Music Interview: Black Dice get noisy

By Peter Hemminger

I really like to just listen to records at my house and figure out where they’re coming from,” confides Black Dice’s Aaron Warren. “That includes our records too. I’ll put it next to something else and just see how it fits with that stuff.”

It’s a sentiment most music fans can share. A well-made record works because it creates a relationship between the band and its audience. Whether it’s abstract or straightforward, difficult or pop-oriented, albums live and die on their ability to draw in an audience and provoke an emotional reaction.

Warren isn’t the only one who’s been confused about where his band fits in the musical landscape. When they started out, Black Dice were four guys playing noisy, abrasive hardcore. They were known for bringing a sound and fury to their shows few other acts could match, but they were still chiefly a guitar and drums band. As their sound evolved, they drifted away from 30 second bursts into more evocative, spacious soundscapes of abstract noise. It was less abrasive but not necessarily easier to listen to.

“I think sometimes for us, with our history, there’s been times where we felt people were responding to aspects of the music that weren’t our favourite, or weren’t important to us,” Warren laments. “Sometimes people were just interested in the fact that it was really extreme, or really abrasive, or they were really into the rhythm. Most of us would say that’s a part of the music, but it’s not the most cool part.”

With 2005’s Broken Ear Record, Black Dice have tried to bridge the gap between band and audience. The album features real beats and even occasional vocal melodies, striking the right balance between accessibility and experimentation.

“We got to this point with our other stuff a year or two ago where we got really cerebral,” Warren says of the band’s last two albums. “At some of the shows, no matter how well we felt we played them there was a certain dissatisfaction because it didn’t feel like we’d moved an audience even if we played really well. I think the songs have become more of what we were hoping for, and we have something now that’s more engaging.”

Engaging and user-friendly are two different things, though. Broken Ear Record may be the band’s most accessible album to date, but don’t expect breezy pop or non-confrontational rock. Black Dice still subscribe to a mantra of experimentation and pushing limits, and poppy is clearly a relative term.

“We’re really good friends with the group Animal Collective,” recounts Warren. “And a lot of the time when we finish a recording we’ll do a listening party where we listen to our new record and their new record. When we do that, sometimes it’s just like, wow, we’re doing something really different from what they’re doing. We can say, we just made our poppiest music yet, and we’ll listen to it next to their record and think, this is not really pop at all.”

When dealing with music outside the pop spectrum, success can be difficult to measure. A band relying upon ambient noise, feedback loops and arrhythmic samples isn’t going to sell like Britney Spears no matter how well constructed their songs are. At the same time, just because something is strange and difficult doesn’t necessarily make it good, it might just make it pretentious and unlistenable. The band has had to wrestle with this dilemma throughout their careers to reach their unique level of success. According to Warren, it all comes back to the dialogue between the crowd and the band.

“I think any time that it’s really connecting with an audience, you have to appreciate that it’s succeeding on some level,” he summarizes. “There’s a very specific scene for a lot of this music right now, and there’s a very specific audience for it. As far as we’re concerned, it’s interesting to be able to put out this kind of music on a broad scale and have people actually exposed to the music and the ideas. For us, part of the success of an experiment, is that you can play it for a wide amount of people.”

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