The art of collaboration across county, state, and country lines has become more accessible thanks to the modern technological innovations of data and media transmission. Our friends Bent Denim are a duo made possible by Ben Littlejohn from Nashville, TN (sometimes Dallas, TX) and Dennis Sager of New Orleans, LA, who make the distances a little closer through bedroom spun symphonies written from the heart. With an upcoming EP debut in the works, and having given us the look and listen to songs like, "Living Room", "Periodic Table"; we are charmed and honred to debut Ben's home video for their home made song, "Christmastime".
Bent Denim make music with a lo-fi transcendent air and with visual heavy lyrics to transport the listeners to their own respective refuges of personal and private places. Taking us home for the holidays, Littlejohn visually invites us into his childhood house that is littered with his mom's bric-à-brac antiques and curios of the familiar. Letter tiles spell out lyrics from the dishwasher machine, checker boards, utility drains, rugs, plates, old chairs, bathroom tiles, shed shelves and anywhere Ben can display their heartbreaking observations of both the mortal and transcendental states of the human condition.
The folk art kitsch translates the feeling of being in a long lost relative's abode for the season, as the weight of the lyrical feelings take over. It is toward the song's climatic arc of verse where the collection of classic objects, funereal procession pace and all those combined letters and words emotionally crush you with little warning. "Months stuck in this ancient house, a hospital bed, cat and mouse, with mutated cells, chemo breath to extend your lung's last breath, losing hair and losing sleep, you rolled over and said to me, see that big moon up there in the skylight, I'll be in there soon". You can listen to the heaviest, loudest, scuzziest track of the year, and it still might not devastate you as much as Bent Denim's song and video for "Christmastime". Another reason to look forward to their debut EP, available sometime in early 2014.
We had the opportunity and pleasure to talk to both Ben and Dennis about the making of "Christmastime", the duo-dynamics of Bent Denim, collaborative creative processes, the making of the video, reflections on 2013, projecting forward for 2014, and more.
The tile-lyric video for "Christmastime" is subtle, beautiful, haunting and devastating. What prompted you to write such a brutally honest and gorgeous song?
Ben: Thank you! I got Dennis' verse first which is that very empty house verse and so it reminded me of death, and in death I thought about losing someone and having to live in their absence. Christmas was an afterthought but it was written after the holidays last year. Residue from holidays can be a very lonely thing. That definitely went into it.
Dennis: I just wrote a few lines about intangible subjects, like distances I cannot begin to actually fathom. We can trust in science and use arithmetic, but does that make these matters any more real to us?
How did you translate those heavy hearted sentiments to the various down home composed shots with lyrical tiles?
B: My mother is an antique dealer with a letter fetish. I was visiting family in Dallas and decided to make a video with a friend. We found an old flip video camera but no tripod, then just scoured my childhood home-which is covered head to toe in knickknacks and vintage letter tiles. It took us the better part of a day. I'm glad it felt like the video translated to you. For me it definitely did not transcend the, 'this is my old home and there is no tripod' feeling.
This holiday season often prompts some of the most unexpected of incredible songs, like your moving number of "Christmastime", and I was wondering why you think this particular season brings out the hidden talents of many tune-smiths?
B: The holidays have a sort of feeling that’s the opposite of diaspora. Rather than scattering- it's a coming together and I think that coming together for better or worse is a feeling that hits people.
I had always wondered about how you made the Nashville x New Orleans corresponding-collaborative-connection between you and Dennis. How does that work?
B: It generally starts with a stolen drum loop with a few keyboard parts sent to Dennis. Sometimes I'll have a scratch verse on it. If I am struggling, I just send it to him. Dennis will then send back lyrics and it will build from there, usually through more than a few emails and over a decent period of time.
D: I listen to the tracks he sends a lot, like an embarrassing amount, writing to them until I convince myself something is interesting enough lay down with a microphone. I always record alone in my room, I hate stressing over the details and am really into mistakes. We’ve known each other forever, I guess we chat and email a good amount- but not only on music stuff, about our lives outside of the internet…and about our pals.
Excited to hear about Bent Denim getting picked up for the BUKU Music + Art Project 2014, how did this come about?
B: Totally for Dennis to answer… but we have a good friend who works for the production company that puts on BUKU. She saw us at the circle bar in NOLA, blown PA and all, she was into it and I think that's how we were fortunate enough to be included in such a badass festival / lineup.
D: I’ve watched the electronica scene in New Orleans blow up over the years and was fortunate enough to get to know a few people in Winter Circle Productions. Basically my friend Emily’s a doll and hooked us up.
Closing thoughts for 2013?
B: Maybe not really leaving my room is okay because I am being interviewed right now.
D: I can’t wait for the weather to warm up.
Meditations and prayers you can share for 2014?
B: Hopeful that Dennis and I both get to make the drive to each other’s towns and other towns more often to play in the coming year.
D: I’m going try to finish a Henry James novel!
Bent Denim's debut EP will be available in early 2014 with an appearance at BUKU Music + Art Project in New Orleans, March 21,22, 2014. Check out the site for further details and tickets.