Black Dice “You can find a drum beat pretty easily by accident.”

Brooklyn's Black Dice have been making noisy sounds for an astonishing 13 years now, constantly pushing boundaries, testing expectations, and deconstructing pop molds, plundering all aspects of culture, samples, accidents, beaches, canyons, and warehouses in the process. Their skronk and squelch trade in alien sounds that have never failed to surprise in both origin and outcome, but somehow, there's always been a distinctly human element to their music. Aaron Warren and Bjorn and Eric Copeland have released a crapton of CDs, tapes, and records on labels from DFA to Paw Tracks to FatCat, and their new album Repo might very well be the most chill of their releases. I talked to Eric Copeland about the recording process of their latest, his mutant tropical solo work, and the world in which it came about.



With the nature of found sound in terms of Black Dice and especially your solo stuff, there are a lot of familiar-sounding things that are kind of mangled. It's almost like the sonic version of dumpster diving or something.

Yeah, it's like, if you know what you want when you start looking, you probably won't find it. But if you're just looking through at everything, you could find a shirt or something. It's the same with our stuff; if you want a drum beat, you can find a drum beat pretty easily by accident.

Actually, in terms of beats, Bjorn [Copeland] was saying that he thought there were always beats in Black Dice; I agreed, but thought that on Repo, people can identify them more because it's the sound of an actual drum rather than some rhythmic build out of repetitions. But anyway, I was thinking about your solo stuff and how it sounds so weirdly tropical, like some nuclear luau or something. Is there anywhere that your interest in these tropical sounds comes from?

Well, Bjorn and I grew up in Portland, Maine, so really not tropical at all [laughs]. It doesn't really seem that different though, I mean, to me, I feel like I've heard a ton of music, and at some point it seems like boundary lines always blurred, and mine become someone else's boundary lines. It's kind of like traveling; if you meet enough people, you realize that there's not much difference, really; everyone likes to eat food and to be happy. It's similar with music; there are tricks people think about, so if you play something tropical, there's a lot of baggage that goes along with that. I like dealing with the baggage more than the actually, say, making a Brazilian song. That's not as much interest to me, but I like that you can place someone in that same location, especially if it's artificial.

Yeah there's definitely a plasticity to a lot of your recent stuff, like a broken neon palm tree or something, with an electric buzz coming from it. I mean, sitting here in England where it's snowing, you're definitely right about the ability for that imagery and feel to transport you. Okay, but as for Repo, I was reading that it was an easier and funner record for you guys to make. It definitely feels like a more chill record to me.

It was a lot more casual, I think, and a lot more understanding than what we'd been doing before and what everyone had been doing separately from Black Dice. We've sometimes had really small windows of time to make records, and we've wanted to do something, but we didn't have the means. But on this one, I think we could do anything we wanted at every step of the way, and none of us had a huge agenda or anything. There was some personal stuff too, I mean, myself personally; I felt like I had to chill out a little bit on making the record. Sometimes I feel like I spend a lot of time and get a bit obsessive about a lot of records, so I think it was important to have a better time while doing it. That was the main focus; the record's gonna be what it's gonna be, and we've made tons of records, so I didn't feel like I was clinging to it as much. It was fun, too; it feels like we just hung out a lot and did the necessary time, and I think in translates because people seem to think it's a lot more mellow.

"I'm not a politician, but I look around at my own world, and it's like a fucking hardened world all of a sudden in a way that it hasn't been before."


I found Load Blown to be similarly colorful, but I guess that was a bit more incessant, like it seemed almost like a dance record in a way, even if the beats were just in between. I thought Repo had a lot more of a hip-hop kind of feel to it.

I think some of the techniques are real similar to a lot of hip-hop, like building a foundation -- that's one way to approach a song. I don't think we specifically designed it as hip-hop or anything, but I like that you can listen to it and bring that to it, because there's no actual rapping on it or anything. I feel like sometimes we work on things and make them pretty comprehensive, and this one feels like the most comprehensive. Load Blown felt more fragmented; it didn't feel like a terrestrial kind of record, with things that you can touch. I like that.

Yes, and if noise can be kind of innately alienating, it feels nice that it's a welcoming type of noise, again maybe with those familiar sounds that give you a window in, but at the same time they're mutated familiar sounds, this skewed or future kind of hip-hop. That idea of future music is pretty interesting.

I feel like I listen to so much fucking music, and I have for so long. I'm not an expert or anything; I still find out stuff for the first time, so really it's just not that much fun to make something that sounds like something else. I appreciate that people can do it and live off of that, and I appreciate a lot of those songs, but it seems more disposable to me. Bjorn and Aaron and I work on music so much, and I understand that it can be a disposable medium, but it's better to look at it as communicating on a different kind of plane, communicating ideas about music, whereas sometimes recognizable music is just playing a game more that doing that. The game's cool, but that's not why I make music. It can be more; I don't know if that means it's future music, but I think that people would want what they're singing to be more than just some shit about how much some girl hurt them. I hate that idea of a 25-year-old expert singing about life.

For sure, Black Dice definitely sounds as if it communicates on a much more oblique level than other more linear stuff. It's pretty abstracted, but it says a lot.

At the same time, you've brought some stuff up that I don't think is relevant. I mean, I don't know how many interviews you'd ask the person about trash in the first question for instance, you know. To me, that's part of what the world's going through right now. I'm not a politician, but I look around at my own world, and it's like a fucking hardened world all of a sudden in a way that it hasn't been before. I think it's important to be creative in the world. I don't think it should be restricted by how little money you have or how much the president is fucking the world over. It's easy to identify something bad, and it's really challenging to put a good spin on it, because I feel like we have to personally go through that every day, like we'll all show up at practice and feel kind of fucked, like, we're in debt, we have no jobs, the press in New York hates us. It's things that when we get together we just have to kind of laugh off, essentially, in order to have fun again. To me, that's just exactly how my life is right now; it's not about some top 40 single or something. When I listen to hip-hop radio, it's fucking weird to me, talking about having mansions and cars and drinking good liquor and stuff. I actually find it really strange that poor, poor people are getting off on this shit that's just so decadent; it seems really strange to me.

It is real perverse, that glitzy gangster stuff that has an audience that is so far removed.

Do you guys have a show called TMZ over there? It's like all gossip about celebrities, and I feel like that's the other part of this world, and it's really strange. It's really that decadent thing with people that can do whatever they want. It doesn't get me off you know; I feel like I'm kind of one more step back from that.

I guess a lot of people who're involved with DIY music often have an ironic interest in that stuff, like some hipster postmodernism that makes it hilarious, which yeah is kind of perverse when that is in fact this weird mainstream reality.

Yeah, I mean, I listen to some things like that. I do participate in it, but I feel like if I wasn't making music, it'd probably be a real different thing, because I feel like I can respond to it a little and make something with it.

Totally. Actually, wait, did you think it was weird that I started talking to you about garbage at the start? Because that's kind of what I was referring to, sifting through cultural garbage.

No, not at all. I mean, I think it's weird to think about hip-hop being able to sample certain things, like, you can have a sample of a Led Zeppelin riff, but what's the fucking point, you know? I don't understand that, because any kid with a tape recorder can get a beat from the radio and make a track out of it. If you listen to those Ghostface Killah records, he'll just put a whole fucking song down [laughs] like he doesn't sample a bit of it, just plays the song and raps on top, and I'm like, "That's great man; it sucks that you probably had to pay for it, but fuck yeah" -- he doesn't give a shit. That feels really exciting to me, someone who can just get around some of the hangups that it seems like everybody has about shit.

"At some point, it seems like boundary lines always blurred, and mine become someone else's boundary lines."


The sources of samples, yeah, and what gives you ownership of a song, what is authentically yours if you build it with other people's music. It can be very removed for some people, because it's not, say, playing a guitar.

Definitely. I just think at some point, it's more important to take what's out there and see it all as the same thing than to try and find something unique and hard to find, especially in this day and age. The challenge I don't think is discovering something anymore -- I mean, you can become an expert on any topic you want, I would think, with the internet. But to do something with that and respond to that is not in our world so much anymore. Well, it's never disappeared, but it's very much underground. Nobody is dealing with the problem; everyone's participating in it.

Response is super important, I agree. DIY culture often backs off from mainstream culture rather than admitting, okay, we live in this world and should maybe respond to it rather than crafting these margins.

I think it's really important to make your world, to some extent. It seems kind of basic, in a way, but a lot of people take it for granted, including myself. Like, you live in a city and start to forget about forests; those are weird mentalities, forgetting about a world where a human brain hasn't made every decision. I dunno; even just that sense of, well, being alive -- maybe I'm being a bit vague, but it's a weird world. It's important to look backwards as well as forwards. You can come up with incredibly creative solutions -- that's part of existing -- solutions that aren't right in front of you. For the first time, I've been noticing something malleable and moving and creative; there's this participation, even just with this election here in America, encouraging ideas of playing the game or taking a step out and fixing the game. I don't know what the outcome will eventually be, but I think the overall response in America is the latter. This is the first time where it seems like there's genuinely a face that represents the planet in this way, and that's a really unifying idea without it being a conscious step. There are people all over the world who look to this person; I think that's a real exciting thing. Maybe now that we have a face for the planet, more or less, we can participate in the universe a little differently. Maybe people will stop caring about international boundaries as much.

Do you guys feel, as a band, that you have some responsibility to respond to this and general culture?

I don't feel that we have a responsibility. At the end of the day, we're just three people who are making stuff that we like. We have a small group of people who respond really strongly, so as long as that maintains, I'll feel really good. I do feel like with every record we've made, we lose half the audience and then we get a quarter of a new audience in the process. All our records sell less and less, so I don't know if people expect us to be anything, you know. I feel like I have a responsibility to myself and to Bjorn and Aaron, to bring everything I can to this and not to slack. It's a relationship that I'm glad is like that, especially after 13 years or so.

It certainly sounds like you're all having fun on Repo.

Yeah, I think it's almost funny as well, in the process. Sometimes ‘funny' means super goofy or Frank Zappa-y or something, but I think that's something I like working on: making jokes, even if they aren't noticeable. To me, Repo has a lot of funny moments on it.

There are a lot of sounds that have some goofy kind of connotations, these skronky kind of horns, almost slightly absurd.

True. Also, I feel like sometimes if you do something really bold, it can be kind of funny, like it can have an awkward fit. I don't think it means that it's failing; that was something that was a hard step for me personally, making something bold and funny that wouldn't be communicated as bold and stupid.

Photo: [neonwar]

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