We featured “Bloom” by Cascading Elephants as our tune of the day a little while back and following that we caught up with main man Ben Parker to find out a lot more about the new album and what makes his clock tick 🙂 It’s a really nice, engaging interview and there’s some great tunes too. No black metal though ! That’s a bridge too far for FEW.
Hectic Matter has been out there for a little while now – how are you feeling about the album and the reaction to it?
I’m very pleased with the reaction to the album, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. It’s been getting much more media coverage than the last two records, which is great too. I finished working on the album in June 2015 and didn’t listen to it again until I began rehearsing for the upcoming tour in February 2016. After spending so much time writing, recording and mixing I felt like if I go back and listen to it again I’d want to pull a Kanye West and change everything. Now that I’ve re-worked the songs to play live, I am a little closer to being at peace with the music. But I really love the record, it’s almost like a child in that I put this thing into the world and know every detail about it.
The video for Bloom meshes really well with the music, how did that come about and how involved were you with it?
I made the Bloom music video myself. It was shot on my iPhone at the Baltimore Aquarium at my sister’s birthday party. I got bored of hanging out with my family so I just walked around filming all the fish. I thought that the jellyfish were really trippy and clam, just like the song, so I decided to make it a video. Also, the motion of the Jelly fish moving its umbrella up and down so gently reminded me of the concept of Blooming. I have a hard time relaxing, and the motion gave me a sense of peace.
The new album is quite a departure in terms of sound and structure from your previous work- what drove that?
The shift in style came mostly through what I was listening to for fun while making the records. For the first two albums I was really into more pop-driven music such as Arcade Fire, Radiohead and LCD Soundsystem. While I was making Hectic Matter I started getting really into weirder bands such as Black Dice, Swans, Dan Deacon, Matmos and Tim Hecker. Just by exposing myself to this more experimental side of music I was able to tap into some really powerful creative forces, thus resulting in Hectic Matter.
Baltimore plays a big part in the new album, how do you feel about the city?
Baltimore is a cool city. I wouldn’t call myself a true Baltimorean, since I hardly ever go downtown and live a few blocks from the city limit. Nonetheless, I named each song on Hectic Matter after something related to Baltimore. I retrospectively consider the album to be my parting gift to Baltimore, since I’m moving to Louisville Kentucky this fall. Baltimore was a great place to start my music career; there’s a ton of house show venues that feature new underground acts, it’s easy to get to Washington DC, Philadelphia and New York to play shows, and the DIY music community here is super supportive. The riots last year really shook things up, and the people aren’t quite the same.
What was the first piece of music you loved, and why?
When I was 5 years old, I went to visit my grandfather in Connecticut. On the drive back to Baltimore, he gave me the option of listening to the Beatles Abbey Road or the radio. My 5 year old self, knowing next to nothing about music, randomly opted for the Beatles. I was instantly hooked, and begged my parents for more Beatles CDs when I got home.
How do you know when a tune you’ve working on is complete?
Whenever I begin working on a new project, no matter what it is, I have to make deadlines for myself. Otherwise, I could keep changing the music endlessly and never be satisfied. Once the deadline arrives, I listen to the song a few times and decide if it is releasable. If it’s not ready for releasing, I pretty much forget about it. While preparing for my upcoming tour, I revisited some of the discarded material and turned them into samples to use for transitioning between songs on stage.
What, outside of the musical world, influences your art?
I’m very influenced by household sounds. There’s this band from Baltimore called Matmos that makes their songs by exclusively using samples of items they have in their house. For example, their new album Ultimate Care II is created entirely of sounds generated by their washing machine. I think this is a really cool concept and attempted to scratch the surface of this world of sound on Hectic Matter by sampling my dog barking, cars driving down my street, my door creaking, and so many other everyday sounds. The guys in Matmos are truly geniuses when it comes to sampling, and I’m feel that I’m influenced heavily by their method of sampling.
Getting away from sound entirely, I am very inspired by the night and darkness. I feel at ease when I’m surround by darkness, especially outdoors. My uncle, aunt and cousins live in a tiny town in the redwood forests of California, and I visited them for a week in August 2015. They live in a commune kind of space, where everyone has a private room and basically shares everything else. Charles Schultz used to live and work there, and I see why he found it so inspiring. I am really enjoy lying in the grass of this place, just becoming absorbed by the darkness and listening to the coyote howls at night. Plus my extended family are just really chill people, I like being around them.
Do your songs change much when played on front of a live audience?
The songs themselves are relatively similar to how they are on the record. I have all of the samples and synth patches loaded onto my homemade synth/sampler/MIDI trigger device, and have rehearsed enough that I’ve got everything down to a science. My live show for this tour is one continuous set. There’ll be improvisational transitions between each song in the set which are roughly based on songs that were recorded for Hectic Matter but aren’t on the album. Plus I’ll be covering the songs “My Girls” by Animal Collective, “Cone Toaster” by Black Dice and “Learning to Relax” by Dan Deacon, none of which were covered on Hectic Matter. I won’t be playing any songs from my older albums on this tour, they just don’t fit in.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written and why?
I wish I had written “Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture” by Swans. It’s a 33 minute drone piece by one of my all-time favourite bands that I find to be absolutely mind blowing. Every time I hear it I am taken to another world and completely forget about my reality. It’s magical. On Hectic Matter I strived to create music that constantly built on previous musical passages and crescendoed, but wouldn’t even stand a chance next to what Swans are capable of. When I saw Swans live, the crescendos were so intense that it was physically painful to stand in the room. I had never felt sound in such an abrasive way, and needed to take Ibuprofen when I got home. It was fantastic.
What artist(s) has been your biggest influence and in what way?
First off, Animal Collective really put experimental music on the map for me. I first heard of them in 2009 when their album Merriweather Post Pavilion came out. I was in the 6th grade, and I remember my friends being super hyped on the songs “My Girls” and “Brothersport”. It’s such a great album and a fantastic example of how awesome it is when an artist combines pop sensibilities with experimentation. I love how every Animal Collective album is distinct and completely different from everything else they’ve done. They’ve never repeated themselves, even with so many great albums under their belt.
I absolutely love Tim Hecker’s music. He has such a cool way of layering electronic sounds with natural sounds that I really admire. His album “Virgins” from 2013 is simply gorgeous, and a bit haunting too.
This year the city of Baltimore threw this huge music and arts festival in the inner harbor called Light City. I was wandering around one night after catching a few local bands and stumbled upon Thomas Dolby performing on the main stage. I was blown away by his show and how seamlessly he combined the visual and musical parts of his performance. The video and lighting effects were spot on, and I was very impressed.
Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of punk, especially this band from Baltimore called Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. They do a great job of bringing some moodiness to punk in a really unique way. I’ve been toying with the idea of making a punk album, but playing all the songs on electronics. Not sure how this would turn out but I’d like to give it a try.
Name a song that makes you happy and why does it have that effect?
The song “Dreamhouse” by Deafheaven always makes me happy. The song has a very weird quality of being simultaneously chaotic and soothing. I find a lot of happiness in contradictions, and love it when artists can make a song that combines polar opposites so seamlessly. Plus I’ve always found Black Metal music to be extremely stress relieving.
What is(are) the best new band(s) that you’ve heard recently?
Recently I saw this bluegrass singer from Nashville called Hushabye Baby at a house show in Baltimore. Her voice is gorgeous and she has an impeccable talent for writing lyrics. She’s actually opening for me on one of my shows on tour, which is awesome.
My friend Ian Trushiem has a band called Brooks Long and the Mad Dog No Good. They’re about to put out their first album and have been touring the Baltimore area for years. The have a cool funk-rock/RnB vibe going on, which I dig a lot.
The local record label, Friends Records, has been putting out a lot of cool stuff lately. I’ve built a very sizable cassette tape collection thanks to them.
If you had to throw away your entire record collection but were allowed to keep just one disc – what would it be?
I’m addicted to buying records. It’s gotten so out of hand that I’ve started buying cassette tapes too. Its really tough to but I’d have to save my copy of “To Be Kind” by Swans. I got it signed by Michael Gira at the show I went to. The case is cardboard, and I can still see where his sweat dripped while signing it. Even from the 30 second conversation I had with Michael I can tell he’s a really cool person.
What question would you like to be asked that you never are? (And what would be your answer?)
I find it strange that people almost never ask how I came up with the name Cascading Elephants. (People usually confuse it with Cage the Elephant). There isn’t much of a story behind it, to be honest. In 2012 I quit the rock band I was in at the time and decided to go solo. Inspired by the stage names of Animal Collective, I decided to make something up. I wrote about a dozen words on index cards and put them in a bucket, and “Cascading” and “Elephant” were the words I randomly picked. I made the elephant plural to make it seem more like a band.
What would you like to have played at your funeral?
My uncle and I jokingly agreed once that we’d both have “The End” by the Doors played at our funerals. I think it would be appropriate for the occasion. After seeing how David Bowie turned Blackstar in to the soundtrack of his death, I’d like to create the music for my own funeral. I don’t think I could do it anywhere near as masterfully as Bowie, but it would be cool to take a stab at it.
What next for Cascading Elephants?
Since the album came out in January, I’ve been focusing on the tour. I can’t afford a booking or press agent, so I do everything myself. I don’t think people realize how much work goes into making a tour happen. Starting in January I plotted out the cities I wanted to travel through, and sent hundreds of emails out to any promoters and venues I could find in each city. The next phase was getting blogs to cover the tour (Thanks Tom!). Now I’m in the promotion phase, where I’m hanging fliers and advertising the shows. While this was going on, I was rehearsing and trying to finish my senior year of high school.
My long term plan for Cascading Elephants is to keep growing and try to break into the national scene. 2016 has been a fantastic year for Cascading Elephants and I want to keep this momentum going. I’d like to have another album out next year and I definitely want to keep touring. I’d like to do more remixes too, they’re always fun.
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June 15 – Villian & Saint: Bethesda, MD
June 18 – Rainbow Records: Newark, DE
June 24 – The Hippo Hut: Baltimore, MD
July 1 – Electric Maid: Washington, DC
July 16 – venue TBA (help please!) – Lancaster, PA
July 21 – Metropolitan Lounge: Annapolis, MD
July 29 – The Raven Inn: Towson, MD
July 31 – Sherman Theater: Stroudsburg, PA
August 4 – Swallow at the Hollow: Baltimore, MD
Cascading Elephants on Soundcloud
Cascading Elephants on Bandcamp