The Black-Tongued Bells: All About the Music
Named by a take on a Dylan Thomas poem, the Black Tongued Bells have played and paid their dues in current form the past twelve years. Their battleground is Los Angeles, a city the members describe as a tough one for musicians of any stripe.
Guitarist/Lead Vocalist D. Miner so described the Bells with the above sentence-he need not be more succinct. The Bells have a sound that draws on blues, rock, gospel and Americana.
Their new CD, Every Tongue Has a Tale to Tell has caught the Bells as they are right now, Miner says. "Capturing the soul of any band is the hardest thing. There's always technical issues technical people aren't happy with, but did it capture the heart and the soul of the machinery in motion, we felt that it did."
The band's roots date back to 2000, with Miner and drummer Ray Herron in the original lineup. "We found (bassist) Anthony (Cook) and we said, 'we'd like to have gospel singers on this thing. Louis Cox showed up with Mary Stuart; they were both singing in their church in their gospel choir."
There you have it. Listening to Every Tongue, you can hear the Stones influence through the chord progressions of "Midnight Porter." Dr. John, or at least his sound looms large in "Comin' Back for More." Miner's eerie growls on "Long Way to Go" remind of someone crawling from wreckage of whatever happened the night before.
Big thing for the band is the groove, a point made clear by Cook. "The rhythm sections we admire most, of course, Muscle Shoals, Stax, Motown, locally here in Los Angeles we had the Wrecking Crew. They really made an impact on who we are today."
"We spend hours working on the groove," Herron agrees, "until we find the right tone for a particular song. We spend a lot of time working on grooves, and we're all about that, and people will comment on that when we do shows."
Miner explains, "The rhythm sections come very natural to us; but once we have discovered which rhythmic format we want, that's when we start really digging into it deeper and putting it under the microscope."
So while the band stresses their sound is organic, hours and hours go into every track from what Miner, the songwriter brings in. He's quick to credit his mates: "I may bring in a body of work," he says, "but we've been together so long, we know our formula, it's very natural to us. The experimentation comes from all of us; with any formula we know so well at this point. I may bring in the song and the skeletal structure of the song; we all add our very specific signatures to it."
"There's something that happens when a band has been together a very long time," Herron adds. "It's like you develop a sixth sense, and it really comes into play in the studio. The rhythm tracks come really easy for us."
As to the question of being an L.A. band, Miner admits, "It's a tough town for musicians in general. It doesn't matter what genre of music you play, it's just a tough town. One of the things that we have noticed over the years of playing this town, when we get the people in front of us, that's when they go, 'where the hell have you guys been?' It's the nature of the this town After they've heard us, generally people like us, and that means all ages of people, it's not just people of a more vintage age," he added with a chuckle.
The most difficult aspect of a band making original music is getting airplay, in an age of consultants and music formats narrowed to the extreme. To this end, a handful of indie terrestrial stations and the Internet have become the Bells' outlet. Currently, over 100 stations worldwide (including Radio-Airwaves Station) play the Bells' music, with the track "Jukin' Joint" among those getting play. "We've been very fortunate," Cook says. "They really like our sound. We're very appreciative of that and we hope that one day we'll be able to actually play live for the folks that seem to enjoy it."
Talks are underway to put the Black Tongued Bells on the road, but for now the local area is the place to find them. "We've struggled with this from day one," Miner says, "trying to get the big boys involved with us."
"We're not gonna change who we are," Cook adds. "We have a signature sound. We're true to that, we've stuck to that it's a formula that we like and enjoy doing, so we're not going to sell ourselves short."
Until the day comes, the Black Tongued Bells will be haunting the LA clubs and elsewhere with a sound and energy that is old school, yet offers dimensions within the old forms. You could throw an awful lot more names and bands out to get what the Bells sound like, but they don't sound like this.
The band invites you to visit at www.theblacktonguedbells.com -- it's all you need to know.
--Tory Gates is a veteran radio personality, currently a reporter with the GeoTraffic Network. He is the author of "Parasite Girls" a fiction novel available on Amazon.com and Smashwords.