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Interview: Adventure (w/ Benny Boeldt)

Adventure plays the Talking Head Club July 5th, and somewhere during Whartscape weekend July 17th-20th (venue TBA).

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MP3: Adventure – Poison Diamonds

I’m fairly certain that if Benny Boeldt (aka Adventure) wanted to, he could pave a path as one of the most riveting and innovative video game soundtrackers in history, scoring a sweet deal at Square Enix for the next Final Fantasy or Microsoft for Gears of War or Halo and pumping out material to rival Nobuo Uematsu.

But I have a feeling he’s not really interested in that. Instead, he’s got a solid deal on DC’s Carpark Records, making his nest alongside numerous other Baltimore and Wham City related acts such as Beach House, Dan Deacon, Ecstatic Sunshine, and Lexie Mountain.  Now a true Baltimorean, Benny is an active member of Wham City and about to move in with Johnny Siera, and Adam Endres.

“Battle Cat” off his debut LP dropping in Septmber has been making the rounds and raising eyebrows at diverse outlets such as New York Magazine, Wired, Tiny Mix Tapes and Pitchfork. Before his career rollercoaster begins, gently with Whartscape next month followed by the first big drop with his own tour beginning around August, Benny took some time to sit down with us and chat about his path to Baltimore, his music, his costuming dilemmas and more…

Aural States: So how long have you been in Baltimore and what brought you up here?

BB: It’s about 9 or 10 months now. I moved up after I graduated college in Greenville, NC at East Carolina University. I had a lot of acquaintances and friends here…Dan Deacon, Video Hippos, OCDJ. They all expressed that I should move up here because I didn’t know what I was going to do. So I did!

AS: When and how’d you hook up with Dan and the Wham City crew?

BB: Me and my friends used to have a lot of house shows when we were in North Carolina. Video Hippos, on their first tour, played at my house. And Dan would play pretty regularly in Greenville with our friends in Future Islands, their old band Art Lord & the Self Portraits. They did a lot of shows together, Dan even played in their band on tour once.

Then I started playing shows with them as well. This was all probably like 2 or 3 years ago. Maybe even 4. It’s kinda all blurred.

AS: So you mostly got to know Wham City kids through booking shows?

BB: I never booked shows, or rarely. William Cashion from Future Islands, he’s one of my best buddies, and he did most of the booking along with this other guy Jeff..

AS: Did you guys ever give your houses venue names?

BB: My particular house never had a name, it was just Elm Street since it was on Elm Street. Another house on Rotary St had a lot of shows too, a lot of Baltimore people played there like Santa Dads. And a newer venue, Spazzatorium. I met most of them through shows at these places.

AS: What’s your history with music? How long have you been playing, either independently or as Adventure?

BB: Some of the songs that are coming out on my CD, some of them are up to 2 years old. So they are pretty old. I’ve just been writing these computer songs for a long time. Like MIDI sequence songs and the like. I never really figured I was gonna get signed. It was just something I was doing. So probably a few years ago I started actually recording stuff.

AS: Before that?

BB: Before that I wasn’t in any bands or anything like that. I mean, I know how to play some instruments a little bit, guitar and keyboard pretty well. Other than that I just started messing around with the programs.

AS: What do you think drew you to MIDI stuff? Were you like soundtracking your own computer programs or anything?

BB: Not really, I got a BFA in painting and drawing. So really it was just an alternate form of output. Going to art school can really drain the fun out of doing art. You know, it’s like they want you to paint a certain style, discouraging you from what you wanna do.

AS: What did you start composing songs with? Just like a simple freeware MIDI keyboard program?

BB: Yeah I play most of the stuff on MIDI keyboard. Then anything I can’t play I have to sequence. I usually sequence and play everything into Reason. Most of the songs on the album are sequenced on Reason. Every once in a while if i need to use an external source, I’ll record on Garage Band because…it’s on my computer. And that’s it really.

AS: How would you describe your music?

BB: Pretty cheesy. I guess it’s either a love it or hate it…one of those categories. It’s definitely MIDI compositions. It’s not really 8-bit or Nintendo even though it ends up a part of that category, whether I meant for it to be or not. So I actually tend to get a lot of criticism from that group.

AS: So the similarities to 8-bit soundtracks, that’s not a conscious influence or effort on your part?

BB: Not really, no. I’m aware of it now, of course.

AS: You’re not big into video games?

BB: No I’ve never really been that into video games. Sometimes they’re cool. Usually I’m a watcher more than a player.

AS: That’s a shame!  I was going to suggest you make your next album a concept
album centered around all the different boss themes and portraits from
Mega-man.
When you were a kid did you play at all?

BB: Yeah that’d be real cool. I need to check that out.  I had like Nintendo when I was a kid, but I never had Mega-Man though.

AS: What was the last gen you played?

BB: I had a PS2. But I sold all the games to get some other cool thing, I don’t remember what.

AS: Let’s walk through how you build up some of your songs.

BB: Usually I get out one of my Casio keyboards and start fiddling around. Deet deet deet doot doot doot. And once I come up with a main line, I usually try to play it on Reason with all these sounds I’ve got and I’m used to using and then build it up from there.

AS: The structures of your songs often feel very much like classical compositions with the way lines are layered and introduced.

BB: That’s cool, I haven’t had any real classical training though.  It’s just kind of how the lines and sequences come together.

AS: Do you sample at all from video games or anything like that?

BB: No, no sampling at all, whatsoever. Well, except the drums that are samples from Commodore 64 drums. But they are used just as parts of a drum sequence. Other than that, no sampling. All straight MIDI stuff.

AS: Are you pretty satisfied with how the album turned out?

BB: Yeah, I kinda wished I spent more time on the art-work.  It’s pretty simple.

AS: Are all the songs on your album pulled from the past few years?

BB: Yeah there’s a few songs that aren’t on it. It’s mostly my favorite ones.

AS: So you didn’t like carve out a specific block of like session time to write all the songs on the record?

BB: No I just felt like, before I start trying to release new stuff, I should try to release some of the stuff I’ve been playing for a long time first.

AS: What are your favorite tracks from the album? You released “Battle Cat” as the first promo track.

BB: Yeah, “Poison Diamonds” is probably my favorite. And maybe “Battle Cat” too.

AS: Do they all have themes or meanings for you?

BB: Well they are all kind of like mini-themes. It’s all very nostalgic. It brings up a lot of different memories of being a child.

AS: Do you title tracks as sort of a post-script?

BB: Titling tracks is actually one of the most annoying things for me…mostly because I suck at it. It’s mostly like “well I’m gonna put these songs on the album, now what am I gonna name them?”

AS: Do you think you are going to stick with MIDI or are you looking to expand to other methods? Are you still writing in MIDI?

BB: I will probably stick with it for a little while, but I’m also doing a lot of other things as well. I’m writing in MIDI, but not as much as I was in NC. I’ve written a few new songs since I’ve been here. But I think I’m interested in trying to incorporate other things as well without sticking to that exact formula.

AS: Who do you listen to in your spare time?

BB: Lately Brian Eno, this guy Dick Hyman from the 60s/70s, a lot of Yellow Magic Orchestra, and a lot of obvious 80s bands because they’re always fun.  I haven’t been listening to a lot of new things.  I find myself just going back to old things that I know I like recently.  All those people are big influences on me and my music.  Definitely cheesy 80s bands like New Order.  They’re really cheesy but awesome.

AS: Devo?

BB: Yeah definitely.  Tomorrow I’m driving Dan’s PA up.  He’s playing with Devo and the Tom Tom Club tomorrow.  So I get to get in for free, and hopefully hang out with those guys.  But who knows, maybe they’ll be untouchable.

AS: You mentioned before that you never expected to get signed with your music.  How did you end up with a Carpark deal?

BB: I guess I met Todd (Hyman, Carpark owner) through Dan.  He had heard my stuff and then came to my show.  We met a few times and he kind of asked me well what if you did this or that, telling me to get a singer and all that stuff.  And I said “No I don’t think so,” but he ended up just signing me anyways pretty much.

AS: Are you happy with the decision to sign?

BB: Yeah, they’ve been very supportive.  Helping me book my tour and just helpful all around with my record and getting me a PR agent, a booking agent in Europe.

AS: What are you trying to communicate with your music? Has being signed to Carpark changed any of that?

BB: I dunno, actually, if I’m really trying to communicate anything with my music. There are no words so it’s a lot harder to figure out if there’s anything I’m trying to say.

AS: Have you thought about lyrics at all?

BB: Yeah I’ve thought about it. Finding someone else to sing them. It just hasn’t happened.

AS: How do you feel your music has been received?  You’ve been getting fairly diverse coverage.  Has any of this surprised you.

BB: Yeah, like Pitchfork, Wired…so far they’ve been pretty positive, good reviews and then some pretty nasty comments.  So I don’t really pay attention to that aspect.

And yeah, I think so.  I didn’t expect to move up here and get signed within a few months and have an album coming out.

AS: Has it changed how you operate at all yet?

BB: No not yet, but I think soon.  Like in August when I’m going to be on tour and then in Europe.  My European booking agent is trying to set up a tour.  The Wham City Round Robin tour.  That’ll be cool.  And there’ll be a few months, touring and hopefully it’ll make me a little bit of money because I’m so broke.  I don’t have a job so I guess I’m just waiting for this to be my job.

AS: Could you say a little about your progression from the bedroom to the stage?

BB: I just made a lot of songs for myself to listen to and showed them to my friends. They really liked them and they just nagged me about playing shows, so I started trying to figure out how to even try and perform them…in any way whatsoever.

AS: What was that first shows like? Was it at your house?

BB: No no, by that time I wasn’t having shows at my house. I was living by myself. It wasn’t that bad I guess…I don’t think there were a lot of people there. I can’t really remember which show was my first. There were a few around that time.

They were like…I would wear a spandex unitard and a zebra mask. That’s what I was doing. Sometimes other things too like different colors of the unitards, weird shaped things/accessories. But lately I’ve stopped doing that to an extent. I want to have a better costume if I’m going to wear a costume.

AS: Something more elaborate?

BB: Yeah and more than that, just something better. There’s a lot of balls comments.

AS: Yeah. Well…it is a unitard. That brings up one of the things I think Wham City really excels at. Blurring the lines between different types of art, in your case and many others, performance art and music. Where do you fit in? Do you like to have your live performance focus more on performance or the music?

BB: I would like to do that with performance art, yeah. But I haven’t gotten to the point where it is fully effective. It would be cool to have other people to do that performance aspect.

AS: So at this point, the extent of your performance art is the costume-age?

BB: Yeah, just to make something interesting. I think that’s part of the fun of seeing a show. As opposed to just watching me bang on my keyboard which is kind of boring, unless you’re dancing or something like that.

AS: Are you planning to bring in any new aspects for your upcoming shows at Talking Head or Whartscape?

BB: Well I would like to have a new costume, at the least, by Whartscape. Expanding my set to play all the songs on the album and maybe some new ones. As far as performance visually goes, other than the costume I can’t think of anything right now. It would be cool to get something to happen. Ray Roy’s been doing projections for me so that might happen.

AS: So for your live performances right now, you are mostly relying just on the music.

BB: Yeah right now. It can be kind of awkward playing live. Like this last tour with Narwhals, it was really fun but mostly all noise shows and then me. And it’s really hard to get those shows to react to anything. It’s always expected every night that it’s going to be this weird thing. They always turn out to be really nice, but it’s always kind of nerve-racking to be just sitting there playing while all these people stare at you. It’s pretty stressful. So it’s a lot funner when people are not paying attention to me and just dancing or something.

AS: Are you able to recreate all of your music live?

BB: A lot of it is being played off the computer, and I usually play the main line right there. So it’s usually pretty similar, though I can bend the lines a little bit.

AS: You don’t do many changes with the arrangements right now?

BB: Not right now, no. I plan on trying to do something with that in the next couple of months. And just add some other element. Maybe another live keyboard…or maybe I can scream some weird stuff into the microphone.

AS: How many shows had you played in NC before moving up here?

BB: Probably 20 or 30.

AS: And how many since you’ve moved up to Baltimore?

BB: The same. Probably around 20 or 30. And I guess I’ve done 2 short tours with Narwhals, the second time with DJ Dog Dick. And that was a cool tour. Between those two, probably another 20 or 30. So I haven’t played a whole lot of shows. But I am booking a tour right now, right like a week before the album is released and a long ways after.

AS: When you moved up here, was it under the aegis as being recruited into Wham City?

BB: I don’t know if I took that into consideration. I think it was more they were the only people I knew. So they became my friends immediately and got sucked into it.

AS: How do you feel you fit in? What have you been adding to the collective?

BB: Lately I’m the Wham City chauffeur because I have a car. I haven’t gotten a job since I moved here mostly because Dan has basically hired me to drive him and his PA around, up and down the coast. I’ve been working a lot on the new space. Building and construction and stuff even though that hasn’t quite worked out yet. I’ll probably be helping out at Whartscape and definitely playing. I was in Jurassic Park and the Christmas Spectacular.

In the past month or two, I’ve been too busy to concentrate on anything but booking my tour…kind of tough to do by myself.

AS: How do you feel about the scene in Baltimore as a whole?

BB: I think it’s very diverse and really talented.  It’s got its rifts and its schisms but overall, on the whole, it’s awesome.  In Greenville, we didn’t have much of anything.  But there’s stuff here that no one is doing anywhere else.

A lot more open to experimentation as opposed to the standard indie rock vibe there (NC).  It’s a very close and very extreme community.  There’s a larger quantity of bands and good musicians here, and it just keeps drawing in more people, like myself.

AS: Are you billing yourself as a headliner? Taking any openers along?

BB: Well not as a headliner, but just trying to book shows in general. The first four dates are going to be with Ear Pwr of Asheville. Once I get to LA, Future Islands are going to tour the rest of the US with me. But there’ll be a week there where I’m by myself in the south and southwest, Texas and stuff.

But right now I’m just waiting for people to write back about shows.

AS: So what are your plans leading up to your tour in August?

BB: I dunno, I think I have a show in Denmark at some point.  These guys in Brazil want me to come down, with Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez last month and it didn’t happen so hopefully that’ll happen soon.  And just trying to finish booking shows up north.  I’m more in promotional mode right now so I’m not writing much.  I think after the tour’s done, or maybe sporadically in between shows, I’ll get back into that other mode, writing and creating stuff.

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