Music » Music Feature

Heart of Darkness

The Black Heart Procession marches into Club Congress this weekend.

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Black Heart Procession vocalist and co-founder Pall is preparing to further blacken another organ, his lungs. He is standing in line to buy some Parliament Lights in a San Francisco market near the Great American Music Hall, the venue the band will play later that night. Pall, whose moniker once jokingly referred to Pall Malls and later invoked some of the more sinister connotations of the word, smokes different brands all the time, enjoying the variety like a connoisseur of wines or cigars might.

"I change all the time," Pall says. "I don't smoke the same brand."

The same kind of desire for variety can be seen in the band's music, with a constantly changing cast of players that revolves around Pall and Tobias Nathaniel. Since Black Heart's inception in 1997, the group has toured as a two-piece and a full band, with a host of mutations in between. "I like it changing a lot," Pall says. "I don't like to do the same thing over and over, so we try and mix it up as much as we can."

The Black Heart Procession has just kicked off a national tour behind its fourth release, Amore Del Tropico, and the band will wrap things up in Italy and Greece after they finish in the States. This live incarnation of Black Heart features Pall and Tobias, as well as Matt Resovich on violin and keyboards, Matt Parker on bass and other guitar instruments, and Joe Plummer on drums.

Amore is Black Heart's fourth full-length since Pall and Nathaniel's other band, San Diego's Three Mile Pilot, went on extended hiatus. Three Mile Pilot also spawned Pinback, also originally devised as a side project to fill the down time. Pall explains that Pilot is still a viable project, though he is hesitant to say when the dormant group will release something new. "We are slowly working on another record but we have decided not to put a time frame on it," he says. "We are just going to work on it and try to get it done. Pinback, their other band, is really busy, and Black Heart is really busy, so it's hard to say."

The record is a continuation of Black Heart's examination of love and loss and the dark underbelly of life. Amore still features beautiful theatrical weepers based around piano, guitar and Pall's brooding vocals, but the album is less spare than past BHP recordings. Amore stretches out, throws curves and even rocks.

The album, produced and recorded entirely by BHP at their new home studio, is the fullest sounding offering yet. "I'm really into equipment, buying things like tape machines and boards and microphones," says Pall. The songs structures are complimented by well-placed strings growing like vines around the melody, and other exotic instruments like the saw and the optigon. The lyrics are fragments of a storyline, shrouded in mystery and with just enough imagery to send a tingle up the spine.

"Don't ever barter with yourself" is a key line to the first vocal track, and from there we are shown, chapter by chapter, a pulp murder mystery, the narrator backed by rich hypnotic music, a Noir film with splashes of color. Think Leonard Cohen meets Neutral Milk Hotel with a Palace backbone and a feverish touch of the Tropics.

"On this record I think it would be in some weird town in like either Prague or maybe like some tropical place, somewhere mixed between the two, like Florida," Pall says.

While famous for deliciously depressing musings, Black Heart is not afraid of a little self-parody. "At times it's so sad you are laughing at yourself," says Pall. "I always try to add hope, some element of hope, and a positive outlook by the end of the song, even though our songs are dark and sad. I try to not to be too negative and dark about things, I'm not trying to promote suicide."

The Black Heart Procession bears more than a passing resemblance to Tucson's Calexico, which will be headlining this Friday's outdoor show at Club Congress. Both groups are formed around a core duo and both are technically side projects to fill the down time between off-again, on-again bands (in the case of Calexico, Giant Sand). The bands also share a special filmic quality, creating atmospheric music that's the perfect complement to movies. There's been talk of a split EP.

Black Heart is also working on a film project of its own, a DVD-based around the songs on Amore Del Tropico. "We are four songs in to it, editing it; we've shot the whole thing," Pall says. "It's a tropical murder mystery. It follows a guy through days up leading to a murder, a main character named Luigi and his girlfriend who is murdered. I can't really tell you too much without giving it away. Basically it's a murder mystery, a trial and an investigation around a murder. It was done with a bunch of our friends in San Diego and a small production company from San Diego. There are probably like 50 people involved in the film."

While fans of Black Heart will have to wait a while to see the film, the band will bring their gear, saw and all, to Tucson this weekend. But if you're thinking of any funny business, like rushing the stage or anything like that, Pall has a warning.

"I've have to go at a couple of people with my saw," he says. "People threatening me, back in the day when we used to tour as just a two piece, and people didn't like our quiet sad music. One guy tried to get up on the stage and come towards me. I didn't know what he was doing, so I just stood up, lifted my saw up and started going toward him and he kind of backed off. Different than being hit with a guitar. It would hurt more."

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