The Black Tones Want Us to Avert “The End of Everything”

There’s a time and place for a song. In 2020, singer and songwriter Eva Walker had just lost her father to cancer and was immediately struck by the murder of George Floyd by police just one day later. Working through a toxic emotional cocktail of grief, depression, and anger, she began writing “The End of Everything.”

“All of this was just so much at once, and I was as depressed as I could be,” says the singer and guitarist, one half of Seattle-based blues-rock duo The Black Tones, along with her twin brother and drummer Cedric . “I really felt like the world, at least my world was ending, and seemed to be approaching sooner than later.”

For The Black Tones, “The End of Everything”—one of two new songs released by the duo via Sub Pop Singles Club, which also features the B-side “Mr. Mines”—questions the higher powers, but is not specifically about religion says Walker, prodding Jesus and various powers the be singing My name is Allah / I came to fuck things up through denser guitar and drums and a howling refrain of the end of everything.

A follow up to the pair’s 2019 release Cobain & Cornbread“The End of Everything” left The Black Tones, who recently released a cover of U2 hit “Pride (In the Name of Love)” with Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, in another state, one where humans are hurtling toward the destruction.

Featuring vocals by Edna Holt, once a backing singer for the Talking Heads and a former member of the 1970s disco group The Ritchie Family, “The End of Everything” doesn’t really have to be that way, if we’re willing to do something , collectively, about it.

Set to tour the West Coast spring 2022 with dates through April, including Bellingham, Washington, and Jam in the Van in Los Angeles, Walker chatted with American Songwriter about “The End of Everything,” the story behind the real “Mr. Mines,” and the freedom to go anywhere necessary—even beyond rock.

American Songwriter: Listeners will always have their own interpretation of a song, but from your perspective tell me more about “The End of Everything.” Do you feel like there’s any saving grace (or hope) for us these days?

Eva Walker: The End of Everything for me, is about just that. I named it after a book called The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack. The last two years have been really tough. We have a pandemic that some people just are not willing to take seriously and would rather make a political issue than see it for what it is, a world health issue. Just a couple of months into the pandemic my stepfather, who dedicated his life to fighting for civil rights, became a prominent leader in his community and many other communities, died of cancer after a six-year battle. I bring up his life’s work because it’s relevant to what happened next. Literally, the day after he died, George Floyd was murdered by a crooked cop. All of this was just so much at once, and I was as depressed as I could be. I really felt like the world, at least my world was ending, and seemed to be approaching sooner than later. This song is not a jab at religion or anything like that. This song is saying, it doesn’t matter what you believe in, the second coming of whoever or whatever, this is all going to be over and it feels like humans might be speeding up that process.

So since we are speeding up the process, it would seem the hope is then with us. We are our best hope. Will we rise to the challenge or will we usher in the literal end of everything? I guess I’m hopeful that I still do my work and still try to bring good into the world. The question is: will the rest of us also do that?

AS: When did “Mr. Mines” start piecing together for you. Was it a song that had been lying around for some time, or something fairly new?

E.W.: “Mr. Mines” is the oldest of the two songs. I had that one worked out a few years ago and it was originally called “Base-mess” or something along those lines because it was composed in a basement like many of my songs. But the more we played it, there was something about the tune that started to make me think about this tour guide bus driver my 8th grade class had on our Washington DC-New York trip. He took us to Arlington National Cemetery. I remember distinctly: him walking on the headstones… he wasn’t really paying attention to where he stepped, he was just doing his job and giving us the tour. Our class spent a whole day with this guy and he was really cool. I remember at the time I sat up front, watched him turn that big steering wheel in his dorky tourist outfit, and saying to myself “I wish he was my dad!” [laughs]. So that song wasn’t written about Mr. Mines, it just took his name since it made me think about him, even so many years later.

AS: Though written at different times, is there a common thread between “The End of Everything,” “Mr. Mines,” and the other music you’re working on now that’s resonating with you now?

E.W.: I honestly feel like both songs are apocalyptic-sounding. “The End of Everything” is more obvious. The instrumental recording of “Mr. Mines” was inspired by two songs—“Ghetto Organ” by Jackie Mittoo, which also inspired “Ghetto Spaceship” the first track on Cobain & Cornbread, and “Great Gig in the Sky” by Pink Floyd which is a song about transitioning to death . If you haven’t guessed it yet, yes I think about death… a lot. I wake up thinking about death and I go to sleep thinking about death. It’s been a part of my brain’s operating system since I was 9 years old. After the sudden death of my aunt in Texas from a car accident years ago, I developed OCD in response to that life-changing moment. I don’t speak about my mental health in interviews much because it is still very personal, but you will see a theme in my writing. There’s usually some sort of nod at death or space. “The End of Everything” is probably as apocalyptic as it gets for me and “Mr. Mines” sounds more like a soul circus as the end approaches.

AS: How do songs typically come together for you? Does it feel like this has shifted or evolved over the years?

E.W.: It has changed, but not very much. I record ideas on my phone if something happens to pop into my head. I also listen to a lot of different kinds of music. I listen to everything from Kraftwerk, one of my favorites of all time, to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, my favorite rap group of all time, to Johnny Cash to what’s being created locally from artists in my hometown. What has really been inspiring me lately and for the last few years now is the music of the 1970s from Nigeria and other music from the AfroRock genre, bands like the Ify Jerry Krusade, The Funkees, WITCH from Zambia. As my music lens grew wider, that provided me with endless opportunities to be as creative as I wanted to be.

AS: In The Black Tones, is songwriting more of a collaborative effort with Cedric or on your domain? If collaborative with your brother, how do you work out all the moving parts of a song?

E.W.: It’s a bit of both. I have written a lot of the songs, but he really makes it come to life with his drumming. I’ll rewrite parts once I hear what he puts over it because I like what he did better or something like that. He usually leaves the lyrics to me. We really do communicate honestly and efficacy, it helps being twins [laughs], But more than anything, I have Cedric’s trust. He really does trust my musical choices when composing something. I think there has only been one song I wrote where he’s been like “No, nope, sorry don’t like this!”

AS: Guitar is central to The Black Tones. When writing, are songs generally driven by guitar first, then lyrics? Is it the music before the words for you?

E.W.: It’s always changing. There have been songs I’ve written where the lyrics came first then vice versa. “The End of Everything” is an example of the words coming before the music. “Getto Spaceship” off of Cobain & Cornbread is an example of the exact opposite. So it’s based on which one I actually like first, the music, or what I’m saying.

AS: Musically/sonically, what do you feel has shifted with these new songs? Is there an intentional sound you’re trying to capture at this point with The Black Tones?

E.W.: The only thing I hope is coming across with this sound, especially a song like “The End of Everything,” which probably sounds the most different from what we’ve recorded, is that I don’t want to be limited. I want to compose, produce whatever kind of song I want to make. I want to remain free. My heart is in making rock and roll, I love it so much. But if the feeling hits and I end up making a metal song, or a funk song, or whatever, I want to have that freedom to do what feels good. I wasn’t the same person I was 15 years ago, or 10 years ago, or even five years ago, so my music will change with me.

We do it for us. Anyone that wants to come along for the ride is always welcome, but hate and dictatorship will be turned away and has no place in what we decide feels good for us.

Photos: Danie Denial

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