New York has not seen anything like the Black Dice, ever. Noisy, psychedelic, confrontational, brutal, transcendent, blissed-out, jammy, tight, conceptual, free. Many bands could be described using some of the adjectives from that list. But not one New York City band has embodied all of them at once — with the exception of the Dice.
The band’s latest long player, Creature Comforts, is an uncompromising progression. More open than 2002’s Beaches and Canyons, it bleeps, bends and vibrates through the elements, time and the spectrum of human emotion. The album’s lack of traditional song structure and the spoon-fed emotional content that comes with it creates an experience that reflects back on the listener, filling in the blanks with his own frame of reference. In other words, it’s a really satisfying mind-fuck.
I recently had a few pints with Aaron Warren (it’s useless to attempt to categorize what type of instrumentalist any member of the band is) at Mug’s Tavern in Williamsburg. After a half hour of talking about everything from musical gear to Master of Puppets, I finally turned on the tape recorder, just in time to document our conversation as it became more far-out.
Prefix Magazine: Do you guys communicate using visual ideas?
Black Dice: Part 1: Yeah, we do start with that. When we were doing Beaches and Canyons, we started with visual ideas in terms of overall structure of the song — even more abstract ideas, like a cloud-type part. Recently that hasn’t been the most useful way to work. It kind of got to the point where we were like, "Yeah, but what kind of sound are you going to make that sounds like a cloud." It kind of got old. We’d have the idea to have a tinkle-y part, but everyone’s version would be totally different. Now we start with the parts — we will have a really solid part that can be done more than once. Once someone has something that everyone is kind of stoked about, we’ll put a visual idea to that, like "the mountain part" or something.
PM: So you’re less visually conceptual than you used to be?
Black Dice: Part 1: I think it’s still really abstract, and in that sense it’s conceptual. When I listen to our music, it sounds like a bunch of lines and doodles, stuff like that. I think this record is more abstract than the last one. It’s not "a cloud"; it’s a bunch of lines.
PM: How much overdubbing is on this record? Or do you do it all live?
Black Dice: Part 1: This record and the last record were done live. We’d do maybe two overdubs, little details. They could have been left off and it would have been fine. We’ve done recordings like that. Cone Toaster [a twelve-inch released in 2003 by DFA] was a studio conception that was a bunch of different takes and ideas we put together. We just like the songs the way we play them live.
PM: Do you guys record at home? Where did the sessions for Creature Comforts take place?
Black Dice: Part 1: We don’t record at home at all. We record the practices. We use them to figure stuff out sometimes. We recorded some of it at Plantain. We were at Plantain for three weeks, but we didn’t use a lot of what was recorded there because it was too underdeveloped. The majority of it was recorded at Water Music in New Jersey. We’ve been working with our friend Steve who’s a really good engineer. He’s been doing our live sound for the last year and is a good friend of ours. He understands how we work. I think the record sounds really good. I’m totally pleased with how upfront everything is.
PM: How did Bjorn (Copeland)’s new guitar vibe come about? Did he decide to come in one day and start doing this "Rain Song" Zeppelin thing? Or was he playing around one day and you guys were like, "That sounds fucking great?"
Black Dice: Part 1: He comes up with all that stuff on his own. I don’t know exactly where his real influences lie, but he just jams a lot. He has a guitar at home and sits on the couch in front of the TV and jams. He’s genuinely good now. Before he was sorta getting good, but now I think he’s really good. He just likes to make things that are really interesting for him, really simple, abstract and kind of open. I feel like his parts really don’t reference a lot of other guitar music. He’s just trying to use the guitar in a way that is kind of open. At the same time, it does have certain associations with stuff like Zeppelin. I think it’s cool.
PM: What were you guys listening to in the studio?
Black Dice: Part 1: A: To be honest, I don’t think we listened to very much music at all. We’d listen to about one record a day, like reggae or minimal techno. But we barely listened to any music at all. We were so burned out by the end of every day that I didn’t listen to any music. That tends to happen a lot when we’re working intensely. After that total experience, we’ve come to value what we do in our rehearsal space when we write music. We’ve come to understand it as a valuable process, not totally dispensable. We can’t just go in the studio and make something good.
On the other hand, when we were on tour I listened to more music than anything, eight hours a day in the car. We listened to a lot of classic rock and old hip-hop: Public Enemy, NWA, EPMD. We had a really noisy van so only music that was really hi-fi could be heard. The hip-hop stuff sounded really good; most other stuff was too lo-fi to listen to.
PM: Have you been surprised by how the people you’ve played the record for have reacted?
Black Dice: Part 1: I’m still kind of surprised that people are stoked about it. I’m personally stoked about it, but to me it sounds a lot less accessible than Beaches and Canyons. I’m always pleased and sort of surprised when friends are into it. Everyone from !!! was saying how much they liked the record, and I was like, "Really?" I’m really surprised. I don’t know; it’s still a little bit early. I haven’t gotten a lot of responses, except from really close friends who I suspected would like it anyway.