An Austin octet of SXSW Picks 2 Click™
Black BooksTues., March 11, Dirty Dog Bar, 8pm
You could make the argument that Black Books has existed, in some form, for decades.
"I've known Kevin, Meg, and Mike since the fourth grade," says singer/drummer Ross Gilfillan, "Kevin and I met playing Town and Country baseball. He got a guitar, and Meg saw us play Pearl Jam covers at a talent show."
They went separate ways, enjoyed college, and eventually reconvened back in Austin, where, over the course of weekend jam sessions, a hobby slowly coalesced into something a little more serious. Now, they live in the suburbs with their families and play in a rock band. Ross met Meg, now his wife, when he sat behind her in grade school.
"I asked her if she liked Tori Amos," he chuckles.
Black Books are deceptively normal. They rely on great songwriting and great engineering. Last year's eponymous full-length bow came out slinky and crystal-strewn, no fuzz or reverb to cloak any insecurities. Sometimes that makes them an odd fit with the rest of the Austin scene.
"We're not trying to do the lo-fi thing," says bassist Mike Parker. "We're for having a quality track to really showcase the music."
That emphasis mirrors Black Books at its core: a group of old friends who write songs through collective jams. In 2014, so many bands are centered on a singular songwriting voice, which renders the extraneous members essentially meaningless. That's not the case with Black Books – Parker, Gilfillan, keyboardist Meg Gilfillan, guitarist Kevin Butler, and synth lord Clarke Curtis.
"All of our songs come from one of us coming up with a couple riffs and bringing it to the other members," explains Parker. "It's like taking a spark and building it into a fire. Everything you hear in the music is a collaborative effort."
Black Books had their biggest moment as a band last year when they opened a couple of shows in England for the Flaming Lips. It was the opportunity of a lifetime that almost didn't happen.
"The first time I heard the Flaming Lips it was on the Batman Forever soundtrack," says Ross Gilfillan. "They really changed my outlook on music. They were having fun, and a lot of the grunge bands I was listening to were very serious. When we got the chance to open for them, it was a really big deal for me."
"The weird thing is, I had joined the National Guard, and I was in boot camp," he continues. "Meg wrote me a letter about the Flaming Lips gig and asked if I could somehow leave boot camp."
The pair schemed for weeks.
"I thought about telling them that his mom had died," says Meg.
Eventually, Ross managed to leave early and get back to Austin just two days before the band had to leave for the UK. That's how five friends went from middle-school battle of the bands to eating Chinese food with Wayne Coyne. You don't need to listen hard to know they deserve every moment.