Interview and Gallery: Blackillac at House of Blues Houston 12/16/18

Zeale from Blackillac took a minute to sit down with Suburban Rose to talk about his hopes for the band, his influences, touring with AWOLNATION and Imagine Dragons, and more.

What’s your first music memory?
I think watching Michael Jackson on VHS. My dad was a big fan and I guess he thought I would be as well, and he was right. I think the whole world is. I just remember Michael Jackson in that VHS. There was a big golden robot rocket thing that landed and started moving and it was Michael Jackson. That’s the first thing I remember.

How did you two meet and what made you decide to start Blackillac?

Phranchyze and I met around middle school. We were both playing basketball in the same neighborhood. There was a park in the neighborhood that everyone played at. We just started playing ball together. This was way before the music, so we were already friends before. Then years later I started getting into battle rap. He just so happened to as well, which I didn’t know. So I went to this battle at the University of Texas at Austin and he was there. He and I ended up battling each other in the final round. Then we started seeing each other at all the same battles that we would go to all over Texas. Eventually, that turned into us being a tag team and doing some battles outside of Texas, all over the country. That’s how we reconnected musically. But that wasn’t a music project per say. That was just us battling. But then we actually decided to do a project together for about a year. This was the first iteration of what eventually became Blackillac. It was called Group Therapy. (Laughs.) We did that for about a year, and then we both kind of went our separate ways. We did solo stuff for quite a while. About a year ago, maybe right at a year ago, we reconnected because of our current manager, Humina Krishna, who’s also been a good friend for a long time. He was managing Gary Clark Junior. Phran was already friends with Gary from high school and growing up with him. Basically, it was like, “Hey, I think you guys should work on a project together, have Gary produce it.” I was down. Phran was down. Gary was down. So we started recording. We did our first show at [SXSW] in 2018, and we’ve been rolling since. Just trying to record a lot, put out songs every month, videos, and play shows every chance we get.

What is your favorite song to play live?
My favorite song to play live is probably "Juice It Up."  It’s just a really hype song. It’s kind of funny. (Laughs.) And there’s a lot of opportunities for me to jump around on stage, which apparently, I’m good at doing that. (Laughs.)

What’s been the craziest thing that’s happened to you at a concert?

When I was touring solo, I happened to get on tour with AWOLNATION and Imagine Dragons. At the very last show, it was at House of Blues in Florida, they loosened all of my drummer’s drum kickstands and they loosened the microphone up. So basically, when I went to grab the mic, it fell apart and when he was drumming shit was falling off. Then they would come and they would grab shit off the stage and they just laughed. They got on stage and literally laughed while I was doing the last song. They were hazing me. That was probably the craziest thing, being harassed by Imagine Dragons and AWOLNATION.

Who’s had the biggest influence on your career?
I listen to a lot of different music and it’s always influenced me. I can’t say there’s one particular artist. But I can say it’s people like Joe Strummer from The Clash, people like Kurt from Nirvana. In general, artists that have those kinds of characteristics, where they just really push to be themselves by any means and they’re not afraid of putting their true selves out there. I think that’s probably what always inspired me. I think it’s more the personality of the artist versus the actual product of music itself.

Who would be your dream artist to collaborate with?
There’s a few. Erykah Badu. Do they have to be alive? Biggie. (Laughs.) And probably York. That would be crazy. I don’t know if it would be good. But it would definitely be amazing.

What’s been your favorite show that you have played thus far and why was it your favorite?
Blackillac favorite show, St. Louis. It’s because we were headlining the show which we hadn’t done outside of Texas yet, and it was packed. The room was packed all the way to the back. These people didn’t know any of our songs because we hadn’t put anything out yet at that time. So it was really up to us to sell the show on an energy level. For them to be open and real music fans to give it a chance. I think they all came there because we started getting some buzz in the press because of some things that we were doing at the time. So I was nervous as hell, but the room was full. We played a 45 minute set. If you’ve not heard a band before, to sit there and listen for 45 minutes, it’s kind of special. They did. They loved it. They danced. They reciprocated all the energy and were hyped on it. Right after the show, the promoter and club owner immediately asked when we could come back. Even still I was kind of hesitant. I was like, “I don’t know man.” He was like, “No dude, trust me. I’ve seen everybody that comes in here. You guys resonated with the whole crowd. They were all fucking into it. I want you to come back. I need you to come back.” So we are going back to St. Louis in February.

What’s been the most rewarding moment of your career thus far?
I think it’s working with my friends. To be in a field that’s as crazy as music, or any art really, is tough. But when you can do it with like-minded people that you actually grew up with and have a connection with, it just becomes fun again. It feels more special and you feel like you have this army with you all the time. So being able to work with Missio and do stuff with them, being part of Blackillac with Phranchyze, it’s dope, because no matter what circumstance you’re in, you just look over your shoulder and your homie’s there and you’re like, “All right. Fuck it! Let’s do it!” So I think that’s a constant thing, always.

What would you want to be doing if you weren’t a musician?
I’d be in the creative field still. I’m a big fan of visual art, digital visual art. So I would be in some type of artistic augmented reality situation most likely. It’s something I was always fascinated by. I was always fascinated by art in general, but when you apply the layer of technology that we have now to do this really cool digital interactive stuff, it just pushes the boundaries. I feel like a kid again when I think about the possibilities of art through that format.

What inspires you to make new music?
Anything can be inspirational. My process for writing is that I try to write six to eight hours a day, write and record. My writing process is actually recording as I go. So I do a lot of freestyle or put together ideas and immediately record them and listen back and then figure out where to take it. So the process kind of dictates sometimes where the music goes. But I just try to keep it as real as possible and human as possible, because that’s what people connect to the most. So it can be anything. It could be I got in a fight with somebody and it pissed me off. It could be I got rejected by something that upset me, or it could be that I had a crazy unimaginable night in Los Angeles. That inspires me. So really, really anything. My goal from there is to get the idea down as soon as possible before it gets out of my head.

What would you say is the most difficult part of being a musician?
I think the most difficult part, and I think anybody would say this, is finding stability to be able to create your art. We all have bills to pay. We all have life shit that happens. We all need health insurance, shit like that, vehicle insurance, etc. Finding the stability so that you’re mentally in the best potential place to create. That can be overcome in a few different ways. Number one, make money. (Laughs.) Which is the endless pursuit of every artist. Like how do I make money and create? But at some point, you also have to weigh in what you’re sacrificing and you have to understand the value to be able to do what we do as a high value in itself. The fact that I don’t have to punch into a 9-to-5 seven days a week or five days a week is pretty valuable. So that’s something you have to take into consideration. But I think finding that stability is number one. Then number two would just be staying inspired. It’s really easy to get distracted, go down some rabbit hole of whatever that distraction is. So those two things I think are the toughest.

What are your biggest hopes for the future of the band?
I would say the biggest hopes for Blackillac is to be a world-renowned household name, not just music, but like an identity, like a brand, something that breaks through just music. I want to echo out in apparel, and express through clothing. I want to express through visual content, whether that’s TV, movie, web series, and even festivals or like events that are branded with the spirit of Blackillac in mind. We’re two brown dudes from Texas. So we’ve had unique experiences in Texas, which is predominately Anglo and Republican, so we face some interesting challenges. We always want to find a way to elevate black identity, black culture, in some way to just continually try to make shit more balanced. There’s a lot of different things we want to echo out into. That’s I think the ultimate goal.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
Stay creative. Eliminate anything that’s a barrier to your creativity. And prepare for sacrifice.


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