5 writers, 5 questions, 1 band, hand-picked by MWA. Welcome to FIVE x FIVE. This week: Artist & Glam Rocker Mac Blackout.
It’s hard to find someone more prolific in the Chicago rock scene than Mac Blackout. He often splits his time between 2-3 bands at once and has been putting out some brilliant experimental and garage rock records for years now. His latest release is the self-titled Mac Blackout Band album on Pelican Pow Wow Records. It’s easily one of his best. On top of his musical output, he is also an accomplished artist working in a wide variety of mediums including illustration, sculpture, and hand painted boom boxes.
In anticipation of his July 21st Record Release show at Township we’re thrilled to have him as this week’s FIVE x FIVE interview.
As a member of many different musical projects, how do you approach writing? At what point do you decide where a certain song will be used?
Almost every song that I write begins as a home recording. I just let it flow and rework it for the band later. The home recordings are finished works on their own, many of which are released as “Mac Blackout” solo records. I also write with specific projects in mind. A lot of the MBB songs were written knowing that I would have a lead guitar and keys. I wanted MBB to be a crazy live band (an extension of functional blackouts/daily void). I didn’t want to play calmer solo home recordings live. A live show to me is very ritualistic and high energy, at least those are the shows I enjoy most.
With Mickey and New Rose Alliance I’m writing all vocals arrangements, vocal melodies, and lyrics. They usually write the instrumentals and I take that home, play it over and over, sing it in every way possible and land on the one I feel is best. Most lyrics start as unconscious free form ramblings. I’ll find myself repeating a phrase or sound and role with it, writing the rest of the song around it.
Do you find that starting and maintaining many projects at once daunting or is that right where you’d like to be? Is there a limit to how many projects you’re willing to take on, both musically and artistically?
Two or three bands at once isn’t that daunting. One project is usually the main focus, practice a little less with the others still maintaining focus and tightness. Visual art is a bit different. I like to create any idea that comes to mind, usually working on one idea/group of work until it is finished then working on the next body of work. They do overlap though. If I have a deadline for a show of drawings and a deadline for a show of boomboxes at the same time I find myself juggling the two. It always works out. Music at night, art during the day for the most part. Time is limiting. I’d like to get volunteers and interns in the future to help execute some bigger ideas with art.
You did the album art on the S/T LP; would you say you’re a musician first and an artist second, or both equally? (You must be very patient to do that much stippling.)
I love both equally. They allow me to express different feelings and ideas. They can go hand in hand or stand alone.
You’ve been making music for over a decade now and putting out records for almost as long. What makes the new Mac Blackout Band S/T album special for you? How is it different from some of your other musical projects?
MBB is an extension of Functional Blackouts and Daily Void. It has it’s differences for sure. I write all of the MBB songs and the overall sound is a bit different. I feel a lot of the same energy in the music. This LP has a bit of Mickey in it too. All the projects are related, feed off each other and change. We’ve been working on the record for since 2012 so it’s really good to have it out!
On top of your massive discography you have a huge archive of art. Hand-painted boom boxes, show posters, pen & ink drawings, etc. The “Nightmares and Pretty Things” series reminds me a lot of Mick Gray’s work on the comic Promethea, it’s very surrealistic but also feels very Sci-Fi. What are some of your artistic influences?
I’ve been making visual art since I can remember so there are a ton of influences…I graduated from the Herron school of art in 1999… too many to mention but in general… old vhs box art, 70s movie posters, 80s skateboard art (Jim Philips), album cover art all over the board, psych posters of the 60s, punk flyers of the 80s, graffiti art, mural art of the 70s, Oaxacan folk art, all kinds of folk art, Christopher Ilth, my wife Alison McKenzie. I’m truly influenced by everything around me.
*Bonus Question* Do you still have a day job or have you been able to make art & music a full-time career these days?
Art and music are what I do full time but I sometimes have to supplement it with a little labor work to make ends meet. Get in touch with me online/on facebook if you are interested in art or recordings. I prefer to sell art to friends directly to keep it affordable. I’ll also have art up at the Continental (2801 W. Chicago Ave. Chicago) for the month of August.
Midwest Action is happy to be sponsoring the Mac Blackout Band Record Release show at Township on July 21st. MBB will be headlining an incredible bill including Flesh Panthers, All Blood, & Pizza Time. Stay tuned to the site for more info on that show and RSVP to it on Facebook here. Don’t miss it!