Given Over To History: An Interview with RASPBERRY BULBS + A Track Premiere
RASPBERRY BULBS is one of the most interesting and exciting bands of the past decade, and with their first new LP in just over 5 years coming out on RELAPSE this month, I finally had an excuse to reach out to them for an interview I’ve wanted to do since I first heard them so many years ago.
2020 marks eleven years since RASPBERRY BULBS first burst into the world, however the current incarnation is definitely different from the original. Can you tell me about the initial conception of this project?
RB started with minimal expectations, as more of an obscure side project. I had moved back to the Bay from Los Angeles, had been teaching myself to play guitar – came home to begin rehearsing with Bone Awl for our tour in 2009 with Volahn and Ashdautas. At that same time set up the 4-track in the garage and recorded “Finally Burst…” – it was all intuitive and in pursuit of a really strange and eccentric concept for a band. I grabbed the pink paper at the Staples’ copy center and picked the name from some lyrics I had written the same week – and here I am 11 years later still trying to explain the pink records and band name to people.
RASPBERRY BULBS ‘Before The Age Of Mirrors’ Release date February 21, 2020 Pre-Order HERE!
Since RB’s inception, the internet has been quick to slap the “black metal” label on you due to the association with BONE AWL and the lo-fi production utilized on your releases, despite the fact that musically, RB is much more akin to dark post-punk bands such as RUDIMENTARY PENI, WIRE, MASTURBATION (ADK Records), WARSAW, and others (although I can hear a little from the LLN bands such as BELKETRE and maybe TORGEIST on your earlier material). How would you describe your music, and who were some of your early inspirations?
I think if you understand the association between bands and how things have developed – that probably makes the most sense. RB decided to break several of the barriers of black metal when it began, and was hoping to be an entity which could explore its own vernacular and not just worry about perfecting a traditional style. I always wanted to have a band where the focus is the music (and not the genre) and you somehow, gracefully, let all of your influences come out in a pure and effective way — I mean, that’s probably how all good music is made, right? It’s just a lot easier said than done in the post 2000 landscape.
Rudimentary Peni is one of the most important bands for me, personally, and that influence is embraced with RB. I first heard them when I was 12 or 13, an older friend put “Media Person” as the first song on a mixtape for me which would become one of the most important mixes I ever received. Nick Blinko over time became a crucial touchstone with his references to Lovecraft and he also appeared within Outsider art catalogs alongside people like Henry Darger, Madge Gill and Adolf Wolfli. I don’t think you could create a stranger constellation of worlds to be connected to. Both Weird Fiction and Outsider art were hugely important worlds to me with Bone Awl and RB.
Do you feel the addition of new members changed the writing process and direction/sound somewhat? And how did you bring those new members in?
Yeah, 100%. Compared to the demos of RB, the playing and compositions with the band have become much more developed, albeit still quite simple compared to other extreme styles. The music still comes from the same source – it’s still riff based, and very simple — it’s just with good musicians, and a full line up, you have the means of developing the songs into something that is bigger and has more depth. It does change the essence of what the sound of the band is, naturally. You can clearly hear it in the early material: the early stuff is primitive and extremely clunky, and the later stuff sounds more refined, like a full band and starts to resemble more varying styles of music.
One of my favorite parts about Privacy was the use of industrial/dark ambient passages akin to NURSE WITH WOUND, COIL/SICKNESS OF SNAKES, DOME, early CURRENT 93, and others, in a way that reminded me of MINIMAL MAN’s The Shroud Of to an extent; and much to my delight, you did more of those for Before The Age Of Mirrors. What was the driving force behind including that in your sound?
With Privacy we began to look at the album as a whole – as an entire composition. I personally care the most about making records (versus playing live or rehearsing), and I strive to make records that hold together and have a flow between parts. The songs are looked at as an Side A of a record and Side B. I personally like records that have a range and dynamic. We really wanted to do that on Privacy, to break up all the guitar songs with evocative but different interludes. It opens things up, and really casts a different feeling across the whole album.
I just enjoy playing music and recording – that is the part of this entire process that I enjoy the most. Creating these interludes is a way of pressing “stop” on the band, regrouping and making compositions that are much more spontaneous and experimental. It throws some excitement in the recording process, and it’s thrilling to press record on the 4-track and play things back to hear if they worked or not.
On Before the Age of Mirrors, I feel that we really understood the different gears of the band and worked in an effective flow between contrasting parts. Plenty of high, anxiety driven music, into more pensive and meditative interludes, into some very strange electronics.
Your lyrics and aesthetics focus heavily on alienation, rejecting the constant surveillance of social media, and other related topics, in addition to having an air of mystery and somewhat of a commitment to wilful obscurity. Can you tell me more about the motifs you use in the lyrics, visual art, and overall aesthetics, and their meanings to you?
I would say that the lyrics and themes on any given album will always be a reflection of a certain, spiritual and philosophical position – it does not really shy away from anything though. I am drawn towards the uncanny and the morbid, but I try to inject as much personality and idiosyncrasy as I can into what I write. Above all, I desperately try to avoid cliche and redundancy – and sometimes in order to do this, things have to get uncomfortable.
I think all writing that I am drawn to has a strong air of mystery which borderlines on the supernatural. That is the essence of what Weird Fiction is, and don’t write short stories, but I try to approach writing lyrics in a similar way – posing some type of situation with a dilemma, and various revelations and observations are made along the way.
In between Privacy and the announcement of Before The Age Of Mirrors, there was a gap of about 5 years. However, you kept busy with a solo project, SPECIAL BREED — both of which had some similarities to what you were doing with RB, but each distinctly different — and of course a new tape from BONE AWL in 2017. Was there a specific reason for the radio silence from RB during that time?
I’m always poking around with something. I have what I would describe as creative anxiety. I don’t seem to have much of a choice in resting or not, it’s just the way in which I really do need to channel my energy.
To be honest, the way things develop mostly has to do with my surroundings. I moved out of NYC in 2014 after Privacy came out. I began playing more with Bone Awl again. I also formed Special Breed a couple years after that, as a pretty casual outlet. The projects all have deep similarities, and are different expressions of the same type of sentiment though.
Deformed Worship and Privacy were a solid statement from the band at the time, and I think it was a good point for a break – a good time for some more privacy… and simplifying things again. Not much has changed, even though an impressive amount of time has passed. RB reunited in 2018 we started collaborating again. Then we got together in the woods in Livingston Manor, and Before the Age of Mirrors came together swiftly over the course of a couple days.
I was lucky enough to see you perform in 2013 with SALVATION and PHARMAKON, but since then you have played very few shows. Is there a reason for the scarcity of your performances, and should the world expect to see more of them following the release of your new LP on RELAPSE?
The band seems to go through different incarnations, varying sizes over time. In order to get RB up to it’s full fighting weight, we have to get enough musicians together to fill out the line up to play live, it’s not really a consistent state for us – whereas some bands are constantly touring, rehearsing etc. I’ve never really done that. There was a stretch though where rehearsals were going consistently and we got to play some great shows with Salvation, Alberich, Total Control, and others.
After Before the Age of Mirrors comes out, we will be playing shows and have many plans for performances in 2020.