When asked about the Black And White Years‘ influences, Scott Butler (vocals, guitar, keys, words) gave a list of obvious answers—’80s bands like Talking Heads, Prince, Depeche Mode and New Order—before divulging an unexpected inspiration. “The record I have listened to most consistently over the last 10 years, and which is still in rotation in my car, is the original Broadway cast recording of Into The Woods,” he said after revealing his obsession with Stephen Sondheim. Obviously, the Austin-based art-rock band is not quite as cut-and-dry as its name implies.
Butler, Landon Thompson (guitars, keys, vocals) and John Aldridge (bass, brass) met in 2002 when they were at college in Nashville, TN, and then moved to Austin, TX, after graduation. When their drummer left in 2006, they spent a few months wallowing before buying a synth, programming some drum parts and choosing a band name by opening an encyclopedia and finding an article on the black-and-white years of television and film. BWY was completed when Billy Potts, an actual living-and-breathing drummer, joined in 2008.
The group’s name may have been chosen because its members liked the juxtaposition of nostalgia and modern music, but Butler describes the band’s 2008 self-titled debut LP as playing “a little like a tribute to 1979”—not exactly modern. Despite that, it clearly belonged in 2009, winning five awards at that year’s Austin Music Awards. Produced by Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads, Modern Lovers) and released on Brando, it was a balancing act between band and producer that was hard to achieve. “It was a very mind-boggling period because we couldn’t believe we had the opportunity and were, honestly, a little intimidated at first,” explained Thompson.
On Patterns, BWY’s 2010 sophomore LP, everything was different. “There was no pressure to make the record anything it wasn’t, which, it seems, is what labels do,” said Butler of the self-released album. Recorded in Butler’s garage and mixed in his bedroom, Patterns was the band as it saw itself and turned out more coherent, focused and modern than its predecessor.
When it comes to live shows, the band’s philosophy is simple: have a good time. As Butler put it, “It should play out somewhere between a Richard Simmons workout and a religious revival.” Confused? The Black And White Years will be going on tour in August so you’ll have the chance to figure out what that actually means.
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