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Metal’s New Teen Titans

Headbanging Miami prodigies Black Tide rock like it’s 1989

Jul 10, 2008

Courtesy of Interscope Records

Gabriel Garcia, the 15-year-old singer and lead guitarist for Black Tide, is explaining how he’s failed seventh grade three times ”“ so far. “Fuck school,” he says. “I was a really bad student, dude.”

Drummer Steven Spence jumps to Garcia’s defence: “Well, it’s hard to keep your motivation when you’re in seventh grade and you have a record deal.”

Garcia snorts, adding, “It was more, like, marijuana.”

The Florida foursome were the lone Latino metalheads ”“ bassist Zakk Sandler is the only Caucasian member ”“ in their neighbourhood, brought together by a mutual love of Eighties acts like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Guns n’ Roses. “We really stood out,” Garcia remembers. “In Miami, it’s just rap and reggaeton.”

When they started gigging in 2004, Black Tide had five songs in their repertoire ”“ once, for a longer set, they played them twice. Although they were playing all-ages shows, their youthful prowess soon attracted major-label interest. Last year, Black Tide appeared on the main stage of OzzFest, and in March, Interscope released their debut, Light From Above, which has spawned a hit rock radio single, ”˜Shockwave.’ Stocked with finger-tapping solos (”˜Warriors of Time’) and whoa-whoa refrains (”˜Show Me the Way’), the album wields a heavy but tuneful sound that’s been out of fashion since approximately 10 minutes after Nevermind was released in 1991. So why did Interscope sign them? Jeff Sosnow, the band’s A&R man, says, “Songs and musicality win. I was inhibited by their age at first, but Gabriel’s a great writer.”

While Garcia is just 15, the rest of the band are between 18 and 20 ”“ and are tired of people being surprised they like beer and strip clubs. “We see the world, and people give us free alcohol sometimes,” Sandler says cheerfully.

“We’re not on the fuckin’ Disney Channel,” adds guitarist Lexx Nunez.

Today, Black Tide are at the studios for Yahoo! Music, taping a live set. It’s not even lunchtime yet, but drummer Spence already has his shirt off and is sweating profusely. They play the propulsive ”˜Shockwave,’ hammering out a sawtooth riff while the baby-faced Garcia whips his hair around and howls, “When I’m around, you’ll feel the pain.” The band’s rocking out furiously against a grey-green background that looks a lot like a basement rec room. Not long ago, that would have been an actual rec room, but things are changing fast. “The day the record came out in March, we were playing to 30 kids,” says Nunes. “The next day, we played to 300.” The audiences should be considerably larger in July and August on the touring Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival, where Black Tide will perform alongside acts like Slipknot and Mastodon.

Success hasn’t stopped the group having petty arguments over everything from Halo to who called shotgun. Sandler observes, “You hear about other bands: ”˜His heroin addiction is getting in the way.’ And we’re like, ”˜He fucking sat in my seat, that asshole.’ ”

Black Tide’s long-term approach is very short-term: Just enjoy rocking out, marvel at not having a day job, and try to get free stuff. “We e-mailed our manager,” Nunez says. “We told him, ”˜We need fully loaded Apache helicopters right now.’ He e-mailed us back, ”˜We’re working on it.’ ”