In The Spotlight

The Kids Are Alright: A Conversation with The Black Cadillacs

Posted by Nick Brothers |

By Nick Brothers

Photo by Nick Brothers The Black Cadillacs bring the “rock block” to the Revival Tent stage at Wakarusa, Saturday, June 7.

The Black Cadillacs started their set in the Wakarusa Revival Tent Saturday afternoon with “Run Run” from their second album, “Run.” In my opinion, I thought it was a great way to start the set with the song’s biting intro and heavy ending. The guitar tones were gritty, and the solos screamed. I was satisfied.

Similar to J Roddy Walston & The Business set on Thursday, there weren’t a lot of people there, partly because of the time and the amount of festival attendees saving up energy for the late night sets. The band was some straight-up rock music, and it was refreshing to hear.

The Black Cadillacs are a bunch of young guys with a love for 60s and 70s classic rock. The blues-based indie rock band hails from Knoxville, Tenn.

First cousins, Will Horton (vocals) and Matthew Hyrka (lead guitar), founded the band with lifelong friend and neighbor, Philip Anderson (bass). In 2009 the lineup was completed when John Phillips (rhythm guitar) and the now mustachioed Adam Bonomo (drums) joined in. The Black Cadillacs have a sound all their own with diverse influences such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, Queens of The Stone Age, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. They’re all present in their own unique sound.

Later Saturday I had the chance to sit down with them and talk music. The guys were just as you’d expect young rockers to be. They didn’t take themselves too seriously, but they knew how to be professional. During the interview, Bonomo had some fun with my recorder, passing it around in front of everyone’s face as they spoke. So, here’s the interview:

Q: This is your first Wakarusa. How’s the experience been so far?

PHILLIPS: It’s been good, been a lot of fun. We basically started off the festival today.

BONOMO: We were kinda late coming in, so it was a little stressful. We had to rush to the stage and get set up. I think it was about 30 minutes, which is not normal, but we made it and it was good.

Q: How regular are festivals for you guys now?

HYRKA: This is our first big year for festivals, and it’s been great so far. The audiences are really responsive. They take care of ya, it’s just a blast.

HORTON: It’s nice for us because it’s more than our average show. It’s our first time in a new city and they’re hungry for music.

BONOMO: It’s nice to see the enthusiasm in the audience. Festival goers come to festivals just to see bands play music, and it’s great.

Q: When you guys are making a setlist, and thinking of Wakarusa, do you form your setlist a certain way?

ANDERSON: Today we switched around the setlist. It really is a show by show and crowd by crowd thing. You really wanna save some songs for later and for certain areas and crowds. We try to keep it high energy at all times. We’ve got a lot of slower songs, that if we’re playing a longer set, they really pan out.

PHILLIPS: We kinda want to give the audience an ebb and flow and show what else we have. We had a 45-minute set, so we just kind of keep it up and keep people entertained.

HYRKA: The “rock block” as we call it. We get the ‘led’ out. We can take that from Led Zeppelin right?

ANDERSON: We get the bread out. (laughs)

Q: When you guys hit the studio and you’re making albums, is it a balance process or is it you’re going after a conceptual feel to the album?

PHILLIPS: I think we try to put our best songs on the record, the best ones we have at the time. Sometimes there’s a wide range of sounds.

HYRKA: With all of the new songs we’ve been writing recently, this is the first time we’ve found our sound, so to speak. This is the first time we’ve had a concept to work with. A whole aesthetic. Our last two records had an array of different influences. The new songs are really a melding of all our different influences and I think we’re really starting to sound like us.

BONOMO: Right, we’re sort of cultivating our own sound and we’re writing as a group now and it’s been good. It’s nice to have a common thread amongst the songs.

Q: So you guys got to meet and play with J Roddy Walston. How was that?

HORTON: Yeah we like those dudes. When we were starting out, they were the guys we were excited about playing rock ‘n’ roll. It’s sort of like when you were 13 and Kings of Leon and The Black Keys were putting out records. It was like “Oh! People are doing rock ‘n’ roll!” to the nth degree because now we’re touring and trying to play rock ‘n’ roll and people are like “Those dudes play rock ‘n’ roll!”

PHILLIPS: It’s super exciting seeing past The Black Keys and Jack White. This genre keeps growing, and there’s always fans. It’s always evolving and though we don’t sound like J Roddy Walston & The Business, there’s a lot of common threads there. It’s pretty exciting. The Whigs, The Weeks, Lee Bains & The Glory Fires, The Revivalists — there’s so many bands out there doing something similar, and it’s really exciting.

BONOMO: Yeah, Katy Perry is kicking ass. (laughs)

Q: That’s the perfect segue to my next question. We’ve already talked about it, but let’s get more specific. How do you think rock ‘n’ roll is evolving right now? What’s your role in it?

HYRKA (quoting “Long Live Rock” by The Who): “Rock ‘n’ roll is dead they say, long live rock!” (guitar noises).

ANDERSON: Nice. It’s not so much rock music is dead. A lot of people say live music is dead these days, and that’s one thing we keep in mind and try to bring it to our shows. As far as bringing back rock ‘n’ roll, I hate to say it, but it never went anywhere. Rock ‘n’ roll never left. I’m excited about where the music scene is going, especially our genre.

PHILLIPS: The Rolling Stones are still selling out arenas, y’know, doing what they do. There’s still an audience for it.

BONOMO: It’s always funny when we go to soundcheck. The sound guy always asks, “What do you have?” and we say, “Two guitars, bass, drums and a few vocals.” It’s funny, because it’s a relief to them and sometimes they’re like, “No laptops or filters or xlyophones?” We don’t hit the space bar, y’know what I mean? We kind of pride ourselves in that.

PHILLIPS: To be fair, nothing wrong with what those artists do, but we’re doing it the way we were inspired to do it. We grew up on “Get Your Ya Yas Out” and “Live At Leeds.” We just love rock ‘n’ roll.

(A car drives by and gets stuck in the mud. The group begins to cheer on the car as it attempts to roll over the hill, shouting “YEAH!” when it makes it.)

Q: So, John and Matthew, when you guys are at the peak of a jam in a song and it’s guitar solo time, how do you approach that moment?

HYRKA: We’re still trying to figure that out. It’s always a learning process. Really, you just want it to hit as hard as possible and for all the parts to make sense. The song is more important than the solo.

PHILLIPS: We want a solo to move a song forward. We don’t necessarily have solo breaks. We try our best to have a solo be a part of the song, move it forward and be interesting sonically.

HORTON: I’m speaking as a non-guitarist, but I think that comes a lot from our influences from guys like The Who and the Stones.

HYRKA: You can fit the best guitar solos into eight bars.

PHILLIPS: You want someone to be able to walk away and sing a guitar line, to be melodic and succinct and to make a point. You can tell a story with a guitar just like how you can with lyrics. That’s what we try to do. I don’t know whether we accomplish that or not, but we try.

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