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Exclusive Song Premiere: The Black Angels’ “Half Believing” Is A Turning Point For The Band

Singer Alex Maas says, ”It’s probably my favorite song of ours right now.”

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photo credit: Alexandra Valenti

Since the 2010 release of the band’s breakthrough album Phosphene Dreams in 2010, The Black Angels have ascended to become one of Austin’s flagship acts. They’ve maintained this presence even as they’ve focused more on efforts like their Levitation Festival (which took 2017 off after flooding forced the 2016 edition to cancel) than on new releases. But they’re back now—the band’s Death Song, its first album since 2013, is slated for release on April 21—and frontman Alex Maas has been thinking a lot about what the band’s music means to him, how he’s looking to expand his horizons, and why he thinks Death Song would sound different to listeners if it had come out two years earlier—as well as why the track “Half Believing,” which premieres exclusively below, might be his favorite Black Angels song yet.

Texas Monthly: “Half-Believing” is a departure from what people have come to expect from the band. What was it like taking a chance on doing something that deviates from an approach that’s worked for you?

Alex Maas: It feels really good to get the confidence to do anything outside of your comfort zone. That’s a really good feeling. I can only judge our songs by the emotional response that it gives me, and this one is really hitting a lot of different emotional strings for me. The song is constantly evolving in what it means to me, and I think that’s okay. That happens in art. You write something, and then you realize it’s more than what it was. It’s one of my favorite songs to play live right now, just because there are these explosive movements that happen in the song, and then they kind of break down into nothing.

Texas Monthly: Where did the song come from?

Alex Maas: We started writing it maybe three years ago. Songs kind of start, and then we start trying to figure out what they’re about. You start documenting them, and then with our band, we start listening to the song from a pretty emotional standpoint, and then try to hear what it’s trying to say. This song in particular is so moody, and has so much emotion in it, and it’s unlike any other song we’ve written this far. It doesn’t have this heavy fuzz thing happening the whole time. It’s got this other kind of soft, open, wide expanse of sound. “Half Believing” could be a song about a relationship between two people, could be about the relationship between you and the government, it could be a relationship between our nation and other nations.… It kind of speaks to this notion that we don’t know where anything is headed, and that the future is in question.

Texas Monthly: Do you consider Death Song a political record?

Alex Maas: There’s a thread throughout this record about this open-eyed lack of trust in policy and relationships. And I think that speaks on a much larger level about how we perceive our president, or whoever else, and documenting through our eyes how we feel about the world.

Texas Monthly: How do you incorporate political themes into your music without getting explicitly political?

Alex Maas: Our music writing is so—I hate to use the word “spiritual,” but it comes from that space, and I’d like it to stay there. Finger-pointing can be a turn-off in music. I like what people are getting from this song without us having to explicitly say it. The world is a dangerous, scary place, and that’s obvious. It’s a toxic world, and our relationships are toxic, and I keep going back to that because it’s the start of a much greater issue. Marriages are failing, relationships are suffering because of all kinds of environmental influences, and then you have your health, the health of the world, and the health of the nation. There’s so much pollution and toxicity that I don’t know who to believe anymore. I can’t really believe the head of the FDA is like, on the board of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, you know? [Trump nominee Scott Gottlieb is on the product investment board for pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.] Every single day, you’re saying, “I can’t believe that happened.”

Texas Monthly: Do you think this record would have come out the same if you had released it when you first finished “Half Believing”?

Alex Maas: I’m not sure it would have had the same response from people if it had come out two or three years ago. I think we’re the kind of band that people look to more on these kind of darker days. People’s eyes are more open and their ears are more open.

 

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