Bad Veins returned to Austin to subject themselves to the musician meat market they call SXSW. I sat down with Cincinnati natives Jake Bonta and Benjamin Davis to discuss the band’s new lineup, their oddball stage antics, and the rollercoaster ride of a run they’ve had these last few years.
I heard you played a show at 1AM last night, are you guys wiped out? How is the SXSW experience so far?
Ben: Oh goodness. We got in on Tuesday and we drove through the night and were really disoriented, and kind of just chilled out for awhile, and came down on Wednesday for the first time. Jake has never been to a SXSW, I’ve been here once before with my old drummer, but this is the first time here with the new lineup.
So why did your drummer Sebastian quit? And how did you find Jake?
Ben: We had been a band for 3-4 years. It is hard to say exactly. For me Bad Veins is a way of life, I don’t feel that I am sacrificing to do it. I mean I can’t have a normal job. I haven’t had a normal job in like five years, with all the traveling and stuff. I think with him it was more of a sacrifice, I think he felt that he was missing out on other things. Being in a band is hard. If you have the idea that you are going to get huge quickly and you don’t, then you’ll be disappointed. Where if you are just like, this is the way it works, then you will be fine. We had different ideas.
So he expected a steeper trajectory?
Ben: Right, but even in the past year since Jake has joined, the trajectory has just been up. Our crowds have been better in every city and we’ve had better opportunities.
So how did Jake join?
Ben: As far as Jake joining, it is almost an embarrassing anecdote. Jake, under pressure from his father, put a video on Craigslist. So he thought it was a nerdy thing to do, to put something on Craigslist. I would never look on Craigslist because I would also think it was nerdy. My friend knew that I needed a drummer, so he went looking for me on Craigslist. He would send me these videos of these big heavyweight metal drummers, picking on me by sending all of these jokes. But then he sent me a video of Jake, and I almost didn’t look at it because I was tired of all of the jokes, but then I clicked on it and thought to myself “This guy is good. This guy is really good and, he kind of plays like Sebastian. He might even play better than Sebastian”
What has been you favorite part about travelling the world?
Ben: That’s an easy one. Touring with Two Door Cinema Club, good friends of ours from Ireland. They invited us to tour last fall along with St. Lucia . We would go out and play to thousands of kids every night. We’ve done four or five tours with them as they’re big fans of ours and we love them. It doesn’t get any better than that because they have such a young fan base, they are so enthusiastic and they want to love you before they even hear a note. It’s a very rewarding thing.
So with all these young fans, do you get a lot of attention from the female demographic? Or do you have girlfriends?
Ben: No comment on any of that (laughs)
Well I laid that trap and you just jumped right over it.
You have been on tour with a lot of big names, have you developed any mentors over these years?
Ben: Hmmm that’s a good question.
Jake: For me personally, I haven’t really connected with any of the bands that we have toured with but there are personal mentors from Cincinnati that I’ve known my whole life that I stay in touch with.
Ben: I really wish I did have some mentors. I mean we are pals with a lot of bands that are bigger and more successful than us and, we kind of watch what they do to be more professional, even logistical things, but as far as songwriting and the creative side, not at all really.
What does the Cincinnati scene look like these days?
Ben: I think that Cincinnati feels like Detroit. There is a lot of garage rock and, a lot of dirty hipster rock. We call them gypsters, a mixture of gypsies and hipsters. At the same time there are friends like Walk the Moon, hat are very similar to us. There are also a lot of different bands like Tweens and other outlier bands but no real collective sound. There are a lot of cool bands but no cohesiveness.
Jake: I would say that’s one of our biggest struggles when putting on shows in our hometown. Cincinnati is so up and down that you would have a pop band opening up for a metal band all the time.
You have a unique stage aesthetic that involves military garb, an old time reel projector named Irene, and a Bad Veins army that makes up your fan club. Was this all preconceived or did it just come together naturally?
Ben: It was definitely not preconceived. If anything, they were creative solutions to problems that we were encountering. For example, my dad gave the reel projectors, and I told him I had no use for it, but he said that I was a musician and that I could find a use for it. This was before Bad veins so I was playing solo stuff and would have to have backing tracks play but, with the projector, the pre-recorded sounds would at least be visually represented, so when people realized that I wasn’t playing all the instruments, they wouldn’t call shenanigans and, not focus on the music. I also had an old vintage megaphone that I gotten at a second hand store out of my love for Tom Waits and Sparklehorse. So I’m doing an old Tom Waits impression but I sound like Brandon Flowers. Nobody has ever said “Oh they’re trying for Tom Waits” about us, its always “Oh they’re trying to be the Strokes”. So the megaphone came out of that. All of our aesthetics have been based on random hand-me–downs.
You mentioned that Cincinnati is like Detroit. Kiss had the Kiss Army and now you have the Bad Veins Army. Where did that idea come from?
Ben: It is very hard to maintain connections while on their road. I would take a picture of a city and post it on social media and then some friend would comment it on the day after saying “What?!? You were in town?” So I realized we started building this network of people so when we came to cities, we could call upon all the fans that we know
Speaking of fans, are you fans of any other SXSW acts? Any bands that you are keen on seeing?
Ben: I feel like we are so busy with our own shows and people that we have to meet up with. Chromeo played last night and Charli XCX too, I love them both but there is just no time. I was here a few years ago when Metallica played for the Guitar Hero party or something but apparently it was the smallest show that they had played in twenty years. It was amazing!
You guys have been blessed to achieve relative success in a short amount of time, what has the momentum been like throughout these last few years?
Ben: We have had a rough time locking in a solid team that is right for the band. I feel like everyone on earth thinks they are the greatest band manager. It is difficult to navigate sometimes. When you’re a rookie trying to find your way, you are going to make mistakes, and we’ve done that plenty.
If you weren’t doing Bad Veins what would you be doing?
Jake: I would be posting on Craigslist. Just kidding. I have no idea.
Ben: I honestly don’t know. I’ve been doing commercials and stuff but that started because of Bad Veins. I feel like I could be good at graphic design but it is just hard to imagine doing anything else besides music with my time.