Recipe #4: Small Black [Mixtape & Interview]

Brooklyn, New York’s Small Black operate at the perfect center of dream-pop, synth-pop, indie-rock, and chill-wave and manage to somehow break free from all of the typical clichés of each genre to create their own distinct vibe that seems to be walking confidently and enthusiastically into the future while keeping a firm grasp on the beauty of nostalgia and sentimentality. Pulsing synth waves accompany hugely reverberated guitarscapes, steady drum patterns that range in texture from humbly synthetic to massive gated 1980s pop style kits, all topped with lead singer Josh Kolenik’s unmistakable, consciously wistful vocals. The group has been releasing music, all self-produced, since their self-titled debut EP in 2009 and recently released their third studio album, titled Best Blues, via Jagjaguwar on Oct 16th of this year. 

For the 4th edition of our Recipes series, Kolenik and crew gave us a mixtape that’s wonderfully reminiscent of another time and place, while simultaneously encouraging a musing headspace that has been turned optimistic through the power of hindsight. The track list includes selections from Talk Talk, Giorgio Moroder, The Style Council, and a slew of other impactful artists from a generation past that lives on into the present. We also got with Kolenik to talk a bit about the era and the lasting mark it has left on him and his music.

Your mixtape is heavy on the 80s and early 90s – what is it about the music from that era that influences you? It’s right at the moment when artists got access to technology to make the music that is most popular today. It’s right in that sweet spot between classic songwriting and the freedom of modern production.

Do you look to other creative mediums of the same era for inspiration? Not particularly. I’m most into 70s cinema as far as visual aesthetics. Early 90s fashion was so corny and it’s funny to see people love it so much now.

You must have grown up on a lot of the music you’ve chosen. How have your tastes changed over time? I mostly like older stuff from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. We just use so much crappy gear now that I have a hard time getting into most records.  I definitely had a huge hip hop phase in high school, and then I got into dance/rave stuff. But mostly now I just put on folk records.

In your memory, who was the first artist to influence you musically? The first records I ever bought were Bruce Springsteen and Willie Nelson, so I guess some Americana stuff is always going to seep in. Also, my Dad was obsessed with The Beach Boys, so we had that going in the car all time.

What do you hope to inspire in the next generation of artists? I don’t really think like that. I am just trying to figure myself out, and hopefully, in that process, offer some personal insight or a connection to a listener. But, it’s always a work in progress.

Check out one of our favorite tunes by Small Black: “No One Wants It To Happen To You”

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“A recipe is a story that ends with a good meal.” — Pat Conroy