By Poppy Tohill
Dead Letter Circus are the Avengers of the alternative rock scene. With superpowers of all sorts including impeccable basketball skills, their most lethal secret weapon is Jelly-tip biscuits...
For twenty minutes I was victim to this weapon with permission to join the avengers gang as Black-widow while Kim Benzie (Vocalist), Clint Vincent (Guitarist) and I talked music, touring and the band's latest record‘Aesthesis,' which in case you were wondering is pronounced, ‘As-thes-sis' (meaning, no, there's no silent letters in there).
Just like all Avengers, you're busy guys, which is seemingly why it has taken you eight years to make your way to NZ .. so how are you liking it so far?
Clint: It's very exciting, we love it already, It's so good! I don't know why we haven't been here before. It's not like it hasn't been on our radar cause it definitely has, but things just haven't fallen into place.
Kim: We just kind of do the music side of things too, so I think it's more the planning of the other people. We've got a new manager now though and the first thing he said to us was, ‘have you guys been to NZ?' and we were like, ‘nah but we want to go,' so he was like, ‘okay, lets get you guys there and about a week later it was all set!
Clint: The other thing that's awesome now is that as much as we tour Australia we're going to come here. We're going to treat it like the same territory still because we want the crowds over here to be the same as what they are over there. So we're coming back in November!
Wicked! So at the moment you're on tour with I Am Giant, who have just been touring around Australia with your guys too- how's it all been going so far?
Kim: Yeah, we've taken them on tour with us twice over there now. They're our brothers. We've got this awesome little Kiwi/Aussie rivalry going on which is really fun.
I've heard there's been a bit of pranking going on between you?
Clint: Yeah, you changed their set list a few times and there have been a lot of sheep references.
Kim: The thing is, we pranked them so hard in Australia they're actually intimidated by our prank prowess (laughs).
You're playing here in Auckland this weekend, which we're all very excited for, what can fans expect from your set? (This interview took place the day of their Auckland show with I Am Giant - review & photos can be viewed HERE).
Kim: It's just super high energy! What we've found out so far is that you guys really like to rock and have an instant reaction to it. We actually thought everyone must've known the songs based on how heavy they were jumping up and down and rocking out with us, but upon talking to a few of them we just realised they were just doing that because they en-joyed it.
Like when you come to Melbourne for example, even when they know your songs, people might be ‘too cool' to jump around, you know that inhibition thing. But it seems kiwis don't really bring that when they come to a rock show. They just show up to jump around, rock out and go crazy.
In Australia we normally have a lot of sing-a-longs, similar to I Am Giant's vibe, how peo-ple know all the songs and love the band. So because everyone was jumping around so much in the first couple of shows I thought we'd try a sing-along, then coming to realise that no-one actually knew the words (laughs). They were just acting as if they did, be-cause their concept of a rock show is to let go and have fun.
Most exciting of all though is the release of your third studio album ‘Aesthesis'!
Kim: Basically we're just trying to make everyone that reads our album title a little bit smarter, vocabulary wise (laughs).
So what does ‘Aesthesis' actually mean?
Kim: It's the perception of sensory awareness..
So have you been playing some songs off the new record in your recent live shows and what has the receptions towards them been like?
Clint: Yeah, we've been playing two of the new tracks off ‘Aesthesis' while we're here. It's a very mixed bag this set, but we've brought a definite rock show, because normally we like to mix up electronic sounds and things like that, but as Kim was just saying, you guys respond so well to rock music!
Kim: In Australia on our last two records we've had about six singles which have been on high rotation on radio and we're not even playing all of those singles here, we're just play-ing the songs we wanted to play and working with the crowd, so its been really good. One of the brand new ones we're playing which isn't on the radio over here yet, we've only ever played it in Australia a couple of times, so it's awesome seeing people's reac-tion to it. It's a good bouncing board for us too because we can use it as an observation to see how the songs sit next to each other.
Clint: People can't understand what we're saying in-between the songs though (laughs).
Kim: I keep giving this whole brave heart speech about whatever and everyone's just like *begins slow clapping* can we get some subtitles here? (laughs).
Talking about singles, the album's lead single ‘While You Wait' has quite a different sound to that signature Dead Letter Circus sound we're used to hearing from you guys. Did you chose it as the single for that particular reason and is it telling of the rest of the album?
Kim: The album's really broad and that's the only song that's like that on there really, as every song is pretty different from the other. We weren't actually sure if we were going to make ‘While You Wait' the first single or the second single, but we sort of thought we'd just put it out there and see what people thought because it was always very different.
That's the weird thing about playing it here and in Australia too. Because we've got a lot of heavier rock fans as well, that song was a little bit confusing. People initially thought ‘wow, that's a little different for you guys, are you a pop-rock band now?' (laughs), but for those who have seen it live now, they get it.
It's really heavy lyrically as well when you break it down. I think about us in that regard because that was the most played song in Australia on Triple J for a couple of weeks in a row and there's not many songs with lyrics like that that would ever get to that position, so it's like we're an undercover agent getting to the top of the pops for a second! (laughs)
Clint: Also with that track, there was no pre-conceived ideas. We didn't write it to be a single or anything like that, because we can't do that, we don't know how. So literally it was one of the many songs that came out which once we'd demoed and done the pre-production for, we realised we wanted as a single, purely because we thought it was a good song and the message that it puts out is very much what we're all about. So that was one of the main reasons as to why it ended up being the single, not because it's dif-ferent. We wouldn't pick it because it's different or because it's the same, you know.
Was there anything in particular that inspired this slight move in musical direction?
Kim: How we work is an idea will come in and we'll just explore it to its end. We're so brutal in our songwriting and culling process, so if we still like it by the end of writing and hearing it for a couple of weeks, well then it's generally a good song, as far as our track record goes.
Like you think Daveo69 on youtube is a harsh critic, well we're twice as harsh. Nothing is worse than the shit we say to each other when we're writing songs.
In terms of the songwriting and recording process for this record, were there any major differences compared to your previous releases?
Kim: Yep, we wrote most of these songs vocally first whereas normally we would write the piece of music first. There's always a massive portion of us writing together, but the concept of the song in the past usually originated with an instrumental idea which then dictates the emotion, because music is just emotion. Then I would react to that and match that with the correct vocal emotion. But this time around we did it in-versed where we started with a core vocal story and then the guys reacted to that. So it forced the band to look at things differently which was really good, because third album you know, it's time to break the boundaries a bit!
Clint: Previously there'd be a lot of pre-production and demos done before we actually got to the studio. Whereas this time we literally went into the studio with these basic ideas that Kim had come up with, generally just a synth or acoustic guitar part with a vo-cal idea and we all sat there in the same room and really jammed them.
I always remember seeing documentaries or hearing about bands who would write a full album in the studio which was super fresh for us in the sense that as we were writing it we recorded it straight afterwards. You didn't sit there and do demos for a year and then refine your bits, you know. We literally spent 2 weeks writing and then went straight into the actual execution of recording, so from conception to finish it was as fresh as it could possibly be from our end.
Did you record the album in Australia or overseas?
Clint: Yeah, the studio was in a beautiful area of the Gold Coast. We lived and breathed it while we were there too. We might have gone to the beach one afternoon while we were there but we'd wake up in the morning, get a coffee and then work all the way through, because it was a live-in studio too so there was no cut off time for each day. Even once we'd finished recording Kim & I stayed there for a few more weeks just doing the extra little cream on top things and getting it ready for mixing.
Kim: The album was mixed by Chris Lord-alge who mixed ‘American Idiot' by Green Day and has also worked with Bruce Springsteen.. Getting a track mixed by him has been on our bucket list ever since we started, so we got to show him a song which he thought was really fresh and then offered to mix the whole album, so that was pretty magical!
Wow, so that was definitely a big tick off the bucket list for you guys then.
Kim: Oh yeah, we broke the bucket! (laughs) We're never going to be able to go back-wards from now on though. Everything has to be mixed by Chris Lord-alge and that's it! (laughs)
Finally, you guys have been together as a band for a long time (8 years) now), what would you say is the biggest difference between the band from when you first started to now?
Kim: We're just way better at what we do now. In the studio we're supremely confident and we're just really comfortable in our skin with who we are. Performing live as well.
Becoming comfortable up there is a whole other factor and for some people that's what they're comfortable with at first and then the writing comes after, whereas it took us a couple of years to really learn how to portray it and battle the nerves. We're better friends now too... (laughs)
Clint: Yeah, once you've been around for a while you figure out the way to do things. The way this album got written in that short period was literally a combination of how every-thing has been done previously. Everyone knows what their skill set is now and whose the best at this and best at that, so there's no egos to dictate where the song is going to start or end. Everyone knows what they do is very important.
Kim: It's kind of like we're the Avengers now, everyone has their own superpower.