BLACK MAGIC Flower Power, headed up by Dustin Hill, is set to play at El-Rocko this Friday night.
You may know Hill from previous projects, including Black Pussy and White Orange, so you’ll certainly be surprised to hear his new sound, which is a big departure from the usual.
Hill’s been listening to a lot of 70s funk, and that subculture is what informs the sound of Black Magic Flower Power.
We caught up with Hill last week.
With previous projects and this project, you tour a lot—you personally have been to Savannah a lot lately. What’s the tour life like?
That is the job of being a musician—not staying home, wishing for a lottery ticket [laughs]. I think that’s what a lot of people imagine nowadays, that they’re just going to be rich and famous. But actually, you’ve got to get out there and do what all the old bands used to do and play to people.
If you didn’t like touring, you couldn’t do it. I’ve definitely dealt with that with other musicians that have bene in and out of my life; they’re really excited to get the job and about two weeks in they realize it’s not for them. That’s pretty common. I try as a working musician to express that to the up-and-comers. There’s no difference between a small show and a big show. That’s the job. Then if you can be in the van or the RV or the bus or whatever—it’s all the same. Some people are on an airplane and some people are in the station wagon, but it’s the same job. If you don’t like it on the small scale, you’re not going to like it on the big scale. It’s not a detached job. You and the people at the show are in it together. The smaller shows are a lot more fun.
I think most bands throughout the years have said this: that small club energy feels good, and it’s true. Not that I don’t like playing big shows, and I’ve had my share of big shows, but there’s something about a packed small room that it just reminds you of why you got into this. There’s a life and an energy that can’t be duplicated anywhere.
Our goal is to tour enough where you almost seem local in every town. That’s really what it’s about. You don’t want to see someone once a year. We really try to see people at minimum twice a year, and there are some markets where we see people four times a year.
We’ve basically been on the road since February, I want to say. We had to break it up into legs, but it’s been pretty consistent since February. We did eight weeks in the Northeast, back through the Rockies, then six days at home and this leg is four months. It’s pretty intense, but I have no complaints. I try to always communicate with my 15 year-old self how excited that 15 year-old would be, and at the end of the day, it’s pretty awesome. It’s hard, but it’s definitely in my blood and I would say it’s in my band members’ blood.
This is your first time in Savannah with this project. How’d you get it started?
I’d written all these songs and was like, “I’m starting a new band.” It’s people I’ve known from the past that have respected me as a songwriter. I wanted a bigger band so I’m kind of moving into—I hate utilizing this word—funk. It’s a very misunderstood word [laughs]. Over the last few years I’ve been really getting into Parliament and Curtis Mayfield. Funk was the subculture, psychedelic funk; it was just an idea that I presented and I have the songs and people were like, “Let’s do this.” It’s scary starting fresh, but it’s worth it. The songs were worth it to me. It’s probably the most exciting thing I’ve ever been a part of. There’s this underground scene that’s happening in that world, and it’s very free and freeing. It’s not hipster yet. I don’t like when art starts becoming hipster and it starts getting hurt, and right now it’s a very free world of people.
This project is so new you only have two songs on Spotify. What will you perform at the show Friday?
I have this approach as a writer that I’m kind of a comedian in a sense—comedians go on tour and work new material in front of the crowd, and then they do a special. I’ve always done things that way. This year, I’ve been playing the new record in front of people. Everything is brand new and the only things that are released are the two songs on Spotify, and those aren’t necessarily high-quality recordings. They were just something in between tour dates I recorded real fast to have something out there.
Everyone’s getting hammered with all the new stuff, basically the whole album, and then this tour wraps up mid-September, then I’m straight to the studio to make the record.
What’s this project been like to work on?
It’s really been amazing being in so many different projects through my life. I’ve been in so many projects that this project is just rolling out smooth; it’s working, from beginning to end. From my perspective through a show, there are no lulls and it’s amazing. People are getting it. It’s almost like they’ve been waiting for this music.
Not to sound egotistical or anything, but I’m always honest through bands I’ve been in; I’m like, “Oh, you might not like this one,” but this project seems to be working across the board and cross-pollinating through genres, so that’s pretty neat. It feels like every night on stage, there’s an excitement with the band. We’re excited to play the songs—we like them so much. WE never feel tired.
What’s the band like?
I sing and play guitar, and I’m the songwriter, whatever that means [laughs]. I’m more of a songwriter than a musician—I’m a mediocre musician—but I put my energy into writing songs. Someone has to do that, and then luckily I have really great players to let my ideas come to fruition. There’s two guitars, drums, bass, and keyboard. Lots of clav, lots of old-school synth.
We’re really bringing in the traditional 70s soul and funk sound. It’s the real deal in the sense of the ingredients, not necessarily that we sound exactly like Parliament or anything, but the ingredients are the same, tones are the same, instrumentation is the same.
I’m interested in how you make that happen, because the 70s are very popular right now and there are some bands—cough cough, Greta Van Fleet—that are essentially glorified cover bands.
It’s unfortunate because they have a very talented singer that can basically mimic Robert Plant, but tonally, they’re kind of missing the mark, which, missing the mark is sinning and they’re sinning against rock ‘n’ roll [laughs].
It’s still coming through the filter of us. You can’t copy. All the artists have said this: amateurs copy, professionals steal. You have to be able to take it and make it yours. That’s stealing it. Copying is a bad representation. If it actually becomes yours, it’s coming through your filter.
Even on “Funky Town Sex Machine,” it’s obvious I’m taking a James Brown lyric and throwing it in the song purposely because I want to spark that nostalgia, but the song sounds nothing like James Brown. But, I’m paying tribute in a major way by utilizing that lyric and also being bold enough to take that lyric. That’s James Brown, that’s his, he owns that shit, but he’s definitely a huge influence and inspiration.
When I write songs, it just comes to me. Things just start coming out of my mouth and I let it happen. It’s so obvious, but it came out so natural. I feel lucky that I was allowed to do this.