Meet Black Ends, the “gunk pop” band redefining the sound of Seattle
Welcome to AP&R, where we highlight rising artists who will soon become your new favorite.
Hailing from the birthplace of grunge, Black, queer-fronted trio Black Ends belong to a subgenre of their own creation. Not quite psych-rock and definitely not indie, they established their elusive, sprawling sound on the 2019 EP Stay Evil, proving themselves to be completely unlike any band in the contemporary Pacific Northwest DIY scene.
Similar to their heroes Nirvana, bandleader Nicolle Swims rejects conformity through hypnotic melodies and unnerving, heavy jams, identifiable by their instantly recognizable voice. Outspoken on and offstage, Swims writes off-kilter earworms about navigating mental health, queer relationships, racism, and more. Processing all the ugly, complicated emotions of being not only an outsider, but a survivor, their songs tell the tale of a riot grrrl-adjacent antihero out to avenge their community and reclaim power over their own existence — just as the chorus of Stay Evil’s title track goes (“Stay evil/Get even”).
With their first full-length album in the works, now is a better time than ever to delve into the wonderfully weird world of Black Ends. AP spoke to Swims about the band's experimental sound, navigating the Seattle scene, and more.
Would you consider Black Ends a punk project?
The way I make the music and the attitude of the music is definitely punk. There's definitely an edge to it, some anger, and some not giving a fuck at all. That's why I call it "gunk pop." Obviously it's not “punk,” but it's gross, kind of.
What has it been like navigating the mostly cis white music scene in Seattle?
There's not a lot of Black-fronted bands, and even less Black, queer-fronted bands [in the Seattle scene]. It has been alienating sometimes just because I don't have that community. There probably are more of us — I just wish that people would give them a platform to play their music. I feel like I have a privilege because I have two white guys in my band and people take us more seriously, but I don't know if that's true. I always think, ‘If we were all Black and queer, would I be where I am right now?’
It seems like [folks] care about Black people, it's just that they don't really know how to include them in the ways that need to happen. People have a hard time saying something, but when one person speaks up, other people are going to be brave enough to say something, too.
Your music processes a lot of personal trauma, racial trauma, and more. In what ways does making music allow you to heal?
I don't really have an outlet sometimes, because I don't have a lot of people I can talk to [who understand my experiences]. Sometimes I don't want to talk, I just want to write about it. Music is therapy for me, I definitely need it to survive. So when things do happen to me, like racial issues or relationship stuff, or loss and trauma, I'm going to make music about it.
What can you share about your upcoming debut album so far?
We [started recording it in late 2022]. We had a lot of [demos] — I have thousands of ideas on my phone. We have a new song that we played live [recently] that will probably be on the album called “Bent.” I'm excited about that one.
I'm trying to make [music that is] catchier, exploring poppy structures a little more, but also I really want to be more experimental with it. Just some dirty, gross pop stuff, but way weirder than what we've gone so far. While making Stay Evil, I was in a great musical headspace, but I was going through relationship stuff and not present in living my life. Now, I'm really excited to make music, and I'm in love with the world in a different way than I was before. I still get depressed, but I'm feeling hopeful, and I feel like that's gonna show in the music.
What do you hope people take away from listening to Black Ends?
I hope the music speaks to you in some way. Music is all we have besides love. It's the most important thing in my life — it’s my vessel. If you wanna know me, that's it.