The San Antonio-based quintet Black Market Club formed in 2012, blending progressive rock and hardcore rock with poppy melodies and indie sensibilities. The band members’ musical influences are just as varied. Two members - guitarist Zach Taylor and drummer Austin Busbee – both were into death metal. The same goes for current bassist Luciano Islas. Guitarist Andrew Bauer grew up on country and gospel music. Vocalist/keyboardist Ben Griffith favored classic rock, jazz and even some blues as well as more contemporary styles. Each member, current and former, has carried into the band several years of musical experience.
Those genres, those melodies, are very evident on the Black Market Club’s sound and its quickly winning over fans. It’s comes at a time when the size of the band’s shows is ramping up. The Black Market Club will be part of the next TwoTen Empire concert Saturday night at the Empire Theatre, joining fellow local bands Hydra Melody, Ready Revolution and The Native Roar.
Busbee, who like Taylor hails from the Houston area, recalls when he and Taylor discovered a mutual interest in music. "I actually wasn't playing music anymore at the time, but (Taylor was) playing this indie music, which I had never heard before and I thought this is kinda cool,” he says. “I hopped on board with that.”
Taylor and Busbee played in a country band before meeting Bauer and they started laying the groundwork for their own group. They soon met Xavier Zavala, who became bassist for Black Market Club, and Blake Cook, who was the vocalist. Taylor says that, when Cook was part of the band, there was a specific sound that guided the group in its formative months.
“We were listening to Circa Survive, Manchester Orchestra and Thrice. When Blake came to us, he completely came out of left field,” Taylor said. “He had listened to radio rock from the Houston area. There was this whole aggressiveness in his voice.”
Their musical development brought the Black Market Club to the San Antonio area. They booked their first official public performance at The Ten Eleven on Avenue B. “But a friend in Austin invited us for a practice show. It was at a co-op,” Taylor says. “It was so much fun. The atmosphere was great. We were in the kitchen and everybody was wrapped around us. We were just involved with the audience.”
The Ten Eleven gig was a success for the Black Market Club. “At that point, all we wanted was to play shows and get out our music,” Busbee says. “By the time we put everything together and played our first show, the consensus was, we want to actually do something with this.”
The band went another step forward by recording with help from a Kickstarter campaign. Their debut seven-track EP, “Faults & Fractures,” came out in April 2013. The EP won recognition in the San Antonio Current’s Music Awards. It features post-hardcore flourishes indicative of the movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Cook’s vocals alternate between subtle and towering. The soulful complexity in between percussion and the guitars is noticeable yet not so overwhelming. The lyrics are accessible, insightful and thoughtful.
Between May 2014 and January 2015, the lineup changed. Zavala and Cook departed. Griffith, a Clark High School graduate, joined the band. At first, he was apprehensive about the idle vocalist’s spot, but soon enough took it and ran with it.
Away from the stage, Griffith comes across as measured with his words. In performance, Griffith is confident and humble, matching his bandmates’ tone, note for note. Prior to joining the Black Market Club, Griffith earned his chops with vocal ensembles, as well as playing the piano and the synthesizer.
“Early on, I did kinda have the rock ‘n’ roll star fantasy. I grew up around great music influences. I've really enjoyed performing,” he says.
“Ben is here and he's been doing music on the side for so long, he can take everything we’ve done and become more comfortable with it,” Taylor says.
The Black Market Club is working on its sophomore CD, “Bad Habits,” due out before this year’s end. This provides Griffith a chance to help provide the band with a new dimension. “Now he's able to take his own ideas, his own spin-offs and incorporate them so that we can make the best sound of out it,” Taylor says.
“When I'm with the Black Market Club, I like being able to focus on vocals,” Griffith adds. “But working on a new album, we’re adding more keyboard and synth parts, adding layers.” He appreciates the varied approach that each member brings to the band. “We try to be all of our styles. Our backgrounds complement each other's when we're writing songs,” he says. “We learn each other's musical personalities.”
The chemistry is only improving with this lineup; it won this year’s Riverwalk Battle of the Bands. The band has played an array of venerable local bars and clubs, and recently finished a tour that went through Dallas, Austin, Houston, Louisiana, and as far as Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
“Our hard work met the opportunity. When we won the Battle of the Bands, good things started happening,” says Busbee.
Mack Damon, local producer with Hollywood Studios, is working with the Black Market Club and overseeing their latest CD production. The guys are enthusiastic about Saturday’s show at the Empire. They have no worries about being intimidated by what lies ahead at this performance or beyond.
“As we're starting to play more venues like (The Empire Theatre) and as our new CD will be coming out, I'm sure that mentality will change,” Griffith says.
“When you're playing the Empire, you can't help but to be hyped up about it. It's got prestige and the name,” Busbee adds.
band promo photos by Greg Gabrisch