Earlier this year, Ben Butler & Mousepad opened for Deerhoof at the coldest show ever. As I mentioned in my post, they made a huge impression on me at that ordeal of a show (I thought they kind of upstaged Deerhoof, as a matter of fact), so much so that I immediately bought their album Formed for Fantasy from the drummer the second he left the stage. At the time, because their live show was so impressive, the album was a bit of a disappointment. I knew, though, that once the immediate experience of their performance had receded into the horizon a bit, I would most likely be more open to judging Formed for Fantasy on its own merits.
Such has been the case. I keep taking Formed for Fantasy out of the player, but it just seems to end up back in there. It has become somewhat of a daily listen. Despite my interest, I held off on posting about Ben Butler & Mousepad simply because there were not many resources available on them. A couple of weeks ago, though, this tasty little chunk of flash-animated psychedelia came across my feed.
Design is one of the few vocal tracks on the album. I was initially resistant to these tracks because the live show was quite compelling as a fully instrumental experience that recalled Zappa’s late 70s period when Tommy Marrs played a prominent keyboard role. I have, however, come to appreciate the guest vocal tracks. This video, as bizarre as it is, has further piqued my interest by strengthening the connection I perceive with this era of Zappa’s oeuvre, characterized as it was by Bruce Bickford’s claymation video experiments on Baby Snakes.
I have been on the lookout for footage that does their live show justice, but high quality footage is a form of media currency that is a rare and valuable commodity to independent bands. Like many, I have a clip that I personally recorded, but, like many, my phone’s sound quality makes it sound like I attached a contact mike to Tarzan’s chest and set his hair on fire. This clip was recently posted, though, and, although still an audience capture, it does Ben Butler & Mousepad respectable justice.
As the title of the clip suggests, there are indeed three songs here. The first two are great instrumental tracks from Formed for Fantasy, Machine Makes Fresh Ground and Hi Life, the former of which exemplifies what I like about Ben Butler & Mousepad. I have not been able to identify the third song yet, but it does contain the (in)famous “9/4 audience participation” portion of the show at 11:43. This is the sequence that they played at the end of the Austin show, and it was enough to send me running to the schwag booth.
Ten years ago, this isolated experience with an independent band could have potentially stayed isolated. I might have bought a CD, and looked back on the gig fondly, and kept my eyes open in case they came back in town. Times have changed, however, for the smaller, independent band since I played the game. Back then, the ONLY way to seriously participate was to invest significant amounts of personal resources into professional quality recordings and printing (or your best imitation thereof) with little realistic hope for adequate compensation. The band I was in had two full-length albums under our belts, and the best strategy we found was to simply give most of them away for free just for the sake of exposure. We had to do this, though, just to have the smallest chance of garnering the “Golden Ticket,” the elusive record company contract.
These days, though, gaining fans and keeping them does not have to be isolated or localized. Four months later, despite their UK base, I keep up with Ben Butler & Mousepad through several online resources, and have slowly added their relatively small back catalog (the EPs Early and Worm) to my listening though their bandcamp account. Just today, a new track came to my attention through my feed.
I am not trying to imply that utopia has arrived for independent music. It’s still hard work, but it is a model that seems to have more potential to connect with fans than the previous one.