Photography by Abby Weems
When you’re in your early twenties, it feels like everyone is putting up a front. “Kindness Is Hot,” Ben Katzman’s Degreaser new single off of their forthcoming EP, deals with the difficulties of contemporary early adulthood like relating with one another in an age of obsessive self image, inflated egos, online dating.
The song is a fast paced, theatrical ode to courtesy. Over a glam rock guitar riff, frontman Ben Katzman sings, “be cool / be nice / be chill / that’s tight!” The theatrical Kiss-inspired track contains a spoken word break, appropriately followed by a wailing guitar solo. In advance of the single’s release, we talked with Ben Katzman about astrology, authenticity, and working with Colleen Green.
AdHoc: When did you start making music?
Ben Katzman: I’ve always been playing. The truth is I’ve always been playing music. My mom, who’s an astrologer, did my zodiac charts and saw that I lacked communications in my Ninth House. And, after that, she started sending me to piano lessons. Ever since I started playing music, I stopped having rage outbursts. I was like, 8 or 9.
What is the scene like in your city?
I don’t really live anywhere. I’m on the road all the time. There are scenes everywhere that I’m a part of, I guess. These days, I’m in Miami most of the time. But I really don’t pay attention that much to scenes. I like checking out bands, but there’s good bands everywhere, I would say.
What was your inspiration behind “Kindness Is Hot?”
You know, when you’re a teenager and in your early 20s, you’re thrown out into the world? And you don’t really know how to relate to people? You live with a front or an ego that you put on. And it’s not the real you. And I think a lot of people think dating is kind of like that, where it’s just like you’re trying to impress people all the time. And now that I’m in my mid to late 20s, I feel like it’s time to stop living behind an image you put on. “Kindness Is Hot” is about just trying to turn a new leaf and not be a dick, I guess. You know?
You worked with Colleen Green on production. What was that like?
A lot of fun. Colleen is one of my best friends. She’s like a no bullshit person. So anytime I say something stupid, or have a bad idea, she’ll be like, “I don’t think that’s gonna work.” She’s really good at filtering out the garbage, you know? Working with Colleen is awesome, it’s always fun.
As far as the songwriting, I had the chorus and I was just singing it as a joke. And Colleen was like “yo, what’s that?” And I was like, “it’s just something I came up with.” And she was like, “we need to make a song out of that.” And I was like, “hell yeah!”
What’s working with your friends like?
You know how it is growing up, if you’ve ever been in a clique, it’s like you’re better friends with some of your friends than others. With Degreaser, and working with Colleen, the music is my music and I call the ultimate shots at the end of the day. And she’s producing, which is dope but she’s doing her job at the same time. And I really respect her opinion. So with like 99 percent of her ideas, I’m like, “damn, she’s kind of right about that.”
Whereas, when you’re in a band, there’s different power dynamics. Getting to be in G-Toss (Guerilla Toss) or in White Fang, they weren’t my bands, and I didn’t have too much say. I mean, my ideas got out there. But it was a different dynamic all together. Same goes for BUFU, these projects are somebody else’s vision. So you just gotta try and help.
That’s why I don’t think I lasted in bands very long. I’m always like, “I gotta do my thing!” I never get kicked out, and I never leave on bad terms either, I’m just happier doing my thing for that reason, you know?
You’ve worked with other bands like Guerilla Toss and White Fang. You also started BUFU Records. How do your experiences of collaboration and running a record label affect your process making music?
Making music with Guerilla Toss and White Fang was fun. Those were my favorite bands before I got to join them and play with them. It was cool. We got to make music together and travel the country and shred.
With BUFU, I didn’t expect to take it so far. I was putting out my friends’ albums. And I didn’t think anyone would notice. And before you know it, your friends start doing really well, and you do too.
You know, I’ve always liked staying busy, I guess. I don’t know how it affects my personal music. I feel like the music I write is just a way for me to deal with whatever I’m going through. If i’m trying to figure out a problem, I’ll write a song about it.
When it comes to making my own music, I’ve always been my own frontman, and I’ve always been behind my projects 100%. Playing in bands like Guerilla Toss and White Fang were like being on a team. It allows you to sit back and see how other people create. And they were all radically different. The working operations were different from my own, too.
What’s it like running your own record label?
With BUFU, I always liked the behind stuff. One of my favorite bands is Kiss. Their marketing is so good. The songs and everything rule, too. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s like, it’s the whole thing! So when I was doing BUFU, it was a lot of fun because you got to see how photo shoots and music videos and music are made. While you might think they’re all different, you can really craft somebody’s aesthetic. You know what I’m saying? When it came to making my own music, I wanted to have the complete package. I want to have the looks, the sound, the attitude, the merchandise.
When you work on something else, it gives you a reference to see how you can make your stuff better. And luckily everybody knew what they were doing in all those bands I’ve played in and those projects I’ve worked on. So it’s like the complete package was there. It was never the case of like, what’s this band trying to do or trying to be? And with me, my rule with Degreaser is you gotta be yourself no matter what. You can’t be something you’re not.
In your opinion, what does authenticity mean?
In these days, in music, it’s really hard to be original. Every song’s been written and every solo’s been shredded. You can clearly tell when someone is doing something because they love to do it, although it may not be the most original music, the character they portray is really themselves. Maybe it’s the unfiltered version of who they are. You know, Juan Waters is a good example. He plays with a classical guitar but he’s very clever with word choices and his songs are all about him and life and it’s like, when you hear Juan Waters, you know it’s him. The hooks are there.
With authenticity, there isn’t much of it these days. The only thing that you can do to put yourself out there is be the most you that you can be, you know? That’s why I’m always throwing in astrology and Kiss references. That’s how I pass all the time, by reading astrology books.
What’s next for you?
I’m just trying to finish the record. After that, I think we’re going to Europe for the first time. And I think we’re gonna visit all of the US for the first time in a while. We’ve been doing a lot of shows around the country, and we just got back from Puerto Rico, but those haven’t been tours, they’ve just been on the weekend.