EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: The Flashbulb
I got the opportunity to Interview Benn Jordan aka The Flashbulb before his show in his hometown of Chicago. Below are his answers to some questions I had for him..
The last time I saw you perform it was at the Adler Planetarium and you had the crazy 360 visuals, how has your live show progressed since then?
I won't lie, trying to improve on delivering an audio/video experience from my shows at The Adler is futile. The show was the Adler's, and I was simply providing the music and working with them to synchronize it nicely. For every projector screen, LED panel, or prop I could bring, I just think of an instrument or piece of gear that has to replace. When you're packing up things for months of travel, a lot of crazy ideas meet the chopping block. I started as an instrumentalist and jazz musician, so I gravitate to attempting to feel comfortable and creatively satisfied as much in a candle lit room as I would in on a massive projector array.
What makes your live show different from other electronic artists? What can a person expect from a live flashbulb show if they haven't seen you live yet?
I don't typically use a laptop and my guitar (with MIDI pickups) tends to drive the feel of the performance, so it probably sits closer to the feel of a live show than a DJ set. That's not to throw other electronic artists under the bus though, everyone has their own process, and I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a bit jealous when seeing other artists loading in with a laptop bag and a small controller while I'm pushing around 600lbs of gear.
In the past you've done a lot of compositions for the Chicago Adler Planetarium, do you have any future projects with the Planetarium?
Probably not for another year, as Planet 9 is still pretty new having premiered last summer. But they are always up to interesting stuff, so it's possible I may be collaborating with them on something else in the meantime.
On your website you said you've been working on making your own Audio software/hardware to make music & perform with, have you achieved your goal and if so how did you do achieve it and how will you be using it for your live performances?
I've been doing it for some time now as far as sounds, synthesis, interesting sequencers, and effects go. I'm not sure that I have a "goal", per say, but just progressively digging for more unique and fascinating sounds and techniques. For touring, my dream is to build a piece of hardware that can deliver an entirely improvised live performance, and I think over the years you'll see iterations slowly evolving in that direction.
What are some questions that you frequently ask yourself?
I always have a list of questions to research floating around. Since I'm on tour right now, the queue is pretty large. Currently on tap for review: "Why didn't German soldiers raid villages for more suitable clothing when invading Russia? Or did they but it just didn't work out for some reason?" and "What would happen if all the atoms in my hotel room moved 20% faster? Would it just get hot?". So basically, to answer your question, a bunch of nonsense.
What is something new that you're currently learning?
Tracking. I have a few miles of hiking out the back door of my house in Georgia, and hiking with my dog is a lot more entertaining when I can kind of discover what a coywolf or boar was up to a few hours previous. I'm trying to learn more about mushrooms as well (for photography and food, not really into the poisoning myself/hallucination aspect of them to be honest) without diving too deep into the complicated side of mycology.
What do you think is the future of the music industry/ music distribution?
I think it'll just be a less flawed version of where we're at today. Once we have dynamic spectrum management of small cell clusters in future wireless broadband networks, we'll look back to the limitations you have with streaming music the same way we now look back at fumbling through a hundred CDs in your car. Integration is important as well. If your phone, car, computer, and television can all share user sessions, the idea of copying an MP3 file (legal or illegal) becomes incredibly inconvenient. When I print a new album on CD or vinyl and see the pallets of boxes of them, I really get a feel for how much unnecessary waste goes into novelty. I'm looking forward to moving past that.
What's a day in the life of Benn Jordan?
Currently it's waking up, loading an SUV, white knuckle driving through snowy mountains for 12 hours, finding a motel, complaining about the WiFi and shower, then falling asleep watching Nick At Night. Every few days you can throw a performance in the mix. When I'm not on tour, which is more typical, I wake up, go to my gym/MMA school, do some chores associated with living in a more rural area, and then work on music until I can't stay awake.
What made you move from your hometown of Chicago to rural Georgia?
I wanted a drastic change for a long time and couldn't really figure out where I wanted to go. I also used to have a lot of political ideas in reference to improving the quality of life in Chicago, and eventually, after my non-profit music school closed, I just felt kind of stagnant and hopeless there. Georgia has very mild winters, a very affordable cost of living, and at least in the area I am, is quite progressive, extremely open-minded, and racially diverse. Then the nature, of course. My own property is more breathtaking, to me, than places I would drive 2 hours to visit when I lived in Chicago. Chicago still has my heart, but I think I just turned into a hermit and am feeding that.
Where do you get your news from?
If something is important and goes beyond something entertaining or funny, I'm very skeptical and try to find sources based on headlines that I come across. Nearly all debates in the last 3 years, especially political, devolve into arguing over what is real or not. I've always been terrified by that, and I think now we're dealing with the reality of it in a way that will transform our quality of life.
What is the most spectacular/impressive place you've visited?
My answer to this changes all the time. The island plantations in the lowlands of Georgia and South Carolina are littered with Spanish moss and abandoned 18th century structures and forts, that's pretty incredible. The western Dakotas will always hold a place in my heart as well. It's such a hard, strangely spiritual region.
If you had to pick three people dead or alive to give you advice who would they be?
I feel like advice from someone like Abraham Lincoln would be useless in 2017, so I'd probably build a team with a more contemporary, experienced mind like Bill Gates, an accomplished optimist like Nick Vujicic, and then someone who recently died so they could have the experience and wisdom of death to add to the overall perspective.
What's a habit you're trying to make or break?
I just carefully decided that Coke Zero and artificial sweeteners are probably worth getting rid of permanently. I'm doubting tricking your body can have positive long-term results.
What advice would you give your 20 year old self? What advice would you give to your future self?
I'd remind my 20 year old self that making money is a lot easier than being happy, and that panic attacks shouldn't be feared, but welcomed, as they are simply a manifestation of the cycle of dreading them. My life improved a lot when realizing that. My future self would probably tell me to shut up for trying to give him advice with less life experience.
What is the most common misconception about you that other seems to have?
For some reason, some people assume that I came from an upbringing filled with classical music lessons or from a typical suburban-class family. Others tend to assume that I'm the type of person who burns sage and only buys organic food, and seem disappointed when they learn that is not the case.
What are your go to meals/snacks?
I gravitate towards flavorful, spicy stuff. All I typically eat is Thai, Indian, Jamaican, and Latin American food when I'm home. I eat a lot of berries and fruit through the day. I naturally drink about 2 gallons of water a day for some reason.
I love Murakami books, and I feel like he's sculpted my sense of humor in a lot of ways. I think my favorite book, right now, is Cormac McCarthy's "The Road", though. I've read it about 6 times.
Who in your life has inspired you the most?
Probably my grandfather who raised me. He took respect and loyalty very seriously and based many of his life decisions on those principles, which passed onto me in a lot of ways.
If you could learn one skill you're unfamiliar with and you could also choose you coach/mentor to teach you. What/Who would it be and why?
I would want to learn conversational Spanish, and be taught by Antonio Banderas. I choose him because whenever I'd get distracted or procrastinate, I'd think of the El Mariachi series and quickly get my shit together.
What the best investment you've made? (Financial or non)
Weirdly, I'd say insurance. I feel like insuring my studio or car is a free pass to fantasize about what I'd change about my life if something happened and I was compensated and able to reset, rather than dreading how I'd manage the setback.
What's an inspirational quote, that has stuck with you?
A friend just reminded me of something Herbie Hancock said about playing with Miles Davis that has always resonated with me ever since seeing the interview:
“We were communicating almost telepathically, playing ‘So What'”—one of the group’s signature pieces. “Wayne [Shorter] had taken his solo. Miles [Davis] was playing and building and building, and then I played the wrong chord. It was so, so wrong. In an instant, time stood still and I felt totally shattered. Miles took a breath. And then he played this phrase that made my chord right. It didn’t seem possible. I still don’t know how he did it. But Miles hadn’t heard it as a wrong chord—he took it as an unexpected chord. He didn’t judge what I played. To use a Buddhist turn of phrase, he turned poison into medicine.”
What websites do you find yourself visiting most?
I lurk Reddit quite a lot and scroll through Google News, which caters to news I tend to be interested in. I frequently browse newsgroups and some closed forums that trade library music from the 60's through 80's. Other than that, the normal social media time hole.
How did you get into Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitzu?
I did Golden Gloves (boxing) when I was younger, and was drawn to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after seeing the Gracie's success in the early MMA events. I trained off and on and did occasional amateur fights over the years, and when I turned 30 I realized that I only had a few years left to actually take it seriously or compete professionally. I still train frequently and am a striking/boxing coach for a few local fighters in Georgia.
Most impactful purchase you've made In the past year for less then $100 dollars?
After this last bit of traveling through the mountains in January, I'm very happy that I bought tire chains before the trip.
Person you'd like most to collaborate with?
Hillary Hahn, she's an incredibly technical violinist. Her most recognized work is in the score for The Village.
What is your sequences of choice for making acid?
I feel like when I make a purposeful, melodic acid line, I usually just want to use a more versatile synth. When I just cram notes and accents into it like an ape, I like the result much better.
Who are some of your biggest influences on guitar?
I feel like I've bit a lot of style from Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius. But I'm also incredibly inspired by players like Wes Montgomery, Stanley Jordan, and John McLaughlin.
What artists are you currently listening too?
I've been listening to a lot of film scores in the last month of traveling. I've been obsessed with Pat Martino's "Footprints" as well, but that might just be because it's the polar opposite of the stuff I'm hearing at these shows.
Who were you listening too when you created the flashbulb?
The name? Probably my own music. I used to just make an alias and artwork after writing a bunch of tracks.
What's one of your favorite break beats?
The beginning of "Spacey - Dancer".
Who do you think is someone underrated, that should be more well known.
This list could be a 1000 page novel, so I'll just choose one artist at random: Waclaw Zimpel.
Are you releasing a new album anytime soon? If so, when can fans except it?
I don't have anything planned. I kind of dread the process these days. Making music is like sitting in a bathtub full of warm, chocolate pudding. Releasing it is like cleaning the bathroom afterwards.