Recently Newark Wilder released the first single from their upcoming debut album, Vanessa Atalanta, due out March 18th via The Cottage Recording Co. The first single “Stephen Loves My Eyes” shows a pulsating post punk/new wave song with an affinity for hooks and progressions through transition that’s quite infectious. Listening to Newark Wilder, you would never guess that their main force and songwriter, Benjamin Kinzer, just turned 17; only a high schooler. The music itself shows a real maturity years beyond his age, still with a contagious youthful energy. This isn’t a case of “look at this kid, he’s going to be great one day”, this is a band ready for the primetime now. Vanessa Atalanta is one of our most anticipated debut albums of 2016. We asked Benjamin Kinzer to answer a few questions and introduce us to Newark Wilder, Atlanta’s newest band ready to make national headlines.:
– Your debut album as Newark Wilder, Vanessa Atalanta, comes out on March 18th. How long have you been working on this album, and how excited are you to finally share this with the world?
Incredibly excited! I started writing the record in 2014, and I started recording it almost a year ago today. It’s been a very long process for a record that’s relatively short, but because of that I’ve come out of it with something I’m really proud of.
– You worked with Luciano at The Cottage in EAV to record your debut. How did Luci affect the finish product? What did you learn from him?
He was such a big help to the whole project. He’s responsible for all the awesome drum sounds on the record, which are one of my favorite elements of the final mix. Everything was already fully written when we went in, but he really helped flesh the songs out and give them a whole new side I hadn’t seen in them. And him and Damon have both been incredible during the release process. I love the way The Cottage works and we seemed to have a very similar vision working on the record, so I was very excited to be on the label.
– In recording, what instruments do you play on the record?
I play everything except drums. The drums on the record were played by Nadir Baaset, who also plays drums in the live band. I’ve actually only performed one show in my life without him. He’s fantastic.
– What can we expect from your songwriting on this record? Are there certain subjects and themes the record leans towards?
To be honest, not particularly. I tend to value diversity over cohesiveness in songwriting. I worked hard to make sure the record flows well and sounds like a singular work rather than just a bunch of singles, but the goal was to push myself to do as many different things as possible. I’ve always just thought it makes for a more interesting record.
– Being a classically trained cellist, when did you decide you wanted to make rock ‘n’ roll?
The more I write songs and work on records the more I realize that this is what I really love, and really makes me happy. I’ve been interested in every aspect of music for pretty much my whole life, but it got to the point where I would either have to spend all my time practicing and playing in orchestras, or put it aside and focus on making records. There must be some angsty teen part of me that just has to make punk rock. Or maybe I made a terrible life decision and I’ve ruined my musical career forever.
– How has the classical music background affected the finished product that is Newark Wilder?
I think it made me interested in certain ways of songwriting, and it familiarized me with more abstract musical concepts. It made me unafraid of taking my time to achieve a climactic or affecting moment in my songs. It plainly has also made me unbelievably pretentious, but you take the bad with the good I suppose.
– Newark Wilder has been described as new wave/psychedelic punk with bands like Joy Division, Interpol, and Can (who you’ve covered!) being mentioned as comparisons, who are some of your biggest influences?
That’s a tough one, I love a lot of different artists. Can is definitely a big influence, as is Miles Davis. We’re also working on a D’angelo cover right now, Voodoo is another favorite of mine. The biggest influence in the way I make and think about making music is probably James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem. He has such a unique and important perspective on the way someone should interact with music and the music making process. I’ve probably read every interview he’s ever done.
– Newark Wilder is a Pavement song, how did you come to that name, and what does Pavement mean to you?
We started out being called Sunbathers, and played a couple shows under that name, but there was a band in DC called Sunbathers also and they emailed us and asked us to change it. Newark Wilder was a name I had thought about for a while, and it seemed to fit what we’re doing, so I just went ahead and switched to that name after I got the email. I like Newark Wilder a lot better in retrospect. It’s very ambiguous, it doesn’t imply a certain genre, and I don’t want to be defined by one. It doesn’t roll off the tongue at first, but it has a certain rhythm that I like.
As far as Pavement goes, I love pretty much everything that they’ve put out, but I don’t think it’s a connection that people would naturally make when thinking about our music. That’s one of the reasons we chose it. If we had called ourselves something like “Newest Order” (although that would be hilarious) people would have just rolled their eyes at us.
– For being so young, you seem to have immersed yourself into the Atlanta music scene already, how has the Atlanta scene affected and helped you up until this point?
Everyone here is so lovely! I honestly have never met someone in the Atlanta music scene who isn’t just incredibly kind. Maybe it’s hurting me in the long run, maybe I’ll go to New York one day all doe-eyed and naive and then just get torn to shreds. But until then I’m incredibly thankful for everyone here, I wouldn’t want to start out making music anywhere else. People genuinely want to help you.
– Being only 17 and trying to release your first record on Vinyl, which comes with a lot of time and effort needed to do a proper release, you attend an alternative-style school, what kind of advantages does this afford you compared to a typical high school?
It just suits me more in all aspects. I go to a school called the Parcival Academy in Decatur, which is essentially just a really, really small college-style school. It isn’t on an 8am-3pm schedule, so I can meet with the people at The Cottage to work on the record, or have practice, or go and write songs in between classes. I can plan my schedule however I need to, which allows me to actually have enough time to pursue music rigorously. The name makes it sounds prim and fancy but it isn’t, it’s just a bunch of nice people who understand that not everyone’s life fits the normal education system.
– What kind of support have you received from your parents to pursue this passion?
Amazing support! We have a really good relationship, and I think they recognize that this is what I care about, and that I’m good at it, so they want to foster it and let it flourish. It’s really nice to have these people that I care about stand behind me on something like this. Not many people have that, I’m very lucky.
– Being still fairly young about to put out your first record, what kind of challenges has age presented to you?
I realized pretty early on that if I was going to be taken seriously, I’d need to make a record. There’s understandably some assumptions made about the quality of my material based on my age, so I needed something to show people what I was capable of. That being said, I don’t wanna seem like I think of myself as some sort of marginalized struggling musician. I’m still a white dude making indie rock, there’s a whole lot of musicians who have it a lot harder. There’s a lot of important voices that aren’t being heard.
– What advice could you give other young people looking to put out their music that you’ve learned up until this point?
Don’t sweat anything, like records or press or even shows, until you make sure your material’s solid. You can’t demand to be taken seriously until you deserve to be taken seriously. And then just be really, really, unwaveringly nice to people. That seems like a no-brainer but it’s easy to slip into a bitter mindset when lots of people turn you down, and being bitter never got anyone anywhere.
– When is your next show?
Our next show is at WonderRoot on January 22nd with Pop Weirdos, Denizen, Spines and Lea Lea. It’s set up to be great! We’ve got a lot of new stuff that I’m excited to show people, especially now that we have some recorded material out.
– What’s the immediate future look like for you? Tours? More records?
Definitely more records! I’m looking forward to taking a little break from recording after Vanessa Atalanta comes out, where I can just slow down a bit, play shows and take a lot of baths. But the second record is already mostly written, and I’ve never been very good at taking breaks, so it’s not gonna be that long of a wait for album #2 I think. I’d be surprised if I didn’t end up in the studio next winter.
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