Stirring up buzz at 7 Dunham gallery in Williamsburg was the band Small Black who threw a release party on May 10 for their upcoming album Limits of Desire, and added a twist to it by organizing an art show. The group exhibition, co-curated by the band and artist Lindsey Aveilhé, presented artists Peter Rostovsky, Anna K. Miller, and Borden Capalino; the exhibit also displayed the band’s acclaimed album-cover art by Scarlett Hooft Graafland (above). I sat down for some small talk with Small Black’s front man Josh Kolenik and keyboard/guitar player Ryan Heyner about raccoons, exploding vans, and how art connects with their music.
Victoria Stillwell: How long have you guys known each other? How did you all meet?
Josh: I met Ryan through a mutual friend from Long Island, eight years ago. I heard Ryan perform on this project he was working on, and phoned him out-of-the-blue one day, cause I was looking for a musician to play guitar with. And we’ve been best friends ever since. We would talk for like three hours when we first met, it was very high school (haha). Then we met Juan and Jeff who were best friends from college. We met them through a mutual friend six years ago.
VS: Do you feel like your upbringings influenced your decisions to create music?
Ryan: Definitely. I have been playing music for a long time. I started playing the guitar when I was like thirteen years old, and I always just wanted to waste time playing the guitar and being in bands. While growing up a lot of my friends played music so it’s just been around the corner for me my whole life. I guess I always felt like I was going to pursue that.
Josh: My family wasn’t musical at all. My dad just pretty much listened to Jimmy Buffet and The Beach Boys, but my grandma was a concert pianist. So, that’s like the only musical lineage in my family. I just got really obsessed with grunge, and then I wanted to play the guitar.
VS: Can you tell me about the genesis of your band name Small Black?
Josh: It was the name of a raccoon that was terrorizing the house I had been living at, in Portland. It was holed up on the top floor, and it just wouldn’t leave. He just wouldn’t give up and he was relentless, so he became sort of a role model for us, and became our name (haha).
Ryan: Yeah, the name just stuck after that.
VS: How would you describe your music?
Ryan: Credcore (laughs) It’s like synth pop.
Josh: Yeah. We use a lot of keyboards, sometimes the guitar. It’s just pop music.
VS: Do you have any major Influences for the music you create?
Josh: Ah, there are so many things. Pretty much anything. My sister yelling at me on the phone, maybe the pizza place on the corner I’m really influenced by (laughs). I don’t know, there are lots of bands. There is so much music, it’s hard to just name a few influences.
VS: What has been your biggest challenge as a band?
Ryan: I think it’s also just focusing all one’s energy on the music and not having to worry about working. That is probably the most challenging and frustrating part. I wish I could just spend all day writing songs, and touring, but sometimes you gotta pay the rent (laughs).
VS: It’s the New York City hustle life…. but I’m pretty sure you’re going to get there soon.
VS: Do you feel like your style has changed a lot since you first started out?
Josh: Yeah definitely. It started off as just Ryan and me in my uncle’s attic, recording with Casios, just cheap toy keyboards. We keep writing songs in the same style, but we keep changing the production esthetic, and we try to push it forward, and go to a bigger sound. It’s kind of what we are excited about and what we are interested in. We know how to make a shitty sounding record, it’s hard to make a good sounding record.
VS: Obviously you guys are pretty hyped up now, what’s the road been like, getting where you are today?
Josh: I don’t know, we are just lucky that many people listen to our music. It’s a gift. We just try to put out new records.
VS: How do you feel about the upcoming release on May 14 of your latest record “Limits of Desire”?
Josh: We feel great about it. It’s definitely the best we have ever done, we feel proud of it. We worked really hard at it.
Ryan: We took the songs on the record as far as we could have taken them, and produced it all our selves, so we feel great.
VS: What would you say is the biggest difference with this latest record Limits of Desire, compared to your past record New Chain and your EP Small Black?
Josh: There is so much higher production value, and its a little faster, tempo wise. I think it’s the same style, we just changed a bit. We are just always trying to move forward. We also feature the guitar on this one.
Ryan: Yeah and we also focused a bit more on the vocals.
Josh: Yeah I guess I finally felt comfortable enough to put my voice more out there.
Josh: Yeah it took us like a year. We were down at this house in Delaware, were we go sometimes to just camp out. We did most of it at Juan’s house in his basement. There was a lot of realizing, revolving and revisions. We pretty much re-did every song and had like ten versions of every song. We probably started out with like thirty songs, and just cut them down.
VS: Yeah, kill your darlings right?
Ryan: Yeah, haha, or save your darlings!
Victoria: Did you have any certain themes or aspirations with Limits of Desire?
Josh: Yeah we were thinking a lot about relationships and trying to be mature and take care of business. And the title is really referencing to the idea of how you can just want more and more of something and never stop, so it’s about finding that sort of balance point where you are just happy. You might still want something, but you are happy with what you have. That’s what its about.
VS: About this evening’s art, and release show, what were your motives of co-curating along with Lindsey Aveilhé a group exhibition tonight?
Josh: We were just trying to think of ideas other than having a typical release show, something that would be more interesting. As Lindsey (Josh’s girlfriend) is a curator it was kind of a no brainer.
VS: How did you select all the artists?
Josh: Some of them are friends, and as Lindsey works in the art world, she knows a lot of people and great artists. We just went through tons of art sheets and kind of found stuff that we felt was in line with the album concept.
Victoria: The artwork for Limits of Desire is by the artist Scarlett Hooft Graafland, it’s really beautiful, and has been getting a lot of positive response. Obviously, you have an attraction to really good art. How do you feel visual art intersects with the music you make?
Ryan: We feel pretty strongly about the images we use.
Josh: Yeah, we’re very anal about the stuff that we pick to represent our songs. We actually chose the cover image way early in the process, before we were even done with any songs. So I feel like we tried to make something that maybe sounded like the image.
VS: Finally, an ultimate future vision for you guys? Where do you think you are heading?
Josh: We just want to tour and try not to have a job.
Ryan: Haha, yeah exactly.
Josh: But other than that we just want to keep progressing and moving forward and just exploring. There’s just too many records I want to make.
Watch first single Free at Dawn: