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By: Gilbert Potts
We recently caught up with BeHn Stacy, drummer from Western Australian band Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, to talk about their recent European tour, the new album, and what it’s like to be up on stage in the zone smacking those skins like a rock god one minute, and the next being just some sweaty guy in the crowd.
(((o))): How was your trip?
BeHn: Whirlwind, man, it’s that old thing where you get home and you’re like wow, it all happened so quickly. Especially Dunk!festival, that was the highlight I’d say. It was the second show in the run, I think we landed the day before our first show, and then stayed in the Netherlands and then played the first show in Germany the next day.
(((o))): You’ve played there before, was it a similar arrangement when you played there again? Do you feel like an old hand already?
BeHn: Yeah (laughs). In some ways, we were a bit better prepared this time in terms of making sure we had things like sleeping bags and stuff like that. It didn’t take us long last time to realise we needed to carry more things around with us. We definitely went in this time a bit better prepared.
(((o))): Are you all pretty similar or do personality clashes come into preparing and stuff like that, do you have arguments about little stuff like that, or do you all get on pretty well?
BeHn: Well both of those things are true I guess, we get on well, but we do argue about things a lot. I think it’s constructive argument; we’re throwing differing opinions around and finding some common ground in the meantime, like different ideas about how we want to release a certain thing or write a certain thing. We get to a positive thing by the end of it all, so no bad blood or anything (laughs), we’re all very passionate dudes, so it gets very loud and very sweary very quickly sometimes.
(((o))): How do you prepare yourself before you get up to play?
BeHn: I guess I try and just remove as much of the daily crap that’s in your mind as possible, you don’t think about whatever it is that’s stressing you out or bothering you in your personal life at the time. I try and stay focused on what’s happening. I try and stop thinking actually, I often find that when you walk off after playing a set, and you have no idea where you’ve been for the last hour or minutes, however long it is, that’s usually a sign that it went pretty well.
Because for me at least, when I’m thinking about stuff, it’s taking me away from being in the moment and being totally honest in a way. If you just let it out and let it be, when it’s not being obstructed by anything I think it becomes a much more expressive thing. There’s little moments where you have signposts in songs, you have to be a little more intellectually involved in the process, but those things become kind of more like reflex actions after time. I try and get a bit zen with it, is probably a good way of putting it.
(((o))): You play in other projects – in Tangled there’s no verse chorus structure and things keep changing – Is that different from some of the other music you play?
BeHn: Yeah, well there’s a couple of other projects I’ve got that are solely improvised, so there’s even more ability to completely let go of that stuff, when you’re playing in that setting. You have to just listen and just be there and have done all your preparation to make sure you’ve got all your chops in check and your technique right then it’s just a matter of responding to what happens. When there’s music with more set forms, there’s a certain amount of attention that you place on important parts to make sure you’re doing everything right, but I guess when you’re a band like us, we tend to jam and rehearse quite a bit so those things, it kind of becomes like a reflex action, where you link all of the shorter passages together and it’s just a matter of putting them in order and off you go. There’s definitely a difference between Tangled stuff and other things, but I feel like I’m still able to get into that free-er space of mind.
(((o))): I know when I listen to a short song with words that I know I can sing the whole thing in my head and hear the tune in full, but with one of your songs I might eventually know what’s coming up if I’m listening, but I couldn’t hum a whole tune in my head. So how do you know what comes next?
BeHn: I think it’s the same for me though actually man, If I was to try and sit there and think about the song for the time it would take to play the song and try to go through it in my head, I think it’s more a matter of attention for me, like I start thinking about something else and it’s gone, but when I’m physically involved in it it’s a different thing, my focus is cemented in making that happen.
But I definitely know what you mean, I used to be able to sing Metallica guitar solos from start to finish, but that’s about as much as I could get through in terms of whole pieces of music.
(((o))): When you perform you’re sitting up the front left of the stage side-on, how did that come about?
BeHn: It’s something we’ve seen bands like Sigur Rós doing as well, it’s something we’re interested in and some bands we’re into were kind of doing it, but for us it became as much about the visual element of how we want to present the band as it did a practical thing of us being able to see and cue each other.
It definitely wasn’t always like that. When I first joined the band it wasn’t like that, it was pretty standard sitting up the back and I’d always have to wait for people to turn around and cue different things or try reading someone’s body language from behind them. It definitely makes it a lot easier.
But also I think it looks kind of cool. We’re a pretty involved band. I like the idea that people can come and stand in front of any of us and be able to see what’s going on and move around and see what everyone’s up to. It’s like people who are up the front are standing in a circle with us. All of us can be as close to each other as anybody else can. I like feeling where the crowd’s standing right next to you. It’s a bit of a different thing from being up high at the back.
(((o))): It can be really hard to see the drummer up the back and I think you really miss out when you can’t get that clear view.
BeHn: I know that as a drummer for me, especially as well, I’d always be pretty bummed out if you went to a gig and you couldn’t get a good spot where you could see the guy’s hands and see what he was up to see what the guy’s up to. So maybe there’s a little bit of that teenage fan inside of me that wants to give that to that one person to the crowd who wants to see what’s up (laughs).
(((o))): So when you go and see bands, do you tend to check out the drummers a lot more than the rest of the band?
BeHn: Yeah, I think I do have a bit of a bias that was, obviously being a drummer, it’s always really interesting seeing how other people do their thing. It’s one thing to hear someone’s sound, but it’s another thing to see how they move and how they set things up, like their gear, and how they hold their sticks, and how they use their arm or elbow. I pay attention to little things like that because it helps you understand more about the mechanics of the instrument and from a bit of a nerdy standpoint, I find that I do it a lot. Having said that, there’s some bands where I’ve seen the drummer before or I’m not super into the drummer’s playing particularly, but I still like the band, and in that case I’ll check out what the bass player or the guitarist is doing.
(((o))): Although this album doesn’t sound like more of the same there are elements and passages that connect it to your first full length. How long did it take to get the album together and how was the process?
BeHn: Well a lot of it’s compiled from different jams and ideas that we’ve had, mostly that Ron had brought into the room. The writing process for the album started as early as back as in 2012, and we’d intended to jump straight into making a new album, but then early 2013 we obviously did the tour with This Will Destroy You around Australia, and that was our first national tour support, so we hadn’t spent that long on the road with the one band before, and we kept getting to see them do their thing every night, and because they’re such an amazing sounding band live, it really gave us a lot of stuff to think about in terms of tones you can make use of and how you can put things together so that it translates well live. They did just little simple things like loops and samples that you couldn’t hear while the song was going, but then you realise that it’s going the whole time through the song and just adding this subtle little layer underneath.
So we started to think about things like that, and then we went to Europe for the first time after that tour and saw another bunch of bands, and got inspired by all of that in a new way. I think when we came back we had a different perspective on what we wanted to do from the album. Somewhere in there we released Failed by Man and Machine as well, so that helped us to get some more of that mathy short form ideas that we were throwing around out into the real world I guess, because I think maybe we’d used those ideas for that EP and that meant that the album could go in a totally new direction because it’s almost like we’d done what we wanted to do with those kinds of things, and then we’re ready to move onto another thing again. So then we moved onto that more heavy, darker stuff and it just kind of kept going.
‘Shaking off Futility’ came from an improv set that Ron and I did on the European tour. We did this little show in a town called Enschede on the eastern border of the Netherlands and the support band pulled out so it was just us and another guy doing a solo piano thing before us. And we needed a second band, so Ron and I have a side project band called RPQ, so we ended up doing a support for ourselves, so one of the progressions and one of the movements from that set, thankfully someone recorded it, and we were able to use it and develop it into a track that became something in that album.
So that seed kind of got planted there. There is a lot more of a connection with that song to the first album because it kind of goes into that moody country kind of territory, the dusty guitars and the slow, lumbering kind of drum, and then the piano comes in with some of the more glitch stuff a little bit later, which is like some of the things that was happening in tracks like ‘Landmarks’.
((o))): Many bands have say five broad sounds in their songs and each of their songs will fit into one of those five sounds. Do you think you’ll be able to avoid that as you keep going?
BeHn: I hope so! I think there’s definitely room to reference things you’ve done before in the same sense that film directors have stylistic things that they do. We find things that are our strengths I suppose, but hopefully each time we bring something like that into a tune, we find a way of reinventing it a bit or seeing it from a different perspective or blending the sounds in a different way so that it doesn’t sound repetitive or formulaic. I think we’ve managed to do that so far (laughs).
(((o))) I suppose on the one hand bands have an identity, but on the other that can lead to not progressing, and in some ways they’re at odds with each other.
BeHn: Yeah totally, we have a pretty no-rules approach to things, there’s not specific things we try to avoid, we try and do what is right for the core idea of whatever we’re working on. We go through so much trial and error pre-production, we record so many different versions of the same thing so we can see where different ideas lead to. It becomes a very organic process.
I’ve been in other bands where you get boxed in and end up with songs that don’t flow so well because you went with your first idea and have done it in a very linear way. It’s like the goal has been to complete the song writing process and not to write a good song. We tend to focus on individual sections and the other sections sort of sprout up around them and then sometimes we’ll find a way of joining two things together by putting a little bridging part between them in a way that makes sense.
We don’t really stop that process until we’re all happy with how it flows and making sure it’s got a narrative element to it, where it makes sense to go from here to here so it helps the story. I think if you operate in a more organic way, it’s something you don’t have to put too much thought towards I guess? In terms of trying to make the perfect thing happen, it’s like it happens because we jammed on it and we found something that works for that moment.
(((o))): Isn’t it beautiful that music has so much variety, not only as a listener, but also that the people creating it are different in how they’re hearing it.
BeHn: It’s fair to say that between the four of us we have a lot of common interests musically, but we also all have our own preferences and our own things and ideas and music with each other. We’re always sharing what it is that’s inspired us that week or that month and that way that even if it’s not something everyone likes at least then everyone has a sense of where that person’s at and what’s influencing them. It’s easy to find a way of interacting with what they’re doing in that sense.
Especially for me, a lot of the time I’ll talk about what my idea is for my particular part and I’ll relate it to something else I might have heard and because it’s not so much that it’s like oh we’re use that technique because I heard it on this record and I want to copy it, but if I hear something that makes me feel a certain way or really stands out to me because it’s a beautifully simple idea or a stupidly complex idea that seems to work for some reason, it’s more about something that can create that feeling, like two things juxtaposed to create an unsettling or two things that are strangely complementary so no one’s expecting it so that there’s a little surprise at the end when you get that emotional payoff from it.
So for me I reference a lot of things like that so the guys get a sense of how I see it fitting in the context of what we’re working on, and if they’re getting a similar effect from hearing it then it helps them to get an idea of how they can best use it to create that vibe.
(((o))): You do some good work with time signatures. Often it’s not really obvious and it’s not overdone. So suddenly you knock the earth off its axis, but then it returns again.
BeHn: I know that I personally think about odd time signatures like that and I know the other guys do, it’s not necessarily a case of oh, how can we do some cool maths on this and figure out how many times we can play a group of seven inside a group of thirty eight or something like that. Like most times we’ll write things in 4/4, but listening back to it we’ll hear a pocket of it that could change a bit and recontextualise what the progression or melody’s doing. A good example of that is ‘Quakes’ off Failed by Man and Machine. That was originally written in 4/4, but as we played it more it started feeling more natural for me to add that extra beat in the second part of it. It ended up with it simply because it gave it that extra lope that just felt so much better than that progression in 4/4. It works how it does and I really like the feeling of playing that song, it has such a hypnotic rhythm – I like playing it and I like being excited by it. It’s more about chasing that feeling than anything else.
(((o))): Music that’s more complex is more satisfying on an ongoing basis?
BeHn: Yeah, it becomes something you revisit, and it can mean something different every time you hear it. I love albums like that where you get so much out of them and there’s so much to hear.
(((o))): That whole thing of how music can stir your emotions, I think vocal-less music can give you more scope to imagine more and I think that’s a positive for some people, but a negative for people who need something clear and who need direction.
BeHn: I do think that, yeah, instrumental music, because it’s a little bit less tangible than music with lyrics, it literally can be anything, it doesn’t have that extra context of “this is what the song is about” so clearly defined, so it’s however you’re hearing it at the time. I think it ends up working in a way similar to a psychedelic drug, whatever mood you’re in going into it, it’s gonna feed off of that and use that as a starting point, or it could completely kill that mood and turn it into something else. If you’re in a bad mood, some songs can make you feel worse, some can make you feel better and some can feel like they’re empathising with you. That makes you feel better, not because it changes your mood but because it’s like, “oh, someone gets it”.
Even for myself with bands with singers, I always prefer singers who have a very instrumental quality to their voice – they treat their voice like an instrument. The lyrics themselves could be pretty abstract in a sense, like you think about someone like Chino of The Deftones and look at his lyrics sheet you’re like “what are they on about”, but sometimes it doesn’t really matter, the way he uses his voice in the context of the songs it just adds something that would be missing if it wasn’t there. So in that context I almost consider those guys to be an instrumental band in a way.
I think that a lot of people have said to us in the past, “when are you gonna get a singer”, but I think that those people would go see their favourite band and either not know the lyrics or have the lyrics remembered incorrectly anyway. So the lyrics to them aren’t as important as they think they are, it’s just that thing where instrumental music is on the minority side of music and thought of as weird or not the correct way to do it by people who aren’t as into instrumental music as others I suppose. It’s interesting – I think it’s just more a perspective thing.
(((o))): Is there a connection between why most people like music from their youth and then reach an age when they don’t like any new music?
BeHn: I feel like I find myself doing that with certain things, for instance I used to be into a lot of screamo and hardcore bands that used clean vocals for the chorus and screaming vocals for the verse and all that kind of stuff and I used to like a couple of bands that did that, and then over time you listen to them a bit less and you hear new bands that are doing essentially the same thing. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t like it given what your tastes were and you have a soft spot for those older bands, but you’ll immediately dismiss something new that’s doing that same thing. But this thing that you liked when you were younger is okay. I find I have a few bands that I have that guilty soft spot for because I used to like them years ago. It’s like when a Korn song comes on (laughs), there’ll always be a part of that goes “Yeah Korn!”
(((o))): People do look back to older songs when they sit around and get drunk and sing…
BeHn: I think there’s a bit of a distorted reverence for older songs because the nature of the music industry has changed so much in the past few decades that what was popular music actually involved people that were very talented at what they did, so what you heard on the radio and what was charting was of a different kind of breed or quality. And now the majority of what you hear commercially is kind of just hip-hop or pop and a lot of people go, “that’s not what music used to sound like”, and maybe in a way they’re right, from that perspective. If you want to listen to good music you have to find it these days. There’s a lot of people try and shove crap down your throat.
I think, maybe I’m being a bit overly reverent as well, but there was a time when what popular music was, was something that people that were into music that had some substance to it could get into. When you think back to when Queen were in their heyday or The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, bands like that are still going today because they were writing good music and they were talented guys. I mean I’m not really a huge fan of any of those guys but I definitely respect the artistry involved there and what they achieved. They set the benchmark for what pop music could be and there are no artists like that around any more so it’s less valued today maybe.
(((o))): What is it that you get out of making music, what is it that drives you?
BeHn: (long pause) It’s hard to put into words I guess. Nothing quite makes me feel like the feeling I get when I’m playing. Without getting too spiritual, when people talk about meditating and seeking that oneness with the universe, playing music does that for me, especially when it’s improvised, it’s my way of tapping into that indescribable part of myself, and being able to share that with other people and hopefully try to make an experience that we can all be part of.
What I get from it I guess is just clarity, it just makes sense, I feel like I can express myself better in that way than in any other way. And I guess that ongoing challenge of trying to be better than you were yesterday, not in the sense of “I used to be able to play 90bpm yesterday and now I can play 100” – more about being able to more easily get my ideas across.
I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately and sound as art is a strange thing really. It can be something that can really affect you because it gets to you physically. You think about the low end rumble of a really deep bass note and how it goes right through your whole body, or when something is really loud and you can’t talk to the person next to you (I should hope not! GP) or something is really quiet and it creates tension. To be able to wield those kind of things and to be able to change the feeling inside a room with the sound you’re making, it’s a pretty incredible feeling. To be able to do that in a room with people and guide people through an experience that you’re almost going through yourself, I like to kind of take the role of the listener at times and hear where the song is going.
Like when you’re really in the zone sometimes and you’re thinking “Oh wow, this part sound really cool! If only they did this part like this…” and then I think “hang on, it’s me! I can do it!”
(((o))): At the end of the set, where you have been in the zone, and you don’t get to bask in the afterglow because there’s gear to pack up…
BeHn: I often joke with the guys about this, because as the drummer and especially me because I tend to sweat a lot when I play and one minute you’re on stage and you’re playing and you’re destroying the room and you’re king of the world and then ten minutes later you’re just some creepy sweaty guy in a club because you’re no longer on stage and everyone’s wondering “why is that guy sweating so much? I think I saw him last time.”
I actually find the process of ripping all the gear off and packing it away as my decompression afterwards, it helps to ground me and put me back in the room. When you’re a drummer not everyone wants to help you because there’s lots of heavy things to move so people tend to leave you alone (laughs). You get a bit meditative with it because you come off and pack up and just when you’re about to finish someone asks if you want a hand. So by that time I’m feeling reasonably human again and I’m ready to start talking to people. I’m a bit OCD with my gear when I’m taking it down just because I like to know where everything is, so a lot of the time I’ll tell people I don’t need help anyway.
(((o))): If you were an animal what would you be?
BeHn: (long pause) That’s a very interesting question. Because it’s hard to know what you value, do you want to be a pack animal, a big strong animal, a million things you have to consider (laughs).
I love all animals! I want to be all the animals!
Yield To Despair is now out through Bird’s Robe Records in Australia and will be released through Pelagic Records in Europe on September 14th.