I interviewed Ben Green from Fairweather over the phone. It turned out that he's a music freak in the best sense of the word; we started off talking about Fairweather and passion and friendship and artistry, but this interview eventually turned into two music fans talking about music. Ben is a remarkably articulate and insightful fan; I learned an immense amount about music from speaking with him and I suspect that his comments about other bands' approaches to their craft can yield a deeper understanding of how Fairweather works.
The first question I had for you, mostly because it jarred me, is the album title from "The Wild Bunch"?
Ben: You're damn right it is. I think it's awesome that you noticed it. Actually, I watched that movie for the first time last year when I lived in Baltimore. I love westerns, one of my favorite things in the world are western movies, and when that scene happened, when they're in the bank, damn, that's amazing.
Pike Bishop is one of the classic bad asses. You just don't fuck with him and Dutch.
Ben: It was amazing. That movie was really controversial in its time because of its extreme violence and, well, it was great. It's also a Primal Scream song so I had to represent.
Right, I read an interview that you did in which you talked about being a fan of the Britpop and shoegazing scene of the early 90's.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. That's kind of what I grew up with, like My Bloody Valentine and Ride and that sort of really thick, lush, dreamy guitar rock.
I was talking to Chapterhouse about their effects pedals back in 1990 and they had some sort of multi-phase overprocessor or something like that.
Ben: It's ridiculous.
Yeah, how many effects pedals do they really need?
Ben: I know. I'm sure their effects pedals cost more than all their equipment combined. Yeah, I love that stuff. It's what I grew up listening to.
So how did you get from slow, dreamy, guitar rock - and the stuff that was rocking me back then was the same stuff and bands like Slowdive ...
Ben: Oh totally, yeah.
How did you get from that to Fairweather?
Ben: To be honest with you, when I was really young, like in junior high, I was really into heavy metal like Iron Maiden and Metallica, all the standard sort of metal stuff. It was actually bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and Quicksand that really got me out of that. It was also around that time when I started getting into a lot of that shoegazer stuff like Chapterhouse and Slowdive and that sort of thing so it was kind of a joint progression in musical tastes. I continued to like that stuff, but my interest in punk rock and hardcore didn't really occur until later when I was like a junior and senior in high school. I was good friends with our singer, Jay, for a while and he exposed me to bands like Lifetime and Dag Nasty. I think Dag Nasty is one of the greatest bands of all time. Battery. A lot of the D.C. stuff. Damnation. It was funny because Jay and I went to the same high school as the guys in Darkest Hour who are about to put a record out on Victory, they're a really amazing band, and through all that stuff, I started to listen to some of the harder stuff like Darkest Hour and Damnation and a lot of the more rocking hardcore stuff.
So that went full circle into Fairweather and lines like "Vapour trail is the soundtrack to the ride."
Ben: I'm glad you caught that. Yeah, exactly.
It's a nice little play on words.
Ben: Well, yeah. Actually, that's a song we wrote about our last summer outing. That was some of the stuff we were listening to a lot.
Now that you've said you like that stuff, it makes a lot more sense. I had just been wondering about it.
Ben: The Ride reference?
Ben: That sort of explains it. Personally, I see a lot of parallels between music like that and the way that we compose our music. I mean, I think the record has a very thick sound. There's a lot of depth to it.
Yeah, there are a lot of layers.
Ben: Yeah, exactly, so I can see a lot of parallels between songs like "Vapour Trail," that real thick shoegazer sort of stuff. Definitely My Bloody Valentine.
So you see similarities in terms of how you compose it and put it together, not in terms of how you write it or the style?
Ben: To be honest with you, I think all music is alike in a lot of ways. I mean, whatever style of music you're playing, I think you judge a song or band by the same criteria, if a song does a certain thing or if a song accomplishes what it set out to do in the first place, so I don't really make a distinction in a lot of ways between the music we play and music like My Bloody Valentine, that sort of stuff. I think it's very similar if your intent is similar.
So what is Fairweather's intent?
Ben: I think, at least from what I'm interested in when I write a song, it's power and contrast in a song. I like the idea of being able to fill a song with really powerful, driving parts and also inject more tranquil parts and less knock-your-ass-out-of-the-water riffs. I like to put a lot of contrast into songs when we're composing.
So you're primarily concerned with dynamics.
Ben: Yeah, exactly.
So how does the songwriting work?
Ben: Well, usually I'll write a complete song on a four-track, just the music, and then I'll take that into practice, show everybody, we make changes if anything is necessary, if we want to do something different, if people have different ideas, we'll put it in and see what happens. Later, I'll record whatever has been changed and then Jay will write the lyrics on top of that.
Since Jay wrote the lyrics, I'm not sure how much you can speak to this, but there seem to be a lot of references in the lyrics - the allusion to Ride, "Let's start today." "Young, Brash, Hopeful" seems like a tip of the hat to Lifetime's "Young, Loud, Scotty," like you're acknowledging your predecessors.
Ben: I can probably speak for Jay in that I think that applies. I think that giving credit to the people who influenced you is great. When I think of the lyrics referring to things like that, I feel more of a sense of connection with other music.
Like a continuum. You exist along a spectrum.
Ben: Yeah. It feels like a context to understand what's going on.
So how do you start writing a song?
Ben: To be honest with you, when I'm thinking about a song, it's written before I actually sit down with my guitar. I set out to do a certain thing with a song. Usually, I'll have an idea and I'll have tones in my head and a certain rhythm and a certain pattern and I'll sit down with my guitar and try to work that in, try to work it around my idea. Usually things change, things develop differently than what I had in my head. I think that's great because I think songs are already written and you just sort of get rid of the excess crap around them. You just try to narrow it down to the idea, to the bare bones of what you're really trying to do. If that makes any sense.
So how do you set about doing that? Do you sit down with an idea of what you want to do?
Ben: I think things that are more technical are inherent in the way that I play and not really explicit in my thought process. I learned to play guitar by playing the blues. I think a lot of the way that I look at a guitar has to do with being able to play anything anywhere on the entire guitar any way you want to because it's just everywhere. You can play anything a certain way or play something differently with a different addition or extension, that sort of thing. I think the idea of dynamics has more to do with the way a song moves. When I think about a song, I think more about speed and things that hit you than I think about the dynamics between a C minor and A minor, that sort of thing.
So you're more concerned with things like the stop and go tempos that come in on "If they move ... kill them."
Ben: Exactly. Power. Intensity. That sort of thing.
The sort of thing that leads to kids stage-diving.
Ben: Yeah. Honestly, I think that's what hardcore is all about in a lot of ways, you know what I mean? It's about going to see a live show. When I write a song, I try to make a song that's going to rock you as hard as it can and make you feel energy and power and passion.
Well, if you aren't trying to rock people and elicit that sort of emotional response, why would you bother doing it?
Ben: Exactly. I don't know.
When most of my friends and myself go to a show, we jump around, sing along and generally go nuts.
Ben: Exactly. That's what appeals to me so strongly about punk and hardcore. A lot of times, the show sucks if the audience sucks, you know what I mean? I think that's great. I think that's an awesome ethic.
Right, because the band feeds off the audience and vice versa.
Ben: It's a chain reaction of energy. I think there's nothing like that in music. In a lot of ways, I think it's unique to hardcore and punk.
Now, you mentioned blues. First of all, let me backtrack - how old are you?
Ben: I'm 19.
Ben: Well, I'll turn 20 in September if that changes anything.
I'm just surprised because you're speaking about music very technically. I don't know many 19 year olds who can talk about music like you do which is why I'm surprised.
Ben: Thank you. It's an awesome compliment to hear that. Music is the thing that I care about. I go to art school so I think I draw a lot of parallels between literature, visual art and music. I try to relate those things together as much as I can. I hope that doesn't sound pretentious or anything.
Well, it's all a form of communication.
Ben: Yeah, trying to reach an audience in a certain way.
It's just a different medium.
Ben: Exactly, and I think all of them can be judged in similar ways, honestly, that you can judge artwork and songs and poems in very similar ways.
And how do you judge them?
Ben: I think a lot of it has to do with the idea of dynamics, the way that a piece of art works, the way that its composition flows or its ideas work with the composition. Things have to work together and they have to be in a process of unification so that everything flows together and is complete so you come up with a composition, be it a poem or artwork or a piece of music, that has dynamics and does something successfully, and that something is up to the artist.
So do you buy into reader-response theory at all?
Ben: I think in a lot of ways it's 50/50. I think that after you create something, a song or a painting, I think it ceases to be yours in a lot of ways. It takes on a life of its own and it can do things that you never planned on and never intended. I think that artists struggle in their careers to understand what those things will be after they've completed the work, the way they'll affect the viewer, the way they'll affect the audience. I think a lot of people want to have more control over that when they're creating something. I think it's a great thing that you can't necessarily control that in a lot of ways. I think it adds a lot of excitement to creating something, that there's a variable that you can't always count on.
So you said you learned to play guitar by playing the blues.
Ben: Yeah, exactly.
How did you get into that? It's not an obvious choice.
Ben: It's kind of a funny story. Well, actually it's not funny at all, but it's good to start off a story like that, I guess. My sister, who lives kind of close to me, had a boyfriend who was self-taught and really excellent at playing blues and I was really impressed by it. I remember after I had hung out with them both, I brought my guitar over to her house and we started playing together and I was like, "Man, I want to be as good as that guy!" It was amazing to me. When you play the blues, you have to understand the entire guitar. You have to understand everything about where you play and where you can make certain notes that sound a certain way. I don't think I understood it then but now I understand that it was a really excellent way to delve into exploring the essence of how notes and chords are created on a guitar and it just kind of went from there. I started playing guitar when I was 11 or 12 and I took lessons from a really awesome instructor and I've been friends with him ever since. We would just get together every week and play. It was just a great experience because we would feed off each other, which was awesome.
Has he heard the album yet?
Ben: No, he hasn't. I haven't talked to him in a while, actually. I think he just moved so I haven't been able to get him a copy. I think he'd be psyched though. He's a man of few words.
So what was recording the album like? You recorded with Brian McTernan, right?
Ben: Yeah, definitely.
So how did you get this sound?
Ben: It's just his mastery and being able to make a guitar sound excellent. We didn't do a whole lot of overdubs. There are some in there but most of the guitars are played, usually, on three tracks, four tracks at most at one point, but not throughout the whole song. If you're just hearing a regular rhythm and a lead, there are probably just two guitar tracks being played at the same time. I think a lot of it has to do with his concept and his idea of how to make stuff sound the way it should. We worked with him for a while before we actually recorded our record because we kind of knew him from before and so we would get together and talk about stuff. We demoed our record first with him and talked about stuff that we could do differently and that helped all of us, including him, come up with an idea for the way we wanted the record to sound because our music is very much about power and density and so it seems fitting to make the record sound like it.
This is a distinction that I rarely have to make these days because my tastes run mostly to bebop and punk, but I used to separate albums into two categories - headphone albums and stereo albums. A stereo album sounds good on anything, but a headphone album is a record that you really need to listen to on headphones so you can pick up the differences in tones that pretty much only come through on a good set of headphones.
Ben: I know exactly what you mean.
What type of album do you think this record is?
Ben: There are parts when you're going to have to bust out the headphones and parts when you're going to have to throw it in your car stereo. There are parts on the record where there's a lot of really subtle, beautiful stuff happening that you won't always hear from listening to it on a regular stereo; you have to take out your headphones and listen to it because the way that the guitar does certain little things will fade from one ear to the other. It's hard to explain. There's a part in "South Street, 1AM" where stuff starts to break down and fall apart and the guitars are doing these swells with a delay pedal and coming in with really twinkly sounding stuff and when you listen to it on a stereo, it's entirely different than if you listen to it on headphones because there are all these really nice panning effects that we got on the record by setting up a bunch of different amps and recording it that way. I totally know what you're saying.
It seems like the only people I run into these days who understand that are total music freaks.
Ben: I know exactly what you mean. There are times when I can't listen to a record on a real stereo if it's a headphone record because I'm just annoyed with not being able to hear the way it sounds.
Right, the ambient noise of the room soaking up subtle things.
Ben: Exactly. I don't know. I think that occurs a lot with more mellow music a lot of times, music that has more subtlety to it than power, and I think that's the sort of stuff that I prefer to listen to on headphones instead of blasting it really loud out of my car as I'm driving along.
So what are some of your favorite headphone albums? What are some of the albums that you really want to listen to and dig into?
Ben: Oh, man. The new Death Cab For Cutie record, I don't know if you've heard that, but the production on that record, I think it's called "We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes," there is so much in that recording that's buried deep within it. It's one of the greatest records to listen to on headphones because there are key jingles in some songs, just one time, stuff that you wouldn't notice if you were playing it on a regular stereo. Yo La Tengo just put out a record last year which is just phenomenal and most of the songs on that record are more headphone songs than stereo songs.
I've found that a lot with the Weakerthans' music as well. Apparently Jason Tait throws stuff in there like a single switchblade click.
Ben: That's great. I love stuff like that. That's something that I'm really interested in and I know that everyone else is really interested in exploring on the stuff we do next, working with more subtle changes and subtle little workings. Another record is Coldplay's, that record they put out, there are just so many things that you just don't notice but the more you dig into it, there are these little things that make the song so beautiful and that's something we're interested in doing on the next record.
So does that mean that Fairweather's sound will be changing in any noticeable or fundamental ways? Obviously you're going at it with the same intent.
Ben: It's just going to be about trying to stress dynamics as much as possible. I hate to bring that word back up but that's really what I think we're about in a lot of ways, dynamics in a song, stressing contrast and difference on the entire record and in a single song. I think there's going to be a greater range of possibility on the next record.
So why did you start Fairweather? You've said that you wanted to explore dynamics and you also said that you were playing blues; it seems like you could do a fairly good job of exploring dynamics in blues.
Ben: Well, I didn't have anything to do and this was a really awesome way to be able to just get together with my friends and take advantage of time. I hadn't had a real close friend in a while so when Jay asked me to start playing with them, it was an awesome opportunity to meet the people that we were going to be playing with and form friendships with them. I think the most beneficial and exciting thing to me about it is having been able to meet the people I know now and that they're involved in my life. It was weird, when he asked me to start playing punk rock music with him, I was like, "Man, what the hell are you talking about? I don't know how to play this." It was strange but we tried and I guess it started to work out. We just started to understand what a punk song was about and what a hardcore song means.
In a very loose way, that plays into a general feeling that I got from the album. Despite some imagery in some places that may not be as happy, it seems like, overall, that it's a pretty positive-edged album, even if it's just about being lonely and enjoying being alone.
Ben: I think, to speak on Jay's behalf, his lyrics are very positive. He's one of the most positive guys I know and I think his lyrics stress growth in a lot of ways and looking back at things you regret and moving on and being able to get on with your life, with school or your love life or your friends. I think a lot of the lyrics have to do with not regretting things, with really being able to appreciate the value of what's good in life.
It also seems like, and I'm basing this on the Faulkner quote in the liner notes, that the entire band takes that approach.
Ben: Yeah. I was hoping people would look at that quote and not just discard it or think of it as some gimmick that a band put in the liner notes. Someone who is pretty close friends with us sent that quote and asked us if that was the reason that we made music and I think that it should be interpreted, if anything, by people who look at that as a kind of manifesto or credo for us. I'm glad that you get that impression from it because if there's any message that Fairweather wants to put forth, it's not going to be political, it's going to be about passion and intensity and I think we try to remain consistent in the way that our music sounds, in the way that the message that Jay sings about speaks to the audience.
Right. Like Bob Mould once wrote, "Revolution begins in the mirror."
You can write about politics all you want, but the songs can end up seeming dated.
Ben: Exactly. I think politics is always going to be inherent in punk music because it's a way for people to speak out, but I don't think it's a necessity, especially politics that don't have to do with the self. I think that politics that do have to do with your self-image and self-empowerment are the most important messages.
It sounds like you're talking about personal politics, like trying to improve yourself as a person and make entirely different mistakes the next time around.
Ben: Exactly. I'm under the pretense that mistakes are awesome things and that they're excellent to have so that you can learn from them and do things differently in the future. It's like your gauge, your speedometer. It tells you how to succeed properly.
So I'm guessing from the Faulkner quote that you all read a lot.
Ben: To an extent. I think 3/5 of us are very involved in literature and art and that sort of thing. I know we place these things on a higher level than other things because they are about passion and your soul and things that you don't necessarily perceive in everyday life, but the things that make you want to be involved in everyday life.
The stuff that keeps you going.
Ben: Exactly. The reason you work 9 to 5 is so you can feel things like that and feel intensity and feel passion for things.
So what do you typically read? What inspires and influences you? Has any of it made its way onto an album or into a song?
Ben: I don't think anything explicitly has. I read a lot of poetry and I love James Joyce. That's a tough question because there are so many to think about. I think that the way that literature influences the music is more about the general feeling, the general idea of what it does. It's not about singing about William Carlos Williams or something like that.
I've gone through my notes and those are about all the questions I have, but I am curious why you have windmills on the cover.
Ben: People ask about that all the time. I really just aesthetically appreciate them; I think they're beautiful things, just the way they look, so I kind of convinced everybody, and they kind of agreed, that it's a cool looking thing and so we decided to put that on our cover. I hate to sound pretentious about it, but the reason I think windmills are really beautiful is because there's something about seeing the result of direct physical action. The way that the wind moves these sails is a physical act but they're grinding grain or pumping water and you see the exact results of what's happening in front of you. There are very few things in life where that happens, where you can see the result of an act immediately. I do a lot of long distance biking and it's the same mentality, that you're pumping your legs and you're doing this act and you can feel in this repetitious movement exactly what you're getting out of it and exactly what's happening. To me, that is the most beautiful thing about windmills and things like that because you can actually see the result immediately and it's repeated, it's like some sort of mantra or some sort of meditative chant and it's very centering in a lot of ways.
I was wondering if there was any relation to the band name. Fair weather friend is the first thing that sprang to my mind, the everyday betrayals that I think most of us have to endure at some point or another, and it seemed like the windmills were, if you'll excuse the pun, a spin on that because they also have to endure fair weather but at least they make something out of it.
Ben: Yeah, it just seemed to work, the imagery and the name as well. The name does have a lot to do with the idea of a fair weather friend. It was actually conceived because of a situation that we were in when we recorded our demo and it was finally a name that seemed to fit and work for us so we decided to call ourselves that.
There are worse ways to get a band name, but I wish it had been a happier story for you.
Ben: It's all fine now. People get worked up about stupid stuff and then when they look back on it later, it doesn't matter. Everything is completely fine. It's not a problem. Now it's just a name that we can use.
The question that I always ask is people is why do you do this? It's largely an extension of, I think, my own search to understand why I keep going back to writing, but what keeps you playing music?
Ben: I don't know. There are a lot of different reasons, but I think the reason that I would say is the most important and the most prominent is that ... you know that feeling when there's a band that you really, really love, it really grabs you and it holds onto your heart and when you hear their music, it changes the way that you feel and it changes the way that you understand life? That's the type of effect that I want to have on somebody. I want to be able to maybe give that feeling to somebody the way that the bands that I admire have done for me.
So you're trying to pass it along.
Ben: Exactly. It's a feeling I don't think people should be without and maybe by some stretch of the imagination, music that I'm involved with can do that to somebody. To me, that's the greatest thing in the world, to touch people, to grab them.
Everybody has bands like that - mine are bands like Down By Law, Pegboy, Dag Nasty, Hüsker Dü and Lifetime. I think everybody knows that experience when you're standing there at a show slack-jawed and you have chills running up your spine because you're watching something that's so amazing.
Ben: Exactly. To maybe, possibly be able to do that to somebody is something that I really want to do and I think it's what everyone else wants to do too. I remember when Sunny Day Real Estate got back together after being broken up for four years, when they played in D.C., they came out playing "In Circles" and for me, my jaw dropped and my feeling was "Holy shit!" It was incredible. I don't know, it was an amazing experience.
So I've asked all the questions I have. Is there anything you'd like to add or clarify?
Ben: I can't really think of anything in particular. I would like to stress that things like Faulkner and being intense and passionate about things isn't a gimmick or an image or anything like that. I wouldn't be involved with this if I didn't really care about doing it.
If I gave you the impression that I felt like that, that is absolutely not the case.
Ben: Oh no, I'm not saying that you gave that impression, I just wanted to re-emphasize that. Our message just basically has to do with what we talked about earlier - self-change and intensity and living your life with passion and doing things that really, really drive you.
I'm still stuck on the blues to punk progression at 19. I'm still blown away by that.
Ben: It's weird. I don't know what to tell you. I'm sorry.
It's totally cool. A friend of mine plays in a punk band and one of his great loves is old country like Hank Sr. and the Carter Family and the blues.
Ben: I'm all about some folk and some bluegrass man, let me tell you.
Like old Woody Guthrie?
Ben: Oh, totally. I'm also into some of the newer country stuff, like Ryan Adams just put out a really awesome record. I don't know, it's just real, real honest music. That's the thing that I appreciate about bluegrass and folk music is that it's honest as hell and no one's trying to prove anything. No one has an agenda, they're just trying to sing songs about their lives.
In a lot of ways, those are the few places left where one person with a guitar can still be a band and write songs by themselves and do it independently.Ben: Exactly.It's like one of the last bastions of DIY.
Ben: Totally. I totally know what you mean. The stuff that's coming out now is really, really great music. In mainstream music these days, there seems to be so little honesty, it's really refreshing to hear music like that. That's definitely why I'm glad I'm involved in punk and hardcore. I feel like it's the most honest music out there, although it can be arguable a lot of times.
Well, it can be argued at any level. Even country has the big hat national establishment that churns out one song after another that are written by the same people. They just put different hats on different heads to put a face to them.
Ben: Exactly, and I think a lot of stuff that's happening with mainstream country and folk now is that they're writing pop songs and putting a cowboy hat on it. Take away the twang and the pedal steel and you have another Britney Spears hit.
Or put a fuzzbox on it and suddenly you have a rock song.
Ben: Exactly, another song by Matchbox Twenty or something.
Exactly, and with punk rock these days, I see a lot of the same thing, where it's a form rather than a function. The form becomes more important and supersedes the function; studded leather belts are more important than connecting with people and experiencing that bonding.
Ben: I think that it can happen quite easily and I see it happen a lot with people. Their image and their idea of what punk is, the idea of hardcore, the idea of unity, the idea of family becomes more important than those actual things.
It seems that people get so caught up in the idea of unity and what not that they forget to actually be unified.
Ben: It's like one big-ass second guess.
I'm getting the impression that if I ran into you on the street that there wouldn't be anything that would noticeably or externally identify you as being into punk, like a mohawk or any of the traditional signs or symbols.
Ben: Well, I've got a studded belt, I can tell you that. I think those things are awesome, but that's pretty much it. I don't have a mohawk or piercing. I have some tattoos but that's pretty much it.
Right, but it seems like it's through talking with you that people would find out that you're into punk and not so much from talking about what bands you like but just from talking about your perspective on the world.
Ben: Yeah, I'd agree with that. I'm not the most punk kid in the world.
Is that fair to say for the other guys as well?
Ben: I think so, except for our drummer. Our drummer's punk as hell.
"He'll puke on you, he'll fuck your mom, he'll smoke while huffing gas"?
Ben: He's crazy. He's going to be on tour with all sorts of crazy bands.
So I heard you're trying to set up a West Coast tour for summer.
Ben: Yeah, we just started being booked by Fata and they're setting up our West Coast tour later this summer, I think from July through August with Further Seems Forever which was the first band we ever toured with.
Wasn't that Chris Carrabba's band?
Ben: Yeah. He's not singing for them anymore, they got someone else to sing for them but their record is excellent. We're going out with them.
Well, let me go ahead and offer my place if you need a place to crash.
Ben: That's awesome, man, thanks. We may just take you up on that.
I know by then I'll have copies of the zine as well. I was hoping to have it out by the end of May.
Ben: It's running behind schedule?
I don't really have a schedule. I don't sell it and I don't sell ads anymore so the only real obligation I have to anyone is to myself and the bands who I interview to get it out in a relatively timely fashion.
Ben: Time being no issue just as long as it happens.
Yeah, pretty much.
Ben: Sounds like a damn good schedule to me.
I usually try to do an issue every few months.
Ben: Sounds pretty reasonable to me.
Barring anything unforeseen, most of the bands are still together. I did have an interview with a band that broke up.
Ben: Did you put anything in the zine like, "Since the interview, the band has dissolved"?
Yup. That was interesting. I did a compilation of the first eight issues not too long ago and I was going through it and realized that some of the bands didn't exist, some people had dropped out of music and some people had died.
Ben: Oh my goodness. That sounds pretty serious.
It covered six years of journalism. People are going to die. Unfortunately, as I started looking back, I realized that I had interviewed Mathew Fletcher from Heavenly and he had killed himself.
Ben: I love Heavenly.
I think the other members are doing a band called Marine Research now.
Ben: Isn't that K Records stuff?
I think it's still on K.
Ben: Yeah, I've heard Marine Research and think that stuff is pretty good. I can't really remember though.
I started listening to Heavenly back around 1992 or 1993 and loved it. "Escort Crash On Marsten Street" is still my favorite Heavenly song; it was on a comp that K put out that had Gravel on it, Some Velvet Sidewalk on it ...
Ben: Some Velvet Sidewalk. That's the stuff that I grew up listening to, all that Northwestern stuff, Built To Spill and Sebadoh and Hush Harbor and all that stuff.
We probably weren't listening to music that was very different because I was listening to Lois, and pretty much anything out of Olympia, Seattle, Portland ...
Ben: That was my rock man, all the Sub Pop and Up Records and K Records stuff.
Like the Mike Johnson album that came out on Up.
Ben: Yeah, totally, like 764-Hero, even though that was later, that's what I really liked listening to back in the day.
Back in the day? We aren't that old!
Ben: Tell me if you agree with me about this. Something has happened in the past five years in music because I remember back when Sunny Day Real Estate's "Diary" came out, there wasn't very much information about bands like that.
Sunny Day wouldn't even do interviews.
Ben: Oh, I know! It was great! There was just this mystery to indie rock, you couldn't really grab it, you couldn't really figure out exactly what's going on. You couldn't get all sorts of information. In the past five years, and I think the Internet has a lot to do with it, I think that bands have become a lot more accessible and that things have become really sensationalized which can be a good thing for the bands, but I think that something has been lost, like a mystery. I'm not sure how to describe it, but there's this air of not exactly being able to grab what you want and things become less treasured now. Would you agree with me? I don't know if that makes any sense or not.
It makes sense, but I'd look at it from two different perspectives. Coming at it from a punk perspective, I've always believed that bands should be accessible, that to go back to anything resembling the 70's stadium rock era where bands were just totally out of touch and were on a pedestal and were idols and heroes is ridiculous. Looking at it from journalism, it was really frustrating to do interviews at that time. In the punk and hardcore community, most people were willing to talk about it. They always wanted to clarify what they meant, explain things, etc., whereas with indie rock, around 1993/1994, the bands were a lot more reserved. It was almost as if they were saying "Aw shucks, we just got ourselves some gee-tars and we sorta play what we know, and that's about it." It's almost like an affected put-on as well, like a joke.
Ben: Yeah, I know what you mean. It's funny that you say that because my sister lives in Chapel Hill and I go down there a lot and it's just real grassroots indie rock down there.
Yeah. To get to the substance of your question, I agree that as things become more familiar, they become less treasured. There's always that album that you just can't get your mind around, you can't figure it out and that's the album that you keep going back to.
Ben: Exactly. I definitely think, especially from the perspective of a band, that accessibility is essential now. You need to be accessible in order to stay alive as a band, but there's just something that I've noticed that's changed in the past five years.
The change that I've noticed is not so much from an indie perspective, it's more from a punk perspective and it's actually starting to swing back. I basically dropped out of everything for a few years in the mid to late 90's because I just didn't hear anything that was moving me anymore. Everything sounded like a third generation Bad Religion rip off.
Ben: I know what you're saying.
Unfortunately, out here on the West Coast, that was most of what I got. It was all Epitaph and Fat Wreck and it all sounded the same and I wasn't hearing anything different. I didn't know about what was going on at Champaign-Urbana, I didn't know about Braid, I didn't know about Hot Water Music, I didn't know about all these thoroughly amazing bands that would thoroughly destroy my world. I didn't know about Leatherface, I didn't know about Lifetime.
Ben: Bands that later blew up.
Yeah, exactly. I just didn't know about them and in the meantime, I was sitting out here and it was like, "Well, fuck this. I'm going to buy James Taylor albums in thrift stores."
Ben: James Taylor. That's awesome.
That's the point I got to. Maybe it was just because it was so familiar. It was everywhere and I couldn't get away from it. It's not that I wanted to keep anything to myself, I just wanted something that would challenge me as a listener, an album that would say, "I'm going to give you something that's probably not that easy to digest, and you're going to eat and you're going to stew over it and you're going to have to take some Rolaids until you get all this stuff figured out."
Ben: I totally know what you mean. I definitely know that toward the later 90's, like 1996, 1997, 1998, there wasn't a whole lot of stuff that was that challenging, musically, coming out of the United States at least. Radiohead put out "OK Computer" in, what, 1996 or 1997? Sonically, it was just a ridiculous record that knocked everyone's hats off, you know what I mean? Stuff that was coming from the United States, I didn't hear a lot of stuff that really was all that incredible.
The way a friend of mine put it around the end of 1997 was that it felt like it was 1974 when the only thing exciting going on was Kiss and punk rock was just around the corner but no one knew it yet.
Ben: Yeah, I can totally agree with that because then, later, punk rock explodes into what it is right now.
Right. I've gotten past a lot of this because I've started finding bands like Hot Water Music and you guys, I started hearing music that soothed the things that hurt me, that make me feel pain and anguish, and I realized that music will still speak to me on the level that I need to hear it at, but I still, in some ways, feel like we're still at about 1975, 1976, and there are four guys in leather jackets walking through the door of a seedy little club on the Lower East Side in New York.
Ben: Yeah, stuff's about to take off again?
That's just a general feeling. Out here in San Diego, there's a lot of stuff that's interesting, but in terms of stuff that's really sonically challenging, there's The Locust.
Ben: The Locust are amazing. I love The Locust.
I really respect them. The stuff that gets me is hooks, melodies, chord progressions, stuff that makes me want to sing along, but I can sure as hell respect what they do.
Ben: Yeah, definitely. There's something about that style of music, the grind sort of power violence stuff, there's a science to it in a lot of ways that I think the people who are involved would like to deny but I think there's a science to bands like The Locust or Swallowing Shit or any of those more grindy bands. There's a lot of power behind music like that and I think there's a way to do it in a lot of ways that people don't really realize. The thing that really gets me going about bands like that is that there are a few gems that really do write the songs and it's beautiful sounding to me for some reason and even though it's this really crazy, bizarre, almost indecipherable music, there's something very beautiful to it, if it's done right, that is amazing.
At that point, isn't it just a matter of finding a key to get into the album, something that really grabs you about it?
Ben: Usually the thing that grabs you, I think, is the essence of what the band's trying to do. I think the thing that grabs you will be an insight into understanding the rest of the record or the rest of the way the band works.
Just out of curiosity, did you ever get into Saint Etienne?
Ben: Yeah, I love Saint Etienne.
I'm glad I'm not alone on that. "Foxbase Alpha" was a really hard album for me to get into for that reason.
Ben: Why was that?
It was difficult because it was all over the map sonically. That's one of those records that I needed keys to, like "Carnt Sleep," "People Get Real" and "London Belongs To Me." Those songs enabled me to listen to it more and more, but it actually took until the second album came out when I started hearing more of a Motown poppy Supremes influence, along with that killer Rush sample, and then I was able to go back to the first record and hear what I missed.
Ben: It's great when you can build a history with a band that way. It's like you build a relationship with the band and you start to really understand the mentality they had when they were doing certain things.
Not only that, but you can see how they grow and progress and change. "Foxbase Alpha," comparatively speaking, is a really poppy album now. I don't know if you heard "Sound Of Water," but that's a lot more experimental.
Ben: Absolutely, absolutely. It's a lot more airy. It's like the music is barely there.
There's a lot more space; it's not as sonically dense. The other albums seemed more heavily layered with samples and such, whereas "Sound Of Water" has a string note here and there.
Ben: Yeah, exactly. It's also interesting to be able to trace members of bands, their history throughout different bands like Codeine and Rodan and June of '44, bands like that, it's interesting to look at how their musical ideas changed and stayed the same, that whole Touch And Go/Thrill Jockey collective sort of stuff. It's all Chicago; it's like Chicago, Louisville and D.C., you know what I mean?
Slint and Squirrel Bait.
Ben: Exactly, Hoover. I don't know. I love a lot of those bands, I think a lot of those bands are great, but I find their music to be very difficult to listen to a lot. It's not appealing music.
I don't know if they've done anything since then, but Gastr del Sol put out an outstanding album a few years ago that sounded like "Pet Sounds"-era Brian Wilson Beach Boy pop.
Ben: Weird. I haven't heard it at all. Like Brian Wilson, just really edgy and uncomfortable?
Actually, more like "Good Vibrations," just this offbeat, slightly slanted, beautiful pop music.
Ben: Weird. Wow. I haven't heard it but I'd love to hear what it sounds like. It's weird though because I grew up around D.C. and that sort of sound is inherent with a lot of bands from D.C. I don't know if you heard that new Q And Not U record but it's actually a really amazing record. It's weird for me but bands like that and Hoover and Fugazi's work, you get used to that weird, edgy, slanted sound so it becomes kind of listenable, you know what I mean? It's come up completely devoid of any pop or melodic mentality but there's something stark and beautiful about it at the same time.
Did you get a chance to listen to the One Last Wish album that just came out?
If you get a chance, pick it up. Guy and Brendan recorded it back in '86 and it sounds like it could have come out yesterday.
If it had come out in 1986, it would have been so far ahead of its time that we'd be talking about it like the Velvet Underground's first record.
Ben: "White Light/White Heat"?
No, "Velvet Underground And Nico." There was an old joke that it only sold 2,000 copies when it came out, but that everybody who bought it started a band.
Ben: That's awesome. It would make sense. I love music like that, that was made years ago and sounds like it could have come out today.
That's the stuff that deserves to last. I don't really feel much from what most people call classic rock unless I'm listening to Van Morrison or The Who.
Ben: Oh, The Who, definitely.
There's a reason bands still cover The Who. Apparently Guided By Voices just did a show here and covered "Baba O'Riley" during their set.
Ben: Yeah. There are those few bands. Classic rock is rather superfluous, there's not a whole lot to it except for those few bands like Pink Floyd and The Who.
The bands that did really sonically rich albums and interesting things.
Ben: The Who was just an incredible band. "Won't Get Fooled Again"? There may not be a better song. That whole record is ridiculously beautiful.
Yeah. Even though I never got past Tommy Ramone, Keith Moon inspired me to play drums. John Entwhistle is a big influence on how I try to play bass.
Ben: What do you think about Rush?
I love Rush.
Ben: Okay. This is the only problem I have. Their music is insane, it's amazing. I just have problems with the vocals.
Geddy can't sing. You don't listen to Rush for the vocals.
Ben: I mean, the drumming, Rush's drumming is amazing. I think Rush just falls into that whole King Crimson/Yes category, that real prog rock, weird, bizarre, it's just real, real intense. I don't know if you heard that new Frodus record but it's got a lot of that influence in it, all the weird times. It's self-indulgent in its technicality which is awesome. I think it's great that people do that.
There's a band called No Knife, I don't know if you've heard of them ...
Ben: Oh yeah, definitely.
Well, before their first album came out, their first drummer and I talked about Rush for about two hours one night.
Ben: I have "Fire In The City Of Automatons" and I remember when they toured with Sunny Day Real Estate, when I saw them, it was really stunning music. They played really well and I think they may have upstaged Sunny Day Real Estate in some ways. I admire that band a lot because it seems very self-indulgent and I think that can be really beautiful music.
Going back to Rush, they could be hit or miss for me. The first couple of albums sounded like they were trying too hard to be Led Zeppelin, but once they figured out who they really were with albums like "2112" and "Moving Pictures," no one could really touch them. Unfortunately, in a lot of substantial ways, I think they've almost turned into a parody of themselves. They got more technical and the lyrics didn't really progress and the next thing you know ...
Ben: It just collapses.
Certainly a creative collapse. The newer stuff just isn't as gripping. They had a great stretch of records, and I'll be generous and give them through "Hold Your Fire," where almost all of it was worth listening and paying attention to.
Ben: Definitely. Something that's interesting, did you know Catherine Wheel covered a Rush song? I think they covered parts of it on one of their later records. It was a hidden track and they busted into something.
Catherine Wheel always kind of bugged me because it seemed like they were just trying to make a buck off of what bands like Ride and Lush did.
Ben: They were still pretty good.
I'm not saying they weren't good, I just got a feeling like they were kind of faking it.
Ben: I can see that too, especially because the singer is brothers with the singer of Iron Maiden. Pay immense respect! I can see what you're saying. I think it's there's less of a raw feeling to that music than listening to the really early Ride stuff.
Like the first two EPs?
Ben: Yeah, like "Smile." It's incredible.
"Chelsea Girl," "Like A Daydream" ...
Ben: Oh, man, yeah dude. What was it, "Close My Eyes" or something? What a great song.
It was just so unpolished and unproduced and you had guitars going off in the headphones like fragmentation grenades.
Ben: Exactly. Was it Alan Moulder that did those records? His production style is so bizarre. "Nowhere" is a phenomenal record. There's nothing that sounds anything like that record anywhere on Earth. The drumming on that record is incredible and the guitars, they sound like there's electricity flowing through the notes. It's crazy. Those records have such an amazing sound. Even "Going Blank Again," I don't know if you've heard that one ...
Yeah, but after "Nowhere" they started losing me.
Ben: Yeah, yeah, then it was like they started dropping acid or something because they got really psychedelic.
Yeah, "Tarantula" sounded like something out of '66.
Ben: Exactly, man, I know. It was like Syd Barrett. What was that? Those songs are good for what they are but it's nothing whatsoever like "Nowhere."
Did you ever hear the "Today Forever" EP?
Ben: Do you know what the cover looks like?
Yeah, it has a shark on it.
Ben: Yeah, I have that.
Okay. I think that was the last real Ride release. There were certain things on "Going Blank Again" that still sounded like Ride, but not much. The same thing happened with Ned's Atomic Dustbin. The first album ...
Ben: What was it called?
Ben: "Godfodder," that's right. That had "Grey Cell Green" on it, right?
Basically, every song on that album should have been a hit.
Ben: Yeah, that record is amazing. Then they put out "Are You Normal?" and kind of went downhill from there.
Yep, that was the next one, but it still had some great stuff on it. "Legoland" has one of the best bass lines I've ever heard.
Ben: Is that the one that starts off with the weird bubbling noise? I can't remember.
I don't know. I just know that it's a deceptively simple bass line but I can't play it.
Ben: I have this record of theirs, "Brainbloodvolume" and it's weird. What were they thinking?
I won't say that bands can't change, but I don't understand why they did that.
Ben: I think a lot of that record, with a lot of the samples and stuff, was a wave, like riding the wave of the industrial scene. Have you noticed their packaging, the design, it's kind of like of that whole Nine Inch Nails sort of look. I think British music, at least for me, is some of the most interesting stuff, especially with everything that happened with The Stone Roses. Their first album was just incredible and I think that "Second Coming" had some pretty cool stuff on it too, like there were some good ideas, but it was like they were Ride and they skipped those three records and just went straight from the really nice, jangly ...
Like Rickenbacker, Beatle-esque pop.
Ben: Exactly. They went straight to like 1974 or 1973.
Acid-burned glam rock.
Ben: It's weird. All of them split up. I guess John Squire formed The Seahorses which just was a horrible, horrible band.
Ian Brown is doing stuff but I haven't heard any of it.
Ben: It's good. He put out two records and one of them sucks and one of them is pretty good. One of them is called "Unfinished Monkey Business." It's got a real Stone Roses feel to it. It's almost as if it's what The Stone Roses would sound like if they had stayed in that same sort of idea of the first record. There are more samples on it, you know they kind of got into that on some of the later singles.
Like "Fool's Gold."
Ben: Yeah, exactly. There's a little bit more of that but it's got that jangly feel and it just feels very old school. Then he did another record after that and he just went straight for weird techno stuff and it kind of got old there.
There are just too many good bands that have gone by the wayside like that.
Anyway, I think I've taken up enough of your time.
Ben: It's all good. I should be up. It's my last week of school so I'm working on my finals. I should be up doing stuff anyway.
Let me know if you guys need a place to crash when you're out here.
Ben: Definitely, thank you so much. I had a great time. It was a lot of fun.
I'm really glad. I'm also glad to find out that someone else remembers "The Wild Bunch."
Ben: Oh man, great movie. Amazing movie. Ernest Borgnine?
It's all about Dutch.
Ben: Dutch is the man. The fact that they just take out the entire Mexican Army at the end of the movie with that freaking gun, it was kick ass.
It's like watching a proto-"Matrix."
I'll mail you a copy of the zine. Do you want me to email you when it's online?
Ben: Yeah, sure. My email address is [omitted].
Nice. My Bloody Valentine.
Ben: I actually have a signed promo copy of that single.
I never got a chance to see them.
Ben: I never saw them. A friend gave it to me as a gift.
I heard that they were supposed to be doing a third album ...
Ben: It's done.
Ben: It's done but Kevin Shields is such a crazy bastard that he hasn't been able to mix it or do the proper things to it that would satisfy him.
Well, all he's been doing lately is drum and bass remixes for Roni Size and people like that.
Ben: And they're kind of a let down, to be honest. I just think they're boring. He's playing for Primal Scream now and their last record was phenomenal.
What was it, "XTRMNTR"?Ben: "XTRMNTR," right. It's a crazy record but I can't get past the damn vocals on Primal Scream for the past few records. What are they doing?
Yeah, after "Screamadelica."
Ben: Oh man, "Screamadelica" was awesome. Great record.
Okay. I've got the email address. It is a pretty easy address to get unless you get some leftover Britpop fan who's still wearing anoraks and listening to C-90s.
Ben: They're all dead. They're all 40 or 50. They don't care anymore.
Exactly, like "Remember when that Vaselines 7" came out and I got one of the first 100 copies?"
Ben: Exactly, and meanwhile they're popping Viagra or something.
Anyway, thanks for the interview. I appreciate the time.
Ben: If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call.