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The Pretty Black Chains play plenty of new songs, but you won't hear them on the debut album



The Pretty Black Chains with The Burning Hotels
9 p.m. Saturday
the Conservatory
8911 N. Western

A band writes, records and tours to support an album. It begins again, and the musicians start writing a new album, and the process continues.

Only, The Pretty Black Chains aren't about cycles, expectations or doing things because that's how they are done.These four Oklahoma City guys do what they want, and right now, they don't really feel like playing the songs on the album they're releasing Saturday night ... so they won't.

Funeral 'Ceremonies'
For whom the bell Tulls

This weekend, The Pretty Black Chains retire the tracks from their debut record, "Ceremonies," on the same night they release them, and that's undeniably rock 'n' roll.

The Pretty Black Chains write an album. They record that album. Then they do whatever they feel like doing.

They began with half of the then-recently defunct Stock Market Crash. Guitarist Derek Knowlton and bassist Jonathan Martin partnered with singer/guitarist Kellen McGugan to write some songs in late 2008. The group recruited Kurt Freudenberger for drums to play its first shows in early 2009.

The act took little time in rising to the top of the local music scene, and fans grew to adore the band for its energetic live shows and rowdy stage antics. Its catchy take on Brit pop was a hit among crowds, and the band quickly found itself a headlining draw around the metro.

The guys also found themselves  growing tired of playing the same songs night in and night out, while drinking too much and practicing too little. The quartet took a two-month break in late spring to save itself.

"We just didn't do anything for awhile, but it was a good thing," Freudenberger said. "We needed to regroup and reassess things."

McGugan described the hiatus as a "step back" and cooling-off period. When they came back, Knowlton was chambered with a guitar lick.

"Everything changed," McGugan said. The band found a new life " and a new sound.

"We were doing the whole Brit-pop thing, and that was common ground for us. But then we were just kind of done with it," Knowlton said. "As a music lover, your taste changes as you grow and have new life experiences. Things just go in different directions, and somewhere along the line we just got into different music."

The Pretty Black Chains found itself ditching The Who for Led Zeppelin and rekindled a love for music that had just been simmering. The four holed up in the 120-degree heat of its warehouse practice space all summer, practicing four to five times a week, writing 21 songs (11 of which they are playing live) and resurfaced for only two live shows, compared to the six or so a month they'd previously been playing.

The Pretty Black Chains have since gotten over its interband quibbles and are focused on making the best music they possibly can. The guys said their egos were left at the door of their practice sessions, which opened up to something much more involved for everyone.

"We have expanded our boundaries," Freudenberger said. "We had such small boundaries when we first did this band. Now, if anyone has an idea, we try it out."

"We realized just what makes each one of us special," Martin said. "We realized just how good each one of us were at what we do."

Sure enough, practice made perfect. The Pretty Black Chains emerged with exponentially tighter musicianship and an arsenal of Jimmy Page riffs at its disposal, so much so that the guys are downright giddy about playing their new material for audiences, and even themselves.

"It's bigger; it's more thought-out," Knowlton said. "It's more like a journey. Everyone of these songs is so exciting, when you can't wait to get to your own riff ... you sit there and feel like you are in a cover band because all the songs are so fun to play."

The change is big and drastic, but the guys said it was a part of their natural course as a band.

"It was a bold step, but it was a natural step, too," Freudenberger said. "It was inevitable, but we hadn't set out to change sounds " it just happened."

The new, '70s-rock sound caught the ear of David Fitzgerald of DCF Concerts, who eventually became a badly needed direct line to the industry. Fitzgerald already helped Chains snag a spot opening for a sold-out Smashing Pumpkins show Friday at Tulsa's Cain's Ballroom. The gig is the night before the Chains' LP release, which Knowlton said was just the validation they needed for all the work they had put in.

"All we needed was a little pat on the back," he said. "How many people get to say they opened for Smashing Pumpkins at Cain's Ballroom? Not very many."

Of course, there was the small matter of that unreleased album.

"It's a stepping stone," Knowlton said.

"A time capsule," Freudenberger added with a laugh.

"And you know, I think the best bands look at it that way," Martin said. "I would love it if our albums were always old, because we were just writing that fast."

"Ceremonies" is quickly becoming a relic in the act's history. The guys are proud of it " if regretful it took so long to release " but far too excited about the new material to dwell on it much.

Martin said the retired songs from "Ceremonies" will probably reappear at some point, but said that the band is ready to move forward with the newer tracks.

The "Ambulance" LP had its year and a half, and The Pretty Black Chains are ready to move on, hoping that fans will join them. They were initially worried whether or not its fans would carry over to the new stuff, but quickly decided that they would do what it liked and that would have to be enough.

"If you play stuff to satisfy yourself, well, that's step one," Freudenberger said.

Knowlton said many bands worry too much about trying to keep with a sound or style instead of growing.

"Bands are just thinking too much," Martin said. "Now, we are just playing songs and making it easy, and we love it, and that's it."

The guys were watching a Jethro Tull video on YouTube that got them talking about the arguable peak of music in the '70s, when bands just did what they wanted to do. The Pretty Black Chains decided it would just do what it wanted to do, too. It worked out for all those bands, why not for this one?

"Everybody is letting everybody else tell them what to do," McGugan said. "Jethro Tull? Like, a five-minute flute solo? Fuck you, that's awesome."

With a devil-may-care attitude in hand, The Pretty Black Chains aren't making any promises and are pretty well set on doing whatever they want and doing it well.

 "People better watch out," McGugan said. "We are definitely a whole new beast." "Joshua Boydston

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