Pall Jenkins and Tobias Nathaniel are much more playful than The Black Heart Procession lets on. As the core of the San Diego band, Jenkins and Nathaniel craft indie rock that’s pensive, morose, and impressively exacting. Still, the guys themselves are lighthearted and down-to-earth—not exactly traits you’d immediately associate with people known for spare, moody lullabies, and lyrics focused on nonfulfillment and perpetual loneliness. On Monday, Dec. 12, the band plays Hi-Dive with Land Lines and Chelsea Wolfe. Before the guys land in town, we spoke to vocalist-guitarist Jenkins about the implications of brooding songwriting, video games, and non-musical occupational ambitions.
The A.V. Club: The Black Heart Procession was started after you and Tobias came out of Three Mile Pilot and had some romantic troubles. Somewhere around the band’s second or third record, you were writing all those dark songs in a satirical way, right?
Pall Jenkins: Well, no, that was even in the beginning. The very first record was a lot like that. We were kind of miserable and drinking a lot, and we were just like, “Oh yeah, we should write these ultra-sad songs!” It wasn’t a joke necessarily.
AVC: Do you think fans have picked up on that satirical side, or do they take it entirely seriously?
PJ: I think it’s a bit of both. Sometimes, when you’re sad, things get funny in a certain way. You laugh at your own sadness, or at the craziness of the world. You go, “Oh, man, this is ridiculous. How can things get any worse?” It’s kind of [about] taking things with a grain of salt, I guess.
AVC: You come off as good-natured and upbeat in interviews, which is unexpected considering how gloomy your music is.
PJ: I think everybody has their moments with sadness and depression. Maybe it’s a thing we don’t even realize too much. Sometimes, I think maybe that’s a natural defense mechanism. There’s times where I look around at the world, and for some people, it’s very easy for them to be happy, and I’m always amazed at how that comes naturally. At the same time, we don’t walk around all depressed. I think having a good time with your friends and enjoying life is an important thing.
AVC: When you’re writing a Black Heart song, do you do anything to set up the mood?
PJ: A little whiskey always helps. [Laughs.]
AVC: What’s the weirdest assumption someone’s made with the band based on your music?
PJ: A couple of times, I’ve heard people use the term that we’re heroin addicts, and that’s not true.
AVC: That’s a pretty big assumption to make.
PJ: Yeah, or heroin-induced music, or something to this nature. I don’t do heroin at all. I never have.
AVC: Black Heart recently wrote a song called “Fade Away” for the PlayStation 3 game InFamous 2. Was developing that commission particularly different from writing a typical song?
PJ: No, it kind of came together naturally because [Sucker Punch Productions] weren’t really wanting something different from us. The topic of the lyrics seemed to fit in with how a Black Heart song would be anyways. It wasn’t like doing a laundry detergent commercial or something where you’re like, “This doesn’t really fit.”
AVC: Are you much of a gamer yourself?
PJ: A little bit. I have an Xbox and play games like FIFA Soccer and Battlefield, but it’s only for little moments here and there.
AVC: Is there any game, from the early days to the present, that you feel would have been an ideal for The Black Heart Procession to soundtrack?
PJ: There was a lot of video games growing up as a kid. Joust was really great, and Three Mile Pilot used to have song titles named after spaceships in Star Control, but then the lyrics would have nothing to do [with] the video game. As far as scoring a particular video game [goes], not really, but I suppose something like Resident Evil could be pretty cool.
AVC: In a past interview, you talked about how you feel so committed to making music that you don’t have a say in whether you do it or not. Does that ever feel constricting?
PJ: I had tons of jobs when I was younger: pizza delivery, paper routes, working in restaurants, construction. I know a lot of different types of jobs, but music has always been a part of my life, and now I’ve been making a living off recording bands and touring for so long, I feel like that’s my life. But I definitely desire to do other stuff at times—even a simple job where you work and have a drink with your coworkers after, or you do something creative with your hands [such as] welding something or building furniture. I do, every now and then, get tempted to find a part-time job somewhere, just to get me out of that mode of music and open me up to other sides of life. You live in a house for a long time, you want to move; you are in the music business for a while, you get burnt on that. There are days when I get burnt, but I think that music will always be a part of my life.