Eric Copeland (Black Dice)

Eric Copeland (Black Dice)

By Kiran Dass

Monday 3rd October, 2011 2:25PM

Emerging out of Providence in the late 90s, Black Dice create joyous sound collages that are both weird and catchy. Renowned for their ear-busting live show which is always combined with equally eye-busting visuals, they are heading to NZ for the first time for one Auckland show this Wednesday. We caught up with founding member Eric Copeland who is also venturing out solo for a nationwide tour as part of the Audio Foundation's Altmusic touring program.

Back in my day, it all used to be just 'rock' or 'pop' music. Now, everybody is calling everything 'hypnagogic'. It drives me nuts, it's like a desperation to intellectualise music. And just now I read a piece where someone says, "Eric Copeland's music is hypnagogic." What do you think of this?

That's funny, I don't know anything about that scene or that word. Maybe all the other terms have already been used up and 'hypnagogic' was all that was left? In the big scheme of things, it's nice to just be written about. But I do tend to agree with you, that the term probably has more to do with the writers of the article than the people making the music.

Black Dice formed in Providence, some good stuff has come from there - Six Finger Satellite, some of the members of Talking Heads went to design school there: More recently it's been you and your chums Lightening Bolt. Was there much of an inspiring music community there when you started out?

Providence was a huge inspiration for me in the mid to late nineties. I was only in my teens, so being able to leave my parents' house and go to a city, drink, go to parties and see music was just a big deal to me. I rarely went to clubs (it was more warehouses), and all the people worked towards making these parties rule. Shit was heavy, scary and super creative. I don't know much about the place now, but for me as a teenager, it was a wild and real inspiring place to be. And I think I've taken a lot of that energy with me over the years.

You moved to New York City soon after you formed Black Dice. What creative impact did this have on the group? Were you exposed to new things that excited you?

I moved here when I was real young, so the impact has been hand in hand with me simply growing up. But yeah, New York City has been good to me. It's never been real friendly or easy, but I've learned almost all my big lessons here. And more so, New York has provided me with most of my good friendships and lasting relationships. And maybe that was just taking what I'd seen earlier and transplanting it here in a way. It's been 15 or so years here, so I can no longer separate the city from myself that easily. Even in hindsight.

Black Dice has been around for about 14 years. Being in the group with the same members for all this time, what keeps it interesting for you?

With Bjorn and Aaron, we take things as they lay, and try to redirect it all towards where we'd like to be. So between the three of us, we have a long-lasting and pretty satisfying working relationship. We know each other well. And what keeps it going is the newness that comes along with each new work. New projects, new goals and new mediums. It's nice to have stimuli that challenges us all the time, but it's also nice to also feel like we're capable of tackling whatever comes our way and still improve our skills along the way. And if you always like the end result, it makes you hungry for more.

Black Dice play shows in a variety of contexts - small bars, festivals, galleries: For you, what have been some of the most memorable shows you've played as Black Dice or Eric Copeland and why?

Playing with Dice is more memorable for sure, because we share memories with each other so they stay in context longer. But for myself, I've mostly only played in New York. The only times I play out of the city are when I'm touring with someone else (opening) or as a means to an end. But to answer your question, any really big gig I remember more because it's such a strange thing to get on stage by myself in front of a large crowd. The ATP in May was like that. I got rained out of a huge outdoor Blonde Redhead gig here in the city. The first gig I did in Albany, New York, I'll remember because it was such a weird night in the middle of nowhere. I think playing alone, the gig becomes a smaller occasion in the course of a larger day.

With your solo work, is there less critical pressure from your bandmates and audiences - do you find you tend to relax and experiment more?

Bjorn and Aaron are supportive of whatever I do, wherever I go. And I've never had much of a give-and-take with the audience to really even know what they think. I think the idea of experimenting comes at weird times. Like, I get inspired and then work out the kinks of an idea for a few months. And then it happens again. But for me, some of my favourite material I've made hasn't always been the most 'experimental' at all. On the contrary, it may be the least 'out there' shit. But I feel like sometimes the experiment is to take myself somewhere new. And once I'm there, I like to stick around for a bit and check out what's going on there before I move on.

What are the things you do and don't like about making music as Eric Copeland as opposed to working with other people and being in Black Dice?

I started really pushing working alone because I could work fast and get out a lot of material easily. With Dice, the biggest pain is the time. We all hustle and work a lot outside of the band, so making the band a priority can sometimes be complicated with real life demands. So I just started finishing ideas alone instead of waiting to bring them to the band. The working methods are similar, but I think the material at the end is real dependant on the avenues taken. I couldn't do my own stuff without Dice, and vice-versa.

How do you differentiate the two projects? When you come up with ideas, what determines whether it will be for Black Dice or for Eric Copeland? Both have a reasonably similar aesthetic.

Lately, with Black Dice, I've been holding back on the sampling aspect of what I do, simply because I don't want to use that gear anymore. So I'm trying to play more of an 'instrument' than an 'Anything-Goes-Box'. And with my own material, I treat it more as a recording project most of the time. I can get it together to play live, but I will never play live a lot of what I write. I think that they can both sound similar aesthetically in some respects, but at some point there's a fork in the road that I hear clearly...

I read somewhere once that you like to have a relationship with all types of music. What do you mean?

I don't really give a shit about what's happening in music. I just love music, so I try to listen openly and just enjoy. Don't get me wrong, I mostly listen to regular popular music, radio or Youtube. But by having a relationship, I feel like I mean I'm just being open to whatever. I'm out of the game.

Do you notice a difference between Black Dice audiences and Eric Copeland audiences?

I don't feel like I've got much of an audience alone. Usually they are more of a fan of something else and then heard about me, too. Maybe here in the City there are a few more rabid fans?

Have you been to New Zealand before and are you familiar with any music from here?

I've never been to New Zealand, no. I'm familiar with a little bit of music from your land. Mostly Flying Nun related music. But I also know a little more out-there stuff too, like The Dead C. And I recently saw a pretty cool record of bands from Christchurch in the late 70s... So I don't know much, but I'm real excited to check it all out and see what's there, for sure.

 Kiran Dass

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