Who Are Black Mountain — And Why On Earth Are They Touring With Coldplay?

Vancouver quintet's heavy sound seems likely to horrify Coldplay fans.

The opening act for the second segment of Coldplay’s U.S. tour is Rilo Kiley: a peppy indie-pop band with a perky, redheaded female singer and a catchy, innocuous sound that stands a good chance of winning over the headliner’s fans.

The opening act for the first part of the tour, which starts Tuesday (August 2) and runs through August 26, is Black Mountain: a dark, hairy, Canadian psych-rock band that evolved from a group called Jerk With a Bomb and sounds something like a cross between Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and Neil Young. The group stands an excellent chance of horrifying the headliner’s fans.

The comparatively few people in the world who are familiar with the Vancouver, British Columbia, quintet — which is signed to Indiana-based indie Jagjaguwar Records — could be forgiven for thinking that the whole thing is a joke, but it’s not.

“One of [the members of Coldplay] heard our record and I guess they really liked it,” said main Mountaineer Stephen McBean, who is so laid-back that he had to be reminded, after 20-odd minutes of conversation, to talk about the tour (“Actually, I did some interviews earlier and forgot to mention it,” he laughed). “I guess there were a few bands they pitched to their management that they wanted to bring on tour in the States, and in [May or June] they called our booking agent and inquired. I was like, ‘Huh, that’s weird,’ and didn’t think I’d ever hear anything about it again, but two weeks later it was all confirmed. It was really simple and not too businesslike. I haven’t talked to them, but I’m really excited about it — and frankly, I’d much rather do that than spend August at work!” A Coldplay spokesperson confirmed that Black Mountain are indeed on the tour at Coldplay’s request.

Day jobs are another unusual aspect of this band: Four of its five members (who also include co-vocalist/keyboardist Amber Webber, drummer Joshua Wells, bassist Matt Camirand and vintage-keyboard specialist Jeremy Schmidt) are social workers. Three of them work for the Portland Hotel Society, an organization in Vancouver that “houses the hard-to-house,” according to McBean, “which could mean people with mental illnesses, drug dependencies; people who have been in jail for 20 years, people that are either homeless or are evicted from month to month. The society basically runs a bunch of SRO hotels, and it’s run by old-school punk-rockers from either Germany or Britain. There are a lot of artists and people in bands working there, and we kind of got each other jobs.”

Despite the temptation, McBean keeps the characters he meets at work out of his lyrics. “That’s one thing I’ve made a conscious effort not to do — it wouldn’t sit with me to use someone like that in a song. But,” he allowed, “I worked the graveyard shift, from 6 p.m. till 6 a.m., for three years, so the energy and the mood of slight alienation — hanging out with quote-unquote crazy people in the middle of the night — can rub off on you.”

Black Mountain sprang from the strikingly named Jerk With a Bomb, which began “probably in ’96″ as a McBean solo project. The band gradually grew and released three albums until, “on the last tour, we were playing a bunch of the material that would be on the Black Mountain album. I had a dream the night before one of the shows that we were called Black Mountain, so I woke up and wrote a song called ‘Black Mountain’ and made a cheesy rock banner and we first played under that name that night. It was just time for a change — we were so sick of the old name.” McBean denies the name change had anything to do with terrorism: “We never let any officials, so to speak, know our name — we’d always make up a fake name.”

Black Mountain’s self-titled debut, released in January, is dark and uneasy, but there’s an unusual degree of melody and light for an album in that style; the band’s Soundgarden-sized riffs and McBean’s drawled voice are tempered by atmospheric touches and Webber’s sharp, almost Grace Slick-ish vocals. Still, it’s a world away from Coldplay, and the members of Black Mountain are as surprised as anyone at the turn of events.

“We figured we’d go back to our jobs after we toured earlier this year, but all this stuff kept happening,” McBean said. “Coldplay’s treating us very well, but I’m not looking at it like we’re gonna be a stadium band after this. It’s not something that was even in our minds, or that we were shooting for — ever!” he laughed. “But we’ll probably only have one chance to do this in our lives, so we might as well — or our grandkids will be like, ‘You’re an idiot! Why didn’t you do that?’ ”

Black Mountain tour dates, according to the band’s label (all dates with Coldplay except as indicated):

  • 8/2 – Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
  • 8/3 – Montreal, QC @ Bell Centre
  • 8/4 – Hartford, CT @ New England Dodge Music Center
  • 8/5 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom (with the Hold Steady)
  • 8/6 – Mansfield, MA @ Tweeter Center
  • 8/7 – Camden, NJ @ Tweeter Center at the Waterfront
  • 8/9 – Cincinnati, OH @ Riverbend Music Center
  • 8/10 – Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop (Black Mountain headlining)
  • 8/11 – Burgettstown, PA @ Post-Gazette Pavilion at Star Lake
  • 8/12 – Noblesville, IN @ Verizon Wireless Music Center
  • 8/13 – East Troy, WI @ Alpine Valley Music Theatre
  • 8/16 – Auburn, WA @ White River Amphitheatre
  • 8/17 – Ridgefield, WA @ Amphitheater at Clark County
  • 8/19 – Mountain View, CA @ Shoreline Amphitheatre
  • 8/20 – Irvine, CA @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
  • 8/21 – Irvine, CA @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
  • 8/24 – Albuquerque, NM @ Journal Pavilion
  • 8/25 – Phoenix, AZ @ Cricket Pavilion
  • 8/26 – Chula Vista, CA @ Coors Amphitheatre
  • 8/27 – Silver Lake, CA @ Sunset Junction Street Fair (without Coldplay)
  • 8/28 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent (Black Mountain headlining)
  • 9/13 – Vancouver, BC @ Richards on Richards (Black Mountain headlining)