Jan Paternoster is missing. Two hours before Belgian blues rockers Black Box Revelation are due on stage at the Cactus festival in Bruges, the singer/guitarist is AWOL. No-one knows where he is. Thankfully someone knows who he’s with, which seems to reduce the latent unease among the group’s entourage dramatically. “He’s with his girlfriend,” says Dries Van Dijck, the band’s cherubic drummer. “Don’t worry, he’ll be here,” he adds, calmly. “Want a beer?”
This confident and cool response speaks volumes about the relationship between front man Paternoster and his pint-sized powerhouse partner-in-crime. After the laconic singer eventually ambles into the backstage area, it’s clear the bond is strong. They banter like brothers; cracking each other up with shared anecdotes and memories. On stage, the connection is almost telepathic. Trust is everything. It has to be when the show, the music and even their futures rely so heavily on just the two of them.
“From the very first rehearsal, we agreed that we wanted to become a really good band and not stay a shitty little Brussels group that just played for about 20 people,” says Paternoster, after relocating to the band’s dressing room in a nearby school. “We like the fact that it’s just the two of us. In the old band, there were four of us and when we wanted to rehearse there was always trouble getting everyone together at the same time. There was always someone who couldn’t make it. We ended up hardly rehearsing. With the two of us, it’s easier and we’re more committed to making it work.”
The old band is – or was – the Mighty Generators. Legend has it that after a demo session for a recording the Mighty Generators were entering into Belgium’s biggest band contest, Humo’s Rock Rally, Paternoster and Van Dijck used the remaining time to jam on some songs the singer had been toying with away from the band. “I wrote one song, Love in Your Head, and it didn’t fit with what the Mighty Generators were doing,” Paternoster says. “So I said to Dries that maybe we should try and play this song together, just guitar and drums. We rehearsed just the one time and it was like ‘Nah…’ but then I wrote two more songs and we played them again and it sounded pretty good. The music we played, just the two of us, was more like the music we wanted to play.”
Both the Mighty Generators and the embryonic Black Box Revelation recordings were entered into the contest. The Mighty Generators were eliminated in the first round. The Black Box Revelation won the silver medal. The rest is recent history
“After that, we thought we should stick with Black Box Revelation and try and make a go of it,” says van Dijck. “We’ve never really regretted the decision to leave because we’re doing quite well and this is where we want to be. From the start we said to each other that we wanted to go for it and become famous. And it’s happening.”
It certainly is. Despite their tender ages – Paternoster is 20, Van Dijck is just 18 – they already have a wealth of knowledge gained from growing up in the business and stories from the rock ‘n’ roll’ coalface.
“My first gig ever was with a band called The Feminists,” says Paternoster. “I wasn’t playing guitar at the point. I could only sing and not that well, I hadn’t learnt how to breathe properly in the songs and I had this very low voice. And they made me sing Stairway to Heaven. On the one hand it was terrible but on the other it was really fun. Robert Plant had nothing to worry about though. And the guy on drums is the only drummer I know without any rhythm. He just played whatever he wanted over the top of the guitars and my singing.”
Just how famous the Black Box Revelation will get remains to be seen but the initial signs are good. They already have a growing reputation and a burgeoning following in their home country while high profile support slots on international tours and increasingly large headline shows around Europe are helping to spread the message.
“We’ve done three tours since the start of the year,” says Paternoster, putting his band forward for a nomination as one of the hardest working new acts around. “We toured through Europe with the Eagles of Death Metal and then we toured France with (fellow Belgians) Ghinzu, which was weird because in the Flemish part of Belgium, they’re not that big but in France they were selling out big venues of 2000 people every night. Then we did our own headlining tour in Germany and Switzerland. But now we’re playing one or two festivals a week.
“Things are also going okay in the UK,” he adds. “We were in the NME three times and our next single comes out there in three weeks and then we’re going to play a show. But it’s hard to create a buzz around our band in the UK because they have lots of bands there. I think they have so many bands that some people wonder why they should listen to bands from outside the UK. It’s working out well though, but it’s not easy. “
“We played the Scala in London with dEUS and White Lies and that was cool,” says Van Dijck. “The guys from dEUS told us that we had to come back and play as many times as we can in the UK. Just keep coming back and playing. Get as much attention as you can. So we will, when we get the chance. Last time we played in London it was a great show and the people said they liked us, so…”
Despite the increasing exposure to the hard-living rock’n’roll lifestyle, these young Belgians seem to have their heads screwed on and their feet planted firmly on the ground.
“We’re not the type of band to have superstitions and rituals,” says Paternoster. “I think it’s too dangerous to start with superstitions. Once you think you have to have those things, like the lucky underpants, you might have one day when it’s like, ‘oh shit, the lucky underpants aren’t clean’ and then you think it means that it’s going to be a bad show.
“We know how important this all is,“ adds Paternoster. “We always drink a beer before a show but we never get drunk. We’re not drunk onstage because we did that once or twice and it wasn’t that good so from that moment we said that we would always be sober on stage. But we have the one beer to get in the mood.”
“We don’t act like big stars because we’re not…yet,” adds Van Dijck. “On our rider, we only ask for two bottles of wine; one red, one white; a bottle of whiskey, enough beers. If we get really big maybe we can ask for something stupid before every show and see if they bring it for us. We can see if they pay attention to the rider or not.
“Dries used to have Red Bull on the rider,” laughs Paternoster, imitating an over-caffeinated drummer. “He would say that he wouldn’t go on stage without his Red Bull. Some bands have their booze album, some have their cocaine album – our first record was our Red Bull album. The next one will be the coffee album.”
True to their word, after a series of neck rolls and intense pacing, they toast their band with a single beer and go into a two-man huddle before taking to the stage. The atmosphere, already electric due to a series of passing downpours and threatening storm clouds, crackles from the moment the band greet the crowd. After the briefest of introductions, the band tears through an hour long set of funked-up punk blues at illegal volume and breakneck speed. The majority of debut album “Set Your Head on Fire” gets the high octane live treatment, with Van Dijck splintering drumsticks with abandon while Paternoster struts and screams like a possessed young Jagger, torturing supernatural riffs from his battered guitar. While the White Stripes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club comparisons make sense when confronted with the cut-and-thrust of songs like Love, Love is on My Mind and Gravity Blues, it’s the band’s love of the Rolling Stones which drives the scuzzy jive of crowd pleasers like Stand Your Ground and I Think I Like You. It’s a fast-paced celebration of the Devil’s best music.
They are even granted the festival rarity of an encore, an even more anomalous event considering they aren’t even the headline act and this is a mid-afternoon slot, not a closing set. One breathless discussion later and the band are back on stage for a ballsy, truimphant version of Fighting with the Truth. Then they’re gone in a squall of feedback; ears ringing and drenched in sweat.
It’s obvious from the state of them after the show that creating such a noise and generating such incredible energy leaves both band members on the point of collapse.
“We have to create this wall of sound, just the two of us, so we have to give 100 percent all the time,” gasps Paternoster, as he shakily signs autographs while Van Dijck struggles to find the power to hand out drumsticks to young fans nearby. “I have three amps but it’s as much to do with the power and effort we put in as much as the amplification. I think it has a lot to do with the way we play together. We’ve been getting louder and louder as we’ve gone on. The first year, we never used ear plugs but after that, the ringing in the ears was so bad we had to start wearing them. I think since then we’ve been even louder. I can’t put my amp at just one or two because Dries is drumming so hard I can’t hear it. I have to turn it up to eleven, like Spinal Tap.”
Once the adoring hordes have been satisfied, it’s time for friends and family. “I’m here for all the Belgian shows,” says, Elisabeth Van Lierop, Paternoster’s girlfriend, as she props up the exhausted singer. “It’s the only time I get to see him at the moment. They’re either in the studio or on the road.”
Considering the band are due back in the studio in August to put the finishing touches to their much-anticipated second album, she may have to get used to her boyfriend being away from home a lot more.