By Johnny Fantastic
For anyone who thinks the person in the back of the band beating the skins is “just a drummer,” meet Will Hicks.
A Nashville-based artist who cut his teeth keeping time in Linear Downfall, Hicks has reemerged as an experimental solo artist under the cryptic moniker B|_ank. For Will, the drum kit provides more than just “a backbeat you can’t lose.” With strategically placed contact mics running through pedals and syncopated projections, Will whips an entire orchestra out of his drumset.
Over his amazing career, which I would argue is only now emerging from its infancy, Hicks has experienced success, failure, break-ups, and life-altering personal tragedies. Yet his devotion to his music and art has never waivered, nor have his efforts gone unnoticed. He has earned the respect and admiration of the iconic band The Flaming Lips, whom he first met on the Linear Downfall/Flaming Lips split EP Electric Wurms. Will is currently working with Lips’ frontperson Wayne Coyne on B_ank’s first full length album, set to release next year; that is, when he’s not palling around with R. Stevie Moore.
Hicks and I have been keeping a correspondence over the past few months. Each of us is currently travelling across the country on tour; Hick’s takes him to DC’s “Beehive” art and music space on November 19th. We’ve tried to meet up on the road, but except for one memorably muddy night in a Nashville garage, we seem to keep missing each other, sometimes only by a few days. So, this morning, from a kitchen table in Madison, Wisconsin, I Facebook chatted him, opening with the same question I always ask.
So, where are you right now?
We are sitting in the lobby of a jiffy lube in Evanston, Wyoming!
Oh no! Car touble?
Nahhhh, just need an oil change. I’ve been going hard as fuck on my new car. Already put, like, 15k on it. But we did run over a piece of metal and got a flat. I plugged it with one of those tire plugs that you can get at truck stops. We were able to drive all the way to Denver on that plug.
I know the struggle. We broke down in Taos, New Mexico last week. It was the alternator. Needless to say all our tour cash and much of our own personal cash went to solving that one.
[Hicks ends me a pic of his tire grease covered hand with fingernails painted a glittery silver]
That basically sums up tour right there! So, where you playing in Denver?
Somebody’s HOUSE! I think they call it WMCA.
Tour brain! I don’t know where I’m playing either half the time. Are you playing more DIY this tour or venues?
Almost all our shows are DIY shows on this tour. I love it that way. I can’t really tell too much of a change in the scene but the crowds are pretty different than when I toured with my old band. I think it’s hard to tell because this is my first extensive tour as a solo experimental artist.
How’s that right wing, anti-DIY backlash working out for Nashville?
I’m unfamiliar with that happening at all. Anti-DIY? Unless it’s the backlash from the cities after the Oakland shit. I see that everywhere. Bunch of places in Nashville were shut down. But drkmttr is back up and running legally. Queen ave is still outta commission.
What can we do to protect our art and music communities from these waves of anti DIY sentiment?
It’s kinda hard for me to picture how to protect it other than keeping everything underground and secretive. I can’t really see the cops being okay with the DIY scenes everywhere. It can definitely still thrive as an underground secretive operation though. It’s beautiful.
When we last spoke, you were lounging at Wayne Coyne’s studio in Oklahoma City. What were y’all working on if it’s not too secret?
So I started a new record with Wayne. It’s a B|_ank record. Total new direction. Wayne is on some of it already. Dennis Coyne from Stardeath has a big part in recording it. Steven Drozd and I have been talking about writing some stuff together as well soon!
In what way is it a new direction?
So the music is more of a dark and heavy electronic direction. There’s way more production and collaboration. Anytime there is something being recorded at Pink Floor (Wayne’s studio in OKC) it’s almost like a collab between anybody that comes into the studio. I’m a big fan of collaboration these days.
Wow, what is it like working with The Flaming Lips?
I’ve looked up to The Flaming Lips for a super long time! Wayne is really supportive of everything I do. I love going into the studio without any idea of what I’m gonna record. It’s so inspiring being in the Lips studio and having all of this amazing gear at your disposal. One time, I made a drum beat for a track by playing the beat on a music stand and recording it into my phone. Then I plugged my phone into some of Steven Drozd’s old ass pedals from the early Lips days, and was going to play the drum beat recording through those effects, but something happened with Steven’s old pedals – I think they sent power to the headphone jack on my phone and completely fried it so I couldn’t play anything through the headphone jack in my phone anymore.
On the way home, Wayne texted me that he had been listening to the tracks we were working on all day and that he was really fuckin stoked about them. He was saying he had listened to this one track like 12 times in a row in his car or something like that and said I had to listen to it in my car RIGHT NOW, but I couldn’t because of my headphone jack! I explained what happened and he told me to stop at the next iPhone store and he was going to buy me a brand new phone JUST SO I COULD LISTEN TO IT IN THE CAR. I ended up passing up his offer. But now that I bought a new phone, I must say that he was right about how exciting it is to listen to that shit in a car.
You’re playing The Beehive on November 19th. What can we expect to see?
I change up my set a lot depending on how I feel that day. I’ll definitely be fucking with acoustic drums and some small analog synths. I’ve been performing this piece I wrote for a split with Ada Babar. It’s a beautiful piece I wrote for music box called Ada. It’s drastically different than my loud freak out sets. Very long and ambient music box notes with reverb and some delay.
What’s the origin of the name B|_ank?
I started performing as B|_ank right after my little sister died. Her death was part of this big chain of drastic bad shit that happened in my life. It kinda describes how I was feeling at the time. So much shit going on at one time that you can’t really feel anything anymore. So anxious and so overwhelmed. Just kinda feel blank.
I heard about your sister, maybe from you. If I haven’t already said and even if I did, I’m sorry for your loss, Will. I can’t even imagine. Has music helped you at all or is there no healing from something like that?
It has definitely helped me. It’s hard to express feelings about a loss like that with words. For me at least. I never know what to say. But I can perform however I want whenever I want. I really love the freedom. I don’t think that there’s any healing being done though. Doesn’t seem like damage was done to me. Things just changed and it’s sad and fucked up but it happened and shit like that just helps mold who you become.
Again, I’m sorry that happened.
Thanks a lot.
Before we wrap this up, can you give us a run down on what to expect from B|_ank this year?
So I have a full length tape, the tour split w/ Ada Babar and a bootleg burned CD that I’m basically giving everybody. I did a split 7” with R Stevie Moore that will be released next month on Fraternity As Vanity. Wayne is hoping to get my new record done at his place by the beginning of next year. I’m also planning on recording another full length at home in the next few months as well.
Wait. You’re playing with R. Stevie Moore now?
yeah. We are in a new band called R. Stevie Moore’s Amnesia Insomnia. We had gotten together one day to play some music while gearing up for the show. After about an hour of just bouncing sounds off each other and making jokes and shit I started fooling around with this drum beat. It was a pretty melancholy sounding drum beat with this cool gated reverb on the contact mic I had taped to the bottom of the snare. I just started playing and I never stopped. I liked it too much. After about 5 minutes of me playing, R Stevie started playing some beautiful chords on guitar. It was the first time I had heard a chord progression from us all day. Then he went into this beautiful rendition of his song I’ve Begun To Fall In Love. I had never heard that song before. It was just me playing this drum beat and R Stevie playing guitar and singing. Very open. Very quiet. I was blown away by him. Such an amazing song.