Kansas City Punk Rock talk with BENT LEFT

Kansas City’s BENT LEFT have recently released their full-length “Fabergé” (Encapsulated Records, formerly I Hate Punk Rock Records), the first outing that they have done as their current and permanent lineup. You can stream the entire record for free on PunkNews.org profile. We didn’t miss this chance to discuss some some questions with the band. Below you can find a nice introduction for all of you who aren’t familiar with BENT LEFT. We touched on many different topics, but the main theme was their history, what’s up in their camp now, Kansas City and the current state of music industry. There’s a few more – see for yourself.

They will have the record release party for “Fabergé” tonight (!), on Saturday, December 22nd at The Riot Room in Kansas City. The lineup features their friends THE RIGHT HERE from Minneapolis as well as THE DONNER DIARIES and THE RACKATEES.

BENT LEFT supports DIY ethics, so don’t be cruel and give them a listen!

Ho Ho Ho, look who we’ve got here [smiles]. Hello guys, how are you? [smiles]

We’re always well, Karol. Sweet of you to ask. It’s certainly nice to be back on the road. We’ve been at it since October chasing sunshine and hurricanes in support of our new record Fabergé. It’s the first full-length that we’ve released as our current and permanent lineup. We’re riding the momentum that it’s been gathering since the exclusive stream went live on PunkNews.org.

Great! Yeah, Idioteq shouted about the stream. I love the energy, man! But wait a minute! Isn’t it too late for the first proper full length album for a band that has been around since 2002?! [smiles]

Thanks for the kind words, Karol. We definitely took our sweet time polishing the songwriting process and getting our chops together for this one. The full-length we released in 2005 was heavily influenced by our original guitarist Dan Myers. We toured as a 4-piece behind that record for a year or so and took it as far as doing two weeks in Japan, but Dan resigned in 2006, leaving William, Jeff and me to figure out how to write songs together. Since then, we’ve experimented with a few different approaches while touring as often as possible and simultaneously pursuing higher education, external relationships and other professional endeavors. We’re all 100% committed to the music, but I also own my own publishing and design company, Jeff does freelance audio engineering and mastering, and William is nationally licensed by the USSF as a soccer instructor.

What about the gap that Dan left you with? After all these years, are you looking for a fill in member?

Good question, Karol. Sonically speaking, we’ve incorporated a few elements to fill apparent voids, but our lineup is set in stone. We might invite a friend or colleague to join us here or there, but there are exactly enough seats in our van for the three of us plus one lucky sucker who gets to see the world on our dime, and we choose those suckers carefully.

Musically, are there any elements missing, especially when playing live?

There’s nothing missing that can’t be compensated for through the improvement of our songwriting and musicianship. We strive to impress our live audience with the amount of sound we make, and we challenge ourselves to occasionally take a less-is-more approach without sacrificing drive. What we hope to achieve is a unique and emotional dynamic that carries listeners through our recordings and live performances, leaving them simultaneously energized and exhausted and eager for what’s to come.

So what’s the difference in releasing music by yourselves (like it was back around 2004/2005) and doing it with the help of a label?

The biggest difference that our affiliation with I Hate Punk Rock and Encapsulated Records has made has been the opportunities for better recording and more unique pressing. Especially now that proprietor Mike Jones is running his label and studio under one roof (Encapsulated Studios), we have been able to devote the necessary time and resources to churning out the best (and coolest) products possible. The label affiliation has also enhanced our credibility among a community that people like Mike have helped foster for years, which in turn has helped us book consistently better shows and get increasingly better distribution. Mike’s also done an incredible job of setting the bar high for all of his bands, and he consistently and equally rewards his time, attention, and resources to whatever bands can hit the mark. It’s a great motivator to stay relevant.

Is the new situation helpful in preparing a tour? How different is it (will be?) comparing to your 2005/2006 treks?

The more credibility you have as a band, the easier booking becomes, and our affiliation with Encapsulated Records is beneficial in that sense, but the bottom line is this. If you don’t have an audience, you don’t earn enough money to offset your expenses, and being a band isn’t sustainable – regardless of how “great” or experienced you are. Venues and promoters suffer a similar dilemma in that they have to book entertainment that generates enough revenue to keep their businesses afloat, and they’re often pigeon-holed into booking only “popular” bands for that reason. Bands rely heavily on labels and publicists to fill the void left by this dichotomy.

If a band as a product is “good enough”, it can be packaged and sold to an audience. Labels and publicists that do this effectively give bands the opportunity turn music into a profession. If people know and like a band, they go to their shows. If people go to shows, bands get paid. If bands get paid, they have time and incentive to continue to create and play music. If bands continue to create and play music, both bands and their labels can make money off of sales, merchandising and licensing, and successful careers can be made for everyone involved.

We’ve done everything in our power to give Encapsulated Records a great product, and we’re relying on them to help us create as much awareness about it as possible. The greater the awareness, the larger the potential audience. The larger the audience, the more sustainable everything can become. Our success depends heavily on the continued application of a die-hard work ethic, an endless refining of the product and the development of strategic partnerships with entities whose audiences are congruent with the market for our music.

About the venues, where have you been touring so far? What differences do you see between certain regions and its venues?

We’re currently touring the entire continental US, which we’ve done a handful of times before, and while things wax and wane with economic and social trends, the United States is still incredibly homogenous when it comes to culture, development and infrastructure. The real differences lie in the people who make up the various communities we visit along the way. If these people can overcome whatever challenges they face (i.e. legal hinderances, costs of living and operation, geographic isolation, etc.), then thriving scenes can be developed in their communities, and venues will sprout up to support that development.

Venue-centric scenes only last as long as the people in those communities are able to sustain them, so long-standing venues like the all-ages 1982 Bar in Gainesville, FL, are indicative of dedicated people working hard to maintain the support of a community and keep their scene alive. There are gems like Gainesville all across the US, Kansas City included, and we’re proud to be a part of a scene that’s supportive of independent touring artists.

So, about making money you mentioned in your previous answer, how about forgetting the whole cash thing and making it the old good DIY way? [smiles]

Money is definitely the last thing we care about when it comes to making music. If it weren’t, we’d be in a pop band with a sexy female singer. We pride ourselves on our DIY ethic, and we’ve employed some of the most elaborate DIY techniques I’ve ever seen (including borrowing equipment from one of our employers and working in their shop after hours for nights on end to custom manufacture our own full-color gatefold record jackets). We also put on shows for touring bands when we’re home and organize a lot of local DIY efforts, but ethical commitments don’t make you a charity, and people telling you “you’re awesome” doesn’t pay the bills.

We have to either learn how to sustain ourselves sans capital or earn enough money to keep pursuing our work. Nobody bitches when NPR solicits donations from its listeners, because it’s necessary for those stations to continue to inform and educate their audience through the delivery of desirable products. We’re not selling superfluous bullshit here. We are purveyors of inspiration and bastions of understanding. Sure, we want to put a smile on people’s faces, but the goal is to do it through aiding people in their personal development. The more people we can affect in that way, the better, but while we have no problem running a lean operation, we still can’t fund our efforts on sugar-coated dreams of a world without stratification.

So what would you change with the way the industry is today?

That’s a great question, Karol, and a tough one to answer. Ultimately, I believe that success and opportunity are best deserved as byproducts of work ethic and strategy, and I most admire careers built around innate qualities of performers and their art. An ideal music industry would serve as an equal opportunity platform for artists to connect to their most qualified potential fans, and artists’ success would be corollary to the quality of their music and their ability to cultivate a supportive fan base. How you practically eliminate any elements of the industry that antagonize this, I don’t know, but I think that it would be a much easier task if the world weren’t full of so many consumers aching to swallow whatever the media feeds them next. We need people to take responsibly for the impact that their time, money and attention has on the world. We need them to be selective about how those things are spent and refuse to be taken advantage of by institutions with questionable motives.

So what or who [smiles] pisses you off the most about the music industry?

It’s a tie between the monsters that rake in cash hand-over-fist by creating and parading pop sensations in front of millions of idiots and the idiots themselves.

Will labels still have a place in the music industry in 10 years?

Absolutely. Artists will always need external support in order to afford their time and resources to their craft. They may transcend the need for a label at some point, but most artists will not reach that level without first taking on some investment. The right label affiliation can be an opportunity for an artist to increase the size of their network to a point that it can wholly support their independence.

In the era of the great comeback of tapes and vinyl, what music format do you think will be on top in the foreseeable future?

Vinyl undoubtedly has the most longevity of any tangible formats, but digital formats have a much more extensive reach in a culture submersed in technology. I think those two formats will remain on top indefinitely with digital always adapting to technological advances and novelties like tapes and CDs always having a temporary place.

Are you fans of soundcloud, bandcamp, etc.? 

Absolutely. I’m a fan of anything that empowers independent artists in any way, and being able to make your music accessible to the world for free is definitely empowering. In fact, part of the BENT LEFT / Recycled Rockstar crew has been working with a seed accelerator in Kansas City to develop a digital touring platform so that artists can extend their reach within pertinent markets and drive more traffic to whatever other sites they’re using. You can get a preview of what’s going on with that project at Flood.FM.

Nice. Do you believe in the new MySpace? Have seen its new features and the teaser?

I don’t think the new MySpace is really fulfilling any unique need in the marketplace, but if it allows bands and businesses to reach more people for less money than any other social network, then I’m sure it will have another good run. Feature-wise, it strikes me as a hybrid of Facebook and Reverb Nation with a fancier looking interface.

Have you seen any interesting tools while visiting Japan?

The sweetest thing with the most utility that we saw in Japan were these full-size Toyota vans that look like a cross between the old Toyota minivans and the more modern Dodge Sprinter cargo vans. We all have a sweet spot for sweet rides, so these trumped all the gadgets and other unique technologies we saw. The tools we got the most use out of were the 4-liter bottles of whiskey and the juice boxes of sake.

[laughs] Awesome.

There’s been another earthquake this morning in Japan, the same area as the one from 2011. Have you seen a lot of relief actions and donation movements around you? I mean Haiti, Japan and other places in need.

We’ve played lots of benefit shows for lots of charities and causes over the years, and we’re always happy to offer our support whenever some vengeful deity blindly ravages an underserving people.

Harvest of Hope Fest back in 2010 was the most dynamic fund/awareness-raiser we’ve ever been a part of. It brought together an incredibly diverse group of performers and patrons in support of migrant farmworkers.

The most humbling relief-related effort we’ve ever been a part of was in Jersey City a few days after Hurricane Sandy. We spent the morning and afternoon trudging through rain, snow and ice, knocking on doors in neighborhoods without power making sure that people had food, water, blankets, candles and medicine. We had people inviting us into their homes and apartments to warm up, because it was less miserable for them in their powerless apartments than it was for us in the onset of the storm.

Jeff earned the most invitations inside. I think it was his beard that made people think he was trustworthy.

[laughs] Do you grow your own?

We all do what we can to keep ourselves looking youthful yet mature. Jeff has the beard thing down pretty well. Will likes to showcase his mustache. I’m more of a constant shadow in the facial hair department. We generally stick to what we’re good at.

Tell us more about Kansas City’s music scene. How do you think it has influenced your music?

Kansas City is definitely supportive of local music, and it’s a thriving destination for touring bands, too. We often refer to it as “the world’s biggest high school,” because the population is small enough and the city is spread out enough that everyone knows everyone within each geographic and cultural microcosm, of which there are many, even within subcultures like punk rock. We’re still having to work to earn support among many of these groups, but we’re finding that the more we gave back to the community by hosting shows, organizing compilations, and promoting other great organizations, the more the supportive the community becomes of us and anything we do.

As far as Kansas City’s influence on our music is concerned, it’s definitely responsible for what little street punk edge we have (if any). It’s also responsible for making us want to fill a stylistic void in the local soundscape. Most bands from KC do a good job of carving out a sonic niche for themselves, and we try to do the same by constantly exposing ourselves to as much unique influence as possible.

How has visiting other places broadened your horizons?

Meeting people from all walks of life who live different lifestyles in different places has really helped us round out our understanding of social dynamics and the effects that economic conditions have on varying classes of people. It’s also been a great study in nature versus nurture and individuals’ methods of adapting to their environment. It’s made us more understanding of the choices people make and the beliefs they harbor, and it’s inspired us to keep the bar high for ourselves.

Any particular places you fell in love with?

I’m a big fan of any place with weather that supports my sandal habit, but I love being wherever I am whenever I’m there as long as there are good people around. Some recent places I fell in love with for that reason include Jersey City, NJ, Ashtabula, OH, Lexington, KY, Wenatchee, WA, and Green River, WY to name a few.

How do you guys manage to squeeze in a couple of such absorbing pursuit as getting a degree. You waste no time making your way, huh?

It always helps to have a contingency plan, whether it’s an education to fall back on if playing punk rock doesn’t work out or vice versa, so we’ve made time over the years to prioritize degree/career pursuits. The “C’s get degrees” approach is always useful whenever non-traditional educational opportunities (like international tours) present themselves during semesters, and jobs that allow you to work remotely and manage your own hours make it easier be on the road or in the studio whenever you need to be. It’s not so much hurrying to make our way as it is insurance that we don’t get our cart ahead of our horse. We know too many people who have attempted to turn their lifestyle into their living and failed due to lack if support beneath an artificially extended runway. Time is a precious resource, and the world is a great provider of experience and education, and the more active you are in governing your time, the greater your likelihood of being in the right place at the right time, and the more control you have over the quality of experience and education that you get.

What’s the situation with employment where you live?

The only people hard up for work in Kansas City are people who are dead set on occupying a particular position based on their qualifications or experience. If you’re flexible, Kansas City is an extremely easy and affordable place to live, and it provides great opportunities for freelancers, independent business owners, startups, hustlers and anyone needing a service industry gig to support their music habit. It’s a very communal environment where your employability is based primarily on who you know and whether or not they like you enough to hook you up with a job.

Does it make a good working place for yourself?

Kansas City is definitely a Mecca for young creative professionals, and I feel like I do my best work when I’m surrounded by that kind if people, but I grow weary of being hypersaturated with any influence. Fortunately, I have two brilliant parents and a slough of other brilliant friends and relatives that I can visit anytime, and I can take my work on the road with me wherever I go. I really enjoy being able to take the inspiration and education that Kansas City offers, stuff it all into a briefcase and spend a week working in some place more secluded with a different set of influences. It helps me keep everything in perspective.

What’s lame and worst about the place?

My least favorite thing about Kansas City is that something in the air here makes it easy for people to party their lives away to the point of becoming charity cases. “Poor me, I blew all my money trying to be cool, and so did everyone else who was trying to be cool, so now being irresponsibly broke and complaining openly about must be cool, so I’m just going to keep repeating the process,” is a phrase too often uttered by the self-deprecating wastes of talent and intellect that succumb to the city’s temptation and/or their own laziness.

Ok, let’s recapitulate. What is next for BENT LEFT?  What else should we know?

Thanks for asking, Karol. William, Jeffrey and I are already working on new songs for a follow-up to Fabergé, which we’ll be recording between stints of shows here in the continental US. We’ve got some time scheduled at Encapsulated Studios to work with Gabe Usery and Matt Amelung again, and I couldn’t be more excited to have them on board. More touring to follow that release, of course, and then some more music, and then some more touring, and we’ll do that a few more times, and then we’ll probably perish. Unless, of course, my pessimism fails me and our parents secure their place in history as the last generation to ever have to die. In that case, BENT LEFT will pioneer the genre of post-punk geezer-core and continue the cycle until one of us outruns our immortality.

[smiles] Sounds awesome. Let’s keep in touch and talk more about the upcoming stuff when the time comes, alright? Thanks so much for the chat! [smiles]

Sounds like a plan, Karol. Thanks a ton for the opportunity. I’ll keep my eyes on my inbox for a draft of whatever comes of our discourse, and I’ll keep you in the loop about new stuff for sure. Enjoy the holidays!

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