“The Kurt Cobain of Memes”: Bent Knee Talk New Album, Tour Mishaps, and the Future of Music

There are certain privileges and challenges that come when you get to interview a band multiple times. On the one hand, building a relationship and rapport with bands and artists

5 years ago

There are certain privileges and challenges that come when you get to interview a band multiple times. On the one hand, building a relationship and rapport with bands and artists breeds a certain familiarity and comfort that allows for more natural conversation that can dig deeper than your run-of-the-mill press interview. On the other hand, you don’t want to essentially repeat yourself and things you’ve asked previously, and much of the time there’s only so many obvious questions you can ask a group.

Thankfully when it comes to Bent Knee, any question, regardless of how serious or silly, can lead to an extremely interesting and entertaining conversation. When I saw that the band were planning a hometown release show for their new album, the exceedingly good You Know What They Mean, I knew I wanted to sit down and talk to them again. Previously, I had spoken at length one-on-one with vocalist/keyboardist Courtney Swain, and then again with most of the rest of the band (guitarist Ben Levin, bassist Jessica Kion, violinist Chris Baum, and producer/live sound designer/multi-instrumentalist Vince Welch). This time I would be sitting with the dynamic and always hilarious combo of Levin and Kion, and we had a very long and wide-ranging conversation that probably could have gone on for even longer if they didn’t have a show to get to and play.

As we dined on the best fusion Korean food Boston’s neighborhood of Allston has to offer, I asked all of the obvious questions about the making of YKWTM, which represents a significant evolution and change for the band’s sound and methods of writing and production in multiple ways. We also spoke about some of their more unfortunate touring incidents, translating what they’ve learned as a band and as people into lyrics, “smashing the patriarchy” through colorful 3D animation, managing band dynamics as a married couple, and far more. There was even a question I saved for the end that was meant to be lighthearted and joke-y about speculative music of the next decade that would turn out to be huge (such as Post Malone bringing back ska by releasing an opus blending it with rap and pop), but even that turned into a sincere and in-depth discussion about what popular music might look like in the future (spoiler: it will probably involve memes). This is a long read, but ultimately rewarding through and through, with plenty of humor thrown throughout it.

Ben Levin and Jessica Kion

The following transcript has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

Nick Cusworth: So the first time I interviewed you, it was just Courtney [Swain]. She said this thing about how after Land Animal, that you all were pleased with it but almost like a little disappointed that it wasn’t more different from what you had done before.

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Nick Cusworth: And that you were kind of like… I think what she said specifically was you were looking towards what’s next.

Ben Levin: Yeah, yeah.

Nick Cusworth: Would you say that sentiment affected how you approached writing and producing of You Know What They Mean?

Ben Levin: I know we can speak for Courtney on this.

Jessica Kion: Yeah. We basically just threw out our whole writing process and decided to write together, and just that act alone made everything sound really different and feel really different.

Ben Levin: We’ve always written together, but not necessarily all in the same room at the same time from scratch.

Jessica Kion: And we were really excited by the idea of writing groovy stuff specifically. We have one of our mentors be like, “You should write from the waist down,” and that was like her tip of like, “Maybe that.” So that was our goal was to just have everything be more dancing, riff-y, groovy.

Ben Levin: Yeah. I think when we first started making ideas together for this album, the thing we realized was that the sounds we were getting in the initial idea was the sound of the band, so we were going to be able to write riffs. You didn’t have to imagine like, “How will this work out,” you know? If they work or not, right at their origin. And that made it possible to write music around the riffs, whereas normally I think we write around the cords and melody, and lyrics and stuff, and wonder exactly how to make everything else work with the band if it came from a demo.

Nick Cusworth: Cool. So was there anything unexpected that came from writing together like that for the first time?

Ben Levin: I mean the biggest thing that I can think was like a huge surprise, was that it worked well. I don’t know, I think we were all like, “Will it work well?” For instance, one time we went to Chris’s house and we all plugged in MIDI controllers. And we were like, “Uh yeah, we’ll do this for three days I guess.” But that’s how we got “Hold Me In,” and that’s how we got “Catch Light.” So, two of our singles were from that day.

So I’m really surprised in particular that that day. I mean, I guess I’m not surprised that it was useful, but I’m surprised that two of our most You Know What They Mean‘s essence songs came from all MIDI, at the beginning, all of us playing MIDI.

Nick Cusworth: Yeah, that makes sense because you can definitely tell that those two songs are linked in some way. There’s a very kind of similar sonic palette to them.

Ben Levin: Yeah. And that’s where the electronic drums appear, because that’s where we were working with MIDI.

Bent Knee at Great Scott, Boston, MA, October 14, 2019

Nick Cusworth: Yeah. So, what would you say was your collective state of mind coming into this record and how did that affect the results?

Jessica Kion: I think like you were saying with Courtney, I think we were all just like, “Let’s really just do a really different thing.” And Vince, I think was kind of the mastermind behind how we were going to do that. It was his idea to write all together. He was basically proposing all these experiments. So, all being on MIDI controllers was like…

Ben Levin: Yeah, that’s Vince.

Jessica Kion: It was mine, and then just writing games, like he came up with that we would split up into duets and then layer on top of what the last duet did. Just like random stuff. But…I forgot your question already.

Nick Cusworth: It’s okay. I think you basically answered it, just what the general state of mind for the band coming into writing it and producing the record.

Jessica Kion: Yeah, yeah.

Ben Levin: Yeah. We wanted to have more fun because in the past we had done it really fast. We did the writing really fast, like two weeks. And it’s very stressful, you know, when you feel like you’re in a rush. And then, testing these half produced songs in front of an audience is scary. We still did that, but yeah, we wanted it to be a more fun process. And for half of it, I’d say it was really fun.

Jessica Kion: Mm-hmm.

Ben Levin: It wasn’t as fun after Gavin was missing from this because [his injury] messed up the dynamics of the band, you know, just having our guy. He’s a good pal, he can laugh when you’re up, and he can mope with you when you’re down. He’s like really in the middle.

Jessica Kion: Really balanced everyone.

Ben Levin: Yeah.

Nick Cusworth: Yeah. So kind of jumping off of that, the past year’s been kind of, from what I can gather, has been one marked with some difficulty for the band, particularly out on the road, between Gavin breaking his leg and your tour van flipping over, which sounds terrifying.

Jessica Kion: Well…

Ben Levin: My bad.

Nick Cusworth: Have those events changed how you view or handle, or approach, your touring since?

Jessica Kion: Well… I mean, when we’re touring in the US now, we have to rent. Which on the one hand is like, “Oh man, if we had a vehicle, then we wouldn’t be spending this money,” but also I think we’re going to grow, and I think we’re going to need more merch made, and buying a vehicle that can accommodate for the growth is unrealistic. So, I think it’s fine, actually, and it’s what people recommend for where we’re at. But we kind of, after that, were like, “Let’s not tour in scary places in the winter.” But then, oops, that’s exactly what we’re doing right after this! We kind of don’t fully have control over that at this stage. And I’m a little freaked out, but the chances that something would happen again are very low. We’ll put tires on or chains, or stuff. I think we’re a lot more…

Ben Levin: Just better safe than sorry.

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Ben Levin: You can miss a show, but you don’t drive in Wisconsin in a snowstorm, it’s better.

Jessica Kion: Wyoming.

Ben Levin: Right. But that would be bad too.

Jessica Kion: Wisconsin would be bad too, yeah, I agree.

Ben Levin: Yeah. I think we also got a good taste of what a real problem is.

Nick Cusworth: Yeah, that’s fair.

Jessica Kion: But it was nice to see how we actually do when something is really scary. And we are really good under pressure. We hold it together, help each other, comfort each other. It’s really crazy to have those two events so close together, but for both of them, I feel like we were really tested and we did not lose our shit.

Ben Levin: We were just like, “When can we have a normal tour again?”

Jessica Kion: Yeah. Yeah.

Nick Cusworth: So going back to the record, what was your reasoning behind “Lansing” and “Lovell,” the two tracks that are kind of a little more behind the scenes like, dialogue heavy, they introduce and kind of split the album in two?

Ben Levin: Well, we wanted this album to sound more like us, and less like our ideas, and more like how we are on stage, and who we are. And so, our idea was to have lots of interludes. And we ended up with just really those two. And, they’re named after locations where they were recorded. And just luckily, Vince was recording these various things. Yeah, the very opening is the legendarily difficult sound check, and that’s the tour where Gavin broke his leg. We were going in front of the audience, we were dealing with, I think, a sound person who was on opiates and was really fading fast. And we’re trying to get the set started, but every time there was sound on the piano, the violin would disappear. But by disappear, I really mean just exploded the feedback. And that first sound you hear on the album-

Jessica Kion: Or literally got unplugged.

Ben Levin: Yeah.

Jessica Kion: It felt like we would have done better if there wasn’t a person there.

Ben Levin: Right.

Jessica Kion: It really felt like he was hindering, just sound tapping. And we’ve never had an experience like that, that extreme. We had a funny one recently where there was a set guy drilling into speakers, while the show was happening-

Ben Levin: Like right next to Jessica’s head.

Jessica Kion: It was like a two story speaker. And so, he was drilling in the back, and there were people on the other side, and nothing to keep the speaker from falling onto them. Luckily that didn’t happen, but it was very absurd.

Ben Levin: Yeah.

Jessica Kion: Yeah, there were a lot of funny moments like that, but it’s very rare that we run into something so wild. And that was the worst ever by so much.

Ben Levin: I mean, everybody who plays in bands knows what a bad soundcheck is, but this was like, “Maybe this show will not happen,” level. Where we had sound check earlier that night, and then sound check before our set, like the line check turned into a play. It was like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Jessica Kion: It felt like a nightmare that just kept going.

Nick Cusworth: Yeah. So really the sound guy from hell.

Ben Levin: It was like Requiem for a Dream, the sound check.

Ben Levin catching a wave; Great Scott, Boston, MA, October 14, 2019

Nick Cusworth: Yeah, so jumping off of that, there definitely felt like there was a looser, more off the cuff, and almost live feeling to the album, from the aforementioned tracks to bands members like Gavin being more vocally present, counting off tracks and offering other asides. As well as to the production of the album as a whole just kind of feeling a little more open and expansive. Was creating that kind of live energy and intentional goal?

Jessica Kion: Yeah. I think one of the things we agreed upon was the sound for the album would be as close to the live sound as possible. And we always have added tons of over-dubs, tons of strings and horns, and bullshit on top. And we were just like, “What if we don’t do that? What if it’s just us?” And so, I think being in the more us category, that stuff, I don’t know, stirred in the soup.

Nick Cusworth: At least from my perspective, ironically, I feel like the music sounded bigger with you doing less.

Jessica Kion: That’s so interesting.

Ben Levin: I think that partially has to do with more punch, because the more layers and doubles you add to things, the more you get this flam of these entrances that are scattered, and micro-scatterings, you know? But when it’s just guitar here, guitar there, violin, keyboard, drums, bass, it’s just way less flam-y, more punchy.

Nick Cusworth: Did you set out to make a, quote-on-quote, heavy record, or is the material on it just kind of what naturally came out of writing together at this process?

Jessica Kion: I think we particularly were influenced by Daughters [and their 2018 album You Won’t Get What You Want]. I think it’s one of the few albums that we all are like, “This is really good.” And I also think we still have a lot of residue from [our tour with] The Dillinger Escape Plan, just that experience. And we toured with Gatherers in the summer, who’s a heavier band. I, personally, kind of wanted another option for where “Way Too Long” goes, or more songs that could in the same set that feel similar, just that expression. I feel like we just didn’t have that much. If it happens at all, it’s just like one section of the song.

Ben Levin: I remember at one point when we were making the album, like really late into making it, when it was too late to change really anything, I was like, “Oh, this isn’t what’s in,” like this isn’t cool, this is not a cool album!

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Ben Levin: It doesn’t have that thing that’s going on right now that’s cool.

Jessica Kion: Yeah, it was not cool.

Ben Levin: What’s that stuff that’s cool right now? And with stuff that’s cool, I like it. Like Billie Eilish is cool-

Jessica Kion: Like Blood Orange.

Ben Levin: Blood Orange is cool.

Jessica Kion: Blood Orange is very cool.

Ben Levin: A lot of this stuff is a little bit more like, “Let’s just sit back a second and work this out.” And we’re making an album where every vocal line is exploding in some way, and every beat, everything that’s happening. It’s just not in, which makes me confident about how well it’ll do. Because it could be in later, who knows?

Jessica Kion: Maybe that’s what’s coming.

Ben Levin: I looked on this prog forum. It’s always interesting to see what people in prog think because we don’t really have the same frame of reference as them. We don’t listen to necessarily the same stuff. And, they’re like, “Well, it’s not as good as District 97, but it’s better than the highly volatile Land Animal.” And stuff like that makes me feel excited, like, “All right, I think we’re on to something this time.” It’s inspiring.

Nick Cusworth: So, lyrically, You Know What They Mean feels also kind of much more aggressive and confrontational, especially you all. And I feel like you haven’t really shied away from kind of aggressive and confrontational lyrics in the past. What were some of your inspirations lyrically this time around?

Jessica Kion: I think we’re really nice people, I think we get taken advantage of sometimes. And I think we’re at the point, you know, the band’s existed for 10 years, where we’re kind of just like, “Oh, we don’t have to bend over backwards for people who are going to stomp on our heads.” Like, “We can be a person,” like we can be people in this world. I had this really visceral epiphany before I heard the term man-spreading. I was at a Starbucks, and it was like a big shared table, and there was a guy with his laptop and books taking up two spots, and then there was one other spot with like a group of three, and then one in the corner of that open. And, so I sat in that corner, and I was like literally pulling my leg around the table, and being just the tiniest I could be to just not get in anyone’s way. And I was just like, “Oh shit, this is what happens to us, and why.”

So I just kind of realized that I didn’t like that part of myself that was always like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… Oh, uh,” you know? Just the part that’s not sure enough in myself to just think what I think, or sit in a place. So I think some of that stuff specifically came out in “Catch Light.” And I think “Bone Rage” is about an experience where we were just like, “Oh, this actually doesn’t work for us.” It takes a long time, I think, when you’re working with someone, to actually know what it’s like to work with them. And so, our instincts being so like, “Let’s skim over the hard stuff and just make this work,” I think in this case really did us a disservice. And so, kind of it’s like taking apart a relationship, or a couple of relationships that were really bad for us professionally, and kind of what we learned about ourselves from that.

Ben Levin: Well, “Bone Rage,” “Catch Light,” “Cradle of Rocks,” are definitely in that, “We’ve been shat on, let’s shit back,” kind of fence.

Jessica Kion: [laughing] I don’t know if I’d go that far.

Ben Levin: But then you have unprecedentedly peaceful numbers, like “Bird Song” is actually a pretty positive song about being away from home, not having a home, but wanting to find one. I think it’s kind of a romantic idea of searching. “Golden Hour,” which is very personal from Courtney, about the idea of having a mother, and just what that is to her.

Jessica Kion: Like the time that you spend, you know. Also, “It Happens”-

Ben Levin: “It Happens” is, I mean, you’ve got a person who can go for some guys, can go for some girls, and gets dumped a couple times, and is fine. So it’s like, I don’t know, I feel like people who are LGBT are often portrayed as very reactionary, like trans rights is portrayed as this very reactionary, angry thing. But I know so many people who are just not. They’re like super peaceful people and are just trying to get a fair slice in society like the rest of us. And “It Happens” is just kind of that vibe of just someone getting dumped and being fine. Because, you know, you hear all the time, like, “How dare you? How could you leave me? I’m such a piece of shit.” But it’s like, “Yeah, well that’s fair enough. I don’t want to be with somebody who doesn’t appreciate me,” just like a normal reaction, that would be a fine reaction.

Jessica Kion: But it’s also like no space since these… They’re kind of reminiscing, right? Later in life about like, “Oh, that was-“

Ben Levin: Yeah, that’s true. It’s looking back. But I think it’s just a chill character, and for once, right?

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Ben Levin: It’s just so rare.

Nick Cusworth: Just a song about a chill dude [ed. note: or not dude!], looking to do normal things.

Ben Levin: Trying to find the special person, and kind of along the way being like, “Oh, it’s not this person, it’s not that person. But I’ll find someone. I got there by going there, please don’t rush me.”

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Ben Levin: It’s not mad.

Nick Cusworth: Nice. So, this album also continues your streak of diverse and artistically fascinating music videos. Can you walk me through some of the creative process for “Hold Me In,” “Catch Light,” and “Bone Rage,” especially the last one since that one was produced by you?

Ben Levin: Well, “Hold Me In”… You’re wearing the dress.

Nick Cusworth: Oh, is that right?

Jessica Kion: Yeah. Yeah. I got to keep it.

Nick Cusworth: Nice.

Jessica Kion: They let me keep it. Yeah, we had three days in New York, Ben and I, and we made three videos. And “Hold Me In” was the middle day. We started filming like at sunrise on the beach. So we woke up at like 3:20AM, and was filming until about 8:30AM. And it was such an intense day, that was so rewarding and amazing. And we were working with Kelsey and Rich, who we met on the Gatherers tour. Just everything from Kelsey and her understanding of what was happening, and her eye, and she just slayed. I’m so amazed by everything I saw that day. It was just like people at really the top of this world that I don’t know that much about. We had a like a clothes person, like a fashion person, who found this dress and found Courtney’s clothes, and had an eye for matching colors to backgrounds and scene ideas. And they just collaborated in this beautiful way.

Jessica Kion: And we were using this camera that’s like a digital camera that is meant to look exactly like film because it works the same way, I guess. Like when you get the file from filming, and it’s like thousands of JPEGs instead of a film. Those are my favorite kind of days, where you’re just working really hard. I learned a lot about making music videos that day.

Ben Levin: Kelsey and Rich are very stylish. They’re like hot.

Jessica Kion: They’re hot.

Ben Levin: And we’re kind of dopey. And so, they kind of found a way to make us hot.

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Ben Levin: But “Bone Rage,” I was on a smash the patriarchy kick. I just was thinking about that phrase over and over again because it’s like, at once, something that I can get behind, but it’s also very funny to me, a funny term. Just like to smash it. It’s like a-

Jessica Kion: -melting city.

Ben Levin: It’s like some bus made out of marble, and you’re just like, “There it is. I have to pound it.” But anyway, yeah, in “Bone Rage,” you have this android who is taking structure, and is dissolving it and reforming it. And I animated it by using Blender, it’s a free software. And I just used Blender, that was it. Normally, I make broken video games and screen cap it, but I upgraded from that to Blender. Which lets you do water simulations and physics simulations, hair and all this fun stuff.

Jessica Kion: Like the laser stuff, right?

Ben Levin: Yeah. The lasers are fun because what I do is I made spheres, and it made them really shiny. And I just had them go in circles and get thrown at things, and they were cool. I like to make really abstract very busy, overwhelming animations.

Jessica Kion: He made it really fast.

Ben Levin: In 10 days, to make it.

Nick Cusworth: Wow. Yeah.

Jessica Kion: Yeah, and I think it is great. I’m really proud of it.

Nick Cusworth: Okay. So, I’ve been wanting to ask this ever since I first saw the track list for this album. What are with some of the song names? So like, there’s “Bone Rage,” “Egg Replacer,” and “Garbage Shark.” So, were any of those placeholders that just managed to find their way into the final product?

Jessica Kion: Absolutely. Yeah.

Ben Levin: Yes.

Ben Levin: Well, “Bone Rage,” because it was inspired by Queens of the Stone Age, and then we called it “Queens of the Bone Rage,” and then-

Jessica Kion: And then we shortened it.

Ben Levin: I don’t think there’s really any mystery for that.

Jessica Kion: Yeah, you just laid it all out there.

Ben Levin: No, I just gave it all away.

Jessica Kion: Yeah, it was basically like this phrase stays, and we were writing, we basically came out of it with groups that were the core of those songs. And then, lyrics happened later, and sometimes they just ended up in there. And then they could not be separated anymore.

Ben Levin: Like “Garbage Shark,” people were like, “I like the ending, I like everything you wrote, except we got to get the word garbage shark out of there.”

Jessica Kion: Yeah. And I was like, “But it’s so cool.”

Ben Levin: And I was like, “Uh, well, we’ll do that later. Ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha.”

Jessica Kion: It made it.

Ben Levin: It made it, yeah. I like garbage shark as lyric because it’s super relevant to the story in just like a slow motion car accident. But that’s just my interpretation.

I like how Tom York never gives you the word, he never tells you what the songs are about, or anything. But I’m just like, yap yap yap yap yap, “I’m just going to tell you everything. It’s Queens of the Stone Age, I mean Bone Rage. We didn’t steal anything!”

Jessica Kion: Okay, laid it out.

Ben Levin: Everyone’s going to get mad at me. I deserve it.

Nick Cusworth: So since the last time we spoke formally, there was some developments in your collective lives. You are now married.

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Nick Cusworth: Now first off, congratulations for that.

Jessica Kion: Thank you.

Nick Cusworth: And second… have you planned for each other’s demise yet?

Jessica Kion: Oh, no. Oh, yeah, yeah.

Ben Levin: I’m going to cry, and cry, and cry when she dies, and dies.

Jessica Kion: Aw.

Ben Levin: Hopefully I’ll be second.

Jessica Kion: “Hopefully I’ll be second.”

Ben Levin: I mean, first.

Jessica Kion: That is very incriminating.

Nick Cusworth: On a more serious note, do you manage to keep band stuff and personal stuff separate at all, or is it just a completely futile exercise?

Jessica Kion: I think we both try to be the most ourselves we can be at all times. And so, I think that makes it kind of impossible to keep them separate. But I see differences when we’re collaborating as a group. I feel like it sounds different in that setting than it would at home. I feel like just the way we talk to each other when we’re all working is slightly different. But, it’s not bad.

Ben Levin: Yeah, in some ways, I think it gives us more credibility that we are each our own person, and we’re thinking independently, if I talk to you the same way I talk to anyone else.

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Ben Levin: Because I think there’s always naturally, and very correctly so, a worry that we’re going to favor each other’s ideas because of all the unavoidable bias. And so, I try to avoid that. I generally am just a big fan of Jessica’s art and ideas. So there’s like an overlap. You know, her art makes a lot of sense to me.

Nick Cusworth: Mm-hmm.

Ben Levin: It’s part of just knowing her really well. And so, I always think I know, more or less, why a lyric is what it is. And I very infrequently really hate an idea she’s had, or feel like allergic to it.

Jessica Kion: Same. Yeah.

Ben Levin: So, you keep having us agreeing, and Courtney and Vince agreeing, and then Gavin and Chris being like the…

Jessica Kion: Opposites.

Ben Levin: Yeah. And so, I think the one thing in our professional lives that’s different is try to be as objective as possible, knowing that I’m failing, but I’m just trying to get close.

Jessica Kion: Yeah, it’s futile, because I feel like I just naturally agree with Ben all of the time. And when Ben says something, I find myself repeating what Ben said. And you’re just like, “Yeah.”

Ben Levin: I’m like a cult leader, and I’ve tricked Jessica into loving me.

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Ben Levin: If you look at what we look like, you can see there has been a trick.

Jessica Kion: I’ve been tricked.

Ben Levin: Yeah.

Jessica Kion: Help.

Nick Cusworth: All sorts of revelations coming out in this.

Ben Levin: I’m the one smashing the patriarchy over here. But I’m tricking you.

Nick Cusworth: Okay. Last question.

Jessica Kion: Okay.

Nick Cusworth: So, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but websites and publications have already decided that the decade is over. They’re putting out Best of 2010s lists and all of that.

Jessica Kion: Losers.

Nick Cusworth: I know. So, but we, here at Heavy Blog, consider ourselves on the bleeding edge. So, we think we should be even more ahead of the curve. So, I’m going to ask you, what are some potentially real albums do you think will end up being the best of the next decade?

Ben Levin: Okay. So they don’t exist yet.

Nick Cusworth: They don’t exist yet.

Ben Levin: All right. Kendrick Lamar‘s next album.

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Ben Levin: And every one he makes after that. There’s a good chance at least one of them will become that way. I think, looking back, he’s made at least two of them.

Jessica Kion: Yeah. I just got into Weyes Blood. So good. And I feel like her next album is going to kill. I also, I love Big Thief, and we shared an album release date with them. And I feel like I’m already excited for what they do next, but we got to give them some time.

Ben Levin: Someone’s going to figure out how to combine death metal with drunk beats soul, and make both of those elements sound genuine. And express the angst and passion of R&B with the vocal styles thrown in there of metal, and vice versa, the angst of metal and the R&B, and the timbres and the direction. And it’s going to be Daughters-ish, and it’s going to be… D’Angelo-ish, and who ever figures that out is going to make the album of the deck, I think.

Nick Cusworth: I feel like we’re already close to that between Zeal and Ardor, and, you know Algiers?

Ben Levin: I don’t know Algiers, but I do know Zeal and Ardor’s album pretty well. I think the issue with that is just that I think tonality and lyrically, and melodically, they’ve done an interesting job bridging styles there, but I’m talking rhythmically, I’m talking texturally. Like if we could get the real texture of… I don’t know, like if you got Robert Glasper in there, and you got Chris Dave on drums, and you got like the producer for Daughters, and you know that guy who plays guitar in that band who produces.

Jessica Kion: Yeah, I mean, just more people that I just like, am really, really interested in what’s next, are Grimes. I feel like her single is like the coolest thing she’s made by a lot. I’m looking tUnE-yArDs, what they makes, and St. Vincent, and Sufjan Stevens, and Billie Eilish. I’m looking forward to what the next chapter there.

Ben Levin: I think there’s going to be an epic jazz record.

Jessica Kion: Yeah?

Ben Levin: In the 2020s, it brings jazz back and it’s full of memes. Like it’s full of internet memes. It’s going to come out of that world, and it’s going to influence a lot of young people.

Nick Cusworth: So like Kamasi Washington plus memes.

Ben Levin: Yes. Yes. And it’s going to have electronic production, and it’s going to be like jazz was, where they were taking the pop of the time and jazzing it, you know, going hard, hard, hard. I think it’s going to be that for maybe like contemporary stuff that’s happenings. Like if somebody really took a Billie Eilish song that’s already good, and took it to the same place hard bop took “Autumn Leaves,” or whatever. That would be really interesting.

Jessica Kion: I feel like To Pimp a Butterfly, you get the track that feels authentic, hard, cutting edge…

Ben Levin: Jazz.

Jessica Kion: Jazz. But on your first listen, it doesn’t belong there. I feel like, yeah, that would be a great experience of just there’s all these authentic pieces just being, jammed together.

Ben Levin: Someone’s going to probably crack 3D audio in the 2020s.

Jessica Kion: I don’t even know what that means.

Ben Levin: It’s like… You know how if I’m like, “La la la la, la la la la…”

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Ben Levin: For the record, I’m going, “La la la la,” and moving around Jessica’s head. You not just heard a volume difference, but you feel it’s three dimensional movement, and they capture that with those heads…

Jessica Kion: The binaural microphones-

Ben Levin: Microphone heads. Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff I can say that I think, but it’s usually much more surprising than that. I don’t know, in the last 10 years, I mean, I think To Pimp a Butterfly or Damn, for winning the Pulitzer, is going to be in there.

Jessica Kion: Yeah, like Beyonce‘s Lemonade, I love that she kind of went artsy, and that was the whole crazy thing about it.

Ben Levin: Right.

Jessica Kion: Yeah, I’d be really interested in more pop artists experimenting in that way, but I don’t know if that’s a popular idea.

Ben Levin: I wonder if Random Access Memories is going to still be on people’s mind, because that was such a big album in 2013.

Jessica Kion: It was early, yeah.

Ben Levin: The Daft Punk, you know.

Jessica Kion: That was really, really epic for years. It just was everywhere.

Nick Cusworth: Yeah. I feel like even before that came out, people were already taking Daft Punk’s mantle and really going much, much further with it.

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Ben Levin: It’s an interesting question though to even think what the most influential albums have been. Which is what everyone is thinking about apparently, but then what will it be? A very interesting question. I do think there’s going to be a convergence of memes and mainstream music, that’s how I think “Old Town Road” came to be. And it’s going to be artsy, and then it’ll be commercial, and then it’ll be artsy again. The meta of the music will change, and somebody will be like the Kurt Cobain of memes and make it really matter. Instead of always soloing like weedly weedly, it’s like, “But this is the meme.”

Jessica Kion: One thing that I noticed looking back further than I’ve been alive mostly, that there’s just been some weird ass vocal stylings, especially in the ’90s. Like yodeling was cool, and it was so weird, and that was like, “Duh.” But in the ’90s it just felt so sincere, that people were like, “The Cranberries’ “Zombie” is like what really gets to my heart.” And it feels so silly now. And I feel like there might be a thing that comes in a new vocal styling that comes up.

Ben Levin: Yeah. There seems to have never been a single decade since Bob Dylan where there was no folk-y guy doing a good job of that. There’s always like-

Jessica Kion: Like Talisman, or.

Ben Levin: Yeah, and Bright Eyes, and…

Nick Cusworth:Father John Misty, all those-

Ben Levin: Yeah, Big Thief.

Jessica Kion: Yeah.

Ben Levin: Yeah, those never go away because I think we all relate really well to a person with an instrument telling stories.

Nick Cusworth: Okay, I think we’ll end it there. Thank you.

Jessica Kion: You got it. No problem.

Ben Levin: Thank you.

You Know What They Mean is available now through Inside Out Music. Bent Knee will be out on tour in the US with Thank You Scientist and The Tea Club this fall. Tour dates in the image below.

Nick Cusworth

Published 5 years ago