The Color of Pomegranates
“It’s the same way with the mythology. We like to read about mythologies, we were raised around religious mythologies, and once we read about Joseph Campbell’s monomyth – this idea that all stories have a similar form – we wanted to apply that idea to music and art.”
NewVillager is comprised of Ben Bromley, Ross Simonini, Colin Almer, and Eric Lister. They’re not just a band, they are artists taking mythical elements and creating a story of wonderment. They have invited us into a world of chances with an eternal imagination. Everything about this band is a gift. Let them take you on a journey with an intention of fantasy and depth.
by April Lanier
Before you answer these questions, describe your surroundings? Where are you right now?
Driving from Chicago to Cincinnati, where we’re playing the MidPoint Festival. We just stopped and rode around on skateboards for a while, which is our current form of exercise. Then we stopped for about an hour and Eric [Lister, a member of NewVillager] set up an installation out in a corn field, next to some windmills, and we shot some video of that, using our van as a dolly.
How did you guys meet? Did you always know that you wanted to work together?
Ben and I met in college and have played all sorts of music in that time, most of it being some form of pop music. Collin started working with us about a year ago, drumming, making art and touring. We met him through friends in Brooklyn and through his Calmer project. I’ve known Eric since we were both about six years old, drawing in the sandbox.
Why mythology? What made you choose this concept? Was it something you’ve wanted to write about?
Essentially, for the same reason we chose pop music. Both are fantastic mediums for communicating to a large group of people. Mythologies have existed since culture has existed. Pop music has existed since pop culture began. The point is, lots of people everywhere like these things, including us. We wanted to make something universal, something undeniable. Thinking about both these things helped us to try and figure the way to connect with people on this level. I’m not sure we’ve done that yet, but we wanted that intention of human connection to be the fundamental impulse of all the music and art we make.
Do you think mythology will be the basis for all your albums and shows?
I think so. If we were talking about pop music and mythology here, I’d say we use both as tools for making music art, and they’ve both been deeply helpful. We are constantly thinking about the history of pop when we’re making music. We are constantly trying to touch upon the scope of expressivity that pop music has hit upon, whether it’s the production of modern R&B, the songwriting of classic country or the vocals of Sam Cooke. It’s the same way with the mythology. We like to read about mythologies, we were raised around religious mythologies, and once we read about Joseph Campbell’s monomyth – this idea that all stories have a similar form – we wanted to apply that idea to music and art.
Out of all your videos at the moment I think ‘Lighthouse’ best represents NewVillager. Is that just one layer to the story and to you as artists? When you came up with the idea for ‘Lighthouse’ did you let Ben Dickinson just run with it? Or was it a collaborate effort the whole way?
We all spent a lot of time on that one – a very collaborative process. There was a tremendous amount of preparation work and quite a bit of back-and-forth editing work. That video is also very tight, in terms of the mythology. Every aspect of the video – the cuts, the ordering, the movements, the materials, the colors – all were very specifically chosen, partly because imagery from that video is used in the album’s artwork.
The ShotBigHorixon video and RichDoors video both function in all these same ways, but are a bit looser, because of the nature of the shoots.: One was a series of games filmed outside over the course of a day and night and the other was a game played with a large group of people, filmed in a single camera shot.
Who and what do the characters in the video represent?
There are ten characters, ten stages in the mythos, ten songs on the album, and ten rooms in our temporary culture installation. They’re all just different versions of the same idea. Like the stages of denial – they could be explained through a story or a group of characters or environments. It’s fun to take the same ideas and see what happens when you try to express them through different mediums, different angles. The first stage in the mythos is called cocoon and that’s all about ignorance; looking at something in a pure, focused way, thinking about a single thing as right or true, but not being able to see that there are other true, equally valid ideas. So, you can express that in a song or a drawing or a video or a character or a room or a sculpture or text or an interview question response.
When I first saw the video for ‘Lighthouse’ I immediately thought of the film, The Fall. Have you seen this film and can you draw the same connection?
I’ve seen that film. It’s like a gorgeous dream. We didn’t talk about it at all, but I can see that both our video and that film draw upon the same elements, for sure. A lot of people cite Matthew Barney when looking at that video, which makes sense, since I think he’s also interested in mashing up various international mythologies, but again, we didn’t talk about Barney either. We were referencing face paint from Papua New Guinea, Japanese Noh, a terrific, Armenian film called The Color of Pomegranates, Nick Cave’s “Soundsuits” and a lot of Robert Smithson.
Will you be doing a similar show in New York as you did for the LA art exhibit?
We’re working toward an installation for New York City. It’s not clear where it’s going to be, but the idea will be to create a sort of an indoor arena for game play.
Tell us about the experience and process making the video for “The Code” and working with Awol Erizku?
We met Awol when we were playing a show at Milk Studios, which is a great photography gallery/studio in New York. He’s shown some work there, all of which is excellent. He invited us over to his studio to try and shoot a video and photos. We played the album and decided that using the first portion of “Say the Code” made sense for a short video. We used our materials and Awol’s materials and just improvised. We passed the video back and forth a few times, taking turns with edits and effects and ideas. That tends to be the way we work.
You once said in an interview that if there were an artist you would like to collaborate with, it would be Joseph Beuys. Was there a particular piece that he did that changed the way NewVillager thought about art?
I’d say it’s more about his body of work. There are certain pieces of his that I love, for sure, but what’s most exciting about Beuys is the approach he took toward art and toward bringing mythology into contemporary culture.It’s the way he’d used universal symbols – hare’s blood, the stag – to make his art less about self-expression and more about universal human expression. His work was as much about the ideas as it was about the performances, sculpture and drawings. These art objects were both things in themselves and also windows into his landscape of ideas. We’d love for our music to be able to have that kind of scope. You can listen to pop music and enjoy that for what it is, AND if you like, you can also hear it as an attempt to express some basic, universal experiences.
The live energy of you guys is mind-blowing; Colin’s amazing drumming, Eric’s theatrical dance character, Ben’s raw energy on the bass / keyboards, and Ross’s intense melodic guitars. Did you guys always have so much chemistry or was this acquired over time spent playing together?
We’re still working on it. That show you saw was one of Eric’s early performances and it feels like we’re just hitting our stride as a musical trio. Ben and I had done a few tours as a duo. We were playing drums with both feet, singing, switching between guitar, bass and keyboards. No tracks. But it was all a little bit much for two guys to cover, so bringing in Collin has really changed the dynamic, from a sort of two-man band thing to more of a classic trio feel. Now we have some ability to incorporate group improvisation and with Eric on some tours (when we can afford to bring a fourth person) we incorporate more extensive performance ideas. It’s all fun and I’ve got to admit it’s getting better all the time.