Vancouver-based duo The Pack A.D. have just unleashed their sixth studio album, Positive Thinking, and it’s easily their most electrifying work yet. The band, composed of guitarist/vocalist Becky Black and drummer Maya Miller, began as a blues rock band. They would quickly shed that skin and morph into a full-on rock n’ roll band by their third album. Known for their lean yet heavy drums-and-guitar formula, they further evolved with their fourth album, Do Not Engage (2014). Black’s vocals became more vibrant, confident and layered. Maya’s pulse-pounding drums were still front and center, but this time backed by atmospheric soundscapes, thanks to a new psych-rock direction. Their sounds are often so big you’d never guess there were only two band members.
Positive Thinking, produced by the band’s longtime engineer Jesse Gander, continues this theme. The Pack A.D. sounds bigger and badder than ever.
The duo are also known for their highly inventive music videos. The one for their new ferocious single “Yes I Know,” which you can view above, is premiering right here on Playboy.com. We called Black and Miller to chat about their whiplash-inducing new music video, their creative process, their love of horror novels and much more.
You guys seem to have a lot of fun with your music videos. “Take” was basically a shot-for-shot remake of Gary Numan’s “Cars,” “Rocket” was post-apocalyptic and “Battering Ram” has that telekinesis smackdown between the two of you. Becky is abducted by aliens in “So What.” Do the two of you come up with all these concepts?
BLACK: A lot of them have been the director’s ideas. It seems like the people we tend to work with are somewhat likeminded. Some of them just come out of a conversation. The alien abduction was Maya’s idea. And I was like, “Yeah, OK. I’m going to be naked on a table. Let’s do it.” [laughs] Matt Leaf, the director of that one, was also a huge fan of a lot of old sci-fi, so he added that inspiration visually.
MILLER: A lot of the videos are our idea, and when I say “our,” I usually mean me. [laughs] The thing is, every time we are recording, while the songs are being mixed, we’re usually sitting there, talking back and forth about video ideas, because the minute we record a song, we’re both visualizing the song and something happening with that song and we kind of keep track of those ideas and just use them when we can. Our videos are pretty dark though. That’s the consistent comment.
Your new video, “Yes I know,” is smaller-scale compared to the videos we just talked about and not nearly as dark. What’s with the change?
BLACK: I was a big fan of this new one because the last video took long. I don’t know how many hours we were filming for, but it definitely went over schedule. So we’re like, “Well, this one will be really easy because you don’t have to move the camera at all.” One shot, set up, and we’ll just move around a bit. The filming was really easy, but apparently, the editing was a nightmare. There’s over 900 edits in the video.
The video has a lot of stop-motion in it. That must’ve been tedious.
BLACK: It was just—jump up in the air. Rotate. Jump up in the air again. Rotate. And then they put it all together. Filming-wise, it was one of the easiest things we’ve done. I thought it was a pretty cool concept. It didn’t have a story. It’s just a visual. The beat of the song is what drives it.
MILLER: I gave myself whiplash while drumming the way that I was drumming in it.
You guys have evolved a lot since your bluesy rock debut, incorporating more and more psych-rock sounds. Were you guys consciously going for that or did it all just happen organically?
MILLER: I think it’s a little bit of both. We’ve definitely been feeling the psych-rock thing since Do Not Engage. I think that this is the longest amount of time spent enjoying playing a certain type of music that we’ve had. I think we went into this one with the intention of just trying our best to not think about what other people might think about it and just focus on what was making us feel the best as we were doing it. It is kind of a straight up rock n’ roll album even though it’s psychedelic-forward. It does feel very upbeat, although it probably contains our darkest lyrics yet. So it’s an interesting balance that happened with it.
I know the lyrics in your last album Do Not Engage were influenced by a lot of sci-fi and horror reading you guys did, in particular, Stephen King. Were there any new elements that influenced your writing for Positive Thinking?
BLACK: There’s often a lot of literary references. Stephen King is Maya’s big thing. We have a new song called “Error” that’s based off a Dan Simmons’ book called The Terror. It’s a pretty amazing book. And we’ve got references to movies, stuff like that.
MILLER: Horror, for me, seems to be a big influence and I know sci-fi, in general, is for Becky. She mentioned “Error.” We both ended up reading that book, so that was even better. Actually, that was one of the songs we ended up writing together.
What’s the lyric writing ratio between you two? Is it 50/50?
BLACK: It’s really 50/50 now, actually. Almost to a tee. And I think we intentionally choose the songs that go on the album that way so it’s all fair. It feels good to split things exactly in half. Sometimes a song is written entirely by me or entirely by her and sometimes we kind of mush our various pieces and poems together and make a song out of it.
MILLER: When we first started off, I was writing a lot of the lyrics—hence we can make fun of me for writing some terrible lyrics on the first two albums. Although, to be fair, she wrote some pretty bad ones too. Somewhere along the line, I think I got better, probably around We Kill Computers. At that point, Becky started participating with lyrics more too. We used to get into the recording studio and have half of the lyrics done, and while she was recording a vocal for one song, I’d be sitting there, frantically trying to finish writing lyrics for the next one. But we’re actually not at that place now. We actually both write songs and bring them in ahead of time now—it’s amazing.
Way back in the beginning, you started out with more members in your band but ultimately became a duo. I know drums and guitar are your signature sound, but have you ever toyed with the idea of bringing back other instruments?
BLACK: We did start out as a four-piece band and separated from that. It was really just because we were writing a majority of the songs together, and when the band broke apart, we were like, “Well, let’s just keep writing songs.” I think we had intended to get more members but we just never really did that. And then we started playing gigs and it was going over well enough so we were like, “Well hey, whatever, we’re getting paid more. Less people.” [Laughs] So our sound kind of evolved based around that limitation. In a sense, I think that’s probably what makes our band what it is—we don’t add those extra elements. In recording, we cheat a little bit. We’ll add extra guitar tracks or vocals, but we try to keep it minimal so that we can recreate what we do on the records live.
You guys made your very first album for 200 bucks. You used to sleep in your van on tour. You’ve come a long way since then. What do you think now looking back on that time period?
BLACK: I’m sure there were some pretty uncomfortable and terrible times. I definitely look upon those times—well, like anyone else does—with rose-colored glasses. We definitely roughed it for many years and its sort of the reason why we’ve progressed and stayed together as a band, I think. We spent so much time together. We sorted everything out really early on. All of a sudden, we’re blowing up, and that happens a lot to bands, but we’ve always been the hard-working, traveling, touring band, eight months out of 12 in a van, sleeping, barely showering [laughs]. Now we have hotel rooms and I wouldn’t go back to that lifestyle. I think I’m done with that, but I’m glad I did it.
MILLER: I don’t regret those days. When we started this band, we weren’t in music before. Everything that we were doing was kind of based on “Well, this is what you do, isn’t it?” You get in a van and you sleep it in. You play shows for barely any money and you tour around. So we did. We absolutely invested in that plan. I’m glad that we did it and I’m happy to report now that we sleep in beds, it’s really great.
At what age did you know you wanted to get into music and be in a band?
BLACK: I never knew that I wanted to do this. It was something that I just kind of shrugged my way into. I was always more interested in visual art. In high school, I was a bit more of the introverted, in-the-corner person, drawing in a book. I didn’t think I would be performing on the stage for people. I never had a moment where I’m like, “I’m going to be a rock star,” or “I want to be famous,” or anything. I’ve always had smaller goals in mind and the music thing started up and it was fun and it became a career, which is amazing. I can’t complain.
MILLER: I first picked up the drums sticks to start a band with my friend. I mean, I’ve been drumming as long as this band has been around. I didn’t know it until I started doing it. And now I love doing it.
What do you think your career might be right now if the music thing didn’t take off?
BLACK: I have no idea. Maybe I would be finishing my PhD in neuroscience.
MILLER: I guess I would still be focusing on script writing. I don’t know if I would be employed currently, but I know that right before I got into the band, I had a couple of scripts in development at a couple of TV stations. So I would hope that would be in some form of development at least.
How long do you see yourself doing this? Do you ever think about the far future and see yourself on a stage for as long as someone like Mick Jagger?
BLACK: I guess I see myself doing what I love as long as I still love it. As long as there’s progress, I think. I can only look back at what I’ve done in the past and see that what I can do now is better. And as long as there’s an upward trajectory and you’re always progressing and not regressing in any way, I feel like it will always be worthwhile.
MILLER: I think it would be a great thing to continue doing this. It should just be your job, you know? There’s completely worse fates than ending up playing in the casino circuit. I mean, that’s great. Bring it on.
Check out The Pack A.D. on tour:
Aug 20 - Rock Creek, BC - Ponderosa Arts & Music Festival
Oct 20 - Toronto, ON - Horseshoe Tavern
Oct 21 - Montreal, QC - Turbo Haus
Oct 22 - Ottawa, ON - House Of TARG
Oct 25 - Somerville, MA - ONCE Somerville
Oct 26 - Philadelphia, PA - Kungfu Necktie
Oct 27 - New York, NY - Mercury Lounge
Nov 15 - Indianapolis, IN - The Hi-Fi
Nov 16 - Chicago, IL - Schubas
Nov 17 - St. Louis, MO - Firebird
Nov 18 - Wichita, KS - Barleycorn’s
Nov 19 - Denver, CO - Lost Lake Lounge
Nov 21 - Los Angeles, CA - Roxy Theatre
Nov 22 - San Francisco, CA - Bottom Of The Hill