THE BENZENE RING: Terrible Perfectionists

The Benzene Ring

New York experimentalists The Benzene Ring released their sophomore album “Crossing the Divide” in November last year. The 12-track album is full of pleasant surprises. Multi-instrumentalist Jeff Aldrich answered our questions about the release, but he also talks about other things.

Define the mission of The Benzene Ring.

Our mission is to inspire awe and wonder in the hearts of humankind.

Tell me about the creative process that informed your most recent album “Crossing the Divide” and the themes it captures.

We used sort of a strange, formal process for composing Crossing the Divide, beginning with a narrative story, which was dreamed up by all members. Then for each “chapter” of this narrative, one single band member would write a structural blueprint/map to inform the musical composition. Next, two other members would compose a musical skeleton around this map and musical themes posing as “characters” from the story. Finally the entire band would then flesh out that musical skeleton, bringing back musical themes from other chapters when narratively relevant.

What is the message you are trying to give with “Crossing the Divide?”

Crossing the Divide is a concept album with a narrative. It tells the story of Jonpers, who finds himself progressively losing the ability to communicate, until he eventually cannot communicate with himself, which sends him on a panicked flight through the woods, where he meets a peculiar old man, and descends (dies, perhaps?) into an underground lair of rat people who eventually explain how they were transformed when a man in a hot air balloon—the same old man Jonpers had encountered, although the old man has since forgotten it entirely—accidentally created a space-time rift in the rat-people’s original dimension and brought them back to ours. After hearing the story of the rats, Jonpers recovers his ability to understand and communicate, and he makes a dramatic escape from the underground rat caves on his way to relocate the old man.

Crossing the Divide

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

Our chapters and blueprints were all written down. We did a lot of test recordings and MIDI demos along the way. We haven’t made sheet music or anything like that.

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?

Yes, very carefully architected. We spent ten years getting it right! Bits and pieces from each song appear in other songs in a highly coordinated way. Each piece flows seamless into the next through a combination of compositional techniques and recording techniques. It’s a true concept album for sure.

Describe the approach to recording the album.

We recorded and mixed the album entirely ourselves, in our rehearsal studio and in our home studios. We did it piecemeal over time. Drums in our rehearsal studio. Upright piano at Hwarg’s home studio. Vocals at Jeff’s home studio. In the mixing process, nothing was out of bounds. Audio processing, samples, multitrack layering, effects, you name it.

How long “Crossing the Divide” was in the making?

Close to ten years from initial conception to final completion! We’re terrible perfectionists.

The Benzene Ring

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

Too much to list! We definitely all grew up on a steady diet of 90s alt rock: Radiohead, Tool, Sunny Day Real Estate, Soundgarden, Hum, Nine Inch Nails. Also 20th century classical: Stravinsky, Bartok, Ligetti. And of course lots of prog and experimental rock heroes: early 70s Yes, Rush, Kayo Dot, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Mars Volta, Scott Walker, Mr Bungle.

What is your view on technology in music?

We’re into it! The recording and mixing process was heavily computer assisted. Eric uses software synths on the album, and we layered in plenty of samples. That said, we probably love nothing more than the sound of an acoustic piano, an analog delay pedal, a tube guitar amp, a real Fender Rhodes.

Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?

There is no purpose to life but music.

What are your plans for the future?

For the last few years we’ve been 100% focused on writing and recording. We’re starting to get back into rehearsals, and looking forward to playing some shows in 2016. And of course, getting started on the next album!

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