Blackwater: October Band of the Month

Band of the Month: Blackwater

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Blackwater is an up and coming power pop outfit with a British frontman and a pair of Scandinavians driving the hard-rocking rhythms. Jay Bartlett (vocals/lead guitar), Peter Uven (bass), and Per Karlsson (drums) came together by chance but quickly bonded both musically and personally.

With an EP under their belt, a full-length in the works, and a slate of gigs on both sides of the Atlantic, Blackwater has hit the ground running. An infectious brew of tightly constructed tunes coupled with chops developed in earlier bands suggest big things may be in store for this promising trio.

Connect with Blackwater at the band’s official website.
Check out the band’s video “By Day & By Night” video here.
Listen to Blackwater on Spotify or Soundcloud.

The Interview

The HUB: How did you three come together as musicians?

A: (Jay) We were all active in previous bands in the same style and touring circuits, during the last days of my own band I met another Swedish band that were searching for just a guitar player, so I thought it might be a nice change. I ended up playing there for a short time, during which Per and Peter had also decided to stop working with their band and were on the lookout for a singer/guitarist to start something new. Through being an artist with PRS [Guitars}, a friend in Costa Rica who was also a mutual friend of Per and Peter had actually tried to form an international supergroup between us all. During the writing process for the project, we decided very quickly that we alone could do something seriously with the music, especially as our friend in Costa Rica already had a good thing going with his band that was keeping him busy. We were confident in each other that it would be a good thing, so without wasting time, as I was already working in Sweden, we met up for the first time at our photo shoot. Actually, I met Per the night before for a pint at a show in Stockholm. Shortly after the photo shoot we were booked to play in LA with Tremonti in just a couple weeks.

The HUB: According to your bio, you played your first gig at The Roxy just a month after forming. How did you pull that off?

Blackater Headline Live 2013

Within a month of getting together, Blackwater was playing major gigs.

A: (Jay) This sort of thing isn't so much a surprise to us anymore having been on the scene one way or another for a while. In fact, I once confirmed my previous band for a tour with Daughtry in Europe six days before the tour was due to start. Similarly, I was short a bass player at the time so I had a little experience in just making it happen [laughs]. At this point I had also been stockpiling songs for the project so we had a sufficient number for a good supporting set. I sent everything over to the guys to learn and quickly booked flights back to Sweden so we could play a few times before going to LA. So that was the second time we met and the third was to be in Hollywood. Thankfully we have all gained great working relationships with our endorsers that helped provide everything we needed for the show, so that was obviously a major help. Was it a rough show? You bet, but technical issues can happen and have happened since. Unfortunately we were plagued with them that night, but the important thing is it pulled us together as friends and musicians. The crowd really got on our side and we got to crack out some great moments in front of Eddie Van Halen, so there was a silver lining.

Blackwater “By Day & By Night” video shoot
On set for the “By Day & By Night” video shoot.

The HUB: It's cool that your inspirational single "By Day & By Night" was picked up by Cancer Research UK. Who wrote the song?

A: (Jay) Myself. This is one of the songs I had written a while back and was intended for my previous band. I wrote it not long after a tour we had just finished up in Europe. Our guitarist at the time received news halfway through the run, that his mother had been diagnosed with cancer, and as brave-faced as he was, it naturally was an upsetting time. That was the real inspiration behind the song, but it was unfortunately never recorded. The idea to move towards a fundraiser came much later and the opportunity to do it presented itself in the form of Blackwater's first single, by doing a good thing and debuting the band.

The HUB: Can you talk about your songwriting process?

A: (Jay) It's a fairly straightforward process that has been working well for us. I always write on an acoustic, mostly to focus on clean playing but it has become quite a ritual now. It will start one of three ways. The music, the words/melody, or a drum beat I particularly like and can hear good accent points for guitar riffs etc. Once the base idea is there, I'll program out the drums to the song and begin layering everything else on top, including rough bass lines etc. to provide a pre-production of the song. The final stage of songwriting comes in the studio, which will mostly be pulling apart what I have done with real musicians this time and making it the best it can be. I love the production process, so I try to get close to the feel and style that the guys play in so we get there faster and have a lot of fun experimenting with beats, fills and especially bass lines and runs of which there are many in the album we are working on at the moment.

The HUB: Your recorded sound is multilayered and detailed. Do you attempt to replicate that sound in live shows, and if so, how?

A: (Jay) We do yes. It always starts at the core, with us being plain musicians, getting our sound as big as possible. We like pounding fat drums and bass, typically the guitars are pushing a fair bit of air too. From there we have a few tricks of the trade running. A particular favorite: Rather than running two amps on stage that can have phase issues and virtually impossible to get good separation, we actually run a live re-amp guitar from our laptop backing tracks. Just a standard dry guitar signal using a different guitar into a different amp. The result essentially is a second guitar player and also provides some rhythm guita during solo sections. Some people ask why we don't just get a second guitar player, but we love working together as a three-piece. And this way it can generally be tighter when I am playing with my own guitar like a double track in the studio. We also have some stuff running on the backing tracks, but that will exclusively be effects or other instruments like an organ, strings, etc. Something we could potentially include for real in the future, but as a fresh band with limited funds this does the job very well and stays true to our recorded sound. We have been experimenting with this for a while and learning from other pro acts we tour with always helps... it's certainly not just us doing these things.

The HUB: This question’s for Jay. We came upon your 2012 PRS SE 245 demo clip on YouTube. Is that still an important part of your arsenal?

A: (Jay) I still have it at home. I actually use it for all my pre-production recording. I have three of the SC 245 models that I use live, 2 are in Sweden and one in the U.K so I always have a couple on hand at our shows. I'm sure myself and Peter will expand on this in the future for different sounds; we just keep it simple and consistent.

The HUB: What's the one instrument or piece of gear each of you you couldn't live without?

A: (Jay) My PRS SC 245 and my Snark clip-on tuner. It can go anywhere and it’s great for warming up pre-show so you’re in-tune without a tech seeing to the guitar!

(Per) Tama Iron Cobra double pedals—they’re the best I've had and I’ve played them for years.

(Peter) My 1982 Fender Precision—it’s a fantastic reissue bass that is just one of a kind.

The HUB: In recording your EP, The River, did you go into the studio with tight arrangements, or did things evolve as you recorded the tracks?

Blackwater River Album Cover

A: (Jay) River is an interesting one. I turned up in Sweden to record our EP with River as half an idea. The EP included what we considered our B-sides to the album, having written both already and recorded most of the album a month prior. So I arrived the night before we were due to record and set up the drums at the studio, got the sounds, etc. We then went and grabbed curries and beers for a much overdue band night, seeing as we spend most of our time away. After a few beers I wanted to show the guys the song and discuss the possibility of extending our EP by yet another song. After hearing it, the guys really wanted to get it on the EP. So from that point I had to go into pre-production overdrive. Recording the EP in the day, writing and programming at night. By the second to last day we had got it where we wanted and recorded the drums and bass. From there, as usual, I take those tracks back to England to record guitars and vocals. During that process I added a bunch of acoustics and finally during the mix process at my home, I added in the organ that can faintly be heard throughout. It was an unexpected result but one we are still very happy with. Comically, this song started as just a vocal piece from the chorus whilst riding on the underground in London. I finished it off in Peter's living room at 2 am or something silly like that.

The HUB: What are your strategies in building buzz for Blackwater?

A: (Per) Just trying to get good opportunities like support shows/tours with bigger bands, and work with respected and talented people. We also want to be accessible with our music, that’s why we often give away physical copies of our River EP on shows and tours.

The HUB: How do you see the role of social media in promoting bands?

A: (Per) Of course it’s a big deal and we use it daily— it’s a great way to get stuff out there quick and to find new connections and nurture contacts and relations. But with that being said, we don’t like to dwell too much on it. We are allergic to spamming just to get more likes, we would rather let the music speak for itself, and the people that hear us will find us on our social media profiles and like and interact with us because they actually genuinely like the band. Not because we put a gun to their head.

The HUB: When you're touring, how do you stay healthy and focused?

A: (Jay) Well, I used to tour sleeping (barely) in the back of a van on bunks that had been built in. I can honestly say that was never good for health, when there are up to six or seven of you all in close proximity, either freezing cold or roasting in a diesel-powered oven. So generally now a good night’s sleep in a clean environment can do wonders. Eating well and regularly is definitely key, just for general energy and not feeling like there's a rock in your stomach when you hit the stage. I also nail a lot of water exclusively throughout touring, and lay off alcohol for the sake of my vocal health.

The HUB: Who are the artists you look to for inspiration?

A: (Jay) We appreciate a lot of different bands in and outside of our style for both music and business sense. Artists like Alter Bridge, Slash & Myles, Nickelback, Halestorm, Shinedown are certainly in there. Having worked with some of them in the past has helped shed a light on their own routes to where they are now—it all helps. Always at the core of it is good music and songwriting. That’s certainly helped shape what we do.

The HUB: You've played on both sides of the Atlantic; do you see differences in the audiences, and if so, what are those differences?

A: (Jay) Not yet, but we have really enjoyed ourselves in both. We are still working our way towards more shows in North America, so we shall see. Unfortunately, I think it has become painfully clear that less people are heading out to shows wherever you are. But those who do make it out these days certainly continue to fly the rock ‘n’ roll flag.

The HUB: Are there any new projects or appearances in the works you'd like to talk about?

A: (Per) Our River EP is set for physical release at a bunch of markets in Europe in October and November. We are working hard on our debut album and currently looking for the right situation for mixing/mastering. There are a handful of shows/showcases in Los Angeles booked for spring '15 that aren’t official yet. We have a bunch of loose ends that we are working on that could be very cool if they pan out.

The HUB: Do you have any tips for HUB readers looking to go pro with their music?

A: (Per) Work hard and get your music out there—anyone can get it released digitally. Be a pain, call and email promoters and anyone in the business. But also be open-minded about working with outside people. We like to do stuff ourselves since we are used to working hard, but in the studio we prefer to have a producer with a view coming from the outside to stir it up a bit. Don’ be too protective about your material, it’s just a waste of time. Be open to criticism, and lastly, do what’s best for the song, don’t show off to feed your own ego.

Gear List

JAY:

- 3 x PRS SC245
- EVH 5150 50w Head
- Engl Powerball 100w Head
- D'addario EXL115
- Planet Waves American Stage Cables
- Jim Dunlop Tortex Picks
- Little Labs Red Eye 3D

PETER:

- Fender precision '82
- Fender special fretless
- Landola acoustic bass
- Ibanez soundgear 5 string
- D-tune strings
- EBS amplifiers, Classic and Fafners
- EBS 4x10 cabs
- Modified Fender bassman 135
- EBS compressor and distortion pedals

PER:

- Tama Starclassic Performer Hyper-Drive B/B (22", 10", 12", 14", 16")
- 1 x Tama Starclassic Maple 14" x 6,5" Snare
- 2 x Tama Sound Lab Project Super Aluminum 14" x 5" Snare
- Tama Iron Cobra doublepedal
- Tama hardware
- Evans EC Reverse Dot snare head
- Evans heads
- ProMark 747B Hickory, Super Rock drumsticks
- 1 x 10" Meinl MB10 Splash
- 1 x 18'' Meinl Medium Crash
- 1 x 19'' Meinl Heavy Crash
- 1 x 16'' Meinl Soundcaster China
- 1 x 20'' Meinl Soundcaster China
- 1 x 8'' Meinl Classics Bell Low
- 1 x 14'' Meiinl Byzance Heavy Hi-hat

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