Steve McBean draws from life's highs and lows
The Pink Mountaintops’ second album, Axis of Evol, is a decidedly darker and moodier work than the first. Songs like Cold Criminals and New Drug Queens uphold the easy confidence of Sweet 69 and Tourist in Your Town, but leave the sex-in-the-afternoon themes in the cabinet. The heavy, hazy pulse that carries much of Axis conjures Neil Young’s moody 1973 release Tonight’s the Night, which also involved heavy doses of Jameson during the recording process.
"It just kinda floats around," says Steve McBean, songwriter for the Pink Mountaintops. "No one owns it. You wait until you get a good one passing through you." I’m not sure whether he’s talking about his music or his whisky.
McBean tends to drift a lot in his speech, testing out ideas before stopping and listening to understand them. The man has been playing in different bands for over 22 years now; a prolific songwriter in the truest sense, he’s overseen several commercially successful projects in recent times, the most renowned of which – Black Mountain – opened for Coldplay at the Molson Centre last August.
In all his outfits, McBean exhibits a tendency to invoke American folk, rock and psychedelia – an approach that feels completely unplanned, weirdly enough. "With some people I know it offends them, but the referencing, that’s what I like about it," he says. He respects Catfish Haven, one of the opening bands for the Montreal show, for a like-minded attitude. "It’s honest rock’n'roll with no quirks. George [the lead singer] just has this huge beautiful voice, there’s no keyboards, no haircuts."
McBean seems to be of the school that while you can do a thousand different things, there are only a certain number of chords you can play and really get something out of. The Velvet Underground’s imprint on Axis is strong: Cold Criminals is offered like a 25th anniversary card to Reed and Cale’s I Can’t Stand It. Certainly, this is the stuff that can get a listener all fussy over derivatives and false pretenses, but McBean’s sincerity and candour tend to win out. If anything, the album feels best when you’re not really sure who exactly McBean might be ripping.
"It’s not a political statement," he says, in passing, of the phrase Axis of Evol.
"It’s about all the battling in our lives… It could be between God and the Devil, but it could be anything. I’ve been through a lot of different things, ups and downs, in my life."
The Pink Mountaintops
With Black Angels, Catfish Haven and Crystal Clyffs
At La Sala Rossa (4848 St-Laurent), June 9