Full disclosure: Ben Greenberg and I were in a hardcore band together six years back. It was called the Fugue—we sounded like a drunker, shittier Jesus Lizard, and our singer was a big dude with a moustache famous for acting crazy on the People’s Court. Ben was probably the best guitarist I’ve ever played with, and since then he’s gone on to play with Zs, Pygmy Shrews, and a bajillion other bands on the artier side of the punk spectrum. He also records records for bands like White Suns, the Men, and Pop. 1280. I recently sat down with Ben to talk about drugs, Sublime, and his new solo project Hubble. The new LP, Hubble Drums, came out last week on Northern Spy Records, and we’ve got the exclusive stream below. NBD.
VICE: So what do you wanna talk about?
Ben Greenberg: I wanna talk about The Fugue, because we were both in that band. I don’t know if it means anything to anyone else.
That was one of your first bands, right?
My first band was called The Doans, like the painkiller. Awful garbage. We played like Rage Against the Machine covers, that kind of stuff. I think we did a cover of “Killing In The Name Of.” Some Sublime covers too.
Tell me the truth. Do you think that Sublime sucked?
Yes. Sublime objectively sucked dick. Tons of hardcore kids today liked them when they were like 11 and now they’re trying to cover it up.
Good answer. Do you remember how we met?
Cocaine in the early aughts?
Also a good answer. So tell me about the Fugue.
The Fugue started as a joke between me and Mookie Singerman, of Genghis Tron. We used to be called Emily’s Bat Mizvah, and our first record was called Victims of the Wizard Poodles. We used the same formula as Soulcracker, that shitty screamo band from VH1’s “Bands On The Run”: heavy riffs and screamy choruses. And Mookie in his best Get Up Kids impression. But that’s a while ago now, and it’s morphed into Pygmy Shrews, which is a real band.
I was able to quit my last bar job two years ago. After that, everything got awesome. I started recording at my own studio and I’ve been able to make a living doing that ever since. I wake up early, start working, try not to smoke too much weed. If I don’t keep myself on track, it gets dark. I just finished a new record for the Men, and one for White Suns. I did some stuff with Pop. 1280, and I’m about to start working with a band called Call Of The Wild, who are fucking awesome. I’m also about to start touring with the Men, playing bass.
It must be weird to try to fill in for the singer of that band. Chris is a giant skinhead.
It’s kind of scary, but Chris and I are secretly in love, so it’s cool.
So tell me about Hubble.
Hubble came about because my girlfriend got offered a job in England and I thought I was going to live there for the rest of my life. I’d always lived in New York and played music with people here and I was getting ready to walk away from all that. The easiest way for me to keep playing music was to do something solo. Aesthetically, I’m looking for a cathartic relationship with energetic release in performance. Just getting it out, making myself sweat as much as I can.
Considering how much Hubble owes to classic minimalism, that might come as a surprise to some people.
Yeah, Hubble’s got an undeniable Terry Riley or Robert Fripp vibe, but I think it’s simpler than both of those guys. My songs pretty much stay exactly the same for six minutes or so, cellular repetitions that repeat. I don’t think it counts as shredding, exactly.
Let’s talk about shredding.
I love shredding. I was raised on nerdy guitar culture, ever since I was seven years old. Shredding is this laughable, ridiculous style that tries to cram together all other types of guitar playing and make it sound distorted and fucked up. I’ve always been obsessed with riffs that are less than a second long. With Hubble, most of the stuff I do involves four strings at once—two for higher melodic material and two for rhythmic material.
What’s up with the cover of the record?
I took a photo of a lamp with my cell phone. It’s a sweet lamp. I wanted to frame it in the right way and make it look like space. That’s what I realized a couple years ago: if you frame anything right you can make it look like space.
Is that where the Hubble Space Telescope reference comes from?
On my end, the sound of this project came first, and it just sounded spectral to me. The first tape was called Hubble Linger, now this is Hubble Drums, and I did a piece once called “Hubble Superposition,” which is written for quadraphonic electric guitar.
I have no idea what that means.
Here, I drew a picture of it. Basically, you’re in a room surrounded with four speakers for an hour listening to a dude shredding. The guitars circle around your head. The one time I did it people almost couldn’t hang in the room because they were getting nauseous.
Wow. Do you have any other projects like that in the works?
Yeah, I’m going to do a piece called “Hubble Lag,” which will be for stereo acoustic guitar. It’ll be an audio-visual performance that uses the Internet as a delay pedal.
It’s basically going to be the coolest thing that anyone’s ever done with a laptop and a guitar. I’ll draw another picture for you.
Last question, how does Hubble relate to all of your other projects? Because you’ve got this punk band Pygmy Shrews, and this experimental band Zs, and recording.
Let me put it this way. Another reason that I started Hubble was to deal with the sadness of the passing of a dear friend. The thing was, I’d written a Pygmy Shrews song about him when he was still alive, and it isn’t that flattering. At the time I wrote it I was really frustrated with him, and then he died, we still play the song, and I feel weird about it. Hubble Linger is a way of dealing with my sadness, but also a way to respond to some negative feeling about this guy that I’d immortalized with another band.
All of my projects come from a basic emotional thread of being true. I want to make shit that doesn't sound like anything else, that’s honest, and has emotional content. It can make you happy or sad—sometimes I cry a little when I’m playing Hubble songs. Music can do all sorts of things if you lose yourself in it, and that’s what all these bands are about to me; losing myself to playing music. That’s the answer.
Hubble is playing November 19 at 285 Kent in Brooklyn with the Psychic Ills, Man Forever, and Driphouse.
Follow Benjamin Shapiro @b_shap