Portland garage/punk outfit Spoon Benders talk science, horror and the future
Edgy, witty, and entrancingly dark, Spoon Benders walk a musical line that straddles goth and classic garage rock. Drawing inspiration from legends like The Stooges, Black Sabbath, and the more contemporary Osees, Spoon Benders’ roots in loud, psych-influenced punk come out hard and fast in a sound that bends and breaks expectations of the genre. Sonically covered in slime and sludge, Spoon Benders has found a way to drudge up the past while simultaneously creating a sound and style unique unto themselves.
The band, made up of Katy Black (guitar/vocals), AJ Herald (drums), Buffy Pastor (guitar), and Velvet (bass), came together in 2019, releasing their debut album Dura Mater in May of 2020. With new tours and a release on the horizon, ELEVEN had a chance to catch up with the band and where they’re headed next:
ELEVEN: I’m excited to hear more about this upcoming album! Do you have a release date set for it yet?
Katy Black: No, not yet. We are set to go into the recording portion of it in… April?
AJ: Mid-March! We’re going to record the new album here in Portland.
11: The singles you have out now, are they part of this new project?
KB: “Cut Behind” is the single that’s part of this new album.
11: How has the writing process been this past year, with everything going on? With the pandemic and social life being a little bit different. Has that changed your process at all?
AJ: I’d say it slowed it down a little bit.
KB: Yeah, I definitely think it slowed it down a little bit. I don’t know if the pandemic changed this specifically, more so us having been a band for longer, having even more repoire than we had before. Being able to write as a collective, it’s a lot more collaboratively written this time. There’s more dynamic and different voices—different sources of inspiration into each song, which I think makes them really interesting. I think that’s something that is very different about this album than the last.
But the pandemic definitely slowed it down. I think it’s kind of ironic that it became even more collaborative. I know the pandemic forced a lot of people into writing alone and doing more virtual sort of things. We’ve combined more. Gotten more of a synthesis of all of us together, so that’s cool.
AJ: Yeah, we’ve been a pod this whole time. I feel fortunate that we four can still get together and work in person, despite the pandemic. But there have definitely been weeks where it’s like, “Oh shit! I’m kind of sniffly, I think I’m symptomatic,” and then we missed an entire week of rehearsal together.
I think that we’ve gotten the chance, in this point in time, to take time with our craft and work together—really hear each other’s voices in the songs and hone something in that means a lot to us.
Velvet: Yeah, I think we have a lot of emphasis on the quality of the songs and making sure they’re how we’re wanting them—playing them a bunch of times, rather than just getting them out quickly. I think it’s slowed things down, but in a really constructive way for us.
KB: It’s allowed us to rewrite a lot of things and get into more of a creative realm. The longer you sit with a song, the more it’s going to evolve. It’s kind of materialized in front of us organically. And now that we have a finished album pretty much written, it’s weird to see all of it as a finished piece. Each song wasn’t like, “I need to write a song,” it was like, “I have an emotion,” and we want to convey that emotion in this way.
It just kind of like became a collection. And it’s a really diverse collection of a lot of diverse emotions, instead of being a concept piece.
11: When did you start writing this album?
AJ: Some of these songs are from the beginning of this band’s inception.
KB: Yeah, “Rival” is fucking old, you’re right.
AJ: From when we first began this band. But that song is challenging for all of us. I think we put it on a pedestal. We took a lot of time for that one. And we’ve given it a lot of space to unfold in a way that feels right for us. Like Katy was saying, it has evolved over the course of two and a half years.
Some of the other songs, though, are much newer. We have three songs we’re just finishing now that we’ve been working on for the past 6 months. But we’re pretty analytical about them and really want to do our best to convey how we’re feeling emotionally through something musically.
11: I really loved what you did with the recent single music video, the archival footage. I was curious, because it feels very, for lack of a better term, “science-y.” It’s old science footage. That made me think of Dura Mater, your first album, and this connection to neuroscience. I was wondering if that is a theme that continues out in some of this new work too?
KB: When AJ and I met a while back, [we] kind of bonded over how we’re both students of psychology and neuroscience and it’s a passion for us. We like to read a lot of neuroscience literature and talk about how it ties into philosophy. It just becomes really artistic and also really, really metal at the same time, on it’s own.
I think science is something that is this massive pool of things you can draw creative inspiration from. The history of it is so intense and disturbing, and it’s also developed into what saved people’s lives, as we can see being in a fucking pandemic. So yeah, I think science is always going to be a core theme—what I like to write about, and what we like to talk about. I know Velvet’s really into Greek words and taking inspiration lyrically from that stuff.
V: I’m super analytical, so when I can explain an emotion or a feeling in a scientific term—I can see that as an overarching theme in a lot of the things that we do.
KB: Yeah, I think that Dura Mater was more intentionally based off of science. In the name, specifically, and my background in my classes and stuff. This new album is not so much focused in a conceptual way in neuroscience, but there are some songs that the lyrics are written about: electric therapy and these really traumatic things that have been used in science. We’re all very nerdy in a lot of different ways. That combination of loving learning, loving communicating and being incredibly sensitive people is a good combination. It’s worked for us so far.
AJ: I know for me, discussing our feelings and new science, new ideas and new philosophies wasn’t exactly part of my upbringing. So the chance I get to do it now and use this band as a platform to do it on a wide scale is ultimate release.
11: That’s so cool that you all share that common interest! It seems like you all naturally have this beautiful energy together, like a collective presence that rings true onstage and in all of your work. It feels very unified.
I was curious, actually, how you met Harper [King], because they seem very tried in with your group aesthetic. I’ve noticed a lot of your photos are taken by Harper. I’m curious about your connection? How did you met?
KB: I met Harper at a coffee shop, just like how I met AJ. I met Velvet through a job. And AJ, and Harper. So I guess working for minimum wage has done something good for me!
But when I met them I was like, “Dude you’re so sick!” I clicked with them immediately. They’re hilarious and charismatic and witty and sarcastic, in a very fun way. I just knew, like I knew with Velvet and like I knew with Buffy, they’re gonna love Harper.
And then Harper just so happened to say that they were a photographer. I looked at their photography and it was amazing! They were kind of steering away from the live music because of the pandemic. I just asked them multiple times to please come and shoot us and meet the band. And then the band met Harper, and everyone fell in love with Harper like I fell in love with Harper! And then we stole Harper, Harper left that job, and then we went on tour. And now Harper lives with us!
11: That’s a great story!
KB: It hasn’t even been a year, that was all in the last 8 months.
AJ: I’m 10 years older than Harper and she’s one of the most mature and hardest working young peoples I’ve ever met. [She] fits into our energy really, really well. And they also have a lot of the same mentalities about this industry, about wanting to be paid fairy and recognized and credited.
KB: And just being respected even on a verbal level.
AJ: Absolutely. This is exactly what Spoon Benders decided as a band—the kind of relationships we want to make and build for our little microcosm and community. People that we work with, we want them to have these similar values as much as possible. Equality, diversity, lifting up women, lifting up POC, and paying people! Respecting them, giving them love.
KB: There’s an amazing community of photographers. It’s a crime that Spotify’s not paying their artists—taking art and music, our artistic integrity and all the money we put into recording, and just not giving us any of the profit. I think that for live photographers, we don’t want to ever do that to anyone else. As much as I totally love the fact that all these photographers are willing to shoot these bands and they’re like “Well, I’m not really in it for the money.”
But how cool would it be if you were able to do what you love? My goal is to do what I love and not work for a minimum wage job. I want you to do that too, and I think we can probably get that done together. That’s kind of the relationship we’ve built with Harper: her and I, all of us, all trying to get out of our jobs.
AJ: That’s been a thing about this pandemic that I’ve seen from so many people. I think it’s given people the time to reflect on what they’re really passionate about—what they care about—and I think a lot of people have decided to pivot and reach for things that they love. They’re moving away from those part-time jobs or whatever it was that was totally soul sucking, and they’re making soap because they love it. Or, they’re playing music because they love it—taking pictures, writing articles.
11: Moving into 2022, how’re you feeling about the prospect of going back on tour and playing live shows again? Do you have a plan for a tour in 2022, or are you sitting tight on that?
KB: We wanna go! There’s obviously a bunch of stuff we need to get done in the meantime, like the van. We need to go through all that process of totaling the van, getting money and hopefully buying another one. For sure, we want to tour in the spring. We are doing Treefort. So we will be getting out of town, which is awesome.
The album definitely is number one, but very close after is touring as much as possible.
AJ: It was so successful for us last year, going out in October. It was a massive learning experience and we did a really good job as a team, all supporting one another. I had a lot of fear of the unknown. I wasn’t sure how I personally was gonna do. I wasn’t sure how the band was gonna do together. But having seen what we did in 2 weeks last year, I’m incredibly excited to go out again with my bandmates, most likely with Harper King, and just keep building our team of people and continue to share our music with places that can dig it.
V: Learning from our mistakes from last tour too.
AJ: Of course!
KB: Anybody that’s toured, it’s just like, “It’s gonna be fucked up, but it’s gonna be super fun!” And it was super fucked up, and super fun.
V: The fun parts were so rewarding, what we got out of them.
AJ: Especially doing it ourselves. We’re not doing it with financial help from anybody or the name of a label right now. We are going out at Spoon Benders. We’re funding this as Spoon Benders. Putting together a tour is really challenging and this is something we did without a whole lot of experience.
11: I noticed that some of the merch on your page features a Beetlejuice and Creature from the Black Lagoon mask. Also, the eye ball creature on your new single feels very reminiscent of old horror films. What is your favorite horror movie?
KB: Velvet, you’re on it.
V: It’s so hard for me, I’m such a horror nerd! I just watched this one called Slime City. It’s super over the top. It’s a lot like Street Trash, but a little bit more like sleazy. Very reminiscent of the’70s. I really like that old “we had absolutely zero money to make this movie, but we made it and it’s fucking cool shit.” And I really like Italian horror movies. Anything by Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci.
Buffy Pastor: I really can’t think of one right now.
KB: What about The Thing? Do you like that movie? Have you seen that movie?
BP: I’ve seen that movie. I like that movie.
KB: Well, that was gonna be my favorite, but you can have it if you want. I have two.
BP: Is it another John Carpenter one?
KB: No, actually! It’s the It Follows movie. Because it’s weird. You don’t know what era, you don’t know when it’s set. It’s just very uncomfortable and really weird.
I think it’s basically supposed to be a metaphor of STDs, but it’s just disturbing. It’s not jumpy. I don’t like to be scared that way. But that one’s a thought piece. Midsommer’s good too!
AJ: My favorite horror movie is called The Wailing. I think that it’s a Korean horror film. That one is fantastic. And then right underneath that is another Korean horror film, Parasite, that came out more recently. I love the psychological thrillers that have these hidden stories throughout them. It adds another element to the scariness, which I need, cause I can’t take scary movies at all. I have to have something else that makes me okay with it.
11: Parasite is pretty scary!
AJ: But it’s different though that Midsommer. Midsommer gives me like almost nausea watching it!
11: I love how all your answers are a full spectrum of horror! Lastly, are there any shows that you’re really stoked on, something that you want to share?
KB: We’re going to be playing with Fuzz in April.
AJ: April 27th and April 28th in Portland and in Seattle.
KB: And then Treefort, cause Boise was so nice to us last time! So excited.
Bend, OR 3/23 TBA
Boise, ID 3/24-3/27 at Treefort Music Fest
Seattle 4/15 at Substation with MONSTERWATCH
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