It was all one glorious accident. The indie pop duo known as Bad Veins began as something of a low key solo project for garage rock vet and multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Davis—an outlet for him to document his kitchen sink-symphonic, theatrical-pop compositions in the privacy of his bedroom studio. But when his musician friends came knocking in need of an opening band, he found himself onstage in front of thousands with a drummer and a 1973 reel-to-reel recorder. By the band’s third gig, Bad Veins were showcasing for indie labels in New York City.
Now the duo releases the masterful long player, The Mess Remade (Dynamite Music). “When this whole thing started, I was just shooting for the moon trying to get the biggest sound possible. I never intended to play this music live,” Benjamin reveals.
Bad Veins is Benjamin Davis vocals, guitar; Jake Bonta, drums; and live member, “Irene,” a 1973 Pioneer reel-to-reel recorder that handles filling out the duo’s lush studio soundscapes onstage. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based two-piece is best described as an opulent hodgepodge of sounds and aesthetics, including warm analog ambience, busted electronic textures, symphonic and choral bits, and stately arrangements and compositional conventions that recall indie Charlie And The Chocolate Factory as much as they recall the blissed-out orchestral indie-pop stylings of producer Dave Fridmann’s iconic work with Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips.
Bad Veins have toured extensively with Two Door Cinema Club, Walk the Moon, Frightened Rabbit, St. Lucia and We Were Promised Jetpacks, to name a few. The Bad Veins’ track “Gold and Warm” was featured on the Chronicle film soundtrack. Previously, the duo was associated with the tastemaking indie label Dangerbird Records (Silversun Pickups, Fitz and The Tantrums, and Minus the Bear).
Primary songwriter, and Bad Veins visionary, Benjamin Davis began his musical explorations fumbling around on a guitar his father kept behind the couch and using his dad’s trusty reel-to-reel recorder as an amplifier. Eventually, his father, a Vietnam vet, gave him the reel-to-reel along with his sergeant army jacket. That gesture would be an artistically formative one in many ways. The military imagery to this day presides over Bad Veins with their use of megaphones for vocals, decaying warzone-esque imaging in sound and in vision, and in the duo’s fan-named appreciation community, Bad Veins Army.The reel-to-reel became a key musical ally when Benjamin received that first call to play live. “I remember looking across the room and seeing that reel-to-reel and realizing I could dump all the tracks onto that, it opened up the possibility of playing this music live,” Benjamin recalls.
After a false start with a previous drummer, Benjamin encountered the exuberant John Bonham-meets-Animal talent of Jake Bonta. The two met on a Tuesday and by Saturday, after a grueling rehearsal period, were onstage in front of thousands.
The Mess Remade is a 13-track album that rewards with repeated listens. Each track is its own sonic island crafted from a dizzying array of textures, vocal harmonies, and dense thickets of melody. “Often the songs start off with just me humming over an acoustic guitar, but Jake’s sound is so big that the songs end up being this hellacious ruckus with me experimenting with like a tuba,” Benjamin says laughing.
The Mess Remade features the transcendently beautiful fan favorite “Kindness,” the sublimely beautiful “I Shut My Heart Down,” and a wide-eyed and triumphant rendition of “Rainbow Connection.” The most profound Bad Veins experience for the guys (and Irene) and their fans is the show. Onstage the band is cathartic, visceral, and vulnerable, stretching songs into sweaty testifying-at-church-on-Sunday rave-ups with the crowd egging them on. Not only is the show a chance to bring the music to life, it’s a chance for a community, the Bad Veins Army, of equals to convene. Benjamin says: “The connection means so much. There’s so much hope and positive emotions coming from all of this. These aren’t really fans, they’re our friends, and they’ve had such a huge effect on us as people and musicians.”