When you have been around as long as Black Cab, it’s not often you can say that you’re still making music for all the same reasons as when you started.
For over a decade now, the Melbourne electronic outfit have been releasing records, playing shows, and developing a sizeable underground following. Speaking with Andrew Coates, the group’s lead singer and co-founder, it became evidently clear that the band produces music for all the right reasons.
‘We just do it because we enjoy making music, playing music and to keep getting better’ Coates says.
While the reasons that Black Cab still play remains very much the same, the style of music that they produce has changed considerably. Starting off as an indie rock band, the group is now a pulsating live electronic trio, rounded out by keyboardist and fellow co-founder James Lee and live drummer Wes Holland.
‘The electronic line up I must say has been more enjoyable than having an airy guitar band’ Coates admits.
The current trend in popular music appears to be electronic-based and it should be no surprise that the band’s resurgence comes with a new, younger crowd that seek out these sounds.
‘Certainly in our shows that we’ve played, the response that we get from the sounds that are electronic seem to be a lot more tangible than guitar,’ Coates says, ‘but we’ve kept a ‘rock’ component in there with our live drums and that’s really important not become pre-programmed and play just synthesisers.’
For a band such as Black Cab, moving to electronic music is not a move to the demand but a move back to their roots. Heavily influenced by late 70’s-early 80’s electronica, Coates views the current form of the band as the sum of all their influences.
‘Deep in the back of your mind, you have all these influences and when you make music, it’s only natural to draw on them,’ Coates explains, ‘We have always listened to electronic music, it’s the genre that has always stuck out to me as the most other-worldly, challenging and interesting.’
‘You focus more on getting a response out of people than worrying about how six guitars sound together’
Black Cab’s longevity gains a certain sense of perspective when you factor in the everyday demands of being in an underground band. Never making large amounts of money or doing extensive tours, Black Cab has developed a formula to keep music their passion and not their job.
‘The important thing is not to give two shits and that’s the key. We don’t play very often. You have these bands that play 30-40 dates a year and they get on each others tits.’ Coates says.
The band’s 12-year touring resume isn’t overly extensive. Consistent shows in Sydney and Melbourne, a couple of times in Brisbane, never played Perth, a slot at Paradise and Golden Plains Festival and one Europe tour in 2007.
‘Some people might say that’s underperforming,’ Coates laughs, ‘but for us I think that’s the secret for why we still do it. It’s just enough to keep it interesting and maintain the passion for it.’
‘When we toured Europe, there was seven of us in a little van and we were sick to death of each other by the end of it. So doing that for ten years, holy shit, I don’t think anyone could withstand that, no matter how much success or money might come your way. Which for most bands is zero’ Coates says.
Of course, by this very design, all of the Black Cab members need and have other income streams. Nevertheless, the band has learnt a thing or two about music management and has been able to make some money from the group. Black Cab has their own label, which means they pay for their own recording, own promotion, own graphic designs and by doing so, they make enough to keep going.
‘That’s the beauty of it, we don’t have to rely on the income,’ Coates says, ‘it totally takes the pressure off. In another world, 30 or 40 years ago, we would have a crack it, but it’s such a vicious way to earn a buck now.’
‘It’s taken us ten years to get a reasonable following in Melbourne. We would probably need that in another thirty cities around the world, with constant touring, if we want a reliable income. It’s a tough game.’
A consistent theme that has defined Black Cab through their genre-bending career has been the exploration of cultural concepts. From their first album, Alamont Diary, which explores The Rolling Stones’ notorious free concert at the Alamont Speedway to their most recent output, Games of the XXI Olympiad, which looks at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal that was rocked by the PED use of East Germany, cultural history plays a significant role for Black Cab. Coates is attracted to linking songs together and making Black Cab recordings an aural journey.
‘The idea of 10 songs that don’t have any relation to each other doesn’t do a lot for me. Most of the albums that I like to listen to and go back to again and again are the ones I listen to start to finish.’ Coates says.
‘You question if an album is even still relevant today, but I think 60 minutes of music that connects together still matters.’
For the moment, Black Cab is content with where they are. Having just released the single ‘Uniforms’, Black Cab is about to embark on small tour of Melbourne and Sydney. ‘Uniforms’ is part of a series of recordings the band has completed, however they aren’t quite sure where to go to from here.
‘We may do an EP later next year or every time a track is mixed and mastered, we just shove it out there,’ Coates says. ‘We’re not sure if we will record another album, we might just keep recording songs and put them out there.’
It seems unconventional that for a band as seasoned as Black Cab that they have the creative freedom and desire to do anything that they like. With no record label or financial pressure, the band is simply content on doing whatever they feel like is the best move for Black Cab and its members. And that’s just the way they like it.
‘I don’t know where we go from here,’ Coates laughs, ‘we might even go back to guitars, who knows?’
Black Cab Tour Dates
Thursday May 5 - Howler - Brunswick, VIC
Friday May 6 - Howler - Brunswick, VIC (SOLD OUT)
Saturday May 14 - Newton Social Club - Newtown, NSW
For all Black Cab releases, check out their Bandcamp
Alex Capper, once affectionally called by Ross & John of 3AW as the '7 foot fucker', loves the Essendon Football Club, stalking reddit and dabbing. He thinks he can speak French, but he can't.