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Bunbury Festival • Up Close with The Black Cadillacs

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… dark, swirling rain, and lightning flashing everywhere.

Mother Nature was not going to stop me. The weather forecaster that reported sunshine and eighty-eight degree temperatures should be damned! On the last day, at the least fortuitous moment, a torrential downpour enforced its wrath on the city of Cincinnati’s Sawyer Point and the Bunbury Festival along the Ohio River. The music stopped…immediately! It was surreal not hearing music after the previous two days of constant music being in the air for eight plus hours.

Since it was the last day of the festival, there was one band left to see. Hell, not only was I there to see them, I was there to interview them especially for you kilSters! It was bad for a time too. The festival grounds went from hot and sunny, to dark, swirling rain, and lightning flashing everywhere. Sound crews were scrambling to cover expensive, sensitive music equipment. Fest goers were running for the nearest cover, mostly under the bridges. Once the storms ended, festival crew members were using long handled squeegees to vacate the standing water on all of the stages. Water, and electrically charged instruments and equipment just don’t mix people!

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The storm delayed the starting times by nearly an hour. I didn’t care; I would have waited until the festival kicked us out of the grounds just to hear two songs from the Black Cadillacs. Ultimately the set was shortened to about forty-five minutes; but, the Black Cadillacs pumped out as much music as they could in the time allotted. I have to admit that I don’t remember the first three songs well. I think one was on their first album and another on their second album, which I believe was “Run, Run”. I didn’t mind; I was seeing them for the first time live. From the performance I saw, live is where they excel above all.

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“… it really shows how the band has grown and how we are now creating our own sound.”

They came out, did a quick sound check, introduced themselves and promised, tongue-in-cheek, to only play the best songs. Once they began, they didn’t slow down for the next forty-five minutes. I’d heard that lead singer Will Horton was energetic and engaging with the crowd. He has a gift. Horton had the crowd mesmerized. He has a flair for emoting, influencing the crowd to move without speaking, and to react without provoking. The best part of all, compared to so many acts at the festival (though not all), he appeared to be enjoying himself on stage. He wanted the crowd to get involved, instead of expecting them to be involved. Truth be told, he’s a front man that works the crowd without disrespecting them.

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What really caught my attention was that the rest of the band was so engaging. Guitarists Matthew Hyrka and John Phillips seemed to play tag; going back and forth taking guitar leads and working the crowds. Also, they were not afraid, or shy to step out and display moments of showmanship. Too many guitarists, in my opinion, don’t put themselves out there anymore. There never appeared to be one-upmanship in any way between the two. They have an astonishingly seamless sonic arch that weaves well together musically. Each band member allowed the other their moments within a song and with the crowd.

Bass player Philip Anderson was mesmerizingly energetic, and an unbelievably strong technical bassist. He seemed to play better the more he interweaved his stage dancing/ballet while connecting with drummer Adam Bonomo for a solid battery that kept the grove moving intently onward. Bonomo may have been behind the kit and the band, but was in no way less involved, engaging or skilled. His in-the-pocket drumming kept the songs tight and bulldozing forward. Apparently the drumming was so strong that it took out the bass drum’s microphone. The sound engineer needed to replace the mic very quickly mid set. (Kudos to that sound engineer, it took mere moments, and the show was not disrupted and continued seamlessly with what seemed like no momentum killer.)

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“As we play longer, all those influences help us create the sound you hear in the end.”

The best part about all of this is that the show could have been a train wreck. It really shows that the Black Cadillacs, who have been tearing it up during the festival circuit this year, have been gaining valuable show experience. Between the group having a five week tour in Europe, Wakarusa, Shakey Knee, Hang Out, Summerfest, and Bonnaroo in 2014, the show that they performed on the Warsteiner Stage at Bunbury was extremely entertaining and dazzling.

Four of the last five songs were new material that has not been released yet. The four new songs are: “Radio Silence”, “Methadone”, “Fracture”, and “Hole in My Head”. It still sounds like the Black Cadillacs, but there seems to be a shift. It is not discernible. If anything, it sounds MORE like them, if that makes sense. In my previous listening, you could really hear bands that influenced them. This new music sounds harder and faster, edgier if you will. You can still groove and dance to it, but it has a little attitude…confidence growing in their ability to write songs and perform as a band perhaps. However, that’s without losing lyrical credibility. Old fans will still like what they hear and new listeners will be introduced to a great new group that rocks and entertains very, very well. It’s refreshing to find a group that has great stories to tell in its lyrics, technically fantastic musicianship, and puts on an outstanding, entertaining show. I see really great things in the Black Cadillacs’ future if they continue at this pace.

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After the show, I was fortunate enough to have a few minutes to interview some of the members of the group; Guitarists John Phillips, Matthew Hyrka, and Lead Singer Will Horton.

kilScene: I’ve read from multiple sources that you are from Knoxville, Nashville, and even Memphis. So where is the group really from?

Phillips: We’ve got business stuff out of Nashville and New York City. Members of the group are from all over Tennessee but I guess you can say we are based out of Knoxville.

kilScene: You’re starting to get some national recognition. This make up of the band has been around since 2009. Have you noticed a change? If so…when? Are you starting to get recognized?

Phillips: I’ve seen it through the Internet Traffic and Interaction that has been picking up a lot more lately.

Horton: I really noticed it with the people in Europe that were coming to our shows. Not only that but they were singing along and not just the recent stuff but stuff from real early in our career too. Sure we had a PR push that helped but I noticed it in Europe.

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Phillips: The people in Europe definitely seemed to get into the shows and know our stuff.

kilScene: You mix styles in you sound. I’ve certainly heard some that are familiar. I don’t want to pigeon hole you. Tell the fans how you would describe your sound/genre?

Horton: Southern Grunge!

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kilScene: Are you sure that you want to classify yourself as that? You want me to put that in the article? (Laughter)

Horton: Actually, Matthew (Hyrka) was the one that came up with that.

Phillips: On our first two recordings you can actually hear a lot of the influences from our past. You can also hear a lot of the things that we were listening to in the van, like My Morning Jacket and Jack White, as we were going to gigs in the van. But now with the new stuff that we are working on, it really shows how the band has grown and how we are now creating our own sound.

Horton: As individuals we all have different influences and listen to different things. I like singer song writers myself. As we play longer, all those influences help us create the sound you hear in the end.

kilScene: So you’re not going to give me anything else as to how to explain the group?

Phillips: Why don’t you describe it?

kilScene: Hey, I hate when people pigeon hole someone or classify them this or that.

Horton: When we went to Europe, they don’t do that. They don’t really get ‘indie rock’ or ‘alternative rock’, there it’s just rock. Probably because of not having as much of it as we do here in the States.

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kilScene: So basically I’ll just call you a rock band.

Phillips: That works.

kilScene: OK here’s just kind of a fun question; Fame, Wealth, or Respect?

Phillips: Wealth! (Laughter)

Hyrka: Respect.

Phillips: You can buy fame and respect when you have the wealth. (Laughter)

Horton: Being respected is important but being known would be nice too. You have to understand we all had jobs that didn’t make a whole lot of money, bartending for example. So the making money thing would be kind of nice too.

Phillips: We’re doing OK enough to pay the bills, but a lot of the extra is being put back into the band so that we can do more.

kilScene: You guys have been real Road Warriors this year. Here’s the question, “If the shit hits the fan on the road, who’s the guy in the group that keeps calm and pulls it all back together?”

Horton: It depends on the day.

Hyrka: Yeah, we’ve known each other a long time. Will and I are cousins from a big Scotch/Irish family. When we were younger, I remember listening to some of Will’s early songs, the depths of the lyrics. I really noticed how good they were. Even back then I realized that I wanted to be in a band with him.

Horton: Everybody has bad days once in awhile and everyone in this group has been the guy to keep it together.

Phillips: We all have bad days but the thing is, we’re all best friends. We actually like each other and we like hanging out with each other.

kilScene: Philip (Anderson the bassist) was a childhood friend am I right? So he’s been around awhile too. You all are a unit since 2009 who was the last piece of the puzzle for the band?

Phillips: Will and I used to do an acoustic thing in college, that’s how we met. I would go watch them as the Black Cadillacs and just wanted to be a part of the group. Occasionally I would be a special guest performer until they figured I was a better fit musically. Adam was the last one to join of the current line-up.

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kilScene: Speaking of being on the road, which of the festivals was you favorite this year?

Hyrka: Hangout.

Phillips: Hangout.

Horton: Hangout Festival was great but I’d say Bonnaroo.

kilScene: OK why the difference?

Horton: Don’t get me wrong Hangout was a great time. They treated the artists’ great, the catering, the scallops, I almost felt like, “When are they going to find us out and kick us out!” Whereas with Bonnaroo it was a “benchmark” festival for what the band has accomplished.

Hynka: We were sitting on the beach having a drink and just a few feet away there’s Josh Homme.

kilScene: OK guys one last question. What interview question do you wish that an interviewer would ask you?

Horton: Wow, I’ll have to think about that one.

Phillips: Yeah, wasn’t expecting that one.

Horton: We’ll have to get back to you and answer that one at a later date.

Want more from The Black Cadillacs? What am I saying?! Of course you do! Please feel free to check them out here:

The Black Cadillacs Official Site

Black Cadillacs Soundcloud

• Hunter MacLeod
Special kilScene Contributor

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