We spoke last month from Black Dice’s practice space in Brooklyn on one of the hottest days of New York’s summer. Our conversation covered the inevitability of computers entering music production, Bob Chance records, and typography on record sleeves. Underwater Peoples released his latest solo album, Limbo, on July 24.
Prefix: This new record, Limbo, is coming out pretty close to the last Black Dice record, Mr. Impossible. Were you writing these songs at the same time?
Eric Copeland: Some of them were a little bit older. Probably like half I would say were written before. We worked on Mr. Impossible for a long time actually, just writing everything. So half of it was done probably before and half was done during.
Prefix: When I was listening to this record I kept thinking you must have a pretty unique studio. Kraftwerk used to say their studio felt like it played them. Do you have a similar relationship with your gear?
EC: No, mine is kind of the opposite. It requires a lot of man-hours. It requires a lot of fine-tuning. It never plays itself. I just recently started using a computer to record for the first time, like my own computer set up. That itself has its own learning curve because I have no computer skills. So my studio set up is actually really rudimentary. I still record on an 8-track, which is borrowed. I don’t really know how to use that except to hit record. I usually have to take it somewhere to finish it.
Prefix: Do you use a sampler too, or is it all on the computer?
EC: I use the computer only to track things. I don’t write on it. In this day and age it essentially needs to end up in a digital format, so I’m learning how to do that in the last couple months. I don’t have a sampler, I have a delay unit. You can loop on it, so a lot of my samples are just based on that piece of equipment. There’s nothing exciting about my gear, it’s very rudimentary stuff. To actually make tracks requires a lot of man-hours. Everything requires a lot of man-hours at this point.
EC: They actually blindly sent me something a long time ago asking if I wanted to do [a record], and I couldn’t do it at the time. But I made half of a record for this other label that had asked me to do something, and then they couldn’t do it for whatever reason. I don’t like sitting on material that long, so I went to Underwater Peoples because they made an offer. And they’re local, which makes it a little bit easier. It requires less emails and files being sent. I can just ride my bike over with the stuff. So it works out well. They’re nice guys, they seem like they’re really into music and stuff. I like them.
Prefix: The cover art for Limbo seems like a pretty big departure from the cover art for Mr. Impossible and other Black Dice releases. What thoughts did you have when you were putting together that image?
EC: The Black Dice stuff is usually Aaron [Warren]. That’s part of his role in the band. For me, especially with the past couple 7”s, I feel like I got into just making a logo. Not per se, not to be used as a logo, but I sort of like the strength of those ideas, that there’s something very recognizable, and identifiable. And it’s fast. It’s not sweated over the same way as some other cover art. It’s a lot more complex. I don’t know what happened. I love it. I think it’s great. It’s more than a logo I guess, more detailed. I feel like there’s a lot of hidden language in it that I appreciate. The patterns and the letters, it’s a little more open. It’s on the page a certain way.
Prefix: How about the poster inside the album?
EC: It’s on newsprint. I think it was supposed to be bigger, it was supposed to be massive. The actual piece [it’s based on] is really small. It’s wallet-sized almost, so I was into the idea of blowing it up really huge. When I got [the final version], it’s smaller, but it’s actually really kind of pleasant. It’s very regular magazine poster size. I’m kind of into how polite it is all of the sudden, instead of being overwhelming.
Prefix: And the poster is a found language piece?
EC: Well, it’s something I work on at home. I feel like it loosens me up a little bit, even though it’s tight work, it’s just like taking a page and replacing things and taking things out, and making rhythms happen and little rhymes, and stupid things. And maybe something heavy after. I feel like it just lets me proceed via page in a way. I’ve been doing it for a while now.
Prefix: Do you have any touring plans coming up for this album?
EC: No…I feel like the nuts and bolts of it are too hard for me [to reproduce]. I can’t really not work and tour unless I have a certain situation, which usually involves opening for somebody. That also means travelling a bit, so a lot of my expenses are taken care of in that way. I don’t have a car or anything so I can’t just up and go. Playing out of town is really tough for me. I tried touring by myself on trains and buses and stuff and that was just too stressful for me. I want more shit taken care of. At some point I’d like to, but most of the sounds on that record I couldn’t really play live that well, so it wouldn’t really make sense to go try to support it I guess. I would be misrepresenting it.
Prefix: You tour a reasonable amount with Black Dice, when you’re writing those songs, do you ever consider, “We’re going to have to take this on the road”?
EC: Yeah with Black Dice, we’re a touring band. That’s how we’ve always configured ourselves, even though we don’t tour as much as most people out there who seem like they’re going for it a little bit harder. There are always pieces that we can’t replicate live, for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s even that the piece itself wouldn’t be very fun to try to figure out live. But the new record, there are only two songs—maybe just one song, that we can’t play. We’re a touring band, that’s how we think of ourselves.
Prefix: I’ve seen Black Dice play a couple times, the earliest was in 2004 with Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Devendra Banhart.
EC: Oh yeah, we played at Hammerstein Ballroom. That was a fun show. That was strange. For a New York show that was real out of place for us.
Prefix: Most of the other times I’ve seen you it’s been at DIY spaces.
EC: I feel like it’s a little bit easier for us to do that type of stuff. Over the years we realized that if we take it to the kids, they’ll respond better than if we ask them to come to some weird club. Even just playing Music Hall of Williamsburg, is usually a smaller event than if we play some warehouse in Bushwick. Which I respect. I rarely go to an established club anymore. I have very little interest in that setting. Although, I just saw Jonathan Richman a couple months ago and it was fucking awesome. It was in an air conditioned place, a real bar and stuff.
Prefix: What other music have you been listening to lately?
EC: I got really into Quintron lately. Even though I don’t always love—actually I can honestly say I don’t like everything on his record, but when I hear [some tracks] I’m just like, “That’s the best jam.” And I got really into Hype Williams from England.
Prefix: Oh yeah I’ve been hearing about them.
EC: I wanted to go to their show but to be honest it was too late for me. I don’t think they started until 1:00 AM. I don’t have it in me. I’ve been into their recordings for a while. I pick up a lot of reissues too. I got this Bob Chance record I’ve been into. I like that Numero Group. I don’t know if you know them. You’ve probably seen some of them. They do like small soul scenes. Each story is a little different. Maybe one will be a certain time in a certain city, and maybe one will be like all children soul singers. They’re really just nice packaging and cool and I feel like whenever I see those I try to pick them up.
I can’t think of too much more of the new stuff though. I like Black Lips. I feel like I’ve heard their stuff a lot.
Prefix: Are you a big reader?
EC: I have spurts when I read a lot, and then times when I don’t. I just started Moby Dick a couple months ago, and I really enjoyed the first 80 pages, and the last like 780 have been a real struggle for me. I’ve just been totally bored reading it. Like lately I haven’t read for a month. Since I stopped Moby Dick, I haven’t wanted to touch anything.
Prefix: Do you listen to any hip-hop at all? I feel like I noticed some hip-hop influences on the new album.
EC: Well, no. I hear it a lot, and I know a little bit. But everybody knows more than I do. I would say there are records I really like, but they’re kind of anomalies for me. I don’t know what their place is in the hip-hop community. There’s something I like about early hip-hop that I relate to, just the monotony of it. There’s one thing going, but then there’s this other part that’s making the duration less hard to deal with. It’s kind of like dance music in that way. You can get away with doing things a lot. I guess I’m always curious about those ideas. I like the minimal aspect of it too. There’s a kind of space and breath with very little happening in this one way. Lately I’ve been into Big Audio Dynamite type music, where it’s this hybrid of rock and roll and some sort of shitty early 80s beats or something. I don’t even know if it’s good music, but for some reason I’ve been getting into it lately, just trying to figure out their methods and when it’s successful what I like about it, and when it’s totally shitty, why I think it’s totally shitty.
Prefix: Have you ever managed to run any Big Audio Dynamite tracks through your loop pedal?
EC: No, my only source down here is a cassette deck. I’m in the practice space of Black Dice and it’s pretty small and we don’t have much here. All my Big Audio Dynamite is on vinyl. I don’t think I have it anymore, I think I sold it. There’s really only one good song on each album. For the most part it’s just cassettes so a lot of it is hit or miss. It’s whatever you find in an old box, and bring down to the studio.