l-r Ben Chasny and Donovan Quinn - New Bums - Photo by Apollo

In the wake of the release of Last Time I Saw Grace, the follow-up to their debut album Voices In A Rented Room in 2013, Terrascope was pleased to catch up with NEW BUMS, the very occasional project of Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) and Donovan Quinn (Skygreen Leopards). Here they kindly indulge rookie pitcher IAN FRASER in a game of call-and-response softball.

Terrascope: It’s been seven years, seven long years. What kept you?

DQ: In the infamous winter of ‘13, we were in a hotel on the last night of a long tour when Ben had a vision. In the vision a shadowy doctor, in full plague get-up, told him we could only release another record “when you found yourself lost in a drug store, wearing a mask, and yet searching the aisles for more masks.” This vision, which seemed improbable at the time, took 7 years to happen.

BC: I was on a lot of cold medicine at the time.

What really prompted the rekindling of the musical partnership?

BC: We’re always working on something, but sometimes that thing isn’t New Bums. For instance, I helped Donovan mix his last solo record a couple years ago. The New Bums songs took their time being written. We didn’t rush it. When we felt we had the songs down we decided to do a record with them. Originally we were just going to release it on a cassette by ourselves but then Drag City said they would be interested in putting it out on vinyl.

DQ: We talk pretty much every day and would often work on songs or record. It’s just that we didn’t want to release anything until it felt like the right time.

When Terrascope last spoke with Ben (at ATP, Camber Sands back in December 2013) he enthused about the New Bums project as “a rock and roll acoustic album like Johnny Thunders playing acoustic guitar or Nikki Sudden-style Jacobites or Big Star acoustic balladry kind of stuff.” Does that assessment still hold of Last Time I Saw Grace do you think?

BC: I think so. In a way that’s just sort of short-hand to let folks know what to expect more than a goal that we are trying to reach in our recordings. Our inspirations are pretty varied but when it comes down to it and people ask what the music sounds like you need to give it some sort of  framework that they can imagine. There’s probably a fair bit outlaw country in the music as well as far as inspiration.

The feeling is that the deliberately lo-fi approach has been reigned in somewhat and that Last Time I Saw Grace is a more polished affair leaving fewer un-dusted recesses and scratchy surfaces.

DQ: Ben handles the majority of the production and I follow his lead. Neither of us, in any of our projects, have been married to one specific production sound.

BC: Yeah I rarely think in terms of “I want this record to sound like it has this or that level of production.” It’s always a bit more, “how much change do we have in our pockets? Nothing? Ok, we’ll record it ourselves.”

The blurb for the new album hints at some interesting dynamics between Ben and Donovan - an image of New Bums as a latter day Odd Couple, with a love/ hate/ indifference relationship all playing out before lunchtime. Does this help grease the wheels of artistic endeavour or just make for interesting drinking sessions (and a good line in imaginary eulogies)?

DQ: It’s pretty harmonious most of the time. I certainly have never imagined his eulogy but Ben has told me “I’ll dance on your grave, Quinn” many times.

BC: Donovan kids. He’s a kind and wonderful friend. Most of the time.

How did they approach the writing and recording process during these interesting times?

DQ: Most of the record was done before the pandemic so not much changed. We’ve been able to accumulate a decent home studio and often work remotely even when it’s not mandatory. No one wants to hear me mess up a vocal fifty times in a row so a little isolation can be nice.

BC: We recorded it in waves over the last few years so really we were just working on mixing it during these times, which was easy enough to do long distance.

How do the song-writing credits stack up? Do they share these; fly solo, or is one of them Simon to the other guy’s Garfunkel?

DQ: A pretty even mix. A couple songs were older solo jams we thought would sound good with the band. Most of the others were primarily written by one of us and then the other added to it in some way (a bridge, verse, new melody, etc).

BC: Credit wise we always consider everything 50/50. It’s ridiculous to try to figure out what percentage someone gave to a song, especially when you think about how inspiration can be nebulous or subconscious. Who’s to say who came up with what? Plus, you hear about these bands where one member has taken all the publishing, like in Creedence or something, and you just think, “God, what a dick.”

What inspires these compositions lyrically? Is there anything we need to home in on as being particularly meaningful or profound?

DQ: Nothing particularly meaningful that I’m aware of. Lots of inspirations but I’ll limit myself to a couple. “I met her at the Burger King/ We fell in love by the soda machine”. Two lines, courtesy of The Ramones, and your mind instantly fills with a vivid world complete with story. William Gaddis and Witold Gombrowicz also provided some paths to go down.

Some of our older readers may remember something called “gigs” (Terrascope’s last foray into such pre-apocalyptic frippery being 2019’s Woolf II shindig). On the understanding that we can all look forward to one day bursting with Covid antibodies, what plans do New Bums have to face us down in person?

BC: We try not to look too far into the future, especially nowadays. We’re just trying to get into next month.

What next, jointly or severally, for Donovan and Ben?

BC: I have a new Six Organs coming out on 3 Lobed in the middle of the year and some other things that are a little more secret at this time that will be coming out at the end of the year on Drag City.

DQ: Just finishing up a new solo record with my buddy Jason Quever (Papercuts). Ben added some tracks as well. It’s based around this concept of the “cult of strangers” that I’ve had for some years.

Any last words?

DQ: I appreciate your time, Ian! This was fun. Terrascope gave me my first review back in ‘01. Always happy to see it still turning out great articles.

BC: Wonderful to catch up with you all again. Terrascope is one of the greats. Thank you for your time and interest.

Last Time I Saw Grace by NEW BUMS is out now on Drag City Records New Bums - Last Time I Saw Grace | Drag City

See our review here: Terrascope Reviews for March 2021


l-r Ben Chasny, A Horse with No Name and Donovan Quinn - New Bums - another Photo by Apollo