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Band Interview: Raven Black

Grant Walters Grant Walters Band Interview: Raven Black
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The dark metal foursome lands their first spot at the festival's second iteration this Saturday in Mansfield.

Los Angeles-based dark metal ensemble Raven Black, currently on a nationwide ticket with four other bands, Static-X, DevilDriver, Wednesday 13, and Dope, are en route to this weekend’s Inkcarceration Festival at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield.

Self-branded as ‘a theatrical act influenced by gothic, classical, and carnival music,’ lead vocalist and principal songwriter Raven, along with her husband Muppet (drums and vocals), The Doctor (lead guitar and vocals, and Stitches (bass), have received broad acclaim as a visual and aural tour-de-force on stage – a place where they thrive.

“We love touring,” explains Raven. “We’re definitely a touring machine.”

Raven Black’s Inkcarceration set is scheduled for Saturday, July 13 at 2:50 p.m. on Stage Two.

“This is an amazing festival,” she continues. “We’re playing Saturday, but Inkcarceration is definitely a powerhouse – it has that feel of Ozzfest back in the day, and I think it’s just going to get bigger and bigger. Come be a part of it – there’s some amazing tattoo artists, the haunt. There’s so much going on. We hang out all day, so whether you see our set or not, we’ll be around and we’re totally approachable, so come say ‘Hi.’”

In its second year, the festival features major rock and metal headliners Godsmack, Andrew W.K., P.O.D., Seether, +Live+, Shinedown, Taking Back Sunday, Skillet, and Five Finger Death Punch.

Raven and I sat down on Thursday to explore more of the band’s unique footprint in the metal industry, and how their fantastical music and personas stay grounded in real stories and concepts that connect with their listeners.

You and your husband were initially performing in a band that wasn’t in the genre. What drove your decision to flirt with dark metal and create the sound and vision of Dark Raven that currently exists?

“My husband, Muppet, the drummer, and I actually had the full intent of being a metal band. But, our original line-up just kind of fell short of the metal sound we were looking for. So, we ended up changing our line-up and finally pushing for the vision that I had. It started with the storyline of my life and his life and fictionalizing it into a comic book, and then trying to create the music and soundtrack around that storyline. All of our albums are very conceptual.”

When I was growing up, I remember hearing and seeing videos for metal bands like Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot. Admittedly, I didn’t understand much about their stories, but they were so intriguing to watch because they were so visually and sonically different than anything else that was on the radio and TV. Who were the metal artists that have helped shaped your band’s blueprint?

“Definitely In This Moment. Going farther back, it was Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Ozzy [Osbourne], KISS, obviously – even Motley Crue. I mean, I’ve always loved theater.

There was one article, a show review of one of our very earliest shows with the costumes, the make-up, you know – and it said something that kind of sat with me forever: ‘it was like if you took Alice Cooper, KISS, Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, and In This Moment, and you threw it all in a blender, you’d have Raven Black.’

And I definitely can relate to that, because that’s kind of what we created – the vision I had was all our favorite things blended together. And on top of that, of course, it’s metal music. Everything that we create and put out there is definitely the seal of approval of our favorite things. I’m really glad that we’ve been received really well by our friends, and I’m happy there are people out there who love what we’re doing.”

You mentioned that your music tells your own life stories and there are real messages and experiences that are important for you to communicate to your listeners. How do you negotiate that with the theater of your performances to ensure those aren’t lost in that element of fantasy?

“It’s very challenging and very difficult [laughs], honoring the storyline and keeping the intent and, like you’re saying, the message behind it. But, I’ve really sat down and thought about this – what is our message and how do we express it? The way that I personally see it is the delivery of what we do is meant to be received as fun – go a hundred percent, have fun and be who you are, anti-judgment, and full awareness and self-identification. Embracing who you are and accepting the duality of your human condition, accepting that you’re both good and evil, you’re both dark and light.

There’s a balance in the fun and conservative sides of each of us, and there’s a wild, crazy identity in each of us – and you embrace that balance in yourself. Everything has a very dark message, but with a very positive message at the end, which is you can overcome, and you can stand on your own two feet and be who you are. That’s survival, you know?”

When you’re writing and producing your work, does most of it start from a key note or idea? How does your creative process eventually reach what your listeners see and hear from you on stage, or on your records, or in your videos?

“Yeah, well because there’s always an underlying storyline from our lives, I always start with a key note, like you said. There’s a theme to it. This third album we’re working on, we always had the intention of it being our ‘black album’ – dark, heavy, horrific, kind of deep, cutting subject matter. You know, suicide, depression, anxiety, drugs, addiction, abuse – the things many of us may or may not have endured in our lives, whether it’s past, present, or future. Those kinds of subjects were already the focus.

So, when I’m writing lyrics, the melody and guitar riffs come one before the other. Lyrically, I write based on the subject matter, and then I hear a riff and say, ‘that’s it. That’s the one that matches the emotion of my lyric. On ‘Risen from the Ashes,’ our latest single, I wrote the melody and chorus – ‘I rise, you rise’ – just the bridge part, on my iPhone. It just came to me while I was driving. I pull over and I recorded it on my phone, and then I gave it to Chris, my guitarist, and he makes my melody – and next thing you know, we get together and start a writing session, and it develops on its own from there. I’ll add further lyrics, or I’ll grab lyrics I have from a previous song I wrote, so it’s a hybrid of new and existing lyrics.

 I write hundreds of lyrics in a month, just randomly – on napkins, on receipts. Our next song that we’re about to write that’s fresh, the chorus lyrics were already written on a Wal-Mart receipt on our last tour at an Arby’s at 4 a.m. [laughs] It was a Sharpie and a Wal-Mart receipt because that’s all I had in my pocket.”

So, you’re perpetually writing no matter what?

“Correct, correct. I think it’s in the core already. We have a theme or concept or key note for the next album, and what subject matters we want to talk about or hit upon. So, I think those lyrics do just sort of come to me organically because I’m already in that mindset.”

In reading some of the other press you’ve done recently, you’ve talked about your work schedule and the need to take care of yourselves. Your performances are so physically demanding, and you seem to be constantly on the road. How do you actually do that?

“Lots of rest – lots of rest when you can. We try to have fun out there. This tour, in particular, we’re a little bit more tired than usual because we’re doing an after-party V.I.P. after the show’s over.

There are five bands, so the load-in is much earlier, and the doors are much earlier, and that means the days are much longer for us an opening support band. So, it’s quite the late night making sure our V.I.P. fans don’t feel rushed and feel like they’re having a great time with us. Then, we have to unwind, clean up, put everything away, take the make-up off, take our showers and get ready for sleep – and sometimes it’s 3 a.m. Then we get up and start it all over again.

So, this one’s been a little bit…I’ve been a little bit more tired – you can probably hear it in my voice today. We had a 5:00 am night last night. [laughs] I do take care of it, though, and there are a couple of things I do – and people ask very often, you know, ‘how do you do thirty shows in a row?’ There’s the tea, the honey. I also take spoonfuls of fresh garlic in a jar, because that helps my system, as well, to kind of recuperate. There’s something about garlic, and I don’t know what it is, but it works. I do have a vaporizer thing that’s made by Vick’s, a steam thing that helps when I’m feeling a little dry or hoarse. I’ll probably be doing that in the next day or so, too. Usually in the middle of the tour, I do some breathing stuff and steam.

You just kind of have to get rest. We’re very active with an exercise regimen – stretching is very important. We all stretch before our set, and it keeps you limber and keeps things flowing a loose.”

You’ve gained a very loyal following, and I’m certain you’ll have people at the festival excited to see you because they’re familiar with your music. But, there will likely be attendees who will see you for the first time. What would you want them to know about you as you make your way to Mansfield?

“We’ve been told by people, ‘wow – this is my first time seeing you. But, I looked you up, watched your music videos on YouTube, and found you on Facebook and Instagram, or Spotify.’ Definitely, there is a huge difference, and in a good way, between our live shows and our recorded material, or even video. So, please, please come out. I always say, ‘come out to the carnival and let us take you on a journey.’

We’ve got a thirty-minute set, and I promise you, promise you, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.”

Raven Black will be at the second annual Inkcarceration Festival on Saturday, July 13 at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield. Single and multi-day passes range from $85-$199, plus applicable taxes and fees, and are available here. Learn more about Raven Black by visiting their official website.

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