The cover of “World Eater,” the new album by Blanck Mass — the solo electronic music project of British musician and Fuck Buttons member Benjamin John Power — is a close-up shot of a dog angrily gnashing his teeth. Or is it smiling? Maybe it’s both.
While the last Blanck Mass album, “Dumb Flesh,” was a sonic exploration of the flaws and frailty of the human body, this one examines our inner beast, namely our propensity toward violence and destruction. The beats are hard and hypnotizing, the vibe slamming between dread and serenity. It’s a severe, splendid experience that’ll leave you feeling bleak and cautiously hopeful.
We talked to Power, who performed live last year during an RBMA Radio popup in Istanbul, to learn more about “World Eater” before its release via Sacred Bones on March 3. He told us via Skype about recording the album in his home studio, what it felt like to scream underwater while snagging one of the project’s many field recordings and how he will almost certainly never make happy music.
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RedBull.com: Can you tell me about where you live?
Benjamin John Power: I live in Edinburgh. I love it. It’s a little cold today, north of the wall. Where I am it’s slightly outside the city and very rural; I live in a small village. Edinburgh, the city center, is small but very beautiful and historic. It feels a bit more Scandinavian in its architecture, very gothic. It feels like home. I used to live in London, in the thick of it, in East London. Where I am now, there’s not as much going on, but it’s good in that I like to remove myself from the cultural noise. It helps me get some perspective. I find it quite good for my work. Being away means I can really focus on what I do.
“World Eater” was recorded at your home studio. How do you negotiate living and working in the same space?
Yeah, I recorded “World Eater” here in its entirety, which is different from “Dumb Flesh,” which was recorded in about four different locations. This album is pure unadulterated countryside. I love having a studio where I live because then, if something springs to mind, I have a place to instantly put it down. Sometimes ideas come to me when I’m half asleep, and it’s good to be in a position to work immediately when you have these thoughts without having to wake up too much, or shuttle across town, and then by the time you get across town, the idea is diluted.
The album includes some field recordings. Where did you capture them?
Some of my favorites are from when I was in a church in Orkney [in Scotland], recording another band, and I had some time to myself one day, and I took a recording of some old drums being pushed down the stairs. And some underwater screaming, paired up with a recording from the top of a huge waterfall on the Isle of Mull, and then I recorded from the bottom of the waterfall, as well. You can hear those in the triptych on the album.
Assuming you did the underwater screaming yourself, what was that experience like?
It was fun. It was like screaming into a pillow. Cathartic.
It seems like a liberating act because you’re letting out so much emotion and nobody can hear you, but also frustrating because you’re letting out so much emotion and nobody can hear you. This seems like a good segue way into the album: What sort of creative mood were you in while making it?
Last year wasn’t a particularly pleasant year for people in the world, and I felt that even being in isolation. I felt a lot of frustration and confusion. As far as our species is concerned, it’s a fact that we still have genetic hangovers, that there’s a territorial beast inside us. We know that, but we can’t control it. With current world events, we see the beast still has a very loud voice. If the album is saying anything, it’s that we need to understand the beast and implement its course for another means.
I was listening to the song “Hive Mind” earlier and I thought it was interesting because, conceptually, it’s an unsettling thing when everyone is thinking like everyone else and they can’t get out of it, but sonically, the song is very calming and relaxing and soothing. It’s an interesting balance.
The song does break way from that and into moments of madness, too. Even though, aesthetically, it’s quite an accommodate palette as far as melody goes, there is a madness to it. The overriding thing about some of the more tender tracks on the album is that I’m never aware how a track will turn out when I start writing it. It surprises me when I’m writing as it does when a listener hears it for the first time. My subconscious sometimes yearns for something tenderer in these trying times we’re going through.
Definitely. And these soothing moments are juxtaposed with very upsetting moments too.
It’s a snapshot. All the albums are snapshots, of where my head is at the time. “Dumb Flesh” was more like a mixtape, where good and bad things were happening in my life, from getting married to not being able to walk for months due to an injury. But on “World Eater,” there are these extremes.
Do you feel burdened, as someone who makes instrumental music, by having to name songs?
It’s funny you should say that. I don’t feel burdened. It’s almost a necessary evil, but evil is the wrong term. Sometimes names are necessary just for reference, but I hate the thought that I’d be dictating to someone how they should feel when listening to a piece of music. I want people to form their own thoughts with this music, the same way I’ve been able to. I don’t want to dictate with verbal linguae how they should experience it. But I also feel that if someone takes an interest in me personally, outside of the music, I don’t want to hide anything from anybody, so a couple of words here or there can give you pointer as to what I’m thinking about the song. But please, fucking disregard the words. It’s your music, too, if you know what I mean.
Listen: Interview with Blanck Mass airs Feb. 17 at 3 p.m. EST on RBMA Radio
You said you wrote this album last year in the context of bleak world events. Given even more recent world events, do you think if you wrote the album today it would be even bleaker?
Quite possibly. I can’t say for certain, maybe my subconscious would’ve called out for even more tender moments to find some balance. It’s hard to say what if, because I can only deal in the moment. And what’s happening is not something that just impacts the U.S., but it impacts humanity as a whole. And it’s not good. Something’s gotta be done. It’s been beautiful to see so many people protesting and speaking out and acting with empathy toward those who are being persecuted in such a shocking way. They say it’s often darkest just before the dawn, but everything is such a big question mark, and it’s not necessarily a good one.
Who knows, maybe things will change radically in the opposite direction and your next album will be really happy and celebratory.
You never know. But I do find comfort in a negative space. I never deal with stuff that’s too happy because I can’t relate to it. I’m not an unhappy person, either. I just feel that when I have something to say, it comes out with aggression. I’m still a punk.