BNLX's Ed Ackerson: We all like to combine melody with fairly terrifying noises
Photo By Nick Wosika
As both a musician and producer, Ed Ackerson has helped shape the sound of the Twin Cities for decades now. Over the past few years, in addition to manning the boards at his venerable Flowers Studio, Ackerson and his cohorts in BNLX -- wife Ashley and drummer David Jarnstrom -- have released a series of custom made EPs and finally an eventual full-length, which they celebrated with a rousing two-day bash last year. This year, the band has assembled all of the songs on their seven out-of-print EPs and a few new tracks for another LP, Produit Collecté (Collected Product), and have once again planned a grand two-day musical party, BNLXFest II, at Cause this Friday and Saturday.
Gimme Noise caught up with Ackerson to ask him about the new LP, what commonality unites all of the bands on the BNLX Fest bill, and how rewarding it was to produce much of the just-released Songs for Slim benefit album, Rockin Here Tonight.
Gimme Noise: So, what ultimately led you to finally assemble all of your easily digestible EPs into one massive full-length compilation?
Ed Ackerson: The handmade product concept was great, but it took a ton of time to assemble, paint and stencil each package. We've sold thousands of those EPs at this point, every one of them made by hand in our dining room! The original handmade series of EPs has been out of production since our debut album came out last winter. People have continued to ask about those songs, though, so we decided at this point that it would be useful to collect all of the earlier BNLX material in one centralized mega package.
Between the EPs and our first full-length BNLX LP, we've released over 40 songs in a three-year period. Distilling the catalog down to two central pieces will make it a lot easier and cheaper for people to locate and collect all of our music.
A lot of these songs are appearing on vinyl for the very first time. How important was it for you to release this material on wax, and did you notice any nuances that pop out more on vinyl than they did on the digital recordings?
We had wanted to put the EPs out on vinyl all along, but considering they were all only four-song releases, that idea was really cost-prohibitive. Collecting the material on vinyl allowed us to do a little bit of a retrospective focus pull and highlight the songs that have been favorites for us and our fans. The vinyl version of this release sounds fantastic. Since the original EPs were 100 percent DIY, we'd never gotten the music mastered professionally; every aspect of those recordings and packages was created here in our building.
For Produit Collecté, we hired Bruce Templeton from Magneto Mastering to oversee the preparation of all 32 tracks for manufacturing, and he did a fantastic job of making all of the tracks sound bolder and more detailed than ever. There's a distinct improvement in sound for this release vs. the originals, which is part of the value of this release in our opinion.
You've also got some new songs included on Produit Collecté, as well as another EP that will be available for the first time at the festival. What were the recording sessions like for those songs, and how do you see them fitting alongside the early material in the new collection?
The sessions for the new EP #8 tracks took place this past summer. We actually have over a dozen new songs that are nearing completion. Instead of trying to rush a whole album of new material out in 2013, however, we decided to do the Produit Collecté compilation to tidy up the catalog and release four of the new songs along with it as a taste of what's to come in 2014.
I think the new material sits perfectly well with the bulk of the BNLX work. The new stuff seems to be getting a little dancier and perhaps a little more melodic, but all of the core BNLX "values" are well in place. The new material doesn't represent any particular sort of "new direction." One big benefit of releasing material as frequently as we have is that you can see an evolution of the direction of the band over the course of many releases, rather than the huge evolutionary leaps that happen when a band only gets to put a record out every few years.
What was your biggest takeaway from putting together last year's BNLXFest, and how did you want to build on that success with this year's festivities?
We have so many friends in the scene, and we love a ton of bands from around here. The energy and innovation of other musicians is a huge motivation and driving force for us to do better and better work, both in the studio and on stage. So we thought that hoisting up the BNLXFest pirate flag would allow us to concentrate a lot of that good indie rock energy in one place and at one time. People are doing remarkable and awesome music here all the time. We like the idea that, by calling it a "festival," there's a bit of a sense of occasion to it. Last years' BNLXFest saw fans and musicians from a bunch of micro-scenes all interacting and digging each other's stuff. We're hoping this year we'll see more of that fun artistic cross-pollination happen.
Many of these bands on the bill are your friends and musicians that you've worked with in the past. What do you feel is the unifying factor that connects you with all of the bands that are set to perform at BNLXFest II?
Every one of the artists on both nights does stuff that I think is unique, forward-thinking and creatively ambitious. Some of them are friends, others are more like respected fellow-travelers. The unifying aspect I think is that we're all trying our best to do indie rock on a high level of creativity and execution. And to a greater or lesser extend, we all like to combine melody with fairly terrifying noises on guitars and/or synths.
If someone unfamiliar with the Twin Cities music scene came to these shows, what is it about these groups and their distinctive sounds that an outsider would find exciting and original?
All of these bands are quite different from each other, some are brand new, some have been playing for a while. There is a vague unifying thread of noise pop/punk/shoegaze/psychedelia influence in the background with most of these bands, but everyone sounds really different in practice. There's a big range of styles, but I think it all goes together great as a live lineup. Like last year, there should be a lot of contrasting vibes and energies throughout the nights to keep things interesting.
With the release this week of the Songs For Slim benefit CD, much of which you produced, what can you share about those various sessions that lead to these wonderful recordings? And how rewarding was it for you to have a big part in making these benefit songs a reality to help out Slim in his time of need?
Slim and his family are in a really tough spot, so it's been an absolute pleasure to lend a hand to help them out. In the process of doing that, I got to work with some of my favorite rock musicians from Minneapolis and around the country. One of the best things about the project is that the resulting music is so good. The album stands on its own regardless of the cause, which hopefully means that the album will continue to sell and generate some funds for Slim going into the future.
I know Blue Sky Blackout are playing their last show ever at the festival, and you've got some other surprises in store for everyone. Is there anything that you'd like to reveal about BNLX Fest II and what you have planned for the weekend?
Here's some late-breaking news: we just added Fury Things to play on Friday!!! Also, there are a couple of big surprises happening on Saturday, but I can't announce them yet. Keep your eyes on social media as the dates approach...
Here's the current lineup for BNLXFest II (with the additions of Fury Things and Pink Mink):
Friday, November 15:
Wiping Out Thousands
Blue Sky Blackout
with special guest DJ Jake Rudh
Saturday, November 16:
--very special guest--
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