Stephen McBean speaks loudly whenever he’s on the phone at his Arcadia home; a constant barrage of high-pitched honks, shrill yapping and sharp squawking burst out piercingly in the background like he’s standing in the middle of a bird sanctuary gone crazy.
“There are wild peacocks and parrots where I live,” McBean explains. “The opening scene from Fantasy Island was filmed down the street.”
McBean—frontman for the Vancouver heavy stoner-rock outfit Black Mountain and the short-lived anarchic duo Jerk with a Bomb—moved into the house in March 2020, just before the world shut down. After setting up a home studio, he recorded a cover of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” as a test to ensure all the gear worked adequately. Greg Ginn’s 1979 hardcore staple ignited a spark that became the inspiration behind the first record in eight years for Pink Mountaintops—McBean’s other project, which collects the songs that don’t fit for Black Mountain’s sound. The wonderfully strange paradise that the musician now calls home—about 12 miles north of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley—was the ideal setting for the forthcoming album, aptly titled Peacock Pools.
“I wasn’t preparing to do an album, but time kept rolling on, and life kept changing and getting weirder,” McBean says. “[‘Nervous Breakdown’] was like original O.G. inspiration.”
Like most music created between 2020 and 2021, a lot of the recording was done remotely. McBean was initially apprehensive about the long-distance approach, but realized it was more an opportunity than a setback.
“I started talking to various friends in similar situations,” McBean says. “[Ryley Walker drummer] Ryan Jewell, who’s in Ohio, asked if he could throw some drums on a couple of tracks.”
From there, McBean continued to have musician buddies all over the country, and some in Canada, add instrumental and vocal parts to songs. Bassist Steven McDonald (Off!, the Melvins) offered his services.
“He was like, ‘I’ve got nothing else going on, so if you need bass on anything, I’m available,’” McBean says. “We weren’t writing or rehearsing at a jam space where I’d be like, ‘Oh, maybe try this or that.’ Everyone uploaded their finished products. Going into Dropbox and downloading new uploads felt like opening Christmas presents.”
The result is a 12-song Frank Zappa salad tossed by Ozzy and Ian Curtis. “Nikki Go Sudden” is fueled by acoustic guitar strums paired with the intentional naiveté of early ’80s Psychedelic Furs, and “Blazing Eye” goes hard with its synth new wave in the vein of New Order’s Power, Corruption & Lies. Meanwhile, “All This Death is Killing Me” is 100% thrash metal, complete with thrash metal growls.
“I always like to think of things as a soundtrack or a musical,” McBean says. “Also, right when I realized that I’m going to make an album, I got dropped by the record label [Jagjaguwar]. So, even though that was sad and caused some stress because I’ve been with them so long, it freed me up. I had no deadline, so I kept recording. I think I would have gone all over the place anyway, but getting dropped from the label made it easier for me to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to put a thrash song on here.’”
When McBean was finally able to record in a studio with other musicians in the room, he made sure it would count. He scored Melvins’ drummer Dale Crover and had Valentine Recording Studios in North Hollywood to make it all happen. The straightforward metal ballad “Lights of the City” could be L.A. Guns’ biggest hit they never wrote.
“We went into [Valentine], and I felt like I had high-pedigree rock gods,” McBean says. “We didn’t need to rehearse or anything. I thought if we could get ‘Lights of the City’ and ‘The Walk’ recorded, that would be great. And we managed to get four songs recorded.”
Pink Mountaintops has already toured once this year—back in February, opening for Dinosaur Jr.—but McBean is especially thrilled for the upcoming tour.
“It’s the most full-on rock ’n’ roll lineup I’ve had in Pink Mountaintops in a long time,” he says.
The spring/summer tour, which stops in Felton on April 29, features a six-piece band, including former Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock, singer/guitarist Emily Rose, who’s featured throughout Peacock Pools and past Pink Mountaintops contributor Ashley Webber, the twin sister of Black Mountain’s Amber Webber.
While music is always on McBean’s mind, he’s quick to relay an intensely worded opinion about the current state of the world, which, if anything, made the record even stronger.
“The world is in a sad bind now,” he says. “Some people really made a lot off of all this inflation, and it’s quite disheartening. People are like, ‘There are jobs everywhere!’ Yeah, shit jobs, and people were like, ‘Fuck those jobs. Do them yourself.’”
Adds McBean, “Life’s never going back to where it was. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—all the death was obviously bad. But you have to find some light in all the darkness, or it’ll kill you.”
Pink Mountaintops with Ashley Shadow play Friday, April 29, at 8pm at Felton Music Hall, 6275 Hwy 9, Felton. Proof of full vaccination or negative Covid test required. $15/$19 plus fees. feltonmusichall.com.