Of all the rock bands I’ve come across since starting Love is Pop, Dead Letter Circus is one of the most intellectual. Just pick any song from any of their albums and listen to it and you’ll see what I mean. Frontman Kim Benzie’s lyrics require deep thought to fully comprehend; they’re like riveting poetry that makes you take pause as it fills your head with images and emotions. To that end, understanding the lyrics isn’t necessary to appreciate Dead Letter Circus’ high end alternative rock music. Kim’s vocals are ripe with so much emotion that you can experience the songs regardless. It’s like watching a movie in a foreign language without the benefit of subtitles. You still understand much of it. If someone is expressing anger or angst, you still sense that. It still makes you feel something in response. All that being said, there are Dead Letter Circus songs that are especially accessible like “In Plain Sight” and “While You Wait” from their brilliant new album Aesthesis. So, go cue up the album on your favorite streaming service and listen to it while you read Kim’s interview with Love is Pop below. Your brain will be stimulated.
MM: How did you come up with the title for the new album, Aesthesis? Did you realize it was a word many people would have to go look up in the dictionary when you chose it?
KB: I was reading an article by chance and the word caught my eye which led to me searching the meaning myself. It so perfectly fit the album as an overall theme that I emotionally committed on the spot that it would become the album name.
MM: Admittedly, I had to look it up myself… The definition I found was “capacity for sensation or feeling; sensitivity.” Is that what you meant by it or is there some other definition I’m unaware of?
KB: My definition was ‘the awareness of sensory stimulation’.
MM: Whose idea was it to have the broken heart on the cover? Who did the cover art?
KB: An artist from Brazil name Lucas Lopes designed the cover art and without having heard the songs yet suggested we try stencil based art for the next record as to him DLC screamed revolution. When he presented the heart it just made sense as alot of the theme’s within the songs point to us needing to move back towards decisions of the heart over decisions of the head. Having always had sped complex artwork previously that in a way suggested a style of the music pre listening, this time we thought it would be refreshing to have something plain and bold and let the music speak for itself in the hope that the artwork would make sense after the musical experience.
MM: I understand that you started with the vocals instead of the music this time around. Was that something you intended to do when you went into the studio or did it just start happening that way and then you decided to keep doing it like that?
KB: It just kinda happened like that. We booked the studio without a single song written and had a 2 month block that it had to be completed in. The first song we experimented with writing in this way came together so easily with a really strong story to it that we committed to that path. It forced the band to really shake up the style as well as we had previously developed a very signature style.
MM: Did you come up with a melody first and then start coming up with lyrics or vice versa? KB: Melody first always. Emotion without the bounds of the english language.
MM: Did everybody in the band contribute to writing the lyrics? How were the lyrics written for previous albums, i.e. did you write them alone or as a group, etc?
KB: To this point no one has really offered or tried to purely because it works coming from one person. I think the honesty in the lyrics is a large part of the bands appeal, it’s relatable because it’s super heartfelt.
MM: What were the easiest and most difficult songs to write for Aesthesis?
KB: The singles were the easiest. We always spend way more time on the deeper album tracks like Born (part 2). We’ve always had an ethos of ‘All killer no filler’ and find ourselves breaking our brains on the tracks you’ll never hear on radio or get to do a film clip for, but it’s worth it for the album as a whole.
MM: Do you think you’ll start with the vocals again next time around? For sure.
KB: The album was produced by Matt Bartlem. I couldn’t find a wiki page for him but my search did reveal that he’d produced songs for the band in the past. Has he produced all of your albums? If not, who are some of the other producers you’ve worked with and how did their approaches differ?
KB: We had 2 producers with Matt and a guy named Forrester Savell. It was awesome for the 2 perspectives and 2 different worlds they come from. Matt comes from a popier background with huge vocal productions where Forrester is the undisputed King of progressive rock.
MM: Chris Lord-Alge – one of the biggest names in the business – mixed the album. Was this your first time working with him? If so, how did the collaboration come about?
KB: Working with Chris has been on our bucket list since we started the band. I like listening to bands he has mixed even if I don’t like the band purely for the sonics. The guy is a fucking genius and peerless in the rock world. We were initially only going to get 2 songs mixed by Chris but after mixing those he offered to mix the whole album and to be honest, those 2 songs were so rocking that it would have been unfair to the rest of the songs to not be mixed by Chris. Problem is now, I never want to not have Chris mix a song I sing on.
MM: Chris Lord-Alge’s use of compression has basically become an industry standard nowadays with people listening to music on their computers and headphones more than on traditional stereos. Was making an album that would play especially well in that capacity a goal you had in mind?
KB: The thing about a Chris mix is its so intelligently done that is sounds good on all mediums and never harsh, ever!
MM: With a lot of albums during the past year or two, there is a separate master done especially for iTunes. It’s one of the things they brag about; “mastered for iTunes.” Was there a master of your album done especially for them?
KB: We didn’t do that. Ted Jensen mastered the album to sound formidable even on tdk.
MM: I understand you’re “mega-stars” in your native Australia. How many records have you sold there? Are you easily recognized when you’re out in public? Say you’re at a mall and somebody recognizes you, will a huge swarm of people start approaching you, like when a famous actor is out and about? Just trying to get a sense of how popular you are there. KB: We have a gold record here and about to add another couple to the wall which in this day and age of the music industry a big feat. I’d say we’re noticeable with a demographic and if they are at the mall they’ll usually come say hi. People that like this music are pretty respectful and don’t put too much weight in celebrity so they are more likely to say a polite thank you and maybe grab a photo.
MM: When you’ve toured in the States, you’ve generally been an opening act and many of the bands you’ve opened for have been metal bands. How did those audiences react to you, being that you’re an alternative rock band? Was it usually a situation where they started off indifferent but you won them over by the end of your set?
KB: It was certainly hard work, we definitely won them over in the end or at least opened their eyes to something equally as emotionally intense in a less technical format.
MM: What are your tour plans for the new album? Now that you have another record under your belt, do you think you’ll headline your own shows here in the States?
KB: We definitely are working towards that moment as we have a killer headlining set full of anthems we play here and we’d love to bring that to the people over there whom drive mile and miles to see us play. We’d love to play some shows with bands of a similar genre though too as it’s so fun playing to fresh ears with this band.
MM: Your previous release was the acoustic Stand Apart EP. Was it challenging to strip the songs down to a simple acoustic format? Or were they originally written that way?
KB: IT was the first time we had tried that but it wasn’t super hard. Quite relaxing actually.
MM: I thought Stand Apart was fantastic. Was it generally well-received?
KB: We only did a limited run of them here and they sold out straight away.
MM: Are there any plans to release Aesthesis on vinyl, which has been becoming increasingly popular again over the last several years (at least here in the States)?
KB: I hope so.
MM: Finally, what are your thoughts on streaming music? For example, are you pro or anti Spotify, Beats, etc?
KB: Personally I think it’s only an exposure tool for bands. Bands do not make money from this avenue and these streaming sites in no way at all compensate the bands for what it costs to make a record which super expensive. Sure they are providing the public with a legal way to listen to music without paying the band which is a step in the right direction morally but honestly if you love a band’s music and want to hear more from them, use the streaming sites as a means to discover a band, but then go and buy the album for real. Otherwise in 10 years all you will hear is electro music created on a computer at low cost most likely sampling 5 seconds of a guitar lick written by someone in a band a decade ago.
Buy Aesthesis here: http://smarturl.it/DLC-Aesthesis
Thanks to Kim for taking the time to do this and thanks to Leo Lavoro at The End Records for facilitating it!