Based out of Hamilton, Ontario, LERO (aka Ben Dyment) is a solo project in operation since 2012. Shiftless, transient – secret gardens, slow drones and static hiss/hum, influence into expression. Plain hymns honest with pure truth airs. We’re releasing his album Trichomes on August 28th, 2015, so we had a chat about The Hammer vs. The Big Smoke, inspiration and suede desert boots. You can order the limited edition CD HERE.
Arachnidiscs Recordings: Trichomes strikes me as having a ’90s bent. Perhaps not in the way many people think of ’90s music, but in the abstract dream-pop style of a band like His Name Is Alive or Labradford’s ambient post-rock. And, to me, “Cattleya” has bit of a Mellow Gold era Beck feel. Are you influenced by that era or those kinds of bands?
Lero: Not at all, but I find it really interesting that you’d make that connection. A lot of my influences from that era are probably closer to that general assumption of ’90s music, actually — bands like Unwound, Royal Trux, Joan of Arc, etc. I think I get where you’re coming from with Mellow Gold on “Cattleya” though, but for what it’s worth at the time I recorded that I was listening to a lot of SMiLE-era Beach Boys.
ADR: I’d be pretty surprised if Beck wasn’t listening to a lot of SMiLE-era Beach Boys back then, actually.
Lero: That’s a good point, yeah. I think everybody goes through a SMiLE phase at some point.
ADR: I’ve never gone through a SMiLE phase. Or Pet Sounds, even. I don’t get the Brian Wilson worship at all.
Lero: I think if you strip Brian from the band identity and really view his work during that mid ’60s period, you see someone with a lot of the same ideals that you find in current tape culture/weird music scenes. All the improvisational and avant methods that say you or I might employ in our work, he was doing in a studio setting with a full group of professional session musicians and a major label budget at his disposal. He tried to advance pop music into a higher art, but it was too complicated — his audience wasn’t willing to move with him in a way he understood, and I don’t think he even fully understood where he was looking to end up. What appeals to me about his music is that sense of abandonment; he’s pushing as hard as he can to get somewhere further away from his origins and closer to his ideals, and when it works it’s fantastic.
ADR: See, that’s what people always say. I’ve tried to listen to his music from that angle for years but just don’t hear it. It makes me feel like part of my brain is missing. Because all these people whose opinions I respect can’t be completely off-track, right? I think it’s something basic like I just don’t like his chord progressions and melodies.
Lero: I know what you mean. I think with Brian and musicians of his stature most people insist “you HAVE to like them!!!” which is the wrong approach.
ADR: Any other ’60s musicians you particularly respect?
Lero: There’s a lot of people [from that era] that I like. I listen to a lot of East Coast and West Coast bands from that period on an equal level, which is still seen as taboo by some people — the whole ‘if you like the Velvets you have to hate the Airplane’ bullshit. It’s my favourite decade for jazz, too — people like Pharoh Sanders, John and Alice Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler. Impulse is one of my favourite labels, and almost everything they put out then was great, which is a pretty impressive track record.
ADR: I didn’t know I was supposed to hate Airplane. That hip-hop feud goes back further than I thought. But yeah, that 1966-72 period for exploratory jazz is pretty infallible — whatever the record label. It’s hard to go wrong just randomly buying a jazz record with that copyright date on it. The profile photo on your Bandcamp is a picture of your guitar with an Impulse sticker on it. I noticed because I have one on my guitar too.
Lero: I was actually going to bring the sticker up — I saw yours when I was looking up Arachnidiscs online a while back.
ADR: We’re like sisters. I don’t hear a lot of actual “jazz” on your recordings. Does it represent more of an approach for you?
Lero: I think it represents more of an inspiration and influence on my thinking than my playing, and usually when it filters through it’s in a way that no one else would probably notice. Jazz makes up a large degree of my daily listening though, and the exploratory approach that you find in a lot of those records is something I try to always follow in my work, even if I’m not playing in an overt jazz style. “Ayler” is one of those tracks for me, how it sort of moves without a clear path and doesn’t wait for you to pick it up right away, hence the title homage. “Trellis” on Eye Hospital is another of those. I do want to get into a stronger jazz area with my work at some point, but I’d have to do it with other people—I wouldn’t be able to fully express myself in that way right now on my own.
ADR: When you’re recording, how conscious of influences are you? Is there a target you’re aiming for or do you just throw stuff against the wall?
Lero: I’m really conscious of influences when I’m recording, because I derive a lot of direct inspiration from whatever I’m soaking up at the time. There’s very specific targets, though I let them evolve as the process grows. I do try to keep each album fairly specific in its intent. If I come up with an idea that’s strong but really dissimilar to the other tracks, I’ll save it for a later project rather than force it in. I hope that the albums I’ve done carry the same sense of individuality in them that I feel when I’m making them.
ADR: Your Bandcamp displays a prolific output. In fact, you’ve released three albums since Trichomes. Are you one of those guys who’s never far away from a recording device?
Lero: You got me [haha]. I like to maintain a steady stream of output when I can. I’m the type of person who gets pretty obsessive with their interests, and I get inspired pretty easily, so I try to get as much as I can out of each area and see how I can adapt it into my own identity.
ADR: How do you see your identity?
Lero: I see identity as being something just slightly out of grasp, you know? If you reach too far it becomes intangible, but if you let it be it can surprise you with its strength. I hope that my music comes across as possessing some inherent traits and a healthy sense of personality at its core. Whenever I have to put down a genre I say ‘left-field folk’, which for me is a point of reference to the pure, weird sounds of Early American music. Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music compilation that he made for Folkways is an eternal well of influence for me, and it’s arguably the best source for what I’m talking about. Listening to those songs, you can hear everything filtered through the strange introversion of each performer. Each person sounds true to their own spirit, and that’s an element that I directly take as a guide for my own sense of self. The ‘left-field’ comes in with everything else that surrounds my music; you’d have to have a pretty obtuse sense of humour to take my lyrics as protest songs, and a lot of where I’m coming from is more Saturn than rural America, but that feeling of inward sustenance is what I strive for, no matter where I seem to be pushing the music towards stylistically.
ADR: Speaking of the American Folk tradition. In Canada it’s been an inescapable shadow since the 1950’s. Do you see there being a distinct Canadian musical identity?
Lero: Somewhat. I think it’s purity is usually either exported and distilled or else turned into a niche. I’ve never really been sure how to determine it, honestly. Do you see a clear identity?
ADR: I think it used to be more of a thing. Like Great Big Sea sound really Canadian. There’s no mistaking them for an American or UK band, even playing sort celtic music, they’re super Canadian sounding. And someone like Bryan Adams sounds distinctly Canadian somehow compared to his American counterparts Springsteen or Mellencamp or Tom Petty. But now it ‘s harder to pick out a Canadian artist out of a pile of new releases. So I don’t know anymore. I think that’s why I asked.
Lero: I agree with that a lot, yeah. A label like Arbutus is distinctly Canadian in its roster, but Braids or Grimes or anyone on there never really sounds ‘Canadian’.
ADR: No, Braids don’t sound Canadian. They sound Icelandic to me. Specifically, they sound like Björk.
Lero: Yeah, that’s an immediate relation to my ears as well.
ADR: Since we’re on the topic of geography, you’re based out of Hamilton, Ontario. For a few years now The Hammer’s been hyped as the “next Portland”, a sort of artistic oasis on the rise for creative types from Toronto who need to move somewhere less expensive. Does it live up to that hype yet?
Lero: I don’t think anyplace can really live up to its hype, especially when it’s coming from outside. To me there’s a clear delineation between the mindset of most people directly involved in the arts community here, and those just outside or far removed from it. The first group is focused on simply maintaining a level of creation/creativity, while the latter is eager to capitalize on it but a bit misguided (like when you have people proclaiming James Street North as an ’emerging arts scene’ for nearly 10 years now). It’s like any other city of its size, really — there’s a handful of good venues and good artists and a dedicated community to keep it going. I have noticed an influx of Toronto influence seeping into the general environment over the last few years, which can be a bit of a grey area, but then again there’s always been a bit of a complex relationship between Hamilton and Toronto.
ADR: Yeah, anywhere there’s always the capita-A “Arts” and then everything else that’s actually going on. In Hamilton is the scene the sort that allows for anyone who’s interested in taking part by just getting out there an doing it? As opposed to, say, Toronto where due to the sheer amount of competition in a huge city it can be pretty hard for a new band to get gigs when they start out. Is Hamilton a tough nut to crack?
Lero: No, nowhere near what Toronto seems to be like. Anyone can generally get something going here pretty easily, and people help each other out on a regular basis. What’s great is when the ‘weirder’ bands play bills together out of necessity/overlap and you get shows with a lot of diversity, rather than seeing 18 hardcore bands that all sound identical.
ADR: The other problem with Toronto—here’s where I inevitably get on my negativity soapbox—is there seems to be about a pool of 200 people into the weird music scene (perhaps more for the bands that skew punk). Recognizable faces you see at all the shows. But any given night there’s no less than three great shows drawing from that pool so everyone ends up with 17 attendees. Especially if you have the bad luck (or lack of foresight) to have your show booked the same night as something like Feast In The East. My feeling about smaller centers is maybe there’s fewer heads in the scene but you get them all out to your show because it’s the only thing going on that night. Or maybe I’m looking back at small-town life with rose-tinted glasses.
Lero: It’s true that with a smaller area you tend to get a higher concentration of people to each show, but there’s still a lot of times I’ve been at shows with 17 people here too. I think all those little factors that have nothing to do with the music, like the weather, day, venue, hype, etc, have more of an influence than we’d like to admit.
ADR: I don’t know about Hamilton but the slightest bit of rain in Toronto means you go down from 17 to 10 or less. But I wouldn’t know. I try not to leave my house for anything so I don’t go to shows if it’s raining. I’m pretty ecstatic if it starts to rain. “Yes! I don’t have to go!” But maybe people congregate to get out of the rain. So, I guess I wouldn’t know.
Lero: Yeah, there’s a bit of that here too. I get that excuse mentality sometimes when I’m going to Toronto for shows, when distance is an added factor. Rain’s good once you accept it, or if you’re not wearing suede desert boots.
ADR: Having grown up on the west coast, I actually kinda love rain. I just use it as an excuse. But speaking of desert boots, what’s on the near or distant horizon for Lero?
Lero: I just finished up an album last month entitled In Sunset a Glow Glory that’s largely improvisational/instrumental and plays as a soundtrack of sorts. Beginning work on a new album called Sapid Origin that might bring out some new sounds to the melting pot. There might even be some live Lero on the horizon too, which could be pretty interesting…
ADR: Live is life.
Interred Views is a series of interviews with Arachnidiscs Recordings artists. This interview was conducted by Jakob Rehlinger.