WHERE WERE YOU WHEN WE MADE IT BIG? by Hello Whirled (Ben Spizuco) | INTERVIEW
Author: Sean Manuel
Would you be skeptical if someone claimed they were the fifth or sixth most prolific artist/band ever? When I came upon Hello Whirled's Bandcamp profile, I was naturally skeptical at this very claim they made; however, I soon discovered their breadth of releases could rival James Brown's catalog. With a Bandcamp bio serving as their counter currently logged at, "Album count: 44. Release count: 127. Song count: 1346," Hello Whirled combine gritty distorted guitars with liberal interpretation of key center and season the sonic casserole with sophisticated lyricism. Their most recent release entitled, "Where Were You When We Made It Big?" is now live on Bandcamp (Go listen after reading this interview!), serving as a unifier bringing fans of Wired, Guided by Voices, and Yo La Tengo under the same tent. Let us dive into Hello Whirled with songwriter Ben Spizuco ...
Hey there, Ben! Congrats on your most recent release entitled "Where Were You When We Made It Big?". This release counts as a whopping 127th overall release, taking your total song count to 1346. I am aware you began releasing music in 2016 with "Morning," and posted about your 2020 burnout experience on your website blog posts. When did the prolific songwriting begin? How do you sustain it? Should one fall into a creative burnout, what can they do to reinvigorate their writing spirit?
The prolific songwriting has kind of been my whole life, in a way. I was always writing songs, but I didn't do it this often until I got 1. passable at guitar, and 2. into indie rock. GBV entered my life when I was 13 and I fell into the Pollard rabbit hole when I was 14, so that cemented it as "the way to go". My first album came out in 2013. The first Hello Whirled album, Afternoon, was my 22nd album. No, I will not tell you what they are.
I sustain it in part by constantly listening to music I haven't heard before, so my influences are always expanding. I got into metal this year, can you believe that? I can't!
The best way out of creative burnout... there are a few ways. The one I definitely recommend is just not doing it for a bit. Don't make it a goal. Just take a one-month break from writing songs. Here's where the path splits: you can either force a project out (Octave, Falling Short Of Heaven) or you can devote a lot of time to a grander vision (No Victories).
As per the description you included on your Bandcamp release page, "Where Were You When We Made It?" is a compilation of live full band recordings created with the intent to submit to record labels. These full band recordings sonically update the songs from their original versions on previous albums you created solo. Please tell us which album each song originally comes from. Also, compare and contrast your creative process recording these songs solo and with a full ensemble.
"Former Island" is from 2020's Hole Of Infinity. That was an album originally conceived as a full-band album (and actually was!) when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and, after finishing Atlantic Witchcraft (top 5 HW album) I unconsciously went a full month without writing anything at all. Hole Of Infinity was an attempt to write an album in an afternoon, in many different genres, but only with an acoustic guitar and a Casio VL-1 (overrated). I knew I wouldn't be performing with a band for a while, so I assembled what would have been the live band to record the album: Angela Branchek (now of Mixolydian Dreamer) on drums, and Luis Vera (of King Puzzle and later Goth Goth) on bass. We finished half of the album remotely until it screeched to a halt in the summer and autumn. Luis eventually confirmed they couldn't finish the project, but let us keep their parts. We finished the album with Juniper Gill (wherever they are these days) on bass, but also Angela on 1 song and me on 1 song. That song was "Former Island" because I didn't know how to write out the chords. Teaching Evan how to play it was a personal milestone for me. Also Danny bought an interface during this time so Hole Of Infinity was basically his way of getting comfortable recording.
"Love Is A Dead Rodent" is about my dog, Penny, who died last year after 8 years with my family. She was a truly unique animal and everyone who met her even once knew she was special. I will forever compare all dogs to her. Anyway, she had a thing for squirrels and rabbits (occasionally caught the rabbits too) so I thought the title would be a touching tribute while also being almost cynical if you don't know the context (that it's genuine). The album it's on, Fuck Your Process Throw Your Life At Wall, was named after an intrusive thought (possibly stoned) about the way I was making the album: on tape, with nothing written out in advance, and no idea how to use this Yamaha MT8X I now had. I won't get too into it more than that, except it took three tries to get it going (where the title commenced), and that I made it overlapping with the In The No trilogy for a bit, but soon became the main focus for a bit.
"Idioglossia" is from History Worth Repeating, the album I started immediately after releasing No Victories. The album had originated as one where most of the songs would be under 2 minutes long, but a few would break 5. I recorded 31 short demos by the time I decided to focus on the short ones. The final album included 15 re-recordings of demos ("Idioglossia" among them) but also 4 new songs: "Rubber", "Wrench", "Witness" (which Hello Whirled closed shows with for a while, eventually turning into a drone), and "Thousand", the 14-minute momentum-obliterator named after its spot in the Hello Whirled discography (it is the 1000th song). "Idioglossia" caught the attention of Alan from Swansun, and was his favorite Hello Whirled song until he heard the less-beloved-by-the-artist "I'll Hold The Mirror".
"World Beater" was a wall of Unwound-esque frustration about the district manager at a job I no longer work at. I was uncomfortable with the amount of control she could exert on us from somewhere else in New Jersey. It is the rest of Hello Whirled's favorite song to play live. The album it's on, The Kids Don't Wanna Have Fun, is the second part of the In The No trilogy of albums I spent half a year or so on (the other parts being It's A Difficult Joy But It's A Joy and Here Comes The World). It wasn't the original plan, but once I saw just how much I'd been recording and finishing, I decided to make it a trilogy of shorter albums rather than one long album (with ultimately less songs). I had done the latter with 2020's Atlantic Witchcraft and had to cut several songs I loved from the album. I didn't want to make that sacrifice again. Funny enough, I did release another album's worth of outtakes across several EPs.
The opener entitled, "Former Island," immediately compels the ear from a tidbit you wrote about in the 17th edition of your "Discography" blog series (17. 2020 Finish Line). You write, "I tuned my A-string down to G# and slid an E(add9) shape up and down the neck and wrote a song I use to open (or nearly open) most of my shows now." The song gets its harmonic motion from a G# Lydian intro/chorus riff (G# major scale with raised 4th), settles into a characteristically G# mixolydian verse progression, and exists within this modal interplay until an unexpected (and cool) modulation to E major for the bridge section. Regarding the song's harmonic construction, what led you to this affecting bridge modulation?
That's where my fingers took me. I improvised the song the same afternoon I improvised the rest of Hole Of Infinity (original demos for most, if not all, of the album can be heard on various Bandcamp releases). I played bass on the album version because I didn't know how I could show anyone else how to play it. Teaching Evan how to play it, resulting in a comfy spot in many Hello Whirled setlists, was a musical milestone for myself.
Speaking to the lyrical content on, "Former Island," lyrics such as the first verse's, "painted runes on the sky," in addition to the second verse's, "little footsteps toward the flaming altar, circles and squares of people singing," allude to a ritualistic indigenous society inhabiting the island; meanwhile, the third verse introduces modernity with a past stored in ivory in an, "ice machine saved for summer, melting over ice." Am I correct to interpret this song as commentary on capitalism displacing indigenous people from their native land? Please expound on the song's narrative.
Kinda sorta. The song began, as with the rest of Infinity, as a title, and the title for this one was slightly different. The new title is a reference to how the song was still titled an "Island", but it had been something else ("Former"). As it happens, "former island" is a real term and it described the lyrics better than the old title had. It wasn't written as a commentary but it definitely makes sense as one and the sentiments you described are critiques I agree with.
"Love Is A Dead Rodent," follows, "Former Island," with a narrative many have lived/will live in losing a loved one, be it a human or a pet companion. Lyrical highlights include inclusions of common religious superstitions like rain as ,"pennies from heaven," from loved ones and knowing death is near when you, "hear its drumming," amounting to an ever-so-raw life experience that shakes one's faith in the divine. A common philosophical question but applicable, nonetheless: Is the tragedy of death a disproving of the existence of God? Or, does it prove a divine existence from the purposeful and otherwise-rewarding life one lived prior?
I think it disproves the existence of God, in that I ultimately don't think there's anything to be truly learned from death. We just learn to live without them, but does it really make us better people? I miss my dog. I loved her so much.
A song with a great title I endeavored to look up, "Idioglossia," (noun: a private language developed by up to two people that is otherwise unintelligible to others) touches a similar tone to, "Love Is A Dead Rodent," in that love and romanticism is futile, for as indicated by the lyrics, "let's take it steady, live as friends until our paths split and we reach the end, and never see each other again," the effort put into its various gestures (e.g. making love; getting married; creating an idioglossia) amounts to the same fate as those who live alone. The last lyric is particularly piercing as you write, "the future's bleak, but not so much that it needs you." Does this illustrate one's (of which a great number of the population shares this) preference for introversion or, otherwise, independence from others?
Absolutely. As I (think I) said before, the song isn't about a real event, but it is how I would respond to such an event.
"World Beater," concludes the compilation as a seven-minute jam drifting between D major and its relative minor, B minor. The narrative follows one who decries the lofty expectations and perceptions others place on them as they pursue what fulfills them. There is an ending vamp and progressively crescendoing feedback loop that concludes the release. When did this idea come to be and what was the intention behind it?
I probably recorded it on the spot (as I often do) without a clear idea of what I wanted the song to be. The tuning was DAF#ABE on a Squier Mustang HH I got for free at, funny enough, the job "World Beater" is about. The guitar is currently in my closet. If you want it, email me at email@example.com and we can set something up. I was listening to a lot of Unwound around this time and this song really channels their sound.
I am aware you are currently working on a pair of releases in parallel. What stage of production are you in? Give us the details!
Album 45 is called Questions For Concerned Citizens and is being recorded with the full band (me, Danny, Evan, Nick) at TCNJ's recording studio. Its songs make up a significant portion of our setlists these days.
Album 46 is called No Use Crying Over Spilled Blood, and I'm recording it on my own in my bedroom like every other HW album. It began as a series of tape recordings with my Yamaha MT8X that became increasingly less stable in its motor speed. Recording for the now-DAW album started a few days ago.
Do you have any upcoming live shows you would like to promote?
Currently none, but we are touring in June.
Where can people go to connect and interact with Hello Whirled?
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Hello Whirled is music for DIY lo-fi freaks who like albums more than singles, albums more than concerts, and albums more than TikToks. Albums albums albums. For me, that's the best method for delivering music, and I love bands that have a lot of them. I don't think anyone will care until I'm 50 and people discover it and decide it was a massive influence on everything that followed it (think Cleaners From Venus) but it's not going to stop me from making anything. Go Birds.
Hello Whirled is a band as well as a solo project. They are from New Jersey. They have released over 1000 songs.
About the Author: Sean Manuel is a Senior enrolled in New Jersey City University's Honors Program. A Music Business major, Sean specializes in the piano and bass guitar. Outside of academia, Sean performs in and manages the Bayonne indie-pop group BreakTime: a four-piece writing modern pop tunes with generous vintage allusions to artists such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Are you interested in their music? Follow BreakTime @breaktimelivenj and stream their releases on all platforms.