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Q&A: Adventure’s Benny Boeldt On Growing Up and ’80s Love

April 13, 2011
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After many placed him within the chip-tune movement, Baltimore-based electronic musician Benny Boeldt has drastically changed the sound of his project Adventure. His new album, Lesser Known, is filled with bubbly synth-pop that sounds like the music kids listened to in the ‘80s when they turned off the Nintendo and switched on MTV. Additionally, Adventure is now a trio, and Boeldt has started singing for the first time in his young career. We caught up with him in between shows in New York, as he was heading to a friend’s house to do laundry, to talk about the music of the ‘80s, all the changes to Adventure, and his new album.

City Paper: This album is a big departure from your first one. On the first one, people likened it to 8-bit music. Now it’s much more synth-pop. How did you go about writing that?
Benny Boeldt: The first album is certainly me learning how to write music, starting with writing on a computer, which is something that you can do without having much skill as far as being a musician. You can compose a lot on the computer. And now it’s like I’ve kind of moved on to using real instruments when I’m composing these songs. It’s been a lot more intuitive, and it’s changed the way I think about writing, and it makes it funner.

I’ve definitely matured as a writer and a musician in the last few years, and I definitely have a long way to go still, but it’s like a good middle point kind of. This new album, I feel, is kind of like that. Like adding vocals and recording all of my real synthesizers, it makes everything so much more dynamic. When you listen to the first album, you can definitely tell that there’s a lot of things I have to learn.

There’s a lot of songs that I still really love on it–you know, they’re my babies, or whatever–but I definitely see, and have seen for a long time, room for improvement.

CP: So what did you do to improve?
BB: You know, there was a while where I didn’t really think I was going to make another Adventure album. But after touring with the Dan Deacon Ensemble for a year or so, and going on tour with the band Videohippos, and just doing other things, eventually I felt like writing new music. It started off as doing some vague, ambient, synth atmospheric kind of things. My creative energies kind of started to come back to me after a long period of not doing anything with Adventure.

CP: You said you weren’t going to make another album? What was. . .
BB: Well, I didn’t know. I wasn’t planning on it; it just happened. You know what I mean? I just started writing. I started using words; I had never really sang before. And yeah, it turned out to be really fun, and a lot different than the last album, and something that I’m way more excited about now.

If I had made another chip-tune album, I feel like, you know—well, I just don’t think I could have. It wouldn’t ever have happened. I wouldn’t have been able to find that in me. Like, I’m not interested in making something like that right now.

CP: Did you sort of get sick of, like, having all these questions about video game music?
BB: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

CP: It was sort of like you were typecast in a sense.
BB: Totally. And when it comes down to it, I wasn’t really authentic chip-tune, you know?

CP: Sure.
BB: I made my stuff on the computer. I don’t really use Game Boys. I’ve messed around with that stuff, and maybe a little bit used it, but for the most part I used the computer. Actually, mostly I used a lot of stop-synth Moog samples, and that’s mostly what that album was. It was always a weird thing to try to have to explain that I could never really be fully a part of the chip-tune scene, because I was not really a chip-tune artist.

CP: And you taught yourself to sing [for this album]?
BB: I think that I started out writing those kind of repetitive tracks on the album, like, that say the same thing over and over again. Then as I got comfortable, and I had written a few of those, I started to write verses for some of the other songs. And now I’m getting comfortable doing that.

Maybe they’re not all in the exact order of what I wrote the songs in, but if you piece them together, you can kind of tell how my vocal learning process went throughout the album.

CP: Was it a lot of trial and error?
BB: Mostly trial. I don’t really have a voice. I just do whatever the heck I feel like doing. That’s just what came out of me, and that’s what I got.

CP: And you’re a trio now, right?
BB: Yeah, this is the first tour where I have two people playing with me.

CP: How’s that been going?
BB: It’s been going really well. Mark Brown, mainly he focuses on doing all of the visual aspects of the live show as well as running the computer. Anything that’s being done on a computer is run by him. And then Dave Fell plays keyboards with me now, and is also a really great songwriter, so I really can’t wait to work with them writing the next album. I think it will be a really big step up.

CP: What’s that been like for the live performance? The transition from it just being you up there, and then to have someone doing visuals and someone playing.
BB: It definitely builds my confidence. There’s way less reason to mess up when you have two other people there, playing with you. I would get pretty down on myself sometimes playing by myself. There was a lot of botched shows that were just, like, total train wrecks.

We are really getting tight on this tour, and it’s really fun—always. Even the bad shows are good shows, in a way. You know what I mean?

CP: Like in a learning experience kind of way?
BB: Exactly, exactly. Or just like, even if the sound in a club is bad, it still turns out to be a pretty good show, just because it’s funner, it’s fun to play with other people, and these new songs are really fun to play, too.

CP: With both albums, critics are quick to point out the similarities to ‘80s music.
BB: Oh yeah.

CP: That’s a big thing with a lot of bands right now, and I was just wondering why you thought that was so widespread.
BB: It’s something that I definitely recognize as being a major influence to me. There’s no denying that. It probably will always be a great influence on me. The ‘80s and ‘90s, that’s when I started getting exposed to music as a child. I assume a lot of people are having that same thing, I don’t know.

At the same time, all those sounds can be just as timeless as anything else.

CP: What bands, or what music of that era, impacted you the most?
BB: Definitely Depeche Mode and New Order. A lot of instrumental Moog music, like Mort Garson and all these—there’s a band called Automat that I’m really into, from the ‘70s. Dick Hyman, Wendy Carlos. I listen to a lot of stuff like that, just like weird, Moog, Moog-y, pop, instrumental, synth, soundtracks.

CP: Do you have anything else you want to add?

BB: It’s been a great experience, this tour. And like I said, I really can’t wait to start writing the next album. We’ve learned so much about what we like and what we don’t like about playing these songs live. It was definitely written by me not necessarily thinking about the live aspect of the songs. Like, performing them live, some of them it’s really hard to do, some of them it makes perfect sense. But when we write another album, I think it will be with a live show in mind. It’ll definitely be more intuitive to play live, and it’ll be with more than one mind putting forth ideas, so it’ll be really fun. I can’t wait for that.

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