The Death of Ben Frost

The Death Of Ben Frost

The Death Of Ben Frost

Published July 10, 2014

"Frosty and glacial and barren fucking... landscapes of Jökulsárlón. Fuck you. That’s so lazy."

Haukur S. Magnússon
Photo by
Zoë Noble

"Frosty and glacial and barren fucking... landscapes of Jökulsárlón. Fuck you. That’s so lazy."

First, some disclosure: I came to know Australian-born musician Ben Frost almost as soon as he showed up in Iceland nine years ago, through mutual acquaintances and through eventually making and recording music together (he produced an album for my band, Reykjavík!, back in 2008). I was even fortunate enough to perform as part of his stage ensemble a few times while he toured his Bedroom Community début-slash-breakthrough record ‘Theory of Machines’ through Europe.

We are good friends. Old ones, by now.

I have thoroughly enjoyed witnessing his constant artistic growth and steady rise to acclaim and recognition over the past decade. Because we are old friends, of course (everyone enjoys seeing their friends succeed), but more importantly because he has proven to be of that rare breed of artist who dedicate their lives to relentlessly exploring the margins of human thought and emotion, with apparent honesty and passion. And there are never enough of those around.

Ben Frost recently released the amazing ‘A U R O R A’ to damn near universal critical acclaim (scoring praise everywhere from Pitchfork to noted hater rag The Reykjavík Grapevine). And next weekend, he will perform at ATP Iceland. This is as good a reason as any to interrogate him a little bit, we thought.

So we did.

BEN VS. ÚTLENDINGASTOFNUN

I reach Ben late at night, over the computer. He’s currently in the midst of presenting ‘A U R O R A’ to Europe, enjoying a brief stopover in Berlin as we talk. At first, he sounds tired.

We talk about living in Iceland, about being Icelandic, and the process of becoming Icelandic, which is gruelling. Having lived in Iceland since 2005, Ben was awarded citizenship two years ago. But it didn’t come easy. Indeed, in 2009, after calling Iceland his home for four years, the Directorate of Immigration refused to extend his visa. For a while, it looked like he would be deported.

In conversation with Morgunblaðið at the time, Ben said, “I have a house in Iceland. I have a kid, a girlfriend and I own a company that’s Icelandic, I pay taxes off my work, which is 99% my creation, it isn’t as if I’m taking someone’s job. […] the reason Útlendingastofnun [the Directorate of Immigration] is giving me is that I didn’t make enough money the first year and a half I lived in Iceland. […] The problem here lies with Icelandic immigration law. I am an educated man. I speak perfect English and near-perfect Icelandic, and I’m still having the hardest time sorting this out. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for someone who can’t express themselves like I can.”

But, Ben is an Icelandic citizen now.

“After my well-documented brush with the immigration department, that situation actually kind of worked itself out… the accumulative effect of my own case and a few others around that time—like those poor Thai people who were working at a hospital for less than minimum wage, and were to be deported because their employer was underpaying them—these matters kind of grew in the public consciousness to the point where a few wrists got slapped at Útlendingastofnun. From then on, I got no grief,” he says.

But it seems as if Útlendingastofnun hasn’t been completely reformed. Are you following the Tony Omos case?
Of course.

What are your thoughts, as someone who’s had to deal with Útlendingastofnun?
Well, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Everything I’ve read about the affair indicates that it’s your typical sort of small-town back-scratching that’s so prevalent in the culture, for better or worse. Someone calls someone’s brother’s cousin: ‘I’m in a bit of a bind here, could you maybe throw together some documents…?’ That type of thing.

Ben Frost by Zöe Noble, stylized by Mundi Vondi

With the way Icelandic authorities and Útlendingastofnun in particular are known to treat asylum seekers and hopeful immigrants—constantly delaying their cases, being inaccessible to the point of absurdity, not to mention Iceland’s poor track record for granting asylum—do you think they simply don’t want to let people into the country? Is there some sort of hidden directive? Do Icelanders perhaps want their island to be locked down, but they can’t openly admit it, because that would be in breach of international treaties, and against their conscience?
Hm. Well, I think that it’s an incredibly complex issue. Especially when you look at the social ecology of Iceland, where it’s kind of like the Galapagos Islands of Scandinavian culture, this one weird place that’s been isolated so long that it’s evolved its own species… Furthermore, I think that there’s a way of handling matters in Iceland that permeates everything we do, how we handle everything.

”I think that there’s a way of handling matters in Iceland that permeates everything we do, how we handle everything.”

You’re talking about methodology, rather than motives?
I’m just saying that I think whatever motives may lie behind such actions are generally speaking probably trying to come from a good place, but they always wind up revealing themselves in the worst possible way.

I think that there’s a kind of national identity that Icelanders are attempting to protect on all levels, and I fully support that insofar as this identity is something that’s become very precious to me—it’s one of the reasons I’ve lived there for a third of my life by now.

SHIFTING BASELINE SYNDROME

It’s a conundrum. We maybe want to be international and open and welcoming, along with fostering our share of the world’s weight, but at the same time it’s hard to balance that with the urge to preserve something in the culture, which would potentially fade if the nation grew too quickly…Right. But there are other ways to look at this. I’ve been reading this amazing book called ‘FERAL’ by George Monbiot, a British political writer and environmentalist, which is all about the rewilding of the UK. Letting go of previously cultivated farmland and “natural parks,” reintroducing species that once existed in the ecosystem but have been wiped out through hunting and farming… basically allowing nature to repropagate. Among other things, he discusses the idea of ‘shifting baseline syndrome,’ the logic that dictates that the reality you’re presented with as a child, the world you’re born into, is somehow a definitive example of ‘how things should be’.

Say you take a ten-year-old on a walk in the Icelandic highlands and explain to her how a particular area is precious to us because this is untouched nature, this is how it’s existed throughout history and this is how it will remain. Then someone comes along and wants to build a hydroelectric dam, altering the area, damaging it, and everyone loses their mind about it. Obviously that’s a bad thing, because it’s destroying this baseline that you have for what that environment is supposed to be like. However, anyone who’s visited the Natural History Museum in Reykjavík can tell you that at various points in time, Iceland was heavily forested. The island was covered in trees. And through volcanoes or human settlers or changing weather patterns or whatever, those forests disappeared. What we consider to be this delicate, unchanging landscape is actually a barren wasteland compared to the way it was at the time of Iceland’s settlement.

And the way it used to be at that time isn’t the way it used to be a hundred years earlier, if you catch my drift.

Of course, this doesn’t diminish the environment’s inherent value, nor do I support damming the highlands, but it does point to the underlying progressive nature of the world. Evolution is not seeking an end goal.
I think this shifting baseline also occurs culturally, on a social level and on a political level

Indeed, there’s something troubling about the way we seek out permanence in the world, our attempts at nailing it down and codifying it in place. On one hand, you can understand that forcing a stasis provides comfort—and it enables those in positions of power and privilege to maintain them—but it also seems like a recipe for disaster. History proves that it’s all flux, even the culture we’re trying to preserve now is very different from the culture that existed a hundred years ago, or even twenty years ago.
Absolutely. Everything is constantly changing and evolving, and that’s a beautiful thing. Just living in downtown Reykjavík, I’ve witnessed so many changes on my street for the past decade. It’s beautiful.

My favourite aspect of Iceland’s total economic collapse is that it kind of ushered in an era of new experiments, and in a way the culture of 101 Reykjavík shifted. It made space for opportunists who moved into the local ecosystem—again, looking at it on a sort of ecological level. Natural disaster occurred in the financial sector, which made a hole in the ecosystem, space for people to occupy.

In the aftermath of the collapse, everyone was just fucking leaving. There were all these shifts in the cultural landscape and the hierarchical structure of society that gave way for new things. And I love that.

As an Icelandic artist, you often get asked—like every other Icelandic artist—why ‘so much great music’ comes out of ‘tiny Iceland.’ Now, this has grown to be a particularly annoying type of question, and a lot of the local musicians have taken to answering it in jest, but you made an interesting point in response to it in a recent Quietus interview. You said that Iceland had a lot of room, a lot of space, and that where there’s empty space, something always shows up to occupy it. Is it then your idea that the proper way to maintain a good, vibrant culture might just be to keep creating space, and leaving it open?
More than just creating space, it’s necessary to allow for change. That’s probably a more positive and effective way of dealing with the world, allowing for the fact that everything is constantly in flux, everything is an illusion that will be inevitably shattered at any moment. So just fucking… stop. Give room. Make way.

THE ANTI-ICELAND

Earlier, you mentioned the Icelandic way of doing things, the typical small-town back-scratch Icelandic shitmix. And I would agree that there is a particular way things happen on the island. Whether it’s us doing a feature interview at the last possible minute and you having to pose for the cover photo a day before the issue goes to print, or setting up last minute concerts. Carelessness is almost endemic to the culture. In the aftermath of the collapse, people kept saying that while this ‘Icelandic way of doing things’ worked great in a cultural context, when making art and so on, it became catastrophic when applied to business and government. Do you believe there is an ‘Icelandic way of doing things’, and if so what is it, and how does it affect the nation and the way it manages itself?
Um. Yeah. I mean I think that. This is a lot to talk about…

We can not talk about it…
No, no, no. This is kind of the conversation I prefer, rather than talking about my favourite bands or whatever… And this is something I’ve definitely been thinking about a lot, especially being away from Iceland lately.

Germany is like the anti Iceland…
Yeah, in many ways it is. There are positive aspects to that, and lot of negative ones as well.

To make a gross generalization about Icelandic people and the Icelandic mentality: Icelanders by and large will never ever offer to help you with anything. But if you ask them for help, they will never say no. At least that’s consistently been my experience. And I think it’s telling.

”Icelanders by and large will never ever offer to help you with anything. But if you ask them for help, they will never say no.”

I wonder sometimes if that’s kind of a remnant of a society that was made up of very independent individuals who had to completely rely on their own ingenuity and abilities to survive, where the guiding principle was always to look after yourself and your own…

In that kind of survival mode, offering someone help is kind of luxurious.

But by the same token, once you’re on the inside, once you’re part of that world, once you’ve made those alliances with people, you are entirely inside. There is no line that my friends wouldn’t cross in order to help me out if I asked for it. None whatsoever. And I think that’s kind of a really, really special and rare thing, and being away from Iceland I absolutely notice its absence. It’s a palpable feeling

And this colours every aspect of life. Even small things like borrowing a guitar amp from Sigur Rós at one AM on a Wednesday, because we need one that their studio has and ours doesn’t. That kind of thing would never happen in a big city.

You’d have to fill out a few forms if you wanted to do that in Germany…
It just wouldn’t happen. The environment isn’t conducive to that kind of thing. But somehow, in Iceland, that makes sense. If you know a person, and you’ve been vouched for, a certain camaraderie comes into play. I’m putting this rather ineloquently…

There’s also that sort of last minute spontaneity, where musicians will stage a concert with half a day’s notice, where you’ll get invited to a dinner party twenty minutes before it’s supposed to start…
There’s that classic email you get from foreign friends of friends. “Hey, so and so told me to get in touch as I’m coming to Reykjavík for four days in three months. Do you have time for coffee at four PM on Thursday the 27th of August?”

That’s always sort of amusing. I’ll write back: “call me when you get here. I’ll probably bump into you before that, though.”

That idea is really hard to get across. In fact, I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. There’s a kind of lack of panic that is equally wonderful and infuriating.

Ben Frost by Zöe Noble, stylized by Mundi Vondi

Would you say that it’s contributed to the way you go on about making your art?
It has instilled in me a far greater kind of trust in that situations will turn out fine, and I think that’s been a positive thing for the most part. Sometimes I’ll find myself underprepared when I’m abroad, though, I’ll often walk into situations carrying that mentality, and it really needs to be rewired as soon as I leave the country—especially if I’m working in the UK and Germany.

But that actually works out well, too. The most exciting thing about cultural exchanges is feeding off those differences and the different ways people go on about things. That’s how good art is made, in that interaction between different modes of work and existence.

I mean, [composer, Bedroom Community collaborator] Daníel Bjarnason is just… working with him is absolutely terrifying. He can comfortably exist in a world where the looming deadline is just a part of his methodology. He somehow feeds off working against the clock, and this doesn’t affect his output in any negative way.

BON IVER

You’ve been kind of blunt throughout our talk here; you’re certainly not mincing words. Are you sure this is all on the record—are you never worried about how you’ll be perceived?
To be honest, I’m kind of fearful of doing interviews. I think I have a certain kind of personality that—and I recognize the irony in what I’m about to say—my brain works sort of in a parallel to the way I work creatively, which is to say: I write music and I’ll work with melody and harmony, and it’s all very reactive and from the body. It’s an emotional thing. And at the same time, there’s this other part of me that’s extremely analytical, I’ll look inwards from the outside and analyze a situation.

It’s like being the rat and the scientist at the same time

I think I probably do the same thing in interviews, in a way that gives this kind of gravitas to what I’m saying, which makes everything sound like a definitive statement instead of a train of thought And combined with the gravity of the written word, I come off sounding like an asshole. Because even my bullshit, and I spout a lot of bullshit, sort of comes out sounding more weighty than it should, because I’m thinking about it as I’m saying it. I know this sounds ridiculous, what I’m saying right now is probably having that very effect…

I don’t think you have to worry about sounding like an asshole. I think the people that are drawn to your music, they want an asshole. They expect a certain amount of arrogance and definitive statements from their artists…
Maybe this is another post-modern problem for the post-digital age we live in. Back in the day, when you said something in an interview, it would come out in the NME or whatever and someone would read it on the tube and the following week their cat was shitting on it, because it was in the kitty litter, and the week after it would be at the garage dump. And then it was over, and you could have a new thought about something.

And that’s it, it was over, you didn’t have to think about it anymore.

Now, however, if you say something, it’s out there forever. If it makes your Wikipedia page, it will come to define you. And I’ve voiced various opinions about all sorts of aspects of my work and other people’s work, and life in general, through the years, and that troubles me a bit. It’s that shifting of the baseline for who you are and what you mean and how you want to present yourself—that is gone now. There’s an inescapable sort of junk drawer or filing cabinet that you’re dragging behind you now.

Are you this opinionated in all of your interviews?
It sometimes has to do with the questions I’m faced with. What I think is interesting in relation to this is that people who write pop music and, like, guitar slinging Bon Iver type characters, never get asked about the political fucking ramifications of their music. The social commentary. The meaning of this that and the other. That same challenge is rarely thrown down.

But for someone like me, that’s a constant line of questioning. And sometimes, I wonder how much of that is connected to the tech aspect of what I do; that as an electronic musician, I’m effectively making music on the same device people program websites with. I make music on the same device people post YouTube comments with. The same device people jack off in front of. And whether it therefore carries a weight that’s connected to the technology, and a demand for meaning that gets reflected upon me…

Does your music maybe just sound like it should have more meaning than, like, your average “Holocene”?
To be honest, I’m not sure what any of this music is about. I can kind of shoot out what I’ve been absorbing and what the worlds been throwing my way; where I was at a particular moment where a particular thing was written. But I have no definitive answers. I have no idea what it’s about.

CULTURAL IDENTITY

Why did you move to Iceland? I remember you telling me many years ago that it was because Melbourne was “too fucking hot.” That you couldn’t exist in such a climate.
Hahaha. That’s as true as anything. I wound up coming to visit Valgeir [Sigurðsson, musician, producer, constant collaborator and head of Bedroom Community and Greenhouse Studios], who I had met in Australia. I’d always been fascinated with the place, though.

Ben Frost by Zöe Noble, stylized by Mundi Vondi

You always saw yourself coming at some point?
Absolutely. As a kid, I had one of those bedside lamps, a globe with a light inside of it. I remember sitting in bed at night, spinning that thing, and always being enthralled with the idea that there was this little place called Iceland, and if I drilled a hole directly through the Earth from my bedroom, that’s where I’d come out.

I also suppose that Northern Europe always appealed to me on a cultural level. Now, going back to this idea of maintaining a culture, of issues as banal as language conservation and protecting the Icelandic naming tradition… There’s probably no better way to keep a culture relevant than through the constant creation of new cultures within it.

Like, imbuing the ideas of today with a sense of what came before, so they fold themselves into that history and the past becomes something that’s important to them. I would argue that the presence of Sigur Rós and múm and Björk and GusGus and various other amazing facets of Icelandic music do far more for the cultural identity of the nation than the absence or presence of the letter C in the fucking alphabet.

“I would argue that the presence of Sigur Rós and múm and Björk and Gusgus and various other amazing facets of Icelandic music do far more for the cultural identity of the nation than the absence or presence of the letter C in the fucking alphabet.”

Indeed. Múm, for instance, had a pivotal influence on the way the scene works and even how it sounds… It sometimes feels like they don’t get acknowledged for that.
Totally. I think Björk would be the first person to tell you that a record like ‘Vespertine’ draws a lot from what múm had been doing up until that point. That sound, those guys made it, that’s where it started. That sort of intimate closed space, hair on the back of your neck, voice inside your head, the Kristín/Gyða dynamic. They invented that. It’s their sound. And I think the fact that they’ve kind of evolved their identity and moved past it speaks volumes for their creativity and talent, that they’re not kind of leaning on that for the rest of their career, that they’re willing to leave it in the dust. In a very roundabout way, that’s something I aspire to.

And I find it hugely inspirational that that band has been willing to reinvent itself every time they come around the bend, they’ve never rested on their laurels, just playing the best-ofs.

Has that ultimately been to their detriment? That they don’t keep reminding people why they should like them?
That’s a short-term problem. I think that when you—and this is an issue that plagues every modern musician today—when you start thinking about your audience and start paying attention to fucking hits on Facebook and Twitter followers, when that becomes part of your modus operandi, when that’s part of your creative life: that’s the death of everything right there. That’s the end of music. The kind of reinvention múm engage in, it’s brave. It really only pays off way, way, way down the track, but it does.

”I think that when you—and this is an issue that plagues every modern musician today—when you start thinking about your audience and start paying attention to fucking hits on Facebook and Twitter followers, when that becomes part of your modus operandi, when that’s part of your creative life: that’s the death of everything right there. That’s the end of music.”

CLUTTERED WORLD 

So it’s ultimately rewarding in an artistic and even commercial sense, albeit only after a long while?
Probably. I hope it is. However, the main question is: what do you want to get in return for making those kinds of decisions. This is something I’ve thought about a lot recently. Let’s say you make a record that is more commercially viable and that is ultimately more successful, and more people will like off hand, and more people will license for their fucking stupid TV show or whatever. You’re gonna make more money, for sure, but is that why you want to do it? To get more banal offers, waiting by the phone for the rest of your life?

If that’s the case, I can tell you right now: there are better and quicker ways to make money than writing difficult music.
But, if monetary gains and great success aren’t your motive, then what would it be? Is there just a weird sort of narcissism driving it all?

I would suggest that art is one of the few aspects of life where narcissism actually pays off, that any major artist employs a modicum of narcissism in her work.
One of the things I think about a lot in my work is this issue of the necessity of an idea; the necessity of a piece of music, the necessity of any aspect of the piece of music. What is its role? This goes for every aspect of the music, starting with the need to make an album in the first place. What are its reasons, why does is it need to exist? Is it just because I haven’t made one in a while? The two-year album cycle is over by now, so that’s a bullshit reason. You don’t have to step up and make another piece of music just so you have something to flaunt around Europe for a bit. That’s a stupid reason to make a record

The motive needs to be far more fundamental, and maybe far more simple. It’s more in the spirit of something like: ‘I can’t find this idea of music that is in my head anywhere, so I have to make it.’

Now, that’s a good reason to make a record. If there’s kind of an idea that needs representing, if there’s a sound that needs to be heard. When you find that weird non-space between everything that’s out there, a hole. Then there’s a need. Something is asking to be born.

The actual making of the music works the same way for me. In the mixing stages of a record like ‘A U R O R A’, for instance, Myself and Valgeir will sit there and go through the channels, just muting things and seeing if we hear a discernible difference. If we don’t, then that channel goes. It’s obsolete; it doesn’t need to be there.

The world is cluttered enough as is. Any act that summons new things into it should be considered carefully.

In that Quietus interview, you talked about how the modern era has brought an overabundance of music, saying that there is ‘too much fucking music’ out there. You’re right in that the bar for recording, releasing and distributing music has certainly been lowered, and this has in turn brought an influx music that’s often hard to make sense of or follow. And the ease with which it can be unleashed upon the world is perhaps disconcerting—back in the ‘90s you could count on every bit of recorded music you came across having crossed some sort of threshold, at the very least someone had had to invest both time and money towards getting in it out there. Today, finding the good stuff can be a task. However, everyone has to start somewhere. And I’m sure you’re probably not enamoured by your own initial output…
No. I’m not. Still, making that first EP, I had to pay what was at the time, to me at least, an intensely large amount of money to master it and press it to CD and get it out there. Money that could have paid my rent.

This is of course dangerous territory, bringing up that idea of romantic suffering that’s supposedly required for making ‘worthwhile art’ or whatever, lamenting the glory days where you had to bleed for your art that were ended by the fucking… DigiDesign Mbox or something…

Still! There is something in that. The absence of immediate gratification perhaps? A largely unobtainable end result? A sacrifice. A kind of dedication. There is a weight to it. It cost something. Not just on a financial level, there was an inherent cost that I think historically has been larger.

I don’t want to come off as a some sort of weird neo-Luddite or curmudgeon. ‘These kids and their fancy computers,’ yelling-at-clouds! Hahaha. In fact, one of the great joys for me, in the modern world, is being able to sit down on a Sunday night and just dive into the fucking depths of YouTube, I mean really dive into it, scraping the bottom of the fucking barrel.

There’s some amazing music out there. At any point, you’ll stumble upon some fifteen year-old genius in Bangladesh with a copy of Reactor, banging out crazy shit. There are amazing things going on out there, and I’m sure all of it’s feeding into some deep underground reservoir of what will eventually bubble up and become a massive cultural movement ten years from now, or five years from now, or five minutes from now.

“MY BULLSHIT EXISTENCE”

Ben Frost by Zöe Noble, stylized by Mundi Vondi

When you say that narcissism is inherent in the artist’s life, there’s another side to that coin. When you create a work, it actually doesn’t belong to you any more. Even in that moment of inception. The wonderful thing about creation, about collaboration; whether you’re working on your own or with other people to create things for their own sake—perhaps with narcissistic motives—is that they are their own reward. The end product isn’t about me. I absolutely don’t want my bullshit existence as a single white male living in Iceland in the year 2014 to be a defining narrative for a record like ‘A U R O R A’. I want it to exist without me, I want it to have its own life

Reading what people write about my music really upsets me sometimes, to a point where I completely avoid reading those kinds of articles and reviews. Back when I did read them, I would inevitably get mad because of the cheap shots, shoddy analogies, frightening darkness, Freddy Krueger and old Björk metaphors, glacial landscapes and the blah blah blah. Frosty and glacial and barren fucking… landscapes of Jökulsárlón. Fuck you. That’s so lazy. And it diminishes the records’ ability to exist outside of that context. It imposes an expired narrative, an unimaginative interpretative structure.

It’s such fucking bullshit.

And I’ve found for the most part that the people who write those kinds of things have never even been here. Hahaha. Sometimes I wonder how much responsibility these morons have for all of these tourists turning up dressed like they’re about to climb Mt. Everest on Laugavegur. Surely there’s a connection, people read a couple of Rolling Stone reviews and come here expecting to walk into the set of John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ rather than a very normal European city.

The Sugarcubes, eating puffins, on the cover of the NME

The Sugarcubes, eating puffins, on the cover of the NME

Every Icelandic band gets this though. Ever since The Sugarcubes ate puffins on the cover of the NME. Are you following the new crop? What do you think of Of Monsters and Men, for instance, arguably the most successful band to come out of Iceland since Sigur Rós?
What do I think about them? I don’t know anything about them. I’ve listened to that one song that’s on repeat on Icelandair. I’ve heard that like at thousand times.

The image they present seems to take a cue from that whole nature Jökulsárlón thing, at times…
Well, there was always going to be a puffin store version of the Björk, Sigur Rós, múm narrative. That was always in the cards.

THE DEATH

You’ve said in interviews—and I’ve sensed this from playing with you—that you are chasing emotion in your music. That you’re trying to create and interpret emotional states.
That’s probably correct.

In light of that, I have to note that your albums… there’s a lot of angry music there. It’s often cathartic, even. Are you an angry guy?
[Cough] I think. [long pause]. That’s a really good question. A direct question. I like that.

My music sounds aggressive. And, there’s this kind of lexicon ‘aggressive music language’—with the distortion and the exploitation of upper frequencies, guttural, air-shifting bass and minor keys—that’s kind of been weirdly reserved for certain negatively oriented emotional spaces. With very few exceptions.

I think that that’s something I may be, in a way, trying to readdress in my own music and with ‘A U R O R A.’ I wanted to make something that is concerned with the light. This record, for me, is not about the shadows. It’s about pushing the shadows to the edges of the frame. Listening to it should feel like being inside a particle accelerator. An overwhelming saturation of light and that sort of cycling image, that strive for uncovering a new form knowledge, for overcoming barriers, of stepping through a membrane.

I hope it feels kind of euphoric and, yeah, optimistic, ultimately.

‘A U R O R A’ is a feelgood record?!?
My experience of the world, in my thirty-four years of being here, has left me with very mixed feelings [long pause]. The sense of existing within the context of human history and evolution, what’s behind us, what lies ahead, those kinds of questions bring an inherent anxiety.

I don’t want to die. I don’t want there to be a finite fucking point to my understanding of the world. I cannot understand people who perceive death as some natural part of life. I think death is a fucking tragedy. I [pause]. I consider myself to be a fundamentally optimistic human being. I know and acknowledge that there is not better time in the history of the human race to be alive than now.

And there are none more privileged people than the two of us, along with most of the people reading this…
Totally. My life is a complete fucking joke. All of my problems are stupid, insignificant suburban non-problems. I don’t have diseases to deal with; I don’t have any wars to fight. I have access to clean water… That realm of blissful ignorance I inhabit is pretty overwhelming when I step back and think about it.

”My life is a complete fucking joke. All of my problems are stupid, insignificant suburban non-problems.”

Death. I’m not scared of it. I loathe it. It bothers me. It bothers me because I [pause]. I want to keep learning. I want to see where all this goes. And I want to understand it. And I want that understanding to continue to accumulate.

The only way that I can reconcile that, the only way that I’ve found to be effective in reconciling that pervasive feeling of insignificance mixed with a weird sort of self-loathing is to use it as fuel for creation.

And as for that creation… there’s this Kafka quote I hold dear:

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? […] we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

So you feel your music is in that spirit?
I feel like the experiences I lust for in general belong to that category. The death. As a grossly privileged human being, your job might be to shake everything out of the fucking tree at the same time.

Ben Frost by Zöe Noble, stylized by Mundi Vondi

Neon Ben Frost stylized by Mundi Vondi.

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