A Q&A with Blackstone Rngrs’ Derek Kutzer

Dallas, TX-based shoegazer rock band Blackstone Rangers – you’ll also find them as Blackstone Rngrs – originally formed about four years ago featuring Ruth Ellen Smith (vocals, synths, drum machine) and Derek Kutzer. After a year spent writing material and then rehearsing, the band recruited Daniel Bornhorst to play drums, essentially fleshing out the band’s sound for their first EP, which coincidentally received quite a bit of regional attention – thanks in part to a sound that manages to mesh 80s and 90s shoegazer rock with ambient (and perhaps minimalist) electronica.

Their forthcoming EP, Descendant which is slated for a February 25th release through Saint Marie Records, a label that specifically focuses on dreampop, shoegaze, indie pop, mellow-fi, electronica and others, and in fact, it furthers cements the band’s reputation in North Texas’ renowned shoegaze/psych rock scene – a scene that includes the Black Angels, the Octopus Project and several others. But it may also put the band on the national map as their sound manages to be incredibly cinematic – and manages to be somewhat reminiscent of Siouxsie and the Banshees and of Sigur Ros. In other words, it’s gorgeous, yet stormy and dramatic. And in some way it’s quickly become one of my favorite albums at the start of this year.

I recently spoke to Blackstone Rngrs’ Derek Kutzer about the forthcoming album, Descendant, the Dallas, TX music scene, Kutzer’s cinematic influences on the band’s sound, and much more. Check it out below. 

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WRH: How did you get into music? And when did you know that it was just what you needed to do?

Derek Kutzer: I’ve always been into music. My dad is a drummer. So, I got a drum kit first, and decided that guitars are cooler, so I got a guitar. 

I decided that music was something I wanted to pursue when I felt comfortable enough to look for other people to play with. Ruth [Smith] and I found eachother, and we knew instantly that we had something good. So we just kept going. We found Daniel, and he added another layer. So we kept going.  

WRH: Who are your influences?

DK: Hmmm … That’s tough. Influences for me do not simply flow from other music, past or present, but also from aesthetic feelings and moods. I really love the creepy, dreaminess of some of David Lynch’s work. I also just saw Slava Tsukerman’s film Liquid Sky for the first time, and I was mesmerized by the look of the whole picture. Tons of ideas and feelings flashed while I watched that film. Somehow, you just translate it all into sounds. 

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

DK: I like to come across up-and-coming bands in the cities we’re playing. For instance, I found this band Wild Honey out of Baltimore that I’m super into. So, I emailed them. Turns out, they’re really nice. They let me hear their raw, un-mastered new record, months before anybody else gets to hear it. You just never know what you’re gonna find if you look below the surface. I also really like going to local shows and seeing my friends play.  

WRH: How did the band meet? And when did you know that musically you were right for each other. How did you come up with the band name? 

DK: Ruth and I had been doing shows as a two piece with a drum machine. We were terrible, but Daniel [Bornhorst], who we loosely knew before, saw something in us. He thought he could make us better, and he did. The band name comes from a 1960s street gang in Chicago

WRH: Sonically, the songs on your latest effort Descendants EP strike me as being cinematic in the sense that they have a sweeping, epic, larger-than-life feel while also evoking a sense of wonder as one stares into the sky. Was that effect intentional?

DK: Thank you! But I don’t think we set out to make songs as you describe. I think those are just the sounds, tones, and moods that we all like and enjoy to hear. 

WRH: There are a number of psychedelic and shoegaze bands out of Texas – the Octopus Project and the Black Angels from Austin immediately come to mind, among a number of others. What is it about Texas that has bands getting psychedelic? 

DK: Well, Texas is a very large, populous place. We have at least 4 solid music scenes. The chances that you’ll have a few good bands that are what you’re calling shoegaze/psych are actually pretty high. So, I don’t think there’s something in the water or anything. 

WRH: More people are familiar with Austin, TX’s and Denton, TX’s music scenes than they are with Dallas. Can you tell me a little bit about Dallas’s music scene? And how does it differ from Austin and from Denton?

DK: Yeah. Dallas is often overlooked. But we have a number of good bands and venues, especially if you add Fort Worth and Denton into the mix. Bands like Vulgar Fashion, Cutter, New Fumes, Pinkish Black, Terminator 2, and Fungi Girls play all over the metroplex. We all play Austin quite a bit, too. Each place is different, with their pluses and minuses, but we like to treat it like it’s part of a single circuitry. For our EP release show, for example, we have two bands coming down from Oklahoma, and one from Austin. It’s more about finding like-minded people wherever they reside. This same spirit should also apply nationally and internationally. 

WRH: How does your songwriting process work? Do you go into the studio with songs fully-fleshed out ideas or do you have a rough idea and improvise once you get to the studio? How do you know when you have a finished song? Also, with two different vocalists on the albu, does the songwriting process differ? 

DK: Most of our songs start as an idea that begins in Ruth’s head, and sometimes mine. We build it and shape it in rehearsal. Usually, it’s pretty much fleshed out by the time we decide to record the song. This is only our second EP, so perhaps when we get into making a full length we’ll resort to more on-the-fly improvisation.  

WRH: What advice would you give to artists trying to make a name for themselves?

DK: Don’t suck. 

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