San Francisco, California
London, United Kingdom
Some bands work their fingers to the bone, writing, touring, gigging, and waiting with bated breath for opportunity to knock at last. For Benjamin Davis, frontman of the indie rock duo Bad Veins, opportunity kicked down the door and dragged him across the threshold by his shaggy, dirty blonde hair.
“I never really had the plan to have a band. I just like to record, and experiment with recording, and I had been sitting around with a bunch of gear making sounds, working on a solo recording project that I called Bad Veins.” In early 2006, Davis gathered a megaphone, a telephone, several other quirky gadgets, and an inherited reel-to-reel nicknamed Irene, and played his debut gig at a small bar. “Sebastien [Schultz] was actually at that show, and I don’t think he personally cared for it. He walked right past me while I was playing and walked right out the door! For which I will make fun of him forever.”
Despite Schultz’s unintentional spurn, Davis invited him to jam. “I’ve been burned time and time again by people that didn’t want to work, didn’t want to practice. I was really not interested in having another band member, [but] all my friends told me I should ask him to play with me. I’d seen him play and I always thought he was super interesting, so I called him one day.”
The chemistry was nothing less than amazing. “Suddenly, it became something different. It became a band, a very interesting, unique band.” Schultz’s deep, driving beats and stage theatrics perfectly complimented Davis’ atmospheric, instrumental creations and subdued crooning. The two styles meshed immediately.
Despite only having played one live show six months prior, Davis asked Schultz to play with him, opening for Snowden only 3 weeks out. Schultz made it a point to meet up for practice every single day leading up to the show, and the result of the duo’s dedication was an avalanche of prospects.
“We played that first show together, and literally everything started happening for us instantly. We started getting invited to showcases in New York, record labels started calling, managers started calling, and lawyers… It was just a total snowball effect.”
Euphoric, Davis and Schultz threw themselves into the industry. Bad Veins went from an interesting and dynamic partnership to a full-time project. In between touring, playing festivals like CMJ and Tribeca Film Festival, and responding to an endless stream of correspondence, the band put out their self-titled debut album on Dangerbird Records in 2009, to much acclaim. ABC Amplified named it #7 on their Best Albums of 2009 list, USA Today included the album’s final track “Go Home” in their Top 20 Songs of 2009, and the single “Gold and Warm” is to be featured on the upcoming blockbuster, Chronicle.
However, years of hard work took the shine off of the experience. “It’s just like in any relationship, it starts off magical and everything is hormonal and emotional, and eventually it just becomes what you do.” Davis’ days are now filled with the business of being the frontman in a successful band, but he hasn’t forgotten the heart and subconscious goal of his music. “It’s sculpting what it means to feel things for other people. It’s hard to explain, but just doing what you love and affecting people is the greatest.”
Now, with the release of the second full-length album, The Mess We’ve Made on Modern Outsider Records, Bad Veins showcases the maturity that comes from dedication. “It’s much shinier, pop-pier, tighter, and I think it’s more honest. The first album feels a little bit like I’m dwelling on my own instability, whereas in the second record I’m confronting the instability and the issues. There’s been a total evolution of Bad Veins since it started. If you listen to the first EP, and then the first album, and then the second album, they seem somewhat linear, [like] chapters in a story.”
Thickly layered, expansively mastered, and deeply expressive, The Mess We’ve Made is a collection of carefully selected pieces from Davis’ mountain of compositions. The tempered optimism that comes from working through life’s difficulties seems to be the thread that weaves through the entire album. “If the first album was the cool, vintage car, this album is the newer sports car.” And, as with any new high-octane toy, The Mess We’ve Made gives one a rush of joy. Operatic strings and lush choral accents fill the record, giving depth but also openness to the blatantly synthetic keyboards and upbeat percussion grooves. The album’s cover, a vivid depiction of a person facing rolling clouds hovering above thick green hills, seems to reflect the unfettered and slightly pensive feel of the music.
The Mess We’ve Made is, top to bottom, a declaration of self-acceptance and perspective. The album begins with “Don’t Run,” an epic, fully orchestrated, thickly vocal piece reminiscent of the British indie-rock phenomenon, The Hours. Davis’ new, brave habit of dealing with difficulties rather than turning tail is highlighted in the mature, evolved lyrics. “Nursery Rhyme” continues in the upbeat vein, and reflects Davis’ concept of life as chapters in a story.
The brooding, dramatic track, “If Then,” chronicles the journey from despair to acceptance, an embrace of one’s inner darkness. “Chasing” announces that the singer is drawing a line in the sand; he refuses to waste effort on a person who will not return his energies. Swinging beats and rolling synth patches capture the exhilaration of trouble-free youth in “Child.” Examination of one’s limited perspective permeates “Doubt.” “I Turn Around” begins with jovial ukulele and blossoms into a full-blown indie-tastic tune, delivering warm fuzzies until the last, delicate strum. “Dancing on TV” makes no bones about the fact that it is a catchy, completely digital pop tune concerned with the media’s constant superficial influence.
“Kindness,” a very unique selection, promises that the singer will repay the idiocy of another person with his own caring and generosity, a classy theme that has been woefully absent from today’s music. The track begins with washes of retro-wah synth, gradually adding instrumentation until it culminates in a driving, exuberant refrain. The collection draws to a close with the jazzy, tongue-in-cheek “Not Like You.”
The defining characteristic of The Mess We’ve Made is perspective. This is a record to listen to when you are sinking in the thrall of self-doubt, raging in the crushing grip of injustice, or staggering under stress. It takes the listener back to the gyroscopic center of his or her being and restores a sense of peace and inevitability.