ABOVE: DANIEL BLUMBERG. IMAGE COURTESY OF MATT THORNE
“Sometimes Saturdays are slow for me.”
Daniel Blumberg confesses this early during our Saturday morning interview (7:00AM BST, for the just-waking musician), but it’s hard to imagine the frenzied mind of Blumberg ever being static. Throughout the interview, Blumberg laughs nervously, struggling to find the words to explain his art, or his actions. He comes across like a young man—and yes, he’s only 23—with the burden of living completely inside his own head, with his art the lone salvation from staving off crippling boredom or insanity. At 15, Blumberg’s band Cajun Dance Party signed to XL Recordings; and shortly after, Blumberg and Max Bloom broke to form Yuck. A fuzzy, harmonic ’90s throwback recalling ear bleeders Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine, Yuck gained simultaneous critical and cult success, and Blumberg suddenly had everything most musicians strive for their entire careers.
Early this year, Blumberg announced his departure from Yuck to focus on his new project Hebronix, sending shockwaves through the media and his fanbase. The Hebronix debut LP Unreal sounds like a remarkable artist taking the shaky first steps in a completely new direction. At turns druggy and sluggish, beautiful and engaged, the record is a confounding near masterpiece. The new video for “Viral,” which we are proud to premiere, features Stacy Martin of Lars Von Trier’s upcoming Nymphomaniac, and Sonja Kinski, granddaughter of legendary actor Klaus Kinski. As you might expect, the video is just as trippy and eerily lovely as the music.
DREW FORTUNE: The “Viral” video is like something the Flaming Lips would make on a particularly weird day. How did the concept take shape? Were there certain films you were looking to for inspiration?
DANIEL BLUMBERG: Michael Reich directed it, and he’s a friend of mine. We met through the first Yuck video. It was one of those situations where I knew he’d make a good video and accompaniment for the song. I enjoy the process of working with him. It started from that relationship.
FORTUNE: Where did the themes of the egg and the old man come from?
BLUMBERG: It was Michael’s video, really. We talked about it a bit, but… sorry, I’m not stringing sentences together very well. I apologize.
FORTUNE: It’s all right.
BLUMBERG: When I work with someone, in the ideal, collaborative relationship, I trust them 100%. I said to him, “Here’s the song, and you can come up with something.” [laughs]
FORTUNE: So it’s more like an abstract painting?
BLUMBERG: I guess it’s quite insane with the eggs. [laughs]
FORTUNE: It was very David Lynch-meets-Werner Herzog.
BLUMBERG. Michael lives in Hollywood in this crazy old house. When I was touring with the band, or whenever I was in L.A., I’d just go and stay at his house, sit on his porch and smoke with him. It feels like quite a creative place for me. I speak to him regularly. He’s someone that I call most weeks, and we have a similar attitude and energy towards what we’re doing. He feels like a part of what I’m doing, and vice versa. He had just finished shooting a film before the “Viral” Video. My record and his film are almost tied together.
FORTUNE: The color schemes in the video really stand out, with the blue juxtaposed with the saturated yellow of the sun and egg yolks. How much does art play into your daily life? Do you wake up and set aside time to paint, draw, and sketch?
BLUMBERG: It dictates my daily life. I draw on a daily basis. That’s a constant. I draw pretty much all the time. For the album artwork, some of it is just scans of old record cards. When I was making the record, I ran out of notebooks, so I was just using record cards. The type of drawings I’ve been doing, and the materials I’ve been using, make it easy to do it on the bus or whenever. At the moment, I’m working at night, and sleeping during the day. In the past I’ve woken up at six in the morning and worked until 12, if I needed structure. I’m about to start recording some new songs.
FORTUNE: As a kid, was art or music your first love?
BLUMBERG: I never really wrote songs until I was 15. I was making art before then. When I started my first band, I started focusing on drawing. It happened in tandem.
FORTUNE: Tell me about the birth of Hebronix. When did you first start tinkering with sounds or penning lyrics?
BLUMBERG: I recorded the record last October. I came off tour with Yuck, and spent a few months not doing really anything at all. I started writing and recording these songs in a few weeks.
FORTUNE: So much was made of Yuck recalling classic ’90s fuzz guitar rock. What outside influences helped inspire Unreal? Were you in a good headspace?
BLUMBERG: In retrospect, there was a show that I really think was important to me to have seen, and led to the way that I approached the record. It was only in retrospect that I realized this, but I got invited to see this Japanese guitarist Keiji Haino, who I didn’t know. It was just him playing guitar, but in a very unstructured way. He was improvising, but using the guitar in very creative ways. He was scratching his guitar and making noises. It was after I’d been on tour, advertising the Yuck record for a year and a half and playing the same songs. You know, just traveling around, and trying to sell this thing that we’d made. That was the first time, and probably the last time, I’ve done something like that. Taking something you’ve made and presenting it over and over and over and over and over again. I found it very difficult, after that experience, [to find it] worthwhile to make music. I also found it completely ridiculous to go see concerts as well. It was a really weird time period. I did try and see a show, and it was just ridiculous. I was thinking, “Well, they’re going to be doing that tomorrow, and they probably did it yesterday.” It was like watching a 3D reenactment. But this Japanese guy had come all the way from Japan. It was a sold-out show. What he was doing just really struck me. I don’t even know if it’s a type of music or anything that this guy was playing, but it was connecting with me in a certain way that only art can. At the time I wasn’t engaged in many things at all. I just stumbled into this, and I wasn’t playing much music at all around this time period. In retrospect, I realized that I started playing guitar a lot again after that show, when I hadn’t been playing for months before that. I was playing guitar in a different way, and I wrote this record in a very different way than other records I’ve made, because it started with guitar.
FORTUNE: How did you announce your departure to Yuck? It was reported as such a sudden split, but I have to assume you didn’t just drop a bomb on the band.
BLUMBERG: No, I didn’t. Those things you have to work out beforehand. We worked it out between the band before they announced it.
FORTUNE: It seemed like a friendly split. You both support each other’s projects. Was it a matter of being burnt out from the road? How do you view it?
BLUMBERG: In terms of it being amicable, everyone’s good about everything. My record is coming out next month. That’s an exciting thing, in terms of things I do in my life. That’s pretty much at the top and is the pinnacle of what I can do for myself. It’s the same for them as well, because they just finished recording their record. I think that everyone involved is excited with what they’re doing.
FORTUNE: Was Yuck ever meant to be a lasting project for you, or was it one project that would lead to another? Is that how you view your career trajectory?
BLUMBERG: I don’t know. I’m always trying to push and challenge myself. I wish I knew exactly what I was going to do, but I think that’s good. Sometimes when I’ve done stuff I haven’t been happy with how they’ve gone. Nothing I’ve done so far I’d be completely proud of. I’m pretty proud of this record [Unreal] that I’ve just done. I’ve been proud of records I’ve done before they come out, and then a few months later thought “Shit, I would have done that so differently.”
FORTUNE: You were signed to XL Recordings at age 15. Have you become jaded with the business side of music? In terms of the promotional machine, selling yourself, and doing interviews. Are you sick of it?
BLUMBERG: I feel like I’ve got a strange attitude towards it all, because the opportunities I’ve had have been quite strange. I started my first band when I was 15, and we signed very quickly to a big record deal with XL Recordings. Yuck signed to Mercury Records, which is Universal. It’s fucking Rihanna’s record label. I love the people at ATP who are putting out the Hebronix record. If feels great, because I’ve never released a record like this. I’ve never had that period where I was thinking “Oh, I wish I was signed. I wish I could go into this studio.” It’s a bit of a weird way to come around to it. Sometimes I think it’s quite positive because I don’t have that to dream of, and I think normally those dreams of getting signed prove to be not necessarily good situations for the artist, especially with music. Maybe I’m jaded, but I’m not sure.
FORTUNE: Can we expect a Yuck reunion in the future?
BLUMBERG: I don’t know really. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when I wake up in the morning.
FORTUNE: What’s a perfect day for Daniel Blumberg?
BLUMBERG: That’s literally what I would love to know, more than anything else.
HEBRONIX’S UNREAL IS OUT JULY 9 ON ATP. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, PLEASE VISIT HIS FACEBOOK PAGE.