Progress Report: Black Dice
Name: Black Dice
Progress Report: The stalwarts of noise-rock experimentalism ready the release of Mr. Impossible this spring.
Black Dice have been reliably blowing minds (and eardrums) for over fifteen years now, which is no small feat for any band in today’s commercially volatile and annoyingly fickle musical landscape. They have released approximately one million albums, EPs, and singles on about a gazillion different labels. They have toured endlessly and have developed an aesthetic and creative sensibility that would inspire countless other bands with an interest in fusing outré sound experiments, explosive live shows, and visual art. This spring Black Dice will release Mr. Impossible — their sixth full-length studio album and first release on Ribbon Music.
I called up Bjorn Copeland to talk about the new record and in true DIY fashion, he was busy hand painting the album covers for the first several hundred copies of the new record (You can pre-order one of them by going here.)
STEREOGUM: When you guys start making a new record do you tend to have a plan?
COPELAND: It’s been different for each album, this is like the sixth one and, I think, our twentieth overall release. I think when we started off it was a lot easier and predictable what the outcome would be since it was guitar, drums, bass and vocals. With this record it took a lot longer to write in some respects since everyone had such crazy schedules. My brother had been doing a lot of solo recording and touring. He got married, I got married, and he was living in Morocco and Spain for awhile and he did a residency and got a grant to go to Copenhagen and make an album. Aaron works insane hours. I was the one who had the most time on this album in the practice space. It’s a lot more guitar-based, in some respects, than the other albums. A lot of it was just made by pillaging beats and fucking with them off cheap keyboards we found and weird loops people would bring in. So since time was kind of tight for us to work, it seemed the fastest way to do it would be to have a lot of parts and ideas to play with and then come in with things that already had a couple of parts already sorta mapped out. Things were always up for debate. We do all of our video editing in Aaron’s studio and he worked a lot there. This was the first time we paid attention to things like BPMs. We tried to be really efficient and it ultimately worked out. The bulk of it we had played live at all previous shows and Project Robot became a kind of home base. It was a lot more similar to writing your first album in some ways, where you’ve already played the songs out so by the time you record it you have it really etched in stone in some ways. We tracked everything live and it was actually a really fun record to make. It did feel like a new process for us in some ways.
STEREOGUM: Where was everything recorded?
COPELAND: With this guy Matt Boynton out of his studio. He had recorded a lot of people we know and the one record we really liked a lot was the I.U.D. record he had recorded. I loved the way it sounded. We had a really good time, we’ve worked with a lot of engineers over the years but most of it we’ve done with Nicolas Vernhes at Rare Book Room so it was nice to mix things up.
STEREOGUM: Black Dice has evolved so interestingly over the years and the three of you have worked on so many fascinating projects outside of the band. was there ever any point when you thought Black Dice might be over with?
COPELAND: No, not really. I think all of us are aware that it becomes more and more challenging to balance it with the rest of our lives but I feel confident speaking for all of us that we get so much enjoyment out of it and we have so much fun hanging out and making stuff. We’ve really grown up as adults in this band so we always try to approach things that if this is the last thing we do we want it to be really tight. We want to be really into all the songs and have killer artwork and shows. The looming threat of that is a nice sort of pressure.
STEREOGUM: Will your live shows change significantly going forward for this tour?
COPELAND: No, I think since we didn’t have a ton of time we didn’t write things where we needed to go into the studio and doing a ton of tweaking and editing. With every album we’ve had one or two jams we make in the studio and don’t end up playing live. In a lot of ways this album is stripped down, you can get really hung up on gear and equipment and sometimes you forget that some of the music you love best that satisfies your needs is just made with a guitar and vocal. We like making music with a lot of ingredients in some ways but it’s nice to strip back some of the things we were using. In a lot of ways this record is based more on a Rock n’ Roll blueprint. We were listening to a lot of records that we grew up with that got us excited in the first place. And making a record that communicated some of that.
STEREOGUM: What records were you listening to?
COPELAND: Well, I’m thinking about when you were little and you’d find out about things gradually and there really wasn’t a lot of common threads between them … like the Cramps and Echo And The Bunnymen and in high school I listened to a lot of Spacemen 3 and Camper Van Beethoven, the Feelies and all these sorta bands. When you found out about music in the pre-internet days, the picture came together much more slowly. You’d find out little bits and pieces about bands sometimes you’d only know one image of them. You’d always get the sense that people had some pride in doing things that weren’t necessarily mainstream. A lot of these records seem like they take chances, like Butthole Surfers –- Aaron was a massive fan of them, I never really checked it out until I was an adult. Stuff like Beat Happening. That was a lot of the stuff we were listening to with old hip-hop mixtapes. My brother always brings in tons of stuff, mixes he’ll make off YouTube and stuff. I guess when you kind of DJ your life through taking things off YouTube they tend to be hit-based in this way. We thought a lot about what made certain songs feel that way and come across as anthems and hits and why they got you pumped.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, there are people in bands now who grow up with the whole history of music at their fingertips thanks to the internet. In a lot of ways they have a much wider vernacular for making music because of it.
COPELAND: I also think they’re at a real disadvantage too. For me, finding out about underground music with my brother when we were growing up in Maine was a real epiphany — that there was all these different pockets of eccentric music all over the world. I feel like it’s different now and you don’t have as many local sounds. I also see the problem now that it is so much easier for bands to crossover and companies are so keen to use songs for commercials to appeal to different demographics. So I feel like bands are put in these positions you know, where they’ll write like one good song but their career is compressed in this weird way where they’re going to be screwed trying to come up with follow up albums. I can’t think of too many bands that came out of the internet sensation bands that have had a long lifespan.
STEREOGUM: The commerce of music is so monumentally different now than it was even five or ten years ago … it doesn’t allow bands to organically establish a fanbase the same way. It’s an interesting time in music right now, but I do feel curmudgeonly when I talk about it. Anyway, what will the rest of the year look like for you?
COPELAND: We have a tour coming up in May in the states and a bunch of one-off things abroad during the summer then Europe in September. I always feel like we’re going whole hog, right now we want to play as much as we can while still maintaining a residence here. We want to do some local shows, we really love playing in Brooklyn and warehouse places.
STEREOGUM: Looking back from your first album until now, how do you feel about the way the music scene and the culture of music in New York City has changed?
COPELAND: We were lucky since when we came out that we were part of a crew of bands and friends in Providence and had that support. It was a musical scene that didn’t have objections to things being sloppy or loud. When we moved to New York it felt like we found a footing pretty quickly. We got banned from a lot of the places initially … then ABC No Rio and then the Cooler were the two places that would host us. They let us play loud.
I don’t know what it’s like now, when I lived in Williamsburg it certainly seemed like there was a lot of younger people doing stuff, but I don’t live out in Bushwick or where things are happening. We have a great crew of friends who have had big success and have really given back to us. In some ways watching your friends succeed is encouraging. There’s a whole generation now that grew up listening to a Lightning Bolt record instead of Bikini Kill. All of a sudden there don’t seem to be as many question marks out in the audience now. It took fifteen years for us to get to that point.
Black Dice’s Mr. Impossible will be released by Ribbon Music on April 10th.