Black Wine is dead. Long live Black Wine!
Everyone’s favorite New Jersey punk trio played its final show Aug. 13 at Brighton Bar in Long Branch, N.J., bringing to an end a run of calculated chaos chronicled in a stream of engaging records and bombastic live shows.
”They felt like one of those bands that never got their due. Released some of my favorite records we ever did and will always be a very special band for me,” said Joe Steinhardt, whose Don Giovanni Records put out Black Wine’s catalog. ”There was a while where they really felt like the glue holding the New Brunswick scene together and I could look forward to seeing them almost every week. As people, they still kinda occupy a huge part of the N.J. scene, in my opinion, and are all working on new projects which people should be on the lookout for.”
Steinhardt isn’t the only one eulogizing the band. Tris McCall — an accomplished musician in his own right and a former music journalist for The Star Ledger, the state’s largest newspaper — enjoyed their N.J. reign, too.
”That was a really good, exciting punk band. Especially live!” McCall said to me recently. ”Any group with Miranda Taylor on drums can’t go wrong. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last from any of those three musicians.”
The band’s roots also were impressive, including runs in N.J. bands The Ergs!, Hunchback and Planet Janet that left behind many ardent fans and supporters.
”It just felt good to play music with [Miranda] and it kept getting better and more fun,” said Erin Taylor, the guitarist who played alongside her in Tainted Honey.
What follows is an e-mail back-and-forth with the group — bassist Jason Nixon, guitarist/vocalist Jeff Schroeck, and drummer Miranda Taylor — transcribed from the first days after the show.
POPDOSE: Let’s start at the end. Tell me about the final show the other night.
MIRANDA TAYLOR: We played ”Puss” with Mark Vignoli on vocals, which was awesome. The show was a benefit for Bill Sohor, who is in need of organ transplants. Organized by Scruff. It was a good night and I was happy to be a part of it.
JASON NIXON: Playing ”Puss” was a several-decades-long dream. I cannot overstate this.
JEFF SCHROECK: So, Miranda and J. pretty much said what I’d want to say about the show, but I’d add that it was a bit disappointing that we weren’t able to do our last show at Asbury Lanes; we are two years too late for that to have happened. And that’s not a knock against the Brighton Bar, which is a cool place, but the Lanes was where our first show was and it would’ve been cool to complete the circle.
POPDOSE: Let’s talk about completing the circle. Each of you comes with a pretty impressive pedigree in indie circles. Can you detail what it was like bringing all of that history and context together for Black Wine?
MIRANDA TAYLOR: In terms of what bands we came from, I can say that I personally wanted to do something different from what I had just done. I remember thinking that I really wanted the music to be the main focus with nothing theatrical or showy really happening. Not that I don’t like theatrical and showy— but it was just that I wanted a change at the time. I also remember thinking that I really wanted to learn how to play drums more proficiently and consistently. J. and I had been playing together for years and years at that point and I think we can mentally agree on what should be happening in a song without really talking about it. And the same thing started happening with Jeff, where we all started to just be like together on what should be going on in a song. It is interesting because there aren’t too many crossover loves between us besides Devo and Jesus Lizard and, like, a love of classic rock radio.
POPDOSE: Devo, Jesus Lizard and classic rock radio is an interesting intersection for you guys, though — quirky but aggressive, tight with a focus on hooks. Does that description fit what you were seeking, sound-wise, when you guys set out?
JEFF SCHROECK: I don’t think we were going for that combination when we started, but as we went on it applied more and more, especially the aggressive stuff. I personally wanted to do something as opposite to what I was doing with The Ergs! as I could, more space instead of sounding like the music is slammed up against the speaker cone, and playing guitar more loosely. The heavier elements started creeping in with our second record.
POPDOSE: That’s a good jumping-off point. Tell me about how you guys recorded and released records. And how that might have been different than efforts with previous bands.
MIRANDA TAYLOR: All BW records were super fun to record because we recorded all at once (more or less) in all one place at a time and we used super-fun, super-smart, cool people. Brian Buccellato did the last one, Yell Boss, and it was really fun, plus he was easy to hang with and understood what we were going for. I always use this example but, I was like “Can I sound like Ozzy in this one part?” And he, with no hesitation, hit one button and was like, “There you go.”
Eric Bennett did the other three, plus the 7-inches, and he was great cause he was into experimenting and going for a more open sound. He is also super fun and like a weird sage when it comes to giving advice and being a general moral compass. (To me, anyways. I love that guy.)
POPDOSE: Enough dancing around the topic, though. For those just tuning in, what led to the Black Wine break-up? Why did you guys decide to disband?
MIRANDA TAYLOR: Jeff and I having a baby made it more difficult to practice and play in addition to it being time to call it for at least a while.
POPDOSE: Will you guys to continue to play, record, et cetera, independent of each other? Miranda, this is where you can plug Exmaid.
MIRANDA TAYLOR: Yeah, we all have separate projects going on. Mine is called Exmaid. I play guitar and sing in it. My friends from the awesome band Psychic Teens play with me.
JEFF SCHROECK: I have a new band but we haven’t recorded or played a show yet.
JASON NIXON: I play bass in a pretty straight-ahead punk band with some folks called Nervous Triggers, and been playing bass for Mikey Erg for his live shows for a little now. I also do a weird project where I play guitar over Gameboy music that I’ve pre-composed and programmed called Blankside, though I play out pretty rarely with that.
POPDOSE: I want to ask some random questions that I think will tell new listeners about you guys. If you could play any instrument in any band, with members living or dead, in any city in the world, give me the Who, What, Where and Why.
MIRANDA TAYLOR: I fantasize about playing drums with Jack White (not replacing Meg White, mind you) on a semi-annual basis. It usually weirdly intersects with the Victoria’s Secret semi-annual bra sale. Where? I don’t care. Why? Because I like that guy and he is probably fun to play music with.
JEFF SCHROECK: I’ve always wanted to play with Mike Watt, and hoped he’d do another Ballhog Or Tugboat-style record I could weasel my way on to.
JASON NIXON: I would love to play with Six Finger Satellite. Like really badly. Probably somewhere in Europe, where I assume they’re more appreciated. They seem very ”Euro” despite being from Rhode Island. I thought about saying Man…Or Astroman?, but i just don’t wanna replace Coco. He’s too much of a personality.
POPDOSE: Okay. I’m familiar with a lot of your previous work but when did you guys start playing, like actually pick up instruments and start making noise? What did those early efforts sound like? How did your sound change or mature before the precedents to Black Wine (The Ergs!, Tainted Honey)
MIRANDA TAYLOR: Started playing when I was 15 with a drum kit my parents very generously got me. I played with my cousin Erin Taylor (she played guitar and sang) and then we started playing with Frieda Hoffman on bass. After Tainted Honey, I played in Whoa, Nellie! (grungier), Planet Janet (poppier), Hunchback (crazier), Full of Fancy (power pop with me on guitar), and, then, finally Black Wine. I played along to The Beatles and Bikini Kill and Nirvana and Hole, then I moved to Cream and Zeppelin. Then, I was influenced a lot by The Jesus Lizard, Man or Astroman?, Killdozer — that kind of thing. I also love the simplicity of Beat Happening. I also happen to know amazing drummers like Mike Yannich, Darick Sater, Angie Boylan and many more that would destroy right in front of my eyes in a basement and I’d be, like, ”Gotta practice more, hahaha.”
POPDOSE: How about you, Jeff?
JEFF SCHROECK: I started playing guitar Christmas of 92. I wanted a bass but my mom found a guitar for under $100 and got that instead, figuring it was safer than spending $200-plus on something that was likely to given up on by summer of 93. Nirvana was the catalyst and after that, Green Day and The Sex Pistols. Steve Jones from SP did that same Chuck Berry lead which was easy to learn, which helped me to focus on learning how to play lead guitar without having to learn silly shred stuff. Later on I got heavily into Black Flag and so I learned to play fast gibberish, then J. Mascis helped me focus this into melodies.
My first show was in 95, in a band with my cousin Joe and Mike Erg. Joe from the Ergs joined our music friends circle a couple years later, and by late 99 the lineup of The Ergs! was set, officially changing to that name in Feb ’00. I was writing songs from the beginning but didn’t write a good song until ’04, when I stopped trying to make songs weird on purpose. My singing also got better around that time. I only did about 1/5 of the total Ergs songs, but learning to sing and write helped when we started BW, since we wouldn’t have thrashy aggression to hide behind.
JASON NIXON: You were literally there when I was starting to play. I just kinda watched other people and did what I thought I was supposed to do to play guitar or bass until I got the hang of it a little. I still really know very little about theory, haha.
POPDOSE: I suppose this is a question for you — Miranda and Jeff, though if J. wants to sound off, I’m fine with that, too. What’s it like being in a band with your spouse? Relationships are complicated, both personal and band. Can’t imagine how loaded things get when marriage enters the picture. Or kids. What did you guys do to keep things copacetic and moving in the right direction on both fronts, if you don’t mind me asking?
MIRANDA TAYLOR: This is so boring, but it was never really complicated with us being married and in a band together. No more I should say than there would be otherwise. Being 30 and up probably helped it be an easier ride. I just asked Jeff, “Uh, was there any weird stuff ever?” “Not really.” “God, we are so boring.”
POPDOSE: Fair enough. Also, I wanted to know what it was like being in this N.J. band versus other ones in which you guys have played. Out here in Pittsburgh, I heard the name Black Wine more than I did Full of Fancy — no offense, Miranda — so were you guys bigger outside of the state? In other words, how much of a “N.J. band” or “N.J. musicians” are you?
MIRANDA TAYLOR: N.J. is densely populated with bands, so it is hard to get people to come out if you play here a lot, which I think we did. We just seemed old and boring after a while — ” a while” being like a year or so. The reason why people maybe showed up more out of state was because Black Wine toured and Full of Fancy didn’t.
JASON NIXON: We toured more aggressively (with the exception of Jeff with The Ergs!) and put out more music (four albums and a few 7-inches is a long life span for most bands!) than with any other band we’ve ever been in, So, it was starting to pay off in terms of seeing people come out to shows far away, more than at home, for sure.
POPDOSE: How do you guys each describe your own “sound” as musicians? What did you lend to BW in your opinion? And what’s your favorite BW track or album? Why?
MIRANDA TAYLOR: I gave girl germs and the sound of drums being played. My fave album was Summer of Indifference. Becauuuuuse it has my 2 fave BW songs on it: ”Hand” and ”Iceball.”
JEFF SCHROECK: I think what I bring is an alt-rock song style so embedded into my brain I can’t escape it even when I intend to do something different. This may be why ”Hand” is also my favorite song of ours, because it’s so aggressive and aggressively opposite to what my instincts are. My other favorite song we did was our cover of The Guess Who’s “No Time”, a song I’d wanted to do with a band since I was 12 or 13.