In terms of ambition, BUBBLEMATH from Minneapolis always set the bar enormously high - so also with "Turf Ascension", their third album in 20 years. The progging is extremely complex, and the lyrics by keyboardist Kai Esbensen are conceived like short stories or philosophical essays. In an interview with eclipsed, the 51-year-old, who heads the quality assurance department of a software company, talks in detail about the creation of the album and the highly unusual themes of the songs. These are about life in underground shelters, the idea of the world as a simulation, uncontrolled armament and, last but not least, quarks and quasars. Wicked stuff!
eclipsed: Five years have passed since the release of the second Bubblemath album "Edit Peptide". One of the biggest obstacles in the completion of your latest longplayer "Turf Ascension" was probably your perfectionism again. Which neuralgic points - both in songwriting and production - made the recording process more difficult?
Kai Esbensen: Actually, the biggest obstacle was the pandemic. You see, we had already started recording the drums in March 2020. Oops! (laughs) But apart from that, the songwriting went totally smoothly. The songs mostly came together in a very organic way. We jammed as a band, integrated everyone's ideas, and the best ideas prevailed - the way it should be! With the two previous albums, songwriting was more difficult because we were all very opinionated and wanted to protect our personal visions
eclipsed: During the recording process, you reportedly ran out of money before you finally bought your own studio equipment ..
Esbensen: That was the situation with our first album "Such Fine Particles Of The Universe", but not with "Edit Peptide" or "Turf Ascension". With the first album we realized that we had financed the recording equipment in our sound engineer's studio. So we decided to buy our own equipment for the recording of "Edit Peptide". We didn't run out of money at the time, but we unnecessarily took way too much time - mainly because we could tinker around as long as we wanted to get everything perfect without the risk of losing money. In the business world, there's a saying that "perfection is the enemy of good" - meaning that after a certain amount of time, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. And once you've crossed that threshold, it's better to check something off as "good enough" and apply the lessons learned to the next project. "Edit Peptide" should have come out back in 2007 - it might not have sounded 100,000 percent flawless, but it would still have sounded great, and we would have recorded more albums by now, each of which would have sounded better than the previous one. by the way, "Turf Ascension" actually sounds much better than "Edit Peptide" in my opinion
eclipsed: This time you went into "longtrack mode" and developed the musical themes over a longer period of time. What were the reasons for that?
Esbensen: We like to challenge ourselves to see what new things we can come up with when we work together as Einzeit. In the past, we used to have new themes follow each other very quickly to keep it interesting for us and our listeners. But an unfortunate side effect of that approach was that it shortchanged some of our best hooks and themes. This time around, we wanted the themes to be able to develop better without having to bring something different every eight seconds, as we usually do. I know a lot of our fans were hoping for "Edit Peptide Part 2," but that's not how we work. In fact, we always want to try new composition ideas. That's why we released "Everything" as the first single, the most atypical song on "Turf Ascension". We wanted to see how people would react to it. Some were disappointed because they were expecting a more direct song, but hopefully we could appease them again with the second single "Refuse". The other two songs are not lacking in intricacies either. by the way, "Everything" is much more complicated and intricate than it sounds
eclipsed: Was it more difficult for you to write longtracks? Or was it rather liberating?
Esbensen: I would say that it was liberating. We let the songs take us on a journey and took the opportunity to let the listeners be a part of it as well. There was a lot less pressure to doubt ourselves. We just let ourselves drift and just made sure that our own interest didn't wane. Because we figured, "As long as we're interested, so are our listeners."
eclipsed: With the lyrics of "Turf Ascension" you also tried to keep your high standard. The statement in the promo info sheet ("The best prog you'll ever read!") is certainly no exaggeration
Esbensen: Thank you
eclipsed: Are there certain musicians or authors who have made a lasting impression on you and left small traces in your own lyrics?
Esbensen: I would say that the lyricism of Ira Gershwin and Stephen Sondheim has influenced me, in the sense that I use the "basic lyrical faculty" wisely, and also make sure that my rhymes are precise and without drivel! Weird Al Yankovic also influenced me because he showed me that incorporating humor and wordplay can be valuable. Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks, Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, and Jerry Casale of Devo have influenced me in that they have shown me that lyrics can be politically meaningful and that a lyricist with a global reach has an obligation to provide thought-provoking philosophical commentary on the state of the world
eclipsed: You love puns, and the first one can be found right away in the album title "Turf Ascension", which almost sounds like the opener "Surface Tension". In general, all four songs are about a "turf asension" - be it literally or metaphorically. Can you elaborate on that?
Esbensen: The name Bubblemath refers to the mathematics and physics underlying "surface tension". I've always wanted to give a song or an album the title "Surface Tension", however there was never the right opportunity. This song is about a group of high school kids and their teachers, with the school building serving as a shelter in the event of a catastrophic global war. When such a war occurs, the school and its students bury themselves underground, where there is a larger facility with bunkers, corridors, operations centers and hydroponic nurseries. The kids spend many years down there, longing to return to the earth's surface - which they eventually do. I thought "Surface Tension" was the perfect name for this song because "surface tension" is not only a mathematical/physical concept, but it refers to the war situation that continues on the surface of the earth
Then one day at rehearsal, when we were about to play this song, our guitarist Blake Albinson jokingly referred to it as "Turf Ascension" - a humorous shake rhyme. We all laughed, and I thought, "Wow. That would be a great album title." That's because all four songs are literally and/or metaphorically about "rising from the ground."
"Surface Tension," as I said, is about children who want to return to the surface of the earth from deep underground and, as it were, literally climb up out of the ground. The second track, "Everything," suggests that we should think about the increasingly plausible idea that we are living in a simulation. This idea invites listeners to leave the "ground" of their preconceived notions, to understand reality as such, and to think about other ideas as well. The third track, "Decrypted," describes the genetic imperative of life to continuously strive for survival, even in the face of insurmountable adversity. The lyrics take as their starting point a dead apple tree, but one that continues to grow and blossom every year, even though it is dead. The last track, "Refuse", on the other hand, is about an uncontrolled weapons technology that is pushed to the point of absurdity because of constant global tensions due to geopolitical borders - more "turf" and more "ascension" because countries want to expand into neighboring countries ...
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