Being Southern is a thing. A real, tangible, palpable thing that influences everything about who you are–the way you talk, the food you eat, the names you call your grandparents, everything. It also has a profound effect on the music to which you’re drawn, and if you’re a musician, on the music you create yourself. There’s a distinct flavor to the music born here, from iconoclasts like Elvis Presley, B.B. King, and Johnny Cash, to icons-in-the-making like Gary Clark, Jr., J. Roddy Walston & The Business, and Alabama Shakes, all are purveyors of that swampy, dirty, gritty kind of Southern rock that encompasses us Southern folk from the day we meet the world.
Then there are bands like Black Pistol Fire who tear a big hole in this “Southern people making Southern music” analysis.
Y’all, meet Kevin McKeown and Eric Owen, a duo that could easily be added to that above-named icons-in-the-making list; their Southern rock sound will rattle your bones and make you shake what your mama gave you. The best part? They’re from Canada.
This band makes a lot of noise for only two people, with McKeown howling and shredding while jumping off of elevated surfaces, as the shirtless Owen, a cross between John Bonham and Animal, becomes a tornado of hair and drumsticks as he wails on his kit.
The duo, fresh from performing at Lollapalooza for the first time, describes the experience as an amazing one: “It was surreal. We grew up dreaming about what it would be like to play that festival. It was really great, we played two shows, one packed out afterparty show with Gary Clark, Jr. at The House of Blues, and then our actual show at the festival. It was a really hot day in Chicago. Our stage was surrounded by trees, and people ventured over for shade, so we ended up with a huge crowd. Whatever works right? We enjoyed every minute of it,” recalls McKeown. The band has been busy recording their fourth studio album they hope to release next year, playing shows, festivals, and touring with Gary Clark, Jr. recently. Recalling a show with Clark at the North Carolina Museum of Art, an interesting choice of venue, to say the least, McKeown laughs and says, “Everyone told us that it would be a ‘sit-down’ kind of crowd, but by the end of the set, they were on their feet, stomping and clapping. It was a strange venue, but it was fun.”
Born and raised in Toronto, the pair had played music together for a long time there, but eventually relocated to Austin, Texas. “We’d been playing in a bunch of incarnations of bands back in Toronto; there wasn’t really a home for us when it came to the type of music we were trying to play, that southern-fried, lo-fi, garage kind of music. There wasn’t a lot of that being played around town; we knew that we needed to get ourselves to the States because that’s where a majority of the festivals are, big markets, all of that. Plus, the music we play is all inspired by early rock n’ roll, blues, country, and R&B, and all that stuff was coming from the South,” says McKeown, adding, “It was a pull, it just seemed natural to move and be surrounded by that kind of environment, where this music came from. I quit my job and I told Eric I wanted to move down to Austin and try to do music down there, and lucky for me, he was down for the move as well. The funny thing is, he left two weeks before me, called me when he got there, and said he’d started booking shows; we’d been a trio before, but now we didn’t have a bass player. It was a little frightening. I remember telling him on the phone, ‘We don’t have a bass player! Why are you booking shows?’ We were just so eager to get down there and start playing. We played the way we’d always played, as if there was still a third person with us, and I guess people started to dig it.” Making the move to Austin has only pushed their music in the direction they want to go. They also have no intention of adding anyone else to the Black Pistol Fire lineup, holding strong to their duo status: “I’m sure people are always going to say it’s already been done. We knew going into it that we weren’t doing anything new, but the two of us had been playing together so long, it just works for us.” Don’t worry, Black Pistol Fire. It definitely works for us too.