Interview: Benjamin John Power (Blanck Mass)

featured / Interviews / News / Special Features / March 3, 2017

As one half of the cinematically-inspired electronic duo, Fuck Buttons, Benjamin John Power has created some amazing sonic landscapes. On his own, he performs as Blanck Mass, creating more groove-based music. Blanck Mass’ latest, World Eater, on Sacred Bones, however, adds a level of anger to Power’s music, and the new LP is an absolute powerhouse, which ebbs and flows in a way that will see you flipping the album over and over again. We spoke with Power via Skype about World Eater and the process behind it.

Modern Vinyl: Listening to “World Eater” digitally the last week has been rather impressive, especially on headphones, but that vinyl release is especially great. Do you work toward a specific sound, depending on the format on which it is?

Benjamin John Power: That’s an interesting question, which I’ve never considered, so the answer would be, “No” (laughs). To be honest with you, as far as that question goes — I had a very good mastering engineer (Heba Kadry), who I spoke to in great detail about this, and then somebody (Frank Arkwright) came along who mastered this at Abbey Road Studios in London for the vinyl release, because it’s just a little bit longer than something usually would be for vinyl. And especially with the dynamic and the sounds being quite loud in places, we had to get it cut to copper, I think. So, this is a consideration for me after I’ve written the tracks.

The only thing that I do really take into consideration when writing, is that at some point, I’m going to want to play it live, so I’ve got to be recording stuff live — use hardware, you know — so I can do stuff live and I write live, in a sense, so that is the only consideration during the creative process. It’s not really my field of expertise.

MV: The thing that struck me most, when I opened the vinyl up, was the “LISTEN AT MAXIMUM VOLUME” on the inner sleeve.

BP: Ah, yes. See, that’s an extension of dynamic, isn’t it? It’s also a bit self-indulgent, because I know I like to listen to stuff at maximum volume, and I feel like if you want to get into the kind of headspace I was at, that’s what you should do. If you want to listen to it quiet, that’s fine too: it’s yours now. You own it. Do what you want with it.

MV: What’s great about “World Eater” is that “dynamic” is a very accurate word for it: it starts out with “John Doe’s Carnival of Errors,” which is rather mellow, and then it gets loud with “Rhesus Negative,” and then there’s just kind of an ebb and flow to it. Is sequencing a really important aspect for you?

BP: Almost as important as the components that make up tracks, if not more, yeah. This is probably my most overused word in interviews, but I’ll use it again, because it’s the most fitting and accurate: narrative is always something that’s been very important to me. I studied illustration when I was at university — I didn’t study music — so, it’s something that’s kind of ingrained into any kind of creative output for me.

I spend a lot of time structuring and a lot of time working on track orders and progressions between tracks, and a lot of timing working on that for when I start to play these tracks live. There’s obviously a different narrative for live progression, and segue parts that might not necessarily be on any record that I spend a lot of time working on, so yeah, it is very important to me.

MV: You mention that you want to be able to play these songs live, so you construct them live. I heard so many different things over the course of “World Eater,” like bent vocals and what appear to be guitars — what actually are you using to make these sounds — is it all electronics?

BP: I try and use exclusively hardware when I’m writing, actually. There are guitars on there, but as you say, they’re so bent and manipulated that they don’t even sound like guitars at the end, or it may be something that has ended up sounding like a guitar that wasn’t a guitar in the first place. I do, indeed, spend a lot of time experimenting with skewed schematics and things like that — different patches. It’s very explorative, when I’m in the creative process.

There are, obviously, some things that I need to manipulate into a different form for live, but if I can’t play it live, I tend to frown upon that sort of thing — just for my own personal entertainment, when I’m out actually playing live, myself. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Just let me say that now. It’s just a personal thing.

MV: One my cohorts at Modern Vinyl wrote a recommendation for  “World Eater,” and he noted that it’s very angry. I heard some of that anger in it, but I also heard on something like “Please” a sense of sadness.

BP: It’s funny, isn’t it? With instrumental music, perception is king. I think that there is no right or wrong way. If it makes you feel one way, and somebody else feels a different way, nobody’s right, nobody’s wrong. To me, there is a lot of anger, but then, there’s also a lot of more tender moments that I do think have been put in place to bring about at least an attempt at some form of balance.

When I start to write these tracks, I have no idea what the final project is going to be. It’s a completely blank canvas, and I start exploring sounds with absolutely no idea what I’m going to fall upon, really. But, once I’ve found something that interests me, and I start to structure, then some kind of emotional attachment is enacted, and that’s the kind of filter everything goes through.

I feel like there’s a lot of subconscious talking throughout, and that’s probably where the anger — which would be the reaction to the state of things — and then the more tender moments or sadness, as you say, which must be there for some kind of yearning for personal balance or something different.

World Eater is available on vinyl from Sacred Bones.

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Nick Spacek
Nick Spacek was once a punk, but realized you can’t be hardcore and use the word “adorable” as often as he does. Nick is a self-described “rock star journalist,” which is strange, considering he’s married with four cats and usually goes to bed by 9. This is just further proof that you can’t trust anyone online.

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