An Interview With David Bennett of Akkilles
Brian Clifton: So, as a Classicist, I first noticed that you use the traditional Greek spelling of Akkilles for your band name. How did that come about?
David Bennett: As an undergrad, I studied philosophy, but I also studied classical Greek. And I was really struck with Homer, especially the Odyssey, so it came from there.
BC: What specifically about the Odyssey did you like?
DB: I’m really into the language that it used. It’s so encompassing —like the bizarre phrases just stand out to me. There’s this one phrase from it: “rosy-fingered dawn on the wine-dark sea.” Who speaks that way? It blows my mind. I find myself going back to the Odyssey when I have a feeling I want to convey and think, “Man, I know I’ve read this somewhere…”
BC: Sort of like research?
DB: Yeah, but I’d say more like finding a point of reference. I’m into lyrics and how they work, but I wouldn’t say I’m the most amazing lyricist. I’m restricted by my phrases, my syntax, my vocabulary, but I like knowing that I can look up these feelings and find them in all different sources and kind of pull what I like and add my personal touches.
BC: Do you use this process for the music as well?
DB: A little bit, yeah. Although, with music, I tend to get a little more obsessive. If I like a band, I tend to saturate myself with their music. I got really into Destroyer —all the MIDI drum tracks. I listened to Kaputt like a hundred times trying to figure out how they made these artificial, even disco-y, drums sound so good.
BC: So you like to pull a technique or two from the artists that you listen to?
DB: Definitely. Figuring out those drums, or trying to at least, really helped my own composition; I write most of the songs in my bedroom with a drum machine before I bring them out to record or even show to the studio. But it goes beyond that. There’s this almost opera singer, Antony Hegarty, who makes these incredible records with just his voice and a piano. All his songs are simple and beautiful, and I may not ever do something that minimal, but it’s good to hear it, and it keeps me thinking about what choices are out there.
BC: For sure. And was this central in recording Something You’d Say, choosing one element instead of another?
DB: It became that way. When I first started, I had no idea how recording worked. It was the first time I spent in an actual studio, experimenting with sound, so I was a little wide-eyed, but my friend, Mike Crawford showed me a few things, and that knowledge really opened a lot of possibility. I was listening to a lot of Bradford Cox’s “basement tapes” and was interested in ambient textures and layers, but didn’t really know how to go about making them. Mike helped make sounds, so I wasn’t trying to sound like something but just making sounds and layering them.
BC: Wow, that sounds like a process.
DB: Yeah, but it was interesting and fun, to take these songs I had recorded and flesh them out in studio. It really changed how I listened. Not just to my own music but to all music. For instance, on the new Kurt Vile album the sound engineer made some definite choices to highlight parts of the music. It really gives the album something that wouldn’t have been present if the engineer were less involved.
BC: So at the end of recording, how does it feel to have an album on vinyl?
DB: It’s mixed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret having a vinyl. I think it’s cool. But it’s borderline cliché. In a lot of ways, I don’t feel like I deserve it. I mean most American musicians have this idea that they should be famous; we’re spoiled. We have the leisure time to make music, but just because we made it doesn’t make it album worthy.
BC: Yeah, it’s like I have some spare time and a pirated version of Fruity Loops, so I should make an album, and everyone will love it.
DB: And that last part is important. With Facebook, it becomes such a competitive thing. Facebook and other social networking sites can be amazing, but there starts to be a drive to invite everyone you know to shows, to like your page, or to basically advertise your band. And rampant self-promoting has a lot of risks for other relationships you have —it turns interactions with friends to self-promotion. There seems to be little social involvement with social networks.
BC: That seems antithetical to the usual method smaller bands gain momentum…
DB: It’s strange. Facebook and sites like it make it possible to find all sorts of bands that may interest you. I’m so glad people are out there making music and putting it out there. But on the other hand, it’s too much marketing. It boils down to what are we gaining and what are we losing through these interactions. I had someone message me and tell me how much he liked the music that I was making, which was great, but then I checked his music and it was so much better than the stuff I was making at his age. That type of community development is amazing and it wouldn’t exist without social networking sites. But then you have people —your friends— inviting you to a show at midnight on a Tuesday. It’s like I have to wake up the next morning, I can’t be out that late on a weekday.
BC: I understand that. So do you have any advice to musicians who are just starting to navigate the scene?
DB: I don’t know. I could say I have some advice, but anything I would say would be stealing from someone else. I guess if I can speak generally, a humble musician is a diamond in the rough in the music industry. Be excited about the stuff you’re doing, but support your fellow musicians. If you like what someone’s doing let them know.