Brooklyn's least predictable band, stripped-down for lean times
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Black Dice is one of Brooklyn’s headiest musical exports. The group traffics in grand reshufflings of noise, ambient electronics, and skewed beats—all in a mix that tips to acts like Merzbow and Boredoms but remains completely dynamic and completely its own. A new album, Repo, follows in line, but embraces (relatively) traditional song structures and an all-the-more raw, organic sound. In advance of a June 14 show at Bowery Ballroom, Black Dice’s Aaron Warren spoke to Decider about Repo, Brooklyn, and streamlining a band for the recession.
Decider: Repo sounds like a collection of songs in a way that 2002’s Beaches And Canyons didn’t. Looking back, do you see an evolution toward more traditional songcraft?
Aaron Warren: Beaches And Canyons was about getting radical with our ideas of songwriting: what constituted a part, what constituted an instrument, what constituted a song. Prior to that, our songs were short, and they were basically like hardcore songs. We kind of exploded that notion and made our songs really long and really slow. We tried to introduce a lot of melody and new age-y kind of sounds—shit that was just totally alien to the hardcore world. For us, that was really radical. And after we toured behind that record, we started getting interested in different stuff. We started getting very into building sounds and using effects pedals, just making really crazy sounds. I think, in a way, we got so into that that songcraft wasn’t the focus anymore. There were pieces that were still musical, but they weren’t really songs as most people would recognize them.
D: Was it more a focus on texture?
AW: Yeah. The songs had rhythm and melody, but around the time of [2004's] Creature Comforts is when we pushed that idea as far as it went, when we were mostly just interested in the nature of sounds. I mean, I’m totally psyched about that record. I’m psyched we did it, but by [2005’s] Broken Ear Record, we started realizing that it was maybe a little more satisfying when the audience had a little more to respond to. So we started getting back into rhythm and melody, and around that time was when we were re-forming as a three-piece—we were trying to figure that out.
D: Did that lineup change move the band toward more concrete song structures?
AW: Totally. For me—a little noisemaker kind of guy—I could just do whatever I wanted [when Black Dice was a four-piece]. I could say, “My part is going to be a bunch of clicks.” But with just three of us, that wasn’t enough, and my parts had to be structural as well as textural. It definitely pushed us. Broken Ear Record we did really fast. It’s kind of a short record, but it was a major step for us. We took a really long time with the next record, Load Blown. And now, with Repo, we’ve kind of got to the point where we can craft the songs a little more quickly and not take two years to make a record.
D: What do you see as the distinctions between Load Blown and Repo?
AW: Load Blown was actually a series of EPs, so we had a lot of time to work on everything, and we would entertain whatever crazy idea we had. We had a lot of studio jams, too, where we’d go into the studio with no song and just a part and try to work it all out that way. We learned how to play the songs live, but it was a very studio-oriented record. Repo is more of a garage-punk record, where we wrote all the songs in advance and recorded them live. We did it very quickly. It’s fully a recession-era record: We did it super-cheap and super-fast. The goal now is to be self-sufficient and just to do things efficiently and smartly and quickly. We’re stripped-down Black Dice.
D: You’ve been based around Williamsburg for more than a decade now. How do you feel about the way the neighborhood’s changed? Has it affected Black Dice’s sound, performance, or critical reception?
AW: I’m 10 years older than I was when I moved here, and I’m interested in different stuff. I don’t go to a show every other night like I did when I first moved. And I feel like everyone I know is in that same position because they’re essentially the same age [34—ed.]. In a way, the neighborhood has changed along those lines: All of the spaces have moved east to where all the kids live now. So that’s a change, but it doesn’t bum me out so much. There’s a lot of stuff that annoys me—you know, expensive restaurants and stupid cafes and things like that. But when I get off tour, I’m glad I live where I live. I think a lot of people hate on the changes that have come, but in the greater scheme of things, I would say that the musical community in Brooklyn is healthy. It may have moved a little bit east, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
"Glazin," from Repo: