Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Interview with Ben Baker Billington of Quicksails, Tiger Hatchery, Ono, and well, you get the point

Ben Baker Billington is sort of ever-present in Chicago. If you find yourself wading knee-deep into Chicago's underground music scene, you're bound to bump up against him in the murk, drumming with your new favorite bands ONO, ADT, Emily Moon, or Tiger Hatchery or providing some rapturous electronic atmosphere in his solo project Quicksails. Beyond that, he's a welcoming, enthusiastic, and supportive person who enjoys participation as much as he enjoys creation.

I forget where I met Ben, honestly, but that's not important. It's more indicative of how many times I've come across him at a show or on the street. Dude stays busy. If he's not creating something, he's witnessing or at least engaged in something creative.

I haven't even mentioned that he's a superb drummer. Well, I can't admit to knowing a ton about the actual art of drumming, but I can say that I've seen thousands of drummers and Ben stands out to me. Most of that comes from subtlety in his playing. I'd define his drumming as not playing a beat but playing with a beat, like a tinkerer making a wind-up clock. I like to see things in fractions. I often think of song structures in fractions, but rhythm is probably the most easily "fractioned" thing in music and that's because of its direct reflection of time, which you can always cut into smaller parts and never arrive at a conclusion. That sort of microscopic, diminutive eternity is the stuff that a compelling drummer will play with, and that's what Ben does. Let's frame it another way. The attention to detail makes an interesting drummer, but that mindset will influence all styles of music. And that's what makes Ben such a remarkable musician.

Jordan Reyes: You were a drummer before you began your project Quicksails. Tell me a little bit about the area at play within drumming, electronic music, and drone.

Ben Baker Billington: There's a ton of crossover in my electronic music writing. All the Quicksails records have a ton of percussion on almost all of the tracks, i.e. tablas, hand drums, full drums kits, cymbals, xylophones, etc. I most often incorporate a least a little bit of acoustic percussion or instrumentation into every release and/or live set. While every "song" may not be exactly rhythmic or follow a BPM, there's an underlying "free groove" that permeates. As for "drone music" in general, I can find rhythm in almost any music. There's often a pulse that one can groove to in even the deepest of drones.

JR: You very recently put out a cassette album on Tranquility Tapes. Tell me a little bit about how you made the pieces and how you think they fit together.

BBB: The music for 'Spillage' was recorded throughout 2014 at home. A lot of it was recorded over the whole year bit by bit with no real endpoint in mind. There were tons of tracks recorded in 2014 and most of them were sort of incomplete and unreleasable, but I felt an urge to find some material to release. I went through about 40 tracks and found 10 that I thought were near completion and took a week to finish mixing them. It ended up being "best of 2014" release opposed to a cohesive album.  

JR: Your band Tiger Hatchery recently recorded a new LP after playing a handful of shows earlier in November, right? How do you all "write" a free jazz record? Is everything improvised?

BBB: Tiger Hatchery got together back in the end of September of 2014 to play a handful of shows and record at Minbal Sudios in Chicago. While improvisation plays a heavy hand in Tiger Hatchery, we do often write loose compositions to guide us through live sets or studio sessions. These compositions mostly depict dynamics, who's playing when, and 'style'. We wrote a set of short 3-5 minute songs for the tour and that's what we recorded. It's extremely harsh and heavy.   Heaviest Tiger Hatchery put to tape... can't wait for friends to hear it.

JR: You seem to be drawn to improvised music. Do you think that improvised music is more "fun" than other styles?

BBB: Improvising with others is one of the most intense forms of communication I get to experience in my life.  There really is nothing else quite like it. I've gotten to know so many people on such a deeper level because of musical experiences, and sometimes I don't even know their last name!  I really do love composition and SONG though, and I'm really trying to become more involved in projects where I am the 'drummer' and nothing more. I love being the drummer in someone's band playing their songs, their vision, etc. I really cherished playing as part of Circuit des Yeux, or Ryley Walker's band for a little bit. I am now playing songs in Emily Moon which has been really challenging me in exciting ways.

JR: Does improvisation tend to bring anything specific out musically in your experience?

BBB: Improvisation often forces honesty.  It also forces you to fall on your ass sometimes, too!

JR: I saw you perform as Ben Baker Billington for an experimental "synth-off" sort of thing where you had one piece as a caricature of DJ culture with a pounding beat and you repeating "It never fucking ends" on top and another where you shriekingly implored people to dance. Clearly those were premeditated pieces based on concepts. Do most of your pieces, even improvised ones, emerge out of a specific concept?

BBB: Hahaha, well. That was part of an ongoing art event called Vague Music.  Each participant/performer was told beforehand that they had to perform 2 pieces in the style of "______" for the audience and then 3 judges would vote on the quality. The catch was, neither the audience or the judges knew that the performers had prompts at all. The joke was on the performers for  the most part. I was forced to play a role and act a fool, pretty much.  My prompts were "boring", "polka".  The "boring" piece was a cover of an Andy Ortmann / Fashion Dictator song called "It Never Fucking Ends" (he was one of the judges) and the polka song was me just being a goof with a dance beat that sort of sounded polka.  It was a really fun night.  I'm glad you were confused.  VAGUE. I rarely have concepts such as this for my music.

JR: You also recently recorded with ONO for your first time on their fifth record. Tell me a little bit about your experience with ONO. With so many people working in a group do you find it chaotic or nerve-racking?

BBB: Recording with ONO was a lot of fun. Without giving away too much detail, it was a lot of musicians and a LOT of music hitting the tape. The engineer/producer Cooper Crain of Cave/Bitchin' Bajas is an honorary member of ONO and is taking a mess of recordings and will undoubtedly make an incredible record. ONO is a lot of fun and nerves are never too high.  

JR: What all is in the future for Ben Baker Billington?

BBB: Well, there's a Quicksails LP on Captcha Records coming out soon. ONO record coming down the line. Tiger Hatchery w/ Paul Flaherty LP coming down the line. I'm about to mix an LP with my band Partner. Emily Moon is still recording an LP. Playing a bunch in town with ADT! Keeping busy! Thanks for havin' me ramble!


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