Austin-based Black Books’ dreamy, alternative sound has already earned them the biggest show of their lives. Where do they go next?
Story by Max Adler
Photos by Kris Seavers
Austin’s very own Black Books consists of lead singer Ross Gilfillan, keyboardist Meg Gilfillan , lead guitarist Kevin Butler, bass guitarist Mike Parker, keyboardist/synth player Clark Curtis and drummer Chris Evans. The band’s artistic style emanates from a broad and diverse range of sources as they warp 90s grunge and southern alternative with dreamy pop to produce a steady and refreshingly distinctive sound. They are often compared to the likes of My Morning Jacket or Band of Horses with a hint of Pink Floyd. Together since 2009, they recorded their self-titled debut album, which was released in Oct. 2013, in between working full-time jobs and taking care of their children in lead guitarist Kevin Butler’s home studio, Test Tube Austin. “Sometimes we just start playing, make some eye contact and just bounce off each other sonically. When there’s a spark we can feel it immediately,” Butler said. The spark is most definitely present in their album; their songs are cohesive and smooth as the band isn’t the slightest bit afraid to experiment with new music styles.
With boisterous, warm personalities as welcoming as their sound, Black Books’ are a group of close friends that have great dynamics in their music and in their relationships. All of the members – have been playing music from a very young age, and two of the members – husband and wife Ross and Meg Gilfillan – found love along the way.
The band pulls heavily from 90s alternative influences. “I’d say my favorite band growing up Pearl Jam. My friend handed me one of their albums and was just like, ‘Learn how to play this on the drums,’ and I started listening to that CD all the time,” Ross said. Stylings of Pearl Jam and Pink Floyd are present on two of the best songs on the album, Favorite Place and The Big Idea, the second of which was featured on Showtime drama Californication.
For this relatively young six-piece band, their biggest break came early on. This past year, English radio host Bob Harris asked Black Books to open for the Flaming Lips in London at private show for the BBC in May 2013. They would be the second band announced to play in support of The Lips – the first being Foxygen. The band was extraordinarily animated about the chance to showcase their abilities alongside such a huge name, but there stood one major roadblock.
Lead singer Ross Gilfillan had enlisted in the Texas National Guard and was halfway through basic training when Black Books was offered the BBC show. Desperate to not disappoint his band members – yet conscious of the obligation he had to the National Guard – Ross sought a way to graduate from the training program early in order travel with the band to England. “I went to my superiors and essentially told them this is what I want I want to do with my life,” Ross Gilfillan said. The Guard delivered a tragic blow to the band’s aspirations as they told Gilfillan that he would not be able to finish his basic training early, leaving the band without a lead singer before the biggest show of their lives.
Fearful of letting the opportunity slip away, the band started to make calls to the Texas National Guard, begging for Ross to be released early. About two weeks before the band was scheduled to leave for England, an officer approached Ross, and much to his surprise, handed him his basic training certificate, granting him permission to leave. “When he handed me it, the officer told me he was a huge Flaming Lips fan and told me to say hello to Wayne (the lead-singer of the Flaming Lips),” Ross recalled.
The rest of the band had spent time practicing when they could, but Ross hadn’t actually played with them in months, though he did continue to sing during his training program whenever given the chance. Without skipping a beat, the band was at tight as ever on their trip across the pond. The show was a success, and since returning to Texas, Black Books have been featured on alt-rock stations across country and in England as they continue to impress new listeners. Their music has been featured on Austin’s KUTX and 101X several times and make frequent appearances at the Mohawk, Stubbs and Maggie Mae’s in Austin. The band has played alongside renowned bands like The Dig and Middle Class Rut in recent months.
On Oct. 18th, Black Books will travel to New York for the first time as more opportunities to play outside of Texas begin to roll in for the group.
To keep up with the Black Books, check out their website and be sure to catch them at one of their upcoming showa in Austin on Nov. 30, at The North Door.
ORANGE picks: “Favorite Place”, “The Big Idea” and “Something to Remember”