January 14, 2014 Interview – Kim Benzie of Dead Letter Circus
In the ever changing landscape of rock and roll music it is difficult to sometimes distinguish one band from another. With a fresh crop of talented young bands starting a new wave of progressive rock, rock enthusiasts’ tastes are being broadened with in-depth, atmospheric, and thought provoking music. Dead Letter Circus, from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, have been part of this movement for a decade now. While underground to most of North America, the band’s debut album This Is The Warning (2010) went gold in their home country; which has since caused a wave of attention abroad. With the release of their sophomore album The Catalyst Fire (2013) , Dead Letter Circus are opening even more eyes. Recently, we sat down with lead vocalist Kim Benzie for an introspective look at the world of Dead Letter Circus, enlightenment, the future of music, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Dead Letter Circus has been together now since 2004. In the past 6 years things have really taken off for the band. You have success in your home country of Australia, you have toured North America, and played huge stadium shows with the likes of Muse and Linkin Park. That is rather impressive. Tell me how the band is absorbing your growing success?
Kim Benzie – When you’re actually part of it and doing all the hard work, you don’t really notice it to that level until someone actually repeats it back to you. We just take every day one day at a time, and the next challenge. We just finished up the North American tour and we have this massive tour in Australia with our friends in Karinvool coming up. We are still looking forward to the next step and not really looking back to the past, but it certainly sounds good when you say it.
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) Well it’s important to look forward. Now your sound is quite a captivating mix of melody, atmosphere, and progressive rock. Labels are so limiting but your sound has a quality which is appreciated by an underground as well as a mainstream audience. This is not limiting. Tell me how Dead Letter Circus formed the sound we hear today?
Kim Benzie – The original guitarist and I met in the rehearsal room. We talked about the concept of a band that didn’t exist yet. This was just as nu-metal was dying and Limp Bizkit and Korn were the biggest bands in the world. It just peaked, it was coming down, and Korn and Deftones were still here. We talked about the concept of this band that was really heavy but not riff based. Nu-metal was the peak of big fat guitar riffs; everything was based around some big moment and chunky riffs. We basically said how can we do it? We decided to focus on rhythms, and said lets create a band that is really musically heavy but jam packed full of melody with the guitar and vocals kind of doing a lead role in the band. We started writing with those guidelines and it came together.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and it has come together quite well. The debut album This is the Warning (2010) received great success in Australia going gold. The album was obviously very thought out judging on the fact the songs are well-crafted and there is a clear concept behind it. Is having a concept and story behind the music something you hold strong emphasis on?
Kim Benzie – Yes, definitely. I think that is why it sort of connects with a lot of people, because we put a lot of time in particular to the lyrics. It’s very real music. I feel very blessed to be the vessel for it. It actually feels like a channel, seeing that we are the vessels for where ever music comes from in the universe. I feel very blessed to be the guy to say the words, decipher it, and get it to everyone else. It’s also what I am going through as well with the lyrics. With This Is The Warning it was a bunch of first person tales of coming awake in a world and being one of the first people in the group that was awake. About shouting to everyone to look around you and see there is some sort of weird design that has been placed around us and people are trying to force us to live within it. With the new album The Catalyst Fire (2013) being three years in the future, which is where we are now, most people are awake. The true mechanics of the world are apparent to not just conspiracy theory people, but the average citizen doesn’t really have to go out of their way of thinking around the puzzle. The puzzle is presented to everyone, with everyone facing at the moment what can we possibly do? It has gone too far and what can an individual do to actually combat the lies of corporations and fucking the planet? I guess what we really tried to convey in the new album is the way you control the venue is by making these two separate powers, but in essence we are not separate at all. There is actually this illusion that has been put on us that we think we are separate from each other. If everyone remembers to go back to a community based mindset, the changes that everyone believes are impossible at the moment can become possible. We are the many, but they are the few.
CrypticRock.com – That is very interesting and it’s obvious you are a very well read individual. Obviously these are based on personal experiences like you said, but where do you derive your lyrical inspirations from?
Kim Benzie – I’m not actually a massive reader. I had a pretty intense spiritual experience in the Amazon jungle a couple of years ago in a dramatic ceremony with a plant based medicine called Ayahuasca. I really came back from that with my eyes peeled open. I say more than reading and research, it’s more conversations and being lucky to bump into the right people. The whole concept of The Catalyst Fire is the spreading fire for change; the conversation you can have with someone, you can learn something. You create this fire and pass it to someone else. It’s a spreading of an idea. I guess that my knowledge is based on that; strangely bumping into people where ever I go that will give me a little bit of knowledge. Just sharing, contemplating when you are staring out the window, and you’re thinking about how it all fits together. It’s all very apparent right now. There is so much information you can find now that you can see and feel even with your intuition about where the world is at.
CrypticRock.com – That is so true. You do learn a lot from speaking with a lot of people. There is so much information there now. I feel we as a culture, there is so much information but we don’t absorb it. Sadly we don’t listen to one another. Like you said we look at each other as separate entities and not as a whole. We are not learning from one another.
Kim Benzie – Well hopefully it’s changing. It feels like people are definitely waking up, even if they are in the early stages of it. A bunch of tradesmen are sitting having a barbecue and talking about this stuff now, where a few years ago it would have been a bunch of nerds watching Bill Hicks or something (laughs). It seems to be coming a part of mass consciousness. I think it’s based on the fact that the people that are actually trying to control us have made so many mistakes in their experimenting with their systems of control, people seem to notice and it gets reported on.
CrypticRock.com – I totally agree. Now the newest album The Catalyst Fire came out in late 2013 here in the USA. The album is beautiful piece of work. There is definitely an element of progression in the band’s sound and song writing as well. Tell me what the writing and recording process was like for this new record?
Kim Benzie – Because we had a member leave just before we started writing the content it was pretty much us pushing and proving to ourselves that we were still the band that we were. On the previous album, Rob and I designed most of the concepts for the songs. On this album, when he departed, some of the other members stepped up and started to blossom. They started contributing and presented these really amazing ideas. It went from coming from a narrow place to coming from a broader place. With This is the Warning we experimented a lot. We did an EP, Dead Letter Circus (2007), in Australia which was sort of one dynamic and our producer Forrester Savell said you can’t do a whole album of that flat out crazy music, you will probably bore people. He said challenge yourself and experiment with a few different things, so we experimented with the electronic thing. We actually came out of This is the Warning with a very broad scoop of what we could actually tackle. We hadn’t tackled it with confidence, we kind of improvised a lot and got lucky. This time around we knew within the band what we could work with and we did it very confidently. There is a reason the new album sounds very perfect, it’s because it doesn’t have any filler songs. We really knew what we were chasing and we knew how to go about it.
Brutal would be the word about the studio (laughs). No one gets off easy, everyone pushed toward the highest level we could get. We didn’t actually know how good it would be until we finished. I think it was the moment our management came in, which had no idea what we were doing in there, and said “show us these songs, you don’t have a budget, and you’re two weeks behind”. So we sat down and listened to all the songs in a row and said wow that sounds good. We went deep into the rabbit hole.
CrypticRock.com – It worked out well and the record is getting a very good reception. It’s been a while since you toured North America but you came back in 2013 on tour with a interesting mix of bands in Periphery, Born of Osiris, & Twelve Foot Ninja. How was the reception of Dead Letter Circus?
Kim Benzie – It’s strange in the places that we played before, we could walk on and felt like a headlining show as far as the response. There are still places we are not on the radio yet in North America, there is so much music going on here, we are still very much unknown. We will walk into some towns we have never played before and there will only be 5 people who know who we are. Those shows on the bill, we went in there and we were the underdogs. We don’t have any riffs which are very heavy or a big bit that you can mosh to. We don’t have any of that kind of stuff so we were definitely the odd ones out. Our objective was to walk off the stage with every hand in the air. We are in the business of hands in the air.
CrypticRock.com – It’s was a great chance to get the music out to people here. It’s interesting that Dead Letter Circus is not on the radio here in the USA. The band has a very dynamic sound and does cross boundaries. In your opinion what do you think of the modern rock scene with the abundant amount of bands and sub-genres of rock?
Kim Benzie – Having played a very metal tour with Periphery, Born of Osiris, and Twelve Foot Ninja along with a couple of metal fests; I think that metal is definitely a very saturated genre at the moment with very little wiggle room. There are definitely a couple of leaders, Periphery for example. I don’t know how anyone is going to top what they have done, going through all the emotions from the heavy to the light, they are kind of doing everything. Born of Osiris is the deepest metal act I have seen in years. I can’t put my finger on it but there are basically a few stand out acts. All over the world, it seems like a very stale time. Tesseract is a band I was really surprised with that blew me away. It feels like if you look at us all as Archaeologists, we are plowing into the same mountain, it feels like we are deep in the mountain now in so many different places and avenues. It will be an interesting year in 2014 with all these bands. I don’t know where it’s going to go in the future. We are going to have to do a very different album for us. The Catalyst Fire was our offering to progressive rock.
CrypticRock.com – Yes and it keeps things interesting for yourself. You want to outdo yourself.
Kim Benzie – Yes we never really look at other bands and what they are doing. As far as what other bands did in recent years, there were a few surprises. What Periphery did with their new album Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal (2012), I think that was the icing on the cake of the scene. I don’t know see how djent bands in the genre can ever top what they have done, they covered everything. I don’t know how anyone is going to top them in 2014 without imitating them. I have a plan for Dead Letter Circus, I know where we are heading, it’s definitely not going to be heavy progressive rock (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Well that’s something to look forward to. It will be exciting to see the band progress and see where they go. Judging by the music of Dead Letter Circus, which is so diverse, what are some of your musical influences?
Kim Benzie – I general listen to a lot of really amazing female singers. My current band that I can’t get enough of are London Grammar from the UK; also Bjork, Massive Attack, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, and Muse. I am not a massive music listener. There is usually one music act that will come along every now and then. Music for me is more of a creative indulgence than a listening indulgence. There are Tool and Deftones as well. Those would be my main staples and the albums I have listened to most in my life.
CrypticRock.com – It’s good to have an eclectic taste in music. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Kim Benzie – I have a thing for ridiculous animal movies like Jaws (1975) and Anaconda (1997). Anything ridiculous like that. I like The Walking Dead. That’s a really engaging world to exist in. The setting created in a post-apocalyptic world where death is part of everyday life and everyone is inevitable going to die. That is my favorite show at the moment.
CrypticRock.com – It’s a great show. It’s so well written and compelling.
Kim Benzie – Yes I want forget about the world around me a little bit when I watch that show. I liked the Evil Dead (1981) and Halloween (1978). Horror is such an emotionally satisfying genre. When they get it right you are terrified, scared, and sometimes you never really feel that level of emotion in real life. It gives your brain a chance to experience the endorphins and chemicals that are created from intensity that you never really get to experience from living in middle class Australia and America (laughs). If you can plug in and engage in it. It’s a great genre and I am glad it exists. Some people find it silly, never watch it, and say they hate horror. I say why don’t you feel it for a second, it’s only going to last a little while, then you know what it feels like.
CrypticRock.com – Horror is absolutely a emotional genre. It seems you mentioned a lot of older horror films, what is your opinion on modern horror films?
Kim Benzie – It would be good if the modern day effects were in the films back then. It depends on your age as well. When I was 10 years old watching scary stuff and you have nightmares, it’s obviously embedded in your psyche. It’s a different experience when you are an adult and you have a feeling, you can control the emotion. When you are kid you think holy shit it’s real. One of the films I watched that always stuck in my mind when I was really young was Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). The one with those masks they would wear with these frequencies that came out of the TV causing the mask to stretch on your head causing snakes to come out of your mouth.
CrypticRock.com – That is an excellent and under-rated film from the Halloween series.
Kim Benzie – When I think of horror, that is the film that initially springs into my mind. Before Saw (2004) and all modern masterpieces, I go straight to that film. That used to scare the shit out of me.
Dead Letter Circus and Karnivool will be playing the following dates:
1-16-14 Newcastle Panthers, Newcastle – (18+)
1-17-14 Roundhouse, Sydney – (18+)
1-18-14 Roundhouse, Sydney – (18+)
1-19-14 Waves, Wollongong – (18+)
1-23-14 Red Hill Auditorium, Perth – (18+)