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Spaceland & KCRW Present
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Big Black Delta, Hunny, Fartbarf

May 28, 2016 • 1:00 pm

(All times are in PDT)
$19.50 – $23.50

First the facts. Big Black Delta is Jonathan Bates. And Jonathan Bates is Big Black Delta. (Although you might occasionally find him elsewhere, like playing guitar with the likes of Brandon Flowers, Brian Wilson, Brit Daniel, and Dhani Harrison during the appropriately named George Harrison celebration, George Fest.) Trágame Tierra is his second album as a solo artist under the moniker. Pinning down a narrative through line? That’s a bit harder.
“Oh shit, I forgot, I have to have a syllabus walking in here,” Bates jokes. “If you were asked about the theme of the last 24 months of your life, you might need to take a second to pull your thoughts together too.”
Like any conversation with the Los Angeles musician, the train of thought hits several different stations at once, as he rapidly attempts to spitball a suitable album/life tagline.
– I’m doing the best I can.
– Don’t be a dick and make something cool.
– I don’t care about music as much as I care about the human condition.
There might be some truth to that last one. Bates regularly nudges any conversation about his work into a discussion of his Trágame Tierra guests, praising their talent and personalities in equal parts. Norwegian singer/songwriter’s Susanne Sundfør show-stopping voice—and her shock when he told her she nailed the complex vocals of Steer the Canyon in one take. Kimbra’s youthful musicality and poise. Dhani Harrison’s background vocals on Well My Heart. And 1980s pop poster-girl Debbie Gibson, whose wiliness to sing on a relatively unknown musician’s album taught him more than he had anticipated.
“What the Debbie thing showed me was, all you have to do is ask,” he muses. “The worst thing that happens is someone says no or doesn’t respond. I didn’t have the easiest last eighteen months. It was such a neat thing to be like, ‘Oh shit! You can ask things from the universe.’ You might not get it, but you can ask.”
Tough stuff. Yeah. While writing Trágame Tierra, a process that began shortly after finishing up the promotional cycle on his debut Bbdlp1, Bates had a large portion of his equipment stolen. His father also passed away. From the 150 songs he initially wrote, 12 made it on the first version of the record. To hear Bates tell it, the first incarnation was weighed down by the darkness he was experiencing. He jokingly emulates his friends’ passive response to his first draft with a series of non-committal head-nods, before noting that after a while, he felt the same.
“Six months go by, and I don’t know if I want to be the ‘my dad died’ guy,” he says. “My father’s death is not who I am. I don’t want to spend six months mourning on stage at some bar in the middle of nowhere.”
So, Bates rewrote the album, indulging in all his creative impulses—often at the same time. The resulting genre-gobbling collection of songs might surprise fans. (“It has a lot of WTF moments,” Bates confirms) After all, last time we met, his darkly romantic songs were predominantly tied together with ear-shattering walls of drums and keys.
He’s still offering a larger than life version of himself, strutting through the crackling electronics like a latter-day David Bowie. But now there’s more. More icy Scandinavian-leaning beats (“Overlord”). More near-country acoustic warmth (“Well My Heart,” which also features a vocal assist from Dhani Harrison). More live instrumentation (see: the clarinet-driven refrain of “Strange Cakes,” brought to you by Jaga Jazzist’s Lars Horntveth). And more odd and often exciting choices that split the difference between 1980s cartoon, underground rave, and voyage to the moon. (Start with “Kid Icarus,” but realize this statement could apply to the album as a whole). But most of all, it’s a multi-layered collection of songs that points back to its creator, caring. Maybe more than anyone.
Bates moans at that summation.
“You can’t say that!” he interjects. “When you consider all the people in the world, you just can’t say I care the most.”
Okay, so maybe that’s overreach. But this we do know: Big Black Delta is Jonathan Bates. And Bates is feeling it. A lot. Maybe more, maybe less than the guy next to him. But we can’t say for certain—and that’s okay.