Monsters, Drugs and Rock & Roll — An Interview with Sea FuzzPosted by Judit Manuel
I met Ben and the rest of the band in a bar in Sants, the neighborhood in Barcelona where Ben currently resides.
It’s a rainy evening and masks are enforced everywhere, but the bar isn’t crowded and we find a comfortable nook where we can chat over drinks and (almost) forget we are in the midst of a global pandemic.
Sea Fuzz is a psychedelic rock band, with energetic rhythms and lyrics that invite the listener to self-discovery. On the band’s website, we learn that the project was born (or at least the seed of it) during a drug-induced trip at the beach. Since then, Sea Fuzz has built its own musical personality and the band has released four albums and played in different cities across the globe.
Today, we meet to talk about the band’s new release, Ocean Dreams, and how Sea Fuzz, Ben’s passion project over the years and different locations, is settling in Barcelona, with new band members and future projects.
JA: It has been a while since Sea Fuzz’s last album, but I understand that you have been working on Ocean Dreams for quite a long time now. What made you finally release it now? How did you know it was ready?
Ben: I started working on these songs right as I moved to Sitges [a town outside of Barcelona], and I actually got the idea for the album when I was going to film school there. A friend of mine, Jero Cocquet wanted to work on a music video for a song of mine, so I decided to create one.
That song was “Sand Monster”, which didn’t get released on the album eventually but is out as a single. The idea was to make a parody of a B-monster-movie that didn’t take itself seriously but had its own psychedelic twist.
So I went into the studio and recorded all the instruments for the song and we made the video.
JA: That was when you were still in Sitges?
Yeah, that was around 2017 while I was doing a course there.
So then I decided to make a whole album based on that aesthetic — a retro horror approach but with a silly take on it.
I wanted the music to be inspired accordingly. So that first song “Sand Monster” was kind of a combination of a 70s krautrock song mixed with kind of a ‘Beat It’ and ‘Thriller’ vibe.
And that feeling really worked for me and where I was at the time, so I created a whole album based off of that style—with long, hypnotic drum patterns and everything else changing around it.
JA: So is there a connection between the krautrock style you were going for musically and the lyrics about monsters and magical creatures?
Ben: Yeah I think so. When I was doing the film course one of my professors recommended the show “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”, which was a campy Star Trek-y style TV series that followed a crew’s adventures with sea monsters and other encounters under the sea.
I actually used that show as a starting point to show the people I was working with how we would structure the video.
I then got Laura Lopez from the school to help make me a custom mask based on what I described to her and she knocked it out of the park! I was so stoked on the mask. Then we used a camouflage army suit for the body of the creature.
All of these DIY aesthetics just made the retro-ness come alive for me. It inspired the whole album.
JA: The album then was already in the making when Carlos and Alberto joined the band, what did you guys think about it then?
What would you tell a new listener to expect to find in it?
Carlos: The album seemed to me to be a change in another direction, with the whole aspect of horror and its conceptual nature.
When I first entered the group I had only heard a couple of songs from the new album but later on, I would describe the album as a mix of psychedelic rock with Lovecraftian horror.
Alberto: I was really surprised by the response to the album. I really liked the music from the beginning, you can tell that the quality is high and there is a lot of work behind it. But honestly, I had my doubts that other people would get into it.
All that changed after our first concert together as a trio in 2019, where we performed some of the new album’s songs, and people loved it. It really changed my perspective to how open people can be to new and unconventional music.
JA: In previous albums, we got a glimpse of the psychedelic musical universe that is Sea Fuzz, but this time you take us deeper.
In Ocean Dreams, we get to know new characters, landscapes, monsters, . . . a whole mythology almost.
Because this time, some of the songs have a live music video.
How was the process of making these videos? How did you feel working on this other creative side as a musician?
Ben: The album became about combining this monster universe with what I usually sing about.
My usual lyric path centers around meditation—or this process of watching phenomena in one’s mind arise and pass away.
So I decided to tell a story about the monster haunting a protagonist and make him kind of a metaphor for the voice inside your head. That voice can haunt you, taunt you, play tricks on you...
And in some ways that voice can help you and give you guidance and encouragement, like in the “Eyes in the Wild” video where the monster is kind of the Sensei to the protagonist.
But in the end, the goal is for the protagonist to self-actualize on his own terms.
JA: It sounds like you got really into [making these music videos]!
Ben: For sure! I definitely couldn’t have done it without help from people. I should definitely mention all the people that made it possible: Ignacio Mallén for doing the cinematography for 2 of the videos, Zary Santino for acting in 2 of them.
All the people that made the first one possible including Rosa Landers, Claudia Trujillo, and Yair Azubel (among the other people I’ve already mentioned).
JA: What do you [Carlos/Alberto] think about this monstrous universe? Did you get to see the videos as you were getting into the music?
Carlos: Personally I love the genre of horror in general, and I thought it was a super interesting idea to create a universe centered around a Sea Monster character. My favorite video was Eyes in the Wild.
Alberto: I loved them! I remember I had actually never seen the video clips until right before our concert where we did the premiere of them [poster above]. They are funny, psychedelic and they work really well with the style.
JA: Carlos and Alberto are relatively new to the Sea Fuzz universe.
Now, Sea Fuzz is based in Barcelona, a three-piece band, with a guitarist, a bass player, and a drummer, but Sea Fuzz has followed Ben on his travels around the US and Spain.
How did Sea Fuzz evolve over the years and different places you’ve lived?
Ben: Well I released the first album in 2014—but I had already moved to Burgos (Spain). When I came back on holidays to the states I formed the band in Portland with Quinn Schwarz and Karl Beheim of Ghost Frog.
Then when I came back to Spain and moved to Madrid I formed the band there again—this time with Andrés Sabio Diaz and Diego Martin, and then later with Leo Melgarejo, and Darius Bethea.
Now I’ve kind of set up shop in Barcelona and found these guys who have really brought the songs back to life again. They are super talented in their own right so it’s really inspiring.
JA: And what was it that attracted you guys to Sea Fuzz?
Carlos: When I first encountered Sea Fuzz’s music, the style actually managed to transport me to the ocean in the way I think Ben intended.
I love rock/punk and I’ve always wanted to be in a band as such. Ben and I met about 3 or 4 months before we found Alberto, and I remember going to his studio and just jamming on the songs with guitar and bass.
Alberto: I was relatively new in town and was looking for a band to join and a place to express myself. Honestly, this was the only band that really impressed me and I saw immediately that this music allowed for all kinds of possibilities.
JA: Sea Fuzz’s songs have the distinctive trait of being complex, with a lot of instrumental layers, a lot going on.
How do you adapt it to play live as a three-piece band?
Ben: Yeah, when I’m alone I tend to use a lot of layers (laughs), so it gets complicated sometimes when we really want to capture the essence of a song and I only have two hands and two feet.
But all things considered, we are usually pretty great at distilling these songs down to a cool form for a three-piece band. I definitely credit these guys for making it super tight, which ultimately I think is the most important thing for a three-piece.
JA: How does the process of learning new songs work for you?
Carlos: When Ben sends me a song I first transcribe it exactly as it is like I do for all the songs I learn. I’ll take a look at the bass line and try to get all the details correct.
Then later, when we are jamming it out there is more room for adding our own touch and improvising in order to make it sit well in the band setting.
Alberto: Ben gives me a lot of liberty in learning the songs. At first, I would arrive at our practices having only listened to the songs a couple of times, just getting down the general feel and some of the accents. It seemed to work out and everyone was impressed.
But later I realized that there are really cool drum parts in these songs that I never took note of. So now for our new songs, I’m taking measures to study and take my favorite drum parts that Ben comes up with and combine them with my own ideas.
JA: I’m curious about how you guys, as musicians, lived through the lockdown in Barcelona.
Ben: Well, during the lockdown I started to write new songs and now we have a lot of new material ready that we’ll try to record shortly.
Carlos: It was really difficult to get together with anyone, so I spent a lot of my time practicing and listening to music.
Alberto: I actually have been having a pretty good time during the lockdown. I bought my first guitar and have had tons of time to learn (laughs).
JA: How did you make it work to practice and keep the band active?
Ben: We now have a routine of practicing in my small apartment. We all plug into my audio interface and just jam out with headphones, and hope not to get yelled at by the neighbors.
JA: New projects - is the band gonna have a bigger part in the creative process?
Ben: Totally. We had a couple of Sea Fuzz live videos that we recorded in Casablanca studios in Barcelona where we got to perform our trio based versions of songs we’ve released. We definitely want to do more of those. I think where we shine is seeing us live, the music amasses a huge amount of energy and we love to rock out on stage.
But like I said before we’ve also got some other plans — we are looking to go in the studio and perhaps even release some stuff in the near future. All the details aren’t ironed out so I probably shouldn’t say too much more but we definitely are working on new stuff at the moment.
JA: Can we expect more monsters and videos in the future? Are we gonna see Alberto and Carlos in some of them (would they be up for it)?
Ben: If they want to be a part of this calamity the door is always open to them.
Carlos: (laughs) Sure, I would love to!
Alberto: Of course!
I definitely recommend diving deeper into the mind-bending musical universe that Sea Fuzz has to offer and check their social media and Youtube channel so you don’t miss their upcoming videos (a treat in themselves), crawling with B-movie-like monsters and good vibes.
Ocean Dreams (2020) is available for streaming on Sea Fuzz official website and most streaming services or you can get the album on Bandcamp and support the band. Follow Ben Heckler or Sea Fuzz on Instagram for the latest news.
Judit is a writer and anthropology researcher based in Barcelona.