Until just two weeks ago, the Black Taxis were a German band. They’d been so ever since their inception — an event that can be traced back to a moment some 18 months ago when guitarists William Mohring and Lars Jahn tried to chat up future frontman Jordan Miller’s sister at a party.
Operating out of a house in mid-renovation in Meuselbach, a village near Germany’s geographical center, the punk-pop quintet initially known as Black Taxxi was quick to attract a “semi-fanbase.” That spurred them toward band competitions in the nearby city of Erfurt. Then Berlin. And then even as far afield as Lisbon, Portugal.
As the band took on permanent members — namely, Jordan’s brothers Adam (bass) and Seth (drums) — they tweaked their moniker and racked up wins at nearly every competition they entered. Those accolades left them energized and even a bit stunned.
“We’d already kind of counted ourselves out,” Jordan says, recalling their earliest competition — just barely a week after their “debut,” a hasty house-party show. They found themselves onstage in front of an audience 400 strong. “We go there and the first band plays. Crowd’s small. The next band plays. Crowd’s small. Next band plays. Crowd’s small. Then we play and everybody goes right to the stage. It’s packed.”
“We’d only played that one tiny little show, and somehow word got around,” Seth adds. “You walked out on the stage and all of a sudden there’s all this energy and people are yelling. I wasn’t really planning on staying in Germany for the next year and a half. Then we played that first show and we were like, ‘Whoa, we might have something here. Maybe we should see this thing out.’ It was wild. It was an adrenaline rush.”
“It was kind of scary,” Jordan, hands covered in turquoise jewelry, says. “The audience was chanting, ‘U! S! A!’ ... But that show legitimized our presence in our little area, and then we just started moving out and getting a bit bigger.”
Their reputation grew in large part because of their “amped-up” live shows, with Jordan’s live-wire stage presence. A handful of YouTube videos for infectious songs — “When We Were Ghosts” and “Ready, Set, Go” — also helped to cultivate an online following.
The real breakthrough came this year at the Termometro Festival in Lisbon. Despite red-carpet treatment, the band was almost oblivious to the profile of this long-running showcase for emerging talent until the final rounds, when the increasing size of the venues and celebrity entourage clued them in.
“They were playing us on the radio, there were posters all over the city, and we thought, ‘This is huge,’” Adam says. The only thing that tempered their excitement was their continued pessimism toward their chances of actually winning.
But the Black Taxis ultimately walked away with the competition crown, and with it the chance to tour and put some of their songs to tape for the first time.
But now, with the Miller brothers’ return to their family ranch up in Elk, Wash., the Black Taxis are officially a Spokane band. And they’ll have to prove themselves all over again — this time to audiences who don’t consider an English-speaking frontman to be particularly exotic.
“Actually, we’re not from Spokane,” Adam says. “When we’re in America, we’re from Europe. And when we’re in Europe, we’re from America.”
The two German members, meanwhile, are stereotypically stoic about the 5,000-mile relocation. “What can I say?” shrugs Lars. “These days, it’s not a big deal to fly here.”
For their first stateside gig on Friday, the Black Taxis hope to have available a limited-edition five-song EP titled Pretty Money Envy to complement their crowdriling live show.
“We were lucky enough to spend all of our gestational period overseas,” Seth says, “and in that time we’ve really developed and tightened up the sound. You come here and right from the start you get to show people something that’s got years of work behind it.”The Black Taxis play with Lookbook and the Awkward Years on Friday, June 4, at 7 pm at Empyrean. Tickets: $7. All-ages. Call 838-9819.