According to Bates, what he likes about Ufology is that, "It's not human. It doesn't involve politics. That's why I really like it. Usually somebody can't fucking argue with you about it. They just leave you alone *laughter*. It's like, 'Oh you like UFOs? Thats…. nice….'" UFOs aside, Bates is genuinely interested in space. "I actually went down to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and got to see [NASA] putting [the Mars Curiosity Rover] together about 8 months ago."

"I'm the biggest fan of a simple love song."

With his love for space, I couldn't help but ask which of his songs he would choose if he could transmit any of his songs into space. He told me that "PB3" would be his song of choice, "It's just tones and colors and there's no (hopefully) any room for error of miscommunication. And it's just math, it's pure music at its core, there's no singer on top of it. There's nobody telling you how they feel. It just is." The way he put it struck me kind of strange, but he went on to explain that, "Different songs have their different purposes, you know? I'm the biggest fan of a simple love song. Besides UFOs and playing music I love love, you know what I mean? I have songs that talk about that and deal with that and sometimes, you know, like all of us, you want to put something on that's not telling you what to fucking do or forcing you to be, it's just something at the end of the night when you're reading or if you've had a bad day kind of thing. Each song is it's own little thing, so while you're there you commit to it but then you can leave whenever you want."

As Big Black Delta gains momentum from supporting the likes of M83 and Jane's Addiction, Bates has decided to release his music on his own label, Masters of Bates, instead of looking to see if any other labels are interested. "Nowadays you don't need all of that," he said "I engage with people that like my shit directly and I enjoy doing it, so that just cuts out a lot of things. I just don't have enough fucking time to involve 20 people, you know what I mean? There's just not enough time. Having to explain to something to 15 people to get everybody in line is a pain in the ass.[…] I'd rather be able to just put anything out when I want to and let the chips fall where they may cause I'm already broke. I'm used to that. It's no problem now." Although he just recently released a tour EP, Bates told me he is already working on a follow up to LP1 and has about five or six songs done already. If you haven't picked up the US Tour/ Betamax EP or the Ifuckingloveyou remix EP yet, make sure you do so right away.