An Interview with Ben Flanagan of Black Map

Black Map is Mark Engles, Ben Flanagan, and Chris Robyn (Photo: Jen Cash)
One of the highlights to this years' Aftershock Festival in Sacramento will be none other than the Bay Area's own, Black Map. The hard rock trio will open up the second day of the festival on October 22nd and we can't wait to hear them. In addition, festival headliners will include Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle, and Ozzy Osbourne with Zakk Wylde. Tickets are still available and can be found here. But in the meantime, we had the chance to catch up with Black Map's lead singer and bassist, Ben Flanagan a few days ago as the band prepared to hit the Rock Allegiance festival outside of Philadelphia.

SFBAC: Hi Ben, thanks for making the time. You guys have been pretty consistently on the road for what, the past year or so? How's it been going? Has it met your expectations?

Ben Flanagan: Oh yeah! I mean it's been by far our best year, 2017. The end of 2016 was pretty awesome since we did that huge tour with Bush and Chevelle, but this year we've really been on the road for about seven out of the ten months of the year so far. So it's been our busiest year, and we just put out this record [In Droves (iTunes)] that we're really proud of. So we're happy we're getting to be active to support it.

SFBAC: Do you love being on the road, or does it get to be a grind every once in a while?

Ben Flanagan: It's always a grind and we love it. Yeah, it's hard, but no complaints. Truly, we're lucky to be able to do what we love to do. And to be pretty consistently playing for a lot of people. So it's great. You miss home, and... you're in a van a lot. And you don't see sunlight too often. But we love playing music and that's why we're doing it.

SFBAC: On your down days, do you get a chance to actually get out in the towns you're visiting or do you pretty much just stay hunkered down and practice and write and record?

Ben Flanagan: It's rare that in a van we get a day off because we're usually chasing buses. We've been fortunate enough to be out on tour with bigger bands like Chevelle and Bush and Nothing More and 10 Years. So often on days off, we're doing a lot of driving. But every now and then... The last tour, we had a good bowling day off with Chevelle in South Dakota. That was fun. But normally, we're just putting miles on the van.
Bowling in South Dakota (Photo: Black Map Facebook)
SFBAC: Related to Chevelle, you guys have toured with them a number of times. How did that relationship first start?

Ben Flanagan: The relationship started before this band started, because both Mark and Chris's former bands had played with them. And then, our first record we were signed to a local bay area label called Minus Head Records. Brad, the owner, just asked me to write down a bunch of bands that we'd want to tour with. And I made a list of about twenty bands -- very obvious bigger rock bands --  that we liked and respected from Chevelle to the Foo Fighters, to Muse and Queens of the Stone Age, et-cetera. And he literally reached out to them, and they were aware of us, and about to go on a tour, and liked the music. And they took us out. So that was literally the first tour that this band did was a West Coast tour with Chevelle and Highly Suspect about 3 years ago now. So it worked out pretty well.

SFBAC: It sure has. You guys are a great fit and always a great opener for Chevelle, and in my mind, one of these days they'll be opening for you hopefully!

Ben Flanagan: I don't know about that! We just want to get more and more fans which would be nice.

SFBAC: So I think you're in Camden right now getting ready for the Rock Allegiance show?

Ben Flanagan: We're actually in New York on Long Island, but yeah, we'll be in Camden tomorrow and we're excited about that and doing these festivals. It's really cool.

SFBAC: How do these festivals differ from the smaller shows or even the theater shows that you guys were doing with Chevelle?

Ben Flanagan: It's the feel. You're outdoors, you're dealing sometimes with the elements, but actually a couple of festivals we've done so far in the fall have been really nice. It's just a different vibe. It's a shorter set, and you're kind of throw-and-go with your gear. So you get a little line check, and then you just have to bring it for about thirty minutes. It's less intimate, but it's also, in a way, a lot more fun. Sometimes you just see a huge sea of people, and it's just kind of thrilling. It's a good rush.

SFBAC: Given the limited time, have you been changing up the set lists at all? Or do you just play through the favorites and the crowd pleasers?

Ben Flanagan: With festivals, you don't really have the time... We just try it keep it as high octane as possible. All the bangers. None of our more sensitive material. Because the idea is that a lot of people are aware of the band, but probably the majority of them, even if they're aware of you or your name, they're not totally familiar with your material. So you just give a snapshot and capture them. And that's what you've got to try and do.

SFBAC: I've taken a look at the lineups for the festivals across the country this year that you've been a part of, and there's a good overlap of bands that are also playing at Aftershock. Who else on the Aftershock bill should we check out and has blown you guys away?

Ben Flanagan: Lets see. Well, there are two days of course. Nine Inch Nails, we've always been big fans of... Run the Jewels... A Perfect Circle we caught at Carolina Rebellion and they were fantastic. Mastodon has been on every festival that we've played and we always try to watch them. On our day [Sunday, October 22nd], definitely the bands I'm most excited to see... Beartooth are awesome live. I haven't listened to much of their record, but they've been on like every festival that we've played and they're rad. I've never seen Ozzy before, and we're really excited to see him. As you know, the Bay Area's home for us, so we'll definitely stay late and catch his whole set, so there you go.

SFBAC: And when you guys are playing these, is there much time to interact with the bands backstage, or is there much interaction at all?

Ben Flanagan: I mean it depends. The festival that we did in Louisville, members of our band knew a lot of the bands. From Nothing More to Incubus to Thrice, and stuff like that. So there's definitely some chatting with those guys. And then the tour family, the more you tour, it gets smaller and smaller, so we recognize sound guys and front of house guys, and lighting guys from other tours that are working with other bands. So it's definitely a family and especially with catering, we get to throw down with old friends. Some of whom, you forget, you know like somebody could be working with the sound guy for Ozzy one week, and then he goes and works with another band the next week, and you forget. You can't always keep track of who's working with who, so you get a lot of surprises and see a lot of old friends.

SFBAC: So I wanted to ask you about your last band prior to forming Black Map, The Trophy Fire, and specifically, looking back at your time with The Trophy Fire, is there anything that you've done differently this time around with Black Map that you might not have done with the Trophy Fire? What's different about the three of you guys versus the Trophy Fire?

Ben Flanagan: Well, I think this is much harder rock, and you know, we got signed to a much bigger label than The Trophy Fire. And I'm in a band with two guys that have been in pretty famous bands themselves [Editors note: Mark Engles was/is the guitarist for Dredg; and Chris Robyn was the drummer for Far.] So I think, all those elements, I'm really proud of The Trophy Fire and still close to those guys. But I think hard rock's making kind of a resurgence right now and I think we've just... we didn't start this band in an anticipatory way with that, but we've kind of caught along with it. And we've got a great label and gotten some big tours. So I think those are the things that have propelled it a little more than some of my previous projects.

SFBAC: Specific to your new label, it's eOne Music, prior to that was Minus Head. Talk me through how that relationship evolved and how you got signed to eOne. I'm assuming they heard your ...And We Explode EP (iTunes)?

Ben Flanagan: Yeah, we still have a really good relationship Brad at Minus Head and it's a great label, but we just... we wanted to attempt to maybe be a part of a bigger operation and get on a bigger label. So we just had the music and shopped around, and just decided on the label that was the best fit, I guess. You always want to just keep moving forward and sometimes it's hard, especially when you have loyalty to people and maintain good relationships, but I think we had to move forward. So yeah, it's all good.

SFBAC: Your first single on In Droves was "Run Rabbit Run" which made it into the modern rock radio charts earlier this year. Is there another single or video you guys are working on?

Ben Flanagan: Yeah, we did a video for the song Ruin, and we're figuring out what the next single will be. We're not quite sure yet.

SFBAC: And I think it was just yesterday that you guys posted some pictures from a recording studio. What are you guys doing in there?

Ben Flanagan: Yeah! I guess all I can say is that we're in a studio in Long Island and we're working on new material. And I can't say much more than that.

SFBAC: Well, I think the last question I've got is more on the serious side... With the Vegas shooting in the rearview mirror, and now the revelations coming out that the shooter actively looked at other music festivals around the country, plus, with the Ariana Grande and Eagles of Death Metal shootings; Does the thought of something like this happening ever cross your mind as you're on stage performing?

Ben Flanagan: No. Because when I'm up there I'm thinking about different things. But you know, this whole thing was so awful the other day, and what struck me was that Chevelle played that same venue the night before. And that could have been my friends and a bunch of people in the hard rock community that I know. And their lives aren't more important than the people at this country concert by any means, but it would actually be people that I know personally. So no, I haven't thought about it yet, but it's fucking scary and terrible and I hope I don't start thinking about it, but I don't think it would stop me from traveling anywhere within reason, unless there was an imminent threat. You just hope security beefs up and hope that all the other elements between mental health and limiting people from getting insane weaponry, you know, starts to improve. But no, I'm to a fault too focused on playing rock shows when I'm performing.

SFBAC: Good. Good. Well Ben, I think that's about all I had and thanks so much for your time. We're looking forward to seeing you at Aftershock and can't wait to hear the new material.

Ben Flanagan: Absolutely. Alright Kevin, nice talking to you. Take care.

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