Enter the Colorful World of Big Black Delta

Jonathan Bates's new project is electro-futuristic synth-pop that explodes with gigantic hooks.

Big Black Delta
Big Black Delta© Jeremy Deputat/Red Bull Media House

When his rock band, Mellowdrone, went on indefinite hiatus three years ago, the LA-based musician, producer and vocalist Jonathan Bates never stopped. Working as a solo artist, primarily with just his laptop, he became Big Black Delta. And on April 29, Bates releases the project's self-titled, second full-length album on his label, Master of Bates.

Like it's predecessor, 'Big Black Delta' is electro-futuristic synth-pop that explodes with bumping rhythms, gigantic hooks and Bates's warped, sci-fi vocals. But 'Big Black Delta' is an emphatically noisy collection of songs, too, as Bates uses rough fuzz and drifting soundscapes to produce spooky lost-in-space vibes.

On a recent morning, as he drank a cup of coffee near his home in Echo Park, we spoke with Bates about how he's not very good at playing video games, the new album, and how he once saw a UFO.

On Instagram you recently took a picture of the Mike Tyson's Punch-Out video game, and it looked like you had knocked out Mike Tyson.

Man, I've never been able to personally beat that game in my life. I haven't beat it on the home version, and definitely not at the arcade. I don't know what they do to make it even harder at the arcade, but it's impossible. I just found that picture.

Did you play video games as a kid?

Yeah, I did. But on the NES, I could never beat games like Mega Man and Metroid. I'd always have to put the cheat codes in. I don't know anyone who's ever beaten even a game like Contra without the codes. I beat the first Super Mario Bros., but not the second one. I think I beat the third one with the cheat code. I'm not a good video game player at all. The kids at school would always beat these games, but I never could.

Big Black Delta
Big Black Delta© Carlo Cruz/Red Bull Media House

Maybe it's good you never got too deep into gaming because you're probably too busy making music to play nowadays. What are you working on now?

Right now I'm working on a remix for Susanne Sundfør. And I've been working on the live set for Big Black Delta.

Do you still do a lot of remix projects?

I have been doing a lot in the last year. But I'm not sure if I want to keep doing them as much. They're draining for me, because I really like getting into them, and changing shit around to make a new song. But it gets exhausting after a while. And right now I want to focus on my own music. I'm working on a bunch of new ideas, and I want to finish up what will hopefully be another new album, which I'd like to release later this year.

I see a lot of bursts of colors and shapes. And patterns that, if you were to take hallucinogens, you might see, but I can see them without drugs when I close my eyes.

How do you compare Big Black Delta to Mellowdrone?

Both of them are essentially just me: Mellowdrone was just me with a band, and this is me with a laptop. At least on the recording – when Big Black Delta plays live, it's me and two drummers. It's so rad to stand in front of two drummers – they make the air move. No matter where you look, there's someone swinging at something. Both of them are really good buddies of mine. I just give them the music and let them do whatever they want over it. It's a lot of fun. You hear what you see. I'm committing to images in my brain this time; I'm really trying to take a picture and score it.

What sort of pictures are you scoring with Big Black Delta?

I see a lot of bursts of colors and shapes. And patterns that, if you were to take hallucinogens, you might see, but I can see them without drugs when I close my eyes. Or if I'm working on music late at night, I'll come across a painting or something that I like and I'll try to score it.

Big Black Delta
Big Black Delta© Carlo Cruz

Do you have the condition called synesthesia?

I see colors and shapes when I hear music. And I think of numbers in colors, you know? Patterns, too.

How do you contrast the colors, images and shapes of Mellowdrone with those of Big Black Delta?

Mellowdrone is softer edges, and more earth tones. There are a lot of oranges. And Big Black Delta is like this purply, black goop with a twirl on top of it.

The name Big Black Delta refers to UFOs in some way, right?

Yeah, it's an homage to ufology, which is my favorite hobby. Big Black Deltas are the most viewed kind of UFO. A lot of people don't believe they are manmade. I really like the name, and the music reminds me of it.

The reason I love it is because I love the idea that there is some other form of conscious life that is evolving, possibly thousands of years ahead of us. What can we learn from them?

Have you seen a UFO before?

Yeah, I saw one about a year ago. It was over the Burbank airport. It was about the size of a house. It looked like a sideways balloon ― like a teardrop ― and it was just sitting. It wasn't moving. But it was too big to be a ballon. And the top of it looked like normal metal, but the bottom of it glowed. It was the brightest thing I've ever seen. My friend was driving, and he saw it, too. It just hovered there, perfectly.

Do you consider yourself a believer?

I don't know what to believe. I like the stories and the lore of it. But until I see it in front of my face, and I can see it and touch it and smell it, I don't believe. But I enjoy the stories a lot. The reason I love it is because I love the idea that there is some other form of conscious life that is evolving, possibly thousands of years ahead of us. What can we learn from them? I'm curious about that.

Perhaps we'd make more interesting music.

Would music be necessary? Would food be necessary? I don't know. Just imagine all the shit that you and I waste energy on in a single day, and maybe we wouldn't have to do any of that stuff anymore. Imagine if we could read each other's minds, and if we knew how other people felt. Maybe we would all get along much better; maybe we could become better people.

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