For some bands, a record is simply an entree into a live experience; for others, a live event can never capture the complexity of a studio output. In Black Cobra guitarist Jason Landrian’s mind, to truly appreciate the band it’s important to experience and appreciate both their live and recorded product. “I think if you just see the band live, that's okay, but you're missing out on the atmosphere that some of the artwork on the albums can create,” Landria says. “There's also something about listening to the music in a controlled way (on headphones or a stereo) that lets you experience it differently as opposed to seeing it live. Of course, you would also be missing out if you just heard the band on record. I've always seen the live show and the recorded output as equally important.”
Landrian grew up in Florida, thousands of miles from the alternative artistic paradise that remains San Francisco. “I still have family in Florida, so I try to get down there every few years or so,” Landrian says. “It doesn't seem like too much has changed. It's still hot as hell and still not where I want to be.” At age 12, Landrian started playing guitar, embarking on the usual high school quest to mimic the big metal rock riffs that permeated his peer group. “The first band I played in was a band with some other kids in my high school, and we were mostly playing (or attempting to play) Metallica covers,” Landrian says.
About 15 years ago Landrian met Martinez through a mutual friend. Landrian and Martinez would go onto collaborate together before Martinez joined fellow stoner-metal band Acid King, before hooking up in 2002 Martinez and Landrian to form Black Cobra. The name was both inspired by a 1970s exploitation movie, and an attempt to capture the dark, heavy and potent style of Black Cobra’s music. “We definitely wanted to convey the power and aggression of the music, but also have it be thought of as a force of nature – something organic,” Landrian says. “It's also named after an old '70's exploitation movie, and it just sounded really cool.”
For their latest record, Invernal, Black Cobra took as its inspiration British explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic adventures in the early 20th century. “I've known the overall story of Shackleton's adventures for quite some time, but when I read the book Endurance a couple of years ago, that's when I learned all the details,” Landrian says. “I've always thought Antarctica was a fascinating place. To think that people were exploring the frozen continent 100 plus years ago is pretty amazing. I think it was Shackleton's perseverance, and just the brutality of the environment that drew us both to want to write about it.”
Having myself attend a high school named after another Antarctic adventurer, Douglas Mawson – who suffered amazing physical and psychological trauma in his expeditions – I’m interested to know whether Landrian’s interest derives from a particular fascination for the territory, or the explorers who’ve tried to traverse its landscape. “It’s both the territory and the explorers are extremely interesting,” Landrian replies. “It must have been almost like going to another planet for them. The hardships and drama are ultimately what make the subject so fascinating, and that it was all in the name of exploration. This wasn't something that people did necessarily for financial gain. They did it because they were drawn to it or maybe because they wanted to have some sort of legacy.”
While Invernal represents Antarctica as a post-apocalyptic setting, others see it as the world’s last genuine wilderness. Having spent so much time touring over the years in cities across the world, is it possible that Landrian is subconsciously attracted to the idea of an untamed wilderness? “That could be,” Landrian says. “I love the idea of an untamed wilderness. As humans, we've left our footprint on almost every inch of this planet. Some people may think that's a good thing. I'm not so sure.”
Notwithstanding the underlying theme of the record, Landrian says he and Martinez didn’t have a particularly different sound or style in mind. “We are always trying to evolve and are open to new things, but we didn't deliberately set out to make a particular kind of record. We just wrote the songs as we saw fit,” he says. That said, it remains important that a record create a particular musical atmosphere, as opposed to a combination of riffs and beats. “It's very important,” Landrian says. “It's what makes a song a song. We're always trying to look at the compositions from a more broad perspective as opposed to a collection of riffs and beats.”
Black Cobra have kept up a tough touring schedule over the years. Despite the potential pressures of touring in a two-man band, Landrian says neither he nor Martinez are showing signs of permanent fatigue. “Touring can definitely be exhausting,” Landrian says. “The worst thing is getting sick. The best part is getting to play to new audiences every night. Touring in a two-man band is pretty much the same as touring with a regular band, just more streamlined. The only thing that sucks is not having more people to help with load-in and load-out.” As for looking into the crystal ball, Landrian has other things to occupy his mind. “I try not to think too far ahead,” he says. “Anything could happen, but hopefully, we'll still be playing, touring, putting out records, and still having fun.”
BY PATRICK EMERY
BLACK COBRA play Cherry Rock on Sunday April 29 and The Tote on Monday April 30.