Black Friars Social Club crafts a pastoral ode to familial love in the video for “Ballad of a Jr Hitman” (BPM Premiere)

“Songs are just places you keep your stories,” explains Mark Panick. And as the lead singer and songwriter for Black Friars Social Club, and as someone with 40 years experience making music, I think we can trust in his insight. Growing up listening to garage rock and 70s pop radio, he continually attempted to blur the lines between all manner of genres, founding a punk band in 1981 before finding his music on rotation on Jon Peel’s BBC radio show and landing a spot on one of Sub Pop’s early compilations. He would go on to find a home in other bands such as Bonemen of Barumba and Razorhouse.

With Black Friars Social Club, he sought something far more collaborative than other outfits he’d been affiliated with in the past. Formed from a residency at an Irish pub in Chicago, he drew in friends and musicians to help him refine and adapt his musical impulses in a more communal environment. Different styles of music were unceremoniously blurred together and shaped in ways which were completely unexpected.  Built around the combines creativities of bassist Curtis Ruptash, guitarist Mark Coutts, and Panick’s own guitar and distinctive vocals, the band upends our assumptions by never adhering to any one genre or melodic discipline. Their work is in a constant state of rhythmic motion.

The band will release their self-titled debut record on May 12, and its odd angles and beatific landscapes are reflective of Panick’s recent loss of his younger brother and sister, as well as myriad other tragedies that have occurred and the emotional toil they’ve had on him. We are all deal with pain and struggle differently, and the music of Black Friars Social Club confronts the darkness head on, without side-stepping the inevitable anguish and pain.

With recent song, “Ballad of a Jr Hitman”, the band inhabits a sparse and haunting Americana landscape through which they dig deeply into the familial connection that Panick shared with his brother. Acoustic guitar and lonesome strings shuffle over a voice recounting the past, offering up something raw and honest. This is a story told with extraordinary affection and just a little bit of humor, an homage that is overflowing with heartfelt emotion, as well as a longing for times that can’t be reclaimed.

“When Jay was in 6th grade, he had this kid gang; they called themselves The Jr Hitmen and they had it printed on the back of their Members Only jackets,” Panick recalls. “We never let him live that shit down. Jay understood the southside Chicago habit of derision as an expression of love.”

For the accompanying video to “Ballad of a Jr Hitman”, Panick brought together visual artist Blair Gauntt and filmmaker David Anderson to create an ode to his brother through a strangely beautiful graphic novel aesthetic. There are memories here — of diving, jumping creeks and motorcycle rides — that paint a wistful and mournful portrait of grief surrounded by the joys of experiences remembered. And though his relationship with his brother is something we’re unable to understand to its fullest degree, this video helps us to catch just a glimpse of the intense love and comradery that they shared.