“[Bands] lose sight of what’s really important. What’s really important is the music, and the …
Sydney’s Black Rheno are a power trio that sound like an army division’s worth of riff-wraiths; something we only attribute to the bold, the Southern, and the shirtless.
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Just like Sleep or Crowbar before them, the legend of Black Rheno has attracted a wisp of mysticism; as if these men three have passed into our realm from parts unknown. In the blink of an eye they’ll summon the devilish blues of Robert Johnson and stir in some big beefy bass not unlike High on Fire (also shirtless.) They’ve got punk on lock and they smash it into sludge like it ain’t no one’s business. When they wowed everyone (yes, everyone) at Halloween Hysteria last year, we said “it’s often hard to tell where our bodies end and the sound begins” – such is the m.o. of their debut record Noise Smasher, which comes out on 25th of October. In only four short years, they’ve played with so many big names it’s hard to believe they haven’t put out an album or two already. You don’t get any confederacy of dunces to open for Napalm Death, Brujeria, Red Fang, Psycroptic, King Parrot, Revocation, Lock Up and Phil Anselmo & The Illegals. No sir. We put vocalist and producer Ryan ‘Milla’ Miller up to the task of explaining the wonderful alchemy that is their first album.
Hysteria: The album is coming out very soon. It’s red-hot. It’s got bits of grind, sludge, stoner, rock ‘n’ roll. Is there anything you can’t do?
Ryan: Sing, but I can yell pretty well. [Laughs] Sing a harmonious melody. I can’t do that, but I can scream okay, but no, I don’t know. It’s just what happens when we jam. It’s just what comes out. We all have our different flavours of music that we’re into, and all that kind of stuff. I don’t know. It’s just what happens, you know? It’s our little thing, I guess.
I just heard your single Human, and it has this sort of crazy Converge, Neurosis sort of vibe, and then the next track it flips over to old school blues. Weird thing is, it just works.
Essentially, this album, we didn’t sit down, and say, “Hey, let’s go write 11 songs, 12 songs for an album,” as such, because this is our first album, and the last song in the album’s one of the first songs we ever wrote as a band. It’s just the songs that we’ve been writing as a band, and then, as we put out an EP, and I guess spending a few more years jamming together, things changed, and things escalated a little bit. We got to know each other more personally, musically, and all that kind of stuff, and then we started talking about an album. Was kind of like, “Okay. What are we doing with it?” It’s just picking the best bits, the best moments, to put towards that, so it’s sort of why we called it Noise Smasher, I guess. Is it’s got all those different styles blended in, smashed together, if you will, and it just works. I don’t know. It just works. We just jam.
Do most of the songs come from rehearsal?
Yeah, a huge chunk of it. We’ve only got one guitar, so Nano [guitars] doesn’t come in, and say, “Hey guys, I’ve written a song. Let’s do this.” It’s more so like we just jump in there, and we start bashing stuff out. He’ll get inspired by Dougy’s drums, and then I’ll get inspired by what they’re doing together, and find vertical lines, and stick with it.
Sometimes, we’ll write a couple of grimy songs, and we’re like fuck. We need something more potent. Let’s, let’s write some big riffs. Yeah, cool, and then we sort of … Okay. Let’s do a bit more. Just, when we started doing, maybe, sometimes, you might write a little bit, like a few tracks, or work on a few things that are sort of one way, and then we’re like, “Now, I want to do this. Let’s do that,” you know? It’s not really too planned. We don’t say, “Hey, we’re going to be a band that records all these kind of genres.” It’s just what we feel like playing at the time, and then it just seems to work. It seems to fit together.
You own and operate a recording studio, Housefox in Sydney. You’ve seen bands come in and out. Was there a desire to do things you’ve always wanted? Did you know what you needed to avoid?
Yeah, totally, and we spent a lot of time working on this album, so, in saying that, yeah, we get into the rehearsal room, and we jam, and we just bash stuff out, and all that kind of stuff. We’ve still put a ton of effort and a ton of thought into the track list. We see which songs we’re going to play, how are we going to go about recording it? What we want it to sound like, what we want the drums, and the vibe.
We really put a lot of effort into it. When we went, “Okay, cool. We’re going to record this album,” and like some of these songs have been around for three years. Three and a half years, really, and so we wanted to get someone else to mix it, because I’m singing in the band, and I’m engineering it. I’m producing it. Black Rheno are producing it, really, together, the three of us, making a lot of the decisions, but I’m doing all the technical stuff, so I’m in there, doing all the drum editing.
Then you got Kurt Ballou (Converge) to work on it too.
We sent him an email with our EP about a year before we started tracking the album. “Hey, here’s our EP. This is it,” and I think we had some rough demos. “Would you be interested in working with us?” “Yeah. Cool,” so then we went and we demoed the whole album pretty much in the same way we recorded it.
Maybe didn’t spend as much time as you would. We didn’t spend as much time as we did recording it, but we got in there, and really put a really solid effort into recording some really high quality demos. Sent that to him. He sent back some notes, so we got his producer’s input as well, and there were some things he’d say, like maybe double time the hi-hats through that section, to build the pace up a little bit. There was one song where we actually took an eight bar section out of it, which is the first song on the album. There was a little sort of section in there, in the early part of the song, which we just completely chopped out, but, other than that, it wasn’t like the songs were going to be rewritten, or anything like that.
It was more so just, “Hey man, this is what we’re going to do. What do you think?” Then he’d just send back some sort of, just not like huge pages of notes. Just a page, or so, of notes, on the overall. Each song had a paragraph, maybe try this, or wouldn’t mind adding a bit of that, and we took on I’d say about 75% of what his thoughts were, and then went in there, and re tracked the whole album.
We wanted to make sure we did something really cool. Just something a little extra special. You only get one opportunity to do these things. We’re pretty keen to get it out there and start noise smashing it up.
How did he influence the final product?
He made notes and suggestions. He’d say to open that riff up a little bit, or maybe be a bit more vocal in that one. Just little bits here and there. Not earth changing things, but every little bit helps, and it was good to get a different perspective as well.
It gave us room to leave options open. For example, there’s a change in the song Crossfire, which has some claps. I don’t know if you can hear these claps, but it’s just fucking random as hell, which we just thought of randomly at the time. Then all three of us are in there, layering up claps. Layering on three of us clapping in the room, changing spots, doing these claps in this section, and just changing. This super hectic chorus, which is like 220 beats a minute, and then it drops down to like 109 beats per minute, or something like that.
It’s a massive fucking drop, and it goes from like super crazy, sort of, hectic sort of riffs, and drumming, to just open, big, fat riff. Like, and it’s just got this funny little clapping. This is random shit. We’ve got shakers in there, we’ve got tambourines, we’ve go little egg shakers, and things. Little things just layered underneath stuff, that you probably wouldn’t even hear, unless you start looking for it.
You guys have been around for half a decade now. When people realise this is your debut album, I think they’ll say “really? I thought they had two, three albums by now.”
Yeah, pretty much. Our first show was I think November 25th, so it’s pretty much bang on four years after we played our first show, we’re releasing the album. We got together like three months before that. It was pretty much get together, write a bunch of songs, start touring. The first year we toured, we did like 65 shows, in our first year of being a band.
We just went fucking hard. We’ve actually had this album recorded almost a year ago. It’s been sitting there for pretty much a year, totally finished mastering, and ready to go. It was just waiting, waiting for the right time to release things. We wanted to make sure we did something really cool. Just something a little extra special. You only get one opportunity to do these things. We’re pretty keen to get it out there and start noise smashing it up.
It seems like you’re going all out. CDs, t-shirts, vinyl…
There’s just a lot of work that goes into doing it, and it all takes time. We’ve all got jobs. Sure, I’m working in the studio, but that doesn’t mean I’m just sitting there all day working on Black Rheno. I’ve got to work. Everyone’s got, all the guys have got jobs, so it’s a lot of late nights, staying up late, organising, sending emails, and then there’s the money involved in putting all these things together.
It’s all self funded. There’s no backing, or anything, in that respect, so buying vinyl, buying CDs, all the different PR campaigns, all the shit that goes with it, it adds up really, really quickly, so you’ve got to get yourself in a position so you can afford to do it as well. Because there’s no point releasing something and not being able to have all the different assets. Different streams of media that you need to do it properly, so, when you’re doing it, you go, fucking be stoked about what you’re doing. You put your heart and soul into all these things.
Next up, touring Australia and Japan with Eyehategod. That’s like the grandfathers of the genre tapping you on the shoulder to play with them.
Yeah, it was something, when we got offered the Australian portion of the tour, were like, “Okay, cool.” We found out about that, obviously, a while ago, and we’re like, “Okay, cool. This is the time to put this album out. This is the perfect sort of cross-promotion thing to do,” and it was like, “Okay, cool. We’re going around Australia with Eyehategod. This is pretty epic, right?” Then we saw that they were doing Japan and New Zealand on that tour, and we hit them up.
I hit up the promoters, and we’re like, “Hey, please, put us on the tour,” and they took us on for those, thankfully, so massive thanks to those guys. We’re doing like four shows in Japan, three days later, we land in Perth, and then go around Australia. There’s eight shows through Australia, and then straight over to New Zealand, for two shows there. It’s going to be cool, some of the coolest shit we’ve ever done, musically, in our lives. We’re all pretty stoked.
What’s next for Black Rheno after this tour?
We’ve got some fingers in some pots, mucking about. We’re in conversations about some possible ideas, and things, and we’re just seeing how they pan out, basically. There’s nothing set in stone as yet, but we’re not going to sit around on our hands after this comes out. We’ll be touring hard, and trying to do all the crazy things that we want to do. Hopefully, those dreams come true, you know?
Pre-order Black Rheno’s new album Noise Smasher here.
Catch Black Rheno touring with EYEHATEGOD at the following dates:
PERTH // Thursday 7th November // Badlands
ADELAIDE // Friday 8th November // Enigma
MELBOURNE // Saturday 9th November // Max Watts
HOBART// Sunday 10th November // Brisbane Hotel
CANBERRA // Monday 11th November // The Basement
NEWCASTLE // Wednesday 13th November // The Cambridge Hotel
SYDNEY // Thursday 14th November // Crowbar
BRISBANE // Friday 15th November // Crowbar