Q&A: Ben Greenberg Of Hubble, The Men And ZS On "Cyber-Dread" And "Shred-Fi," Playing Guitar On His Bed-Stuy Rooftop, And Not Being A Boner
Ben Greenberg's riffs are so virtuosic, they prompt the young ax-dude to toss a Steve Vai quip as he transmits dizzying sonic waves from his Bed-Stuy roof .
Jokes notwithstanding, the tat-covered, mop-topped Greenberg geeks out and slays in his myriad projects including longtime experimental pioneers Zs, the recently defunct noize-punk Pygmy Shrews, and the Men, for whom he'll now be playing bass. But as of late, the bulk of Greenberg's playing has been as the lone member of Hubble, a minimalist one-man show of cataclysmic fret-hopping grandeur. The recent Hubble Drums (Northern Spy) is a shred epicthree massive, equilibrium destroying jams drenched in glorious delay and loopage action.
Sound of the City talked to Greenberg via email about Zs' duo show at Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and Hubble.
How and when did you think up the idea of Hubble?
Over the summer of 2010, I started to realize I wanted to make something more specifically guitar-based without other instruments involved. I began climbing up to the roof of my house in Bed-Stuy and playing guitar all day, every day. After a week or so, I started recording myself and focusing my playing. I don't remember when I started doing the militant stereophony, but I do remember seeing Rob Lowe roll up to a Lichens show on a bike with his modular synth in a messenger bag and thinking to myself, "I gotta ditch these guitar amps and start going direct!"
Are Hubble compositions all written and rehearsed? Is any of it
stemmed from improvisation?
None of it is written down on paper, except the first riff I ever came up with. From there I just started coming up with endless variations and remembering them. I have structural signposts or whatever in mind when I'm playing live, like I'll be thinking about how a small germ of repetition is going to splay out or resolve a few minutes ahead of time. I'm improvising, in a sense, but I'm doing it within a very focused lens of melodic/rhythmic/performance constraints, so it isn't exactly total freedom to play whatever comes into my head, or the whole thing would fall apart!
But i guess that's true of any improvisation. I don't know, I think everyone's improvising on stage, to a degree, just like how Azerrad says all music is psychedelic.
Can you differentiate your musical approaches to Hubble and Zs? Do you
play a different style in both bands?
I play different songs in both bands, but my approach to playing music has always been the same: Play hard, don't be a boner.
You were in Pygmy Shrews and now joined the Men, two bands decidedly un-ZS and un-Hubble like, at least in my mind. How challenging is it to play the music the Men plays one night and doing a Hubble gig the next?
It isn't challenging at all. My mindset is the same going into any performance sitch, play hard, don't be a boner, etc. Honestly I don't even like to think about my different musical avenues as being all that separate. Everyone's coming from a similar place, trying to do a similar thing.
Where is your mind at when you're playing with ZS, Hubble, the Men and
when you were in Pygmy Shrews?
In all instances I'm usually just trying to avoid eye contact with the audience, which is much easier when I'm not playing solo.
What do you classify Hubble as playing? Is there a genre Hubble occupies?
I call Hubble "Cyber-dread," which is a joke genre that Joe Williams came up with. I think it was Joe or it might have been Matt Papich, I forget. Cyber-dread is about fear of already living in the future. Sometimes I call Hubble "Shred-fi," too, which is more of a joke on the more, ah, Vai-esque aspects of what I'm doing. Both terms are a joke. I think genres are a joke in general.
Was there a question if ZS would play again since you are super-busy doing your projects and recording duties and so is Sam with Diamond Terrifier?
Definitely not! ZS has been incredibly busy behind the scenes, working on all new material for our next LP.
How is your new piece Hubble Superposition different from Hubble Drums?
Hubble Drums is the name of my first full-length album. It came out this past November, and it contains three separate pieces of music for solo stereo electric guitar, and some synthesizers. Hubble Superposition is one long-form (40 minutes to an hour) piece for Quadraphonic electric guitar. It can only be performed live, since there isn't really a good way to capture and distribute multi-channel sound beyond stereo. Unless I did a surround sound DVD, that is, but how many people checking out Hubble really have a 5.1 system set up in their living room? I've performed Hubble Superposition at the Berkeley Art Museum in California, the BCA Plaza Theatre in Boston, the TOPS Warehouse in Austin, Fairchild Chapel at Oberlin, and now I'm going to do it for the first time in NYC at BAM. So excited!