Blank Tape Tax eloquently unearths the jazzy side of hardcore punk.
The Detroit experimental sextet of Ben Yost (drums, vocals), Emily Parrish (vocals), Michael King (upright bass), William Marshall Bennett (piano), Mark Royzenblat (guitar) and Isaac Burgess (guitar) beautifully reinterprets Minor Threat’s “Filler” as a timeless, feverish tribute to modal jazz.
“I was practicing a lot of up-tempo swing and double-time swing, and I was listening to a lot of John Coltrane. The way I was going about practicing involved listening to a song in my mind. I’d hum along to the song, ‘Impressions,’ by Coltrane, and I would play and imagine the song, and every now and then, I would hum ‘Filler’ by Minor Threat. That’s how it started,” Yost said.
That coincidental fusion sparked the melodic, glistening frenzy of Blank Tape Tax’s refreshing rendition of “Filler,” out today via all streaming platforms. Frantic upright bass, thunderous drums, crashing cymbals, sleek piano and swirling electric guitars seamlessly blend two divergent genres into a magnetic, holistic sound.
Backed by lush, intelligent instrumentation throughout “Filler,” Parrish soulfully sings, “Your brain is clay/What’s going on? You picked up a bible/And now you’re gone/You call it religion/You’re full of shit/Filler.”
“I think there are similarities between certain types of hardcore, like 7 Seconds, Minor Threat and Better Than a Thousand, and modal jazz, like Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, especially in up-tempo stuff. The pulse is really similar between the D-beat and up-tempo swing,” Yost said.
“I had written a piano score for it, and I gave it to William, and he read it down. If I write a song, then I’ll bring it to the band, and I’ll just say, ‘This is kind of how it goes.’ And then they’ll kind of just do their own thing, and whatever they come up with is awesome. I’m totally happy with it, and there’s not a whole lot of talking back and forth, like ‘Oh, you should do this,’ or ‘No, you should change that.’ Everyone already knows what to do, and it just falls into place. I’ve never had that in other bands.”
Along with his bandmates, Yost recorded “Filler,” originally a 1984 track written and recorded by Minor Threat, during a live performance for the Hazel Park-based podcast, “Broadcast from Cow Haus,” in March. While the podcast episode’s release has been pushed back, Tom Skill and Joshua Young, co-hosts of “Broadcast from Cow Haus” and members of Detroit ska band CbJ, encouraged Blank Tape Tax to put out the track.
“We did four songs, and there’s a video of all of it. They do their show in season blocks, and they are two episodes short of a season right now. They need to wait to get those two new episodes filmed before they can put everything out,” said Yost, whose band name comes from a levy that was placed on purchasing blank tapes.
‘Peachy’ Keen Collaborations
Blank Tape Tax also dropped a live recording of “Some Dumb Something” from “Broadcast at Cow Haus” in September. Originally released on Blank Tape Tax’s 2015 debut album, Peachy, Yost reinvigorates the latest version of the track with a solid, energetic full-band sound.
Vivid electric guitars, pounding drums and smooth bass grooves surround listeners as Yost ponders, “Some dumb something/Anything/A simple thought to think simply/Grammatically incorrect who’s been laying in this bed/Are you lying/In between the sheets it becomes obvious to me/A simple thought to think simply.”
“It’s a lot fuller; it’s really satisfying. It was hard to put a band together, and then it sort of ended up falling all into place at the right time. It feels really good; I’m really happy about it,” he said.
In August, Yost rereleased Peachy on Bandcamp under his new Blank Tape Tax moniker to showcase his original acoustic punk roots. The raucous 16-minute album features 11 raw, honest tracks recorded on a four-track tape machine in Detroit. For Yost, they serve as the foundational demos for what would evolve into Blank Tape Tax.
“Some of the songs are related, like the first two songs, ‘Peachy’ and ‘Yarn Filled Paper People,’ are about the same person. There’s a common theme between those two, and then there are two versions of ‘Some Dumb Something,’ and those are related by a common theme,” Yost said.
“There are a few songs on there all about the same person. But other than that, there are not a whole lot of themes running through there. It’s more like random songs drawn from various inspirations.”
Yost also draws creative inspiration from making backpack boom-bap hip-hop beats (think J Dilla) for Ben Tesner (aka sunny) on the 2018 fresh, free-flowin’ jam, “Baby (Taco Bell Remix),” and the 2019 socially-charged anti-racism, anti-Trump track, “Freedom Ooo Freedom.” Both tracks strongly highlight Yost’s extensive versatility as a producer, vocalist and collaborator across a multitude of genres.
“I caught that fad pretty hard and got into that for a second. I started making beats a lot, and I was making a lot of hip-hop. I started writing lead sheets and jazz music, and the whole time I was still playing guitar and writing pop-punk, indie rock songs. It’s a product of my scatterbrained nature,” he said.
While growing up in Birmingham, Yost developed an instant appreciation for hardcore punk after watching the 2006 documentary, “American Hardcore,” at age 13. He became fascinated with early hardcore punk pioneers Bad Brains, Millions of Dead Cops and Minor Threat as well as genre successors The Ramones and Green Day.
Those acts inspired Yost start drumming and form the punk rock band, The Flaks, who gigged regularly for five years and released two full-length albums and a 7-inch single. They also opened for The Dickies and Glocca Morra and did a Midwest tour.
After The Flaks split, Yost joined an emo-punk band called Broadacre and played live shows with CbJ, Break Anchor and other Detroit punk bands at DIY house and local venues scattered in the Motor City. That initial punk rock stint grew tiresome for Yost, and he quickly became obsessed with jazz and devoured albums by Thelonious Monk and Crass.
“I always liked the band Crass, and I thought it would be cool to make an album that had the smart, on-the-noseness of Crass, but had the musicality to back up the message. Crass’ lyrics are really wordy, and they sound smart. I started writing a suite and looking for players to play it once I had it written,” said Yost, who’s also studying music at Wayne State University.
Yost soon assembled the current lineup of Blank Tape Tax and started performing with them in September 2019. Since that time, the band has honed a multi-genre sound filled with punk rock, folk, instrumental, hip-hop, avant-garde and jazz, and released two live tracks, “Filler” and “Some Dumb Something.” Today, they continue to write and share new material remotely.
“Right now, we don’t have too many plans. We had one rehearsal that went pretty well, but we’ve been social-distancing. Emily has written a handful of songs; I’ve written a handle of songs. We send songs back and forth to each other. Whenever it makes sense to push forward, then we’ll have material to start working with,” Yost said.