“There’s a quote from Ezra Pound where he says, ‘The image is more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.’ The mission of my writing is to use imagery,” said Yost, who’s inspired by the late 20th century American poet’s development of imagism, a movement that stressed the precision and economy of language.
Alongside Blank Tape Tax bassist Hayley McNichol, Yost employs astute, concise lyrics and raw, brisk instrumentation to address internal challenges with mental health, relationships and loss. While only 21 minutes long, Plastic Vapid Sexual Cool provides a detailed analysis beneath the surface.
“‘Hospital’ is about me having a mental breakdown, but it’s also about a number of other things,” Yost said. “I have my interpretation as the author, but you, the listener, may have another interpretation based on the words, and your interpretation is just as valid an interpretation as mine is.”
“The most important music to me is my music and the music of my friends because it’s the soundtrack to my life. It makes me think of old venues like the Genesis, the old Sanctuary, Toepfer House and Elijah’s (Q-Nails),” said Yost, who’s based in Detroit.
“It also makes me think of our friendships and our time together as a family. Starting Kickpop Records is about releasing music for me and my friends and to maintain the catalogs of a few artists so their music will always be out there to listen to.”
Yost launched Kickpop Records, a small DIY label, during the pandemic and released his first project, KP-005, or Kickpop Records Sampler No. 1, on 10-inch vinyl earlier this summer. While the vinyl release quickly sold out, listeners can still spin the compelling, cerebral project via Spotify.
“The idea for the (compilation) came from Broadacre bassist Matt Farrett. Matt and I were talking about releasing the nine-song Broadacre project, and he suggested we test the waters on a (compilation) first.”
For Blank Tape Tax, Bobbi Jean Three Legs and Yolanda Renee King serve as the true heroes of our time.
The Detroit experimental group seeks inspiration from the two activists as they push the boundaries for equality and change in a polarizing post-Trump world. Today, Bobbi Jean Three Legs and Yolanda Renee King continually inspire a new generation of political and creative leaders speaking up about the nation’s growing social divide.
That new generation of leaders includes Blank Tape Tax drummer-vocalist Ben Yost and a rotating collective of members and collaborators, including Emily Parrish (vocals), JJ Stanbury (keys), Ja’Vahn “Jay VII” Peterson (production) and Greet Death’s Logan Gaval (guitar). Together, they poetically channel that political struggle on Blank Tape Tax’s latest single, “Hey Donnie,” via Kickpop Records.
“From my perspective, Bobbi Jean Three Legs was the leading voice in the fight against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. To this day, her eloquence and bravery makes me emotional to think about when it comes to the clear abuses that took place surrounding DAPL, not only in regard to the brutal treatment of protesters, but also to the sheer disregard on behalf of the American government toward indigenous people in general,” Yost said.
“Yolanda Renee King is the granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., and in 2018 spoke at the March for Our Lives, which I saw replayed on TV. I was inspired by her because of her poignancy and age. She was very young, and her message was very succinct. Seeing so many young people stepping up to the plate, so to speak, at that time in my life made me want to make music that reflected the emotions I felt seeing all of this happen.”
Along with Yost, Blank Tape Tax wraps that intense emotional spirit in pithy hardcore punk and bebop jazz elements throughout the 44-second, anti-Trump anthem, “Hey Donnie.” Enraged drums, roaring sax, buzzy electric guitars and fierce bass sonically protest the opposition as Parrish defiantly sings, “Hey Donnie, I want to know.”
“I’m not sure ‘Hey Donnie’ comes close to serving as a fitting anthem. They should have sent a poet. But sometimes just trying can mean the whole world, and we may not have gotten it perfect with this song, but maybe someone will come along and do it better. That’s what I learned from Bobbi Jean Three Legs, to try your best, even if you’re not a Malcolm X, MLK, Bob Dylan or Woodie Guthrie,” said Yost, who initially wrote the track in 2017, but believes it takes on new relevance in 2021.
“The meaning of the track has not changed; we won’t back down. That being said, I’m not a great political activist. I’m just an average musician. Real activists are people like Nakia Wallace here in Detroit. I just write songs.”
The Detroit experimental sextet of Ben Yost (drums, vocals), Emily Parrish (vocals), Michael King (upright bass), William Marshall Bennett (piano), Mark Royzenblat (guitar) and Issac 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.