Hot on the heels of their recent single on Spacecase Records, Optic Sink, the Memphis synth-punk trio of Natalie Hoffmann, Ben Bauermeister, and Keith Cooper, ventured out to Lawrence, Kansas to record at the home studio of Sweeping Promises' Caufield Schnug and Lira Mondal's last winter. The result of seven originals and a LiLiPUT cover make up the band's second album Glass Blocks, out September 8th on the fantastic Cincy label Feel It Records. Today we're premiering the album's latest single "Modelesque," an eerie yet tranquil look into the trio's cosmic pulse. We also had the pleasure of talking to the band about how recording their new album was like a dream and the sheer amount of musical chemistry that flows throughout the trio.
Expanding on the magnetic, minimalist post-punk frontier first chartered on their 2020 Goner debut, Memphis synth-punk trio Optic Sink return with their second album, Glass Blocks, out September 8th on Feel It Records (Sweeping Promises, The Drin, The Cowboys). Glass Blocks is an album where the trio of Natalie Hoffmann (Nots), Ben Bauermeister (Magic Kids) and Keith Cooper (The Sheiks) strike gold after recording the new album at the home studio of Sweeping Promises' Caufield Schnug and Lira Mondal's. Out of the seven originals and a LiLiPUT cover, today we have the pleasure in premiering "Modelesque," a pulsing clamor of grooving dust and shadowy post-punk that dials up the trio's spiraling synths and percussive tones. The new single is also paired with a mesmerizing, almost Lynchian visual that fits right in with the icy and minimal-electro-punk sounds of Magazine, Oppenheimer Analysis, Tubeway Army, and Total Control.
Along with the premiere of the new single and visual, we also had the pleasure of talking to the band about how recording their new album was like a dream and the sheer amount of musical chemistry that flows throughout the trio.
Paperface Zine: Take me through the origins of Optic Sink. How did you three meet and decide you wanted to make music together?
Ben Bauermeister: Natalie asked me if I would be interested in doing drum machine stuff in her new project and I immediately agreed. It was a no brainer.
Keith Cooper: I joined a little later in the game, but we've all known each other, played, recorded, partied together in some form or another for several years now.
Natalie Hoffmann: I started teaching myself how to play synths and drum machines and started writing songs for Optic Sink while I was playing with NOTS. I liked having something I could do totally on my own, and I started recording demos at home of all of the songs I was writing. After Ben agreed to come on board on drum machines, we practiced and started playing shows and recorded our first record. And honestly, I can't remember when I first met Ben! We went to art school together and ran in the same music/art circles so I think we've sort of always known each other. Keith plays in a bunch of good bands so I met him through the music scene. Ben and I were recording our most recent 7" at Keith's studio/the practice space we rent, and Keith played bass on "A Face In The Crowd" and it sounded great, so we pretty much immediately asked him to be in the band. The first shows we played with Keith were a soundtrack to Maya Deren's experimental films and an improv collaboration with our friend Scott Carter's sound sculpture. Pretty amazing way to bring someone into a band!
PZ: When you formed as a trio, was there a particular vision or sound you were looking for?
BB: From what I remember Keith's main job was just to fill out the low end and give the band some cohesion and a little more of a human feel. Mission accomplished I think.
NH: Totally — I wanted to have more low end in the band and wanted to bring another non-sequenced "human element" to contrast all of the machines. I started playing guitar again in Optic Sink too and I thought it would be cool to have guitar and bass. And honestly I just love bass guitar, I missed the sound of it.
PZ: What has made this project different or special compared to your earlier projects like NOTS, Moving Finger, Magic Kids, and the Sheiks?
BB: For me, this has been the first band I've been in where I don't play the drum kit. It's definitely a lot more complicated to manage drum machines than real drums.
NH: Whoa love a Moving Finger reference! That was JB Horrell (guitar in Ex-Cult) and Laurel Horrell's project that eventually turned into Aquarian Blood. They wrote really cool songs and I just kind of skronked around on a saxophone once in a while and played rhythm guitar and did some backup vocals. It was really fun. NOTS was my main project before Optic Sink, and I'd say for me, Optic Sink is different in some ways and somewhat similar in others. The writing process is different for me, most songs in Optic Sink start on synth, and I layer in other synths and sometimes guitar. Almost all of the NOTS songs started with guitar, though I did start playing synth on our last album. I suppose the main and most obvious sonic difference is that Optic Sink is syncd to Ben's drum machines, which does make me write differently. It's a little colder just by default since the machine presence is heavy. I love that though. And Ben and Keith are both bringing their influences and style to the band, so it's a unique process, since we all have very different musical backgrounds. I love collaborating with them.
KC: Sheiks is stripped down two guitar/drums wild garage rock, so this is definitely a different feel. We still back up Jack Oblivian and I play synth in Aquarian Blood as well. I started playing bass trying to keep up with a drum machine in a group called Model Zero, so maybe that gave me some training for bringing more human to Optic Sink. As far as Optic Sink goes, we've all been in each other's musical orbit in Memphis so long, it's just exciting to work as a unit and make something of our own together.
PZ: What are your thoughts looking back on your self-titled debut LP that was released on Goner back in 2020?
NH: That LP captured the moment Optic Sink was in at that time really well. It's all electronic except for my voice and some really cool aux percussion parts that Ben played. It's pretty minimal and cold, which is a rare approach for me! I think coming out of the very human-made wall of sound that NOTS had been embracing was making me want to think in a more minimal, restrained way for a little while, to hit some sort of a reset. But now I think I've swung back to a kind of middle ground. I love that the songs on the new album have more sonic layers and more dynamic moments. That was my main goal when working on them.
PZ: Today we have the pleasure of announcing your forthcoming second album, "Glass Blocks," along with premiering its latest single "Modelesque." First talk to me about what it was like putting the new album together with Caufield Schnug of Sweeping Promises in his home studio in Lawrence, Kansas?
BB: It was like a dream. Caufield and Lira [Mondal] are wonderful, amazing people.
NH: Truly a dream. Caufield and Lira have such a beautiful and contagious energy. Their passion for writing music, recording music, talking about music, performing, all of it — is just so contagious. And they're incredible friends who show so much care and love all around…it's amazing and has such a deeply positive effect on everyone around them. So they really created an environment for that album to thrive. And they're both such talented musicians. They both made cameos on the record — Caufield plays a beautiful electric storm on "Summertime Rain" and Lira plays a truly perfect saxophone part on "Kaleidoscope." Caufield was good at pushing us too and encouraging us to jump into the ones we hadn't really figured out. He's a great producer. We wrote the song "Glass Blocks" entirely in the studio. And "Modelesque" and "Kaleidoscope" were just rough sketches when we came in. Recording with Caufield at his and Lira's home really made that record what it is. It's the X factor for sure.
KC: It was fantastic. I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to go to a "remote" location to solely focus on making an album. We all gelled and once everything was ready to cue to record mode, it all started spilling out seamlessly. This would have been a very different experience (or at least taken much longer to finish) had we recorded at home. Caufield is a master at what he does and Lira was so supportive and receptive to all the ideas being thrown around. She even made a sax cameo and a wonderful belated birthday cake for Ben and Natalie.
PZ: Tell me about this new song "Modelesque." How did it evolve from its initial idea or demo in the studio?
KC: We only had about four complete songs when we arrived in Kansas. Natalie had a demo of "Modelesque," but it was more of just an idea or a sketch. The old one had a darker feel from what I remember. About two or three days into the Kansas sessions it started snowing one night. We were all locked in creatively and literally and this song just got churned out along with some others. There was already a dancy, sequenced synth bass line on the tune so I just added some funky guitar on it and that's that.
NH: "Modelesque" evolved quite a bit from the demo I brought in — the main structure and the synth parts all pretty much stayed the same, but everything else evolved so much while we just played it over and over in the studio. I think the biggest breakthrough was Keith playing guitar on it, and Ben adding some LinnDrum parts. It catapulted it into this entirely new sonic realm. And watching the snow fall on the studio windows definitely played a part in the overall vibe of that song. I also saw a very eerie mist over Memphis before we left, while I was frantically working on my ideas for the song. That definitely surfaced too.
PZ: It's also paired with a mesmerizing, almost Lynchian visual. What was it like making that?
BB: It was really fun. Noah had a cool vision for it and we went with it. It was especially nice to not have to think about what to do in each shot. Just hold perfectly still. Easy.
KC: Great experience. We shot it over a few days in several locations around town and it turned out very cool. It's a long, hypnotic song so it was difficult to come up with any ideas for the video personally. Luckily, Noah had a great concept and guided us through it.
NH: Yeah our friend Noah Thomas Miller really killed it! He's such a talented filmmaker, so we just trusted him and his vision. I got so close to the song after writing it and recording it and spending so much time with it that I had no vision at all for what a music video could look like for it. Luckily, Noah came in with an incredible and poetic one, and it was really special to collaborate with him. Can't wait to see what his future projects will be.
PZ: Across the new album, there are seven originals and then a rendition of LiLiPUT's "A Silver Key Can Open An Iron Lock, Somewhere." What sparked that cover?
NH: I love that song. The lyrics, the instruments, everything about it was really resonating with me and I had been listening to it a ton. One day I put it on while I was driving and thought, "oh wow this song would be really cool with more of a four on the floor dance beat and a droning synth...maybe we should cover it." I then I sent it to Ben and Keith and we covered it! It's a total honor. It's such a special song to me.
PZ: Back in May, you previewed your forthcoming second album with the Spacecase-released 7" "A Face in the Crowd" b/w "Landscape Shift." Talk to me a bit about that release and why you chose to release it as a physical single?
NH: Ryan and Mor at Spacecase approached us about releasing a 7" and we immediately said yes. Their label is so wonderfully curated so it was a total no brainer. And they're great, really supportive, and want to get music that they're passionate about out there. I have a real soft spot for the physical 7" too. I love a good single. A lot of people won't do them anymore because it's not very easy to make the cost of producing them back. Another testament to Ryan and Mor's love for the game!
PZ: What are you looking forward to the most to your upcoming fall tour and appearance at Gonerfest 20 at the end of September?
BB: I love touring in general so I'm looking forward to the whole thing. Being in New York City for a few days will be nice.
KC: Well, Gonerfest 20 is right in our backyard, but I gotta love the Big Apple. This will be the longest tour I've done since before the pandemic, so just looking forward to being on the road.
NH: I'm going to echo both of them and say I'm just ready to be on the road! I love touring. We had an incredible five-day tour in July and it made me even more excited to be able to do it again this fall. This one is mostly on the East Coast so it'll be great to see all of our friends out there and to play the new album. Gonerfest 20 will be a few weeks before we hit the road so that will be a fun tour preview. Always a good time seeing a bunch of friends from all over at Gonerfest.
PZ: What bands are you most excited to see at Gonerfest 20?
KC: Mainly excited for the Optic Sink/Sweeping Promises family reunion. We haven't seen each other since the recording sessions back in January.
NH: The Kids! Civic, Alien Nosejob, Tee Vee Repairmann, and yesss cannot wait for the family reunion with Sweeping Promises! Can't wait to see them play too. It's going to be a great fest.
PZ: Aside from the new LP and tour, what else is on the horizon for Optic Sink?
NH: Hopefully more touring! I'd love to get back to the West Coast and to Europe. And I've been working on some new song ideas at home, so more writing and demoing too. Very excited about all of it.
Glass Blocks is out September 8th on Feel It Records. Pre-order the wax here and catch the band's upcoming tour dates below.