Heart to heart
Three Mile Pilot members proceed with Black Heart Procession
If California music only means the Beach Boys to you, it might come as a surprise that a band as dreary as the Black Heart Procession would come from warm and sunny San Diego. But San Diego has a history as a fertile crescent for many brooding, sometimes brutish, musical acts, from the emotional post-punk inventiveness of groups like Antioch Arrow and Drive Like Jehu to the bombastic rumblings of Crash Worship and the Locust. So after avant-garde group Three Mile Pilot (also from San Diego) was placed on indefinite hiatus, singer/guitarist Pall Jenkins and pianist/bassist Tobias Nathaniel turned to a darker side of human nature as the Black Heart Procession.
Beginning with the Black Heart Procession's self-titled debut in 1997 (Cargo/Head Hunter), Jenkins and Nathaniel enlisted drummers Mario Rubalcaba of Clickitat Ikatowi and Rocket from the Crypt's Jason Crane as studio percussionists. Caustic Resin drummer Joe Plumer, and already occasional collaborator keyboardist Dimitri "Roman" Deswiski, joined BHP's ranks for the current tour of the South and East Coast. With the help of their friends, Jenkins and Nathaniel eschewed 3MP's droning pop songs and embraced melancholy and miasma to set the Black Heart Procession beating.
"When Tobi and I first started writing Black Heart Procession songs it felt a lot different from what we had done with Three Mile Pilot," Jenkins says. "It was much darker than anything else we had done before, and after our first tour it was obvious that this was something we really wanted to continue doing."
In the wake of the group's debut, the Black Heart Procession has gone on to record two follow-up full lengths — 2 and 3 (Touch and Go) — as well as two untitled EPs. Throughout the group's recordings, frail crooning about lost love and heartbreak sinks into a murky backdrop of gently strummed guitars and pump organs, accompanied by a myriad of non-traditional instruments including a singing saw, various synthesizers and a whaling device called a Waterphone.
But despite the group's instrumentally ostentatious ways, the Black Heart Procession takes a surprisingly imaginative approach to self-indulgence, informed by their surroundings. "Anyone's environment will always have an impact on what they're doing," Jenkins deadpans.
"The [Black Heart Procession's] music is dark and very much a rebellion against the swimsuit persona that southern California is often associated with, but we don't sit around and bum out over it," Jenkins says. "I love living here and I walk my dog along the beach every day. The music we play has a very watery feel to it and I like to think that it's inspired by the ocean."
Jenkins explains that, initially, most of the group's songs had the word "heart" in the title in an effort to poke fun at how gloomy the music had become. But as the group progressed, this idea drifted further and further away. By the time 3 was released the idea had been put aside entirely.
So what does the future hold as this lonesome twosome navigates through a sea of sorrows? Probably a pitstop. The Black Heart Procession was originally started because Three Mile Pilot, who, despite a failed deal with Geffen, never officially broke up, weren't ready for a full-on tour. But that may be about to change.
"Three Mile Pilot has four songs finished already," Jenkins says, "and a few more in the works. I'd really like to get the band back together for another record. It's all a matter time."
So, for the time being, the Black Heart Procession will parade on, but even if Jenkins and Nathaniel put the Procession on hold to return to Three Mile Pilot, hearts needn't sink. As sure as sunny days and high tides in San Diego, these California kids will still turn out compelling tunes.
The Black Heart Procession perform Thurs., Nov. 9, at Eyedrum. Fred Weaver, Shannon Wright and Don Caballero share the bill. Show time is 8 p.m. Tickets are $10, available at Criminal Records and Wax-n-Facts.