Following a flurry of releases and BNLXFest organizing in the early 2010s, the indie-rock veterans took some time off as Ashley and Ed Ackerson welcomed their adorable baby girl, Annika, into the family.
That break stretched on longer than the group expected, but the time — and the political climate — is certainly right for their raucous return. City Pages is premiering BNLX’s first new release in two years, “Resist! Resist!” The track’s a politically charged anthem of unity and dissent, and its release coincides with the band’s first live performance in two years, this Saturday at the Uptown VFW, along with Mark Mallman and the Toxenes.
We were able to chat with frontman/guitarist Ed Ackerson about the inspiration behind the new track, the band’s current plans, and his production work at his Minneapolis recording studio, Flowers.
City Pages: BNLX has never shied away from being a political band. Did you intend on “Resist! Resist!” to be an overtly political number when you started writing it, or did those sentiments naturally come out due to the election and the current social state in this country?
Ed Ackerson: From the beginning, BNLX has been focused on presenting an anti-consumerist, anti-corporatist, pro-community message. We started the band specifically to make bold statements, both musically and conceptually. The current political environment is particularly dire, and we decided it was time to make a completely unambiguous statement of support and encouragement for people standing up to the myriad forces currently arrayed against them.
CP: Was it cathartic to be able to channel your frustrations with our current administration into a rock song?
EA: I associate catharsis with the expression of anger, fear, or sorrow, and this song isn’t really about that at all. We wanted to create a song that was uplifting, that encouraged people to feel strong in themselves and together as a community. There’s a long road ahead toward progress. This song is something to hum, sing, or shout along with while we all move forward together. The time for catharsis will be when we’ve finally addressed the current government and the regressive populist attitudes that led to it being installed. And it’s important to remember that the problems with the current government don’t start and end at the White House. There are people with terrible agendas holding posts at every level. Opportunities for resistance and change exist from the smallest to the grandest scales.
CP: There don’t seem to be as many political anthems coming from modern music in recent years –especially compared to past generations. Do you think contemporary artists don’t want to take that risk with their careers, or is it just difficult to capture political statements within a song?
EA: That’s a question I have thought about a lot. Part of it is likely artistic: It’s very difficult to write political music without sounding either like some sort of hippie or a Marxist philosophy professor. But one thing that is very disappointing to me is the way that indie rock overall has become increasingly backward-looking, insular, and escapist over the last ten years or so. Postmodernism and irony have become foundation assumptions in much of rock today, so there’s been a distinct trend away from “hard” topics. From a sociological point of view, this could be a function of the way the Internet and social media tend to decouple individuals from their immediate physical environments, leading to a decreasing sense of common cause across regional and social boundaries. This is not to say that nobody is making statements, just that there are far fewer now compared to similar periods of political crisis in the past.
CP: You’ve been doing quite a bit of traveling outside of the U.S. since the election–how have your interactions been with foreigners, and has their view of Americans changed as a result of the election?
EA: Overall our friends overseas are totally sympathetic and concerned about the situation in America. What’s bad for America is bad for the world in general, and there’s a lot of apprehension. And of course, our friends in the UK are experiencing the whole Brexit horror show, and Sweden, France, Germany and the Netherlands are all experiencing their own scares with populist right-wing politicians making disconcerting inroads. So basically, most of our friends feel very much like we do, threatened by an emboldened minority of people with bad ideas trying to turn back the progress of the last 100 years. These are strange and dangerous times all over the world.
CP: Is “Resist! Resist!” a standalone single at this point, or is this song going to be a part of a larger collection like an EP or LP?
EA: We have a new EP very nearly finished right now, but we wanted to get the single out immediately. The BNLX EP #10 release should happen later this spring if all goes according to plan.
CP: You’ve got quite an impressive cast of musicians who contributed to the chorus of “Resist! Resist!” How did that sprawling collaboration come about, and who did you recruit to take part in your unified statement of dissent and resistance?
EA: We asked friends of ours from both the local and international scenes to lend their voices to the refrain on the song. The resistance we are part of is truly international. So far the local mob includes Mark Mallman (and his dad John), Ciaran Daly (The Stress of Her Regard), Chris Pavlich, Kris Johnson, Jeremy Bergo, and Shawn Grider of Two Harbors, PD Larson, Tommy Rehbein (Naive Sense/Farewell Continental), Jesse, Pauly, and Mike from The Rope. We also have Jonatan Westh (from Stockholm shoegaze heroes Blackstrap), plus another dozen or so artists from Sweden, the UK, Argentina, and various US cities who are in the process of recording tracks. I’ve probably forgotten a couple people in this list, so I apologize for my largely-absent short term memory! The current mix isn’t even complete! We’ll continue to update the mix on Bandcamp as more contributions come in over the next weeks.
CP: This is the band’s first release in two years, as well as your first live shows. Does this represent a new creative phase for the group, or is it just a matter of needing to clear the cobwebs a bit and play some loud music together again?
EA: I’d say it’s a bit of both. Ashley and I of course had a baby just about two years ago, and although we thought we would only be taking a brief break from the band, it turned out to be much more extensive. There’s been a slight reset of both artistic and practical priorities, but we have a lot of cool plans and will be unveiling some crazy stuff later in the year. And in the short term, it’s amazing to blast out these tunes at high volume; we are incredibly psyched to be back up on stage and in the fray again.
CP: What can you tell us about the exciting production work you’ve been up to at Flowers Studio?
EA: Flowers Studio has been off-the-chain busy despite the supposed demise of the music industry, so I feel very optimistic about things right now. I’ve been working on a ton of interesting stuff from all over the place. Locally, I’m very psyched about new projects I’ve done with The Stress of Her Regard, The Shackletons, The Rope, The Rapture Twins (Justin Pierre from Motion City Soundtrack’s new project), and others. I’ve been doing a lot more mixing and mastering for local groups who record stuff on their own. There’s sometime some sort of aura that I’m unapproachable for new artists, but I absolutely love working on new stuff and some of the coolest surprises I’ve had lately have been working with totally new clients.