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Dispelling the tortured artist complex with Ben Katzman’s DeGreaser

Photo by Ben Trimble

We all know the type: The sad musician who sings about heartbreak, but is currently ghosting like three different people. The one that takes themselves way too seriously and talks about music like they invented it. Well, Ben Katzman’s DeGreaser is the complete opposite of that. Katzman sings about being true to yourself, treating others with respect and how kindness is fucking hot. He’s sincere with his love for shredding and Kiss fandom and although his songs are on the optimistic side, he doesn’t lose any of that dark, energetic, grittiness we love from classic metal bangers and snappy in-your-face punk tunes we all angst’d out to when we were teenagers.

Released just this past Friday on his very own label Bufu Records, the album Quarter Life Crisis is Ben Katzman’s way of kindly telling people to check their egos at the door. The intro track “Chill Position” instantly kicks the record off into a whirlwind of mayhem. Katzman shreds to the beat of an adrenaline pumped heart while singing the lyrics we all wish we had the nerve to say ourselves, “being jaded is overrated/ make sure your ego’s not dilated.”

You know that scene in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure when Bill and Ted get lost in time and end up in this metalhead utopia where the patriotic salute is an exaggerated strum to the air guitar? That’s the world Ben Katzman’s DeGreaser is setting for us all, and we should all be excited. In the words of the future king of Shred Mountain, you gotta work hard to chill hard. (Catch Ben Katzman’s DeGreaser 11/16 at Coney Island Baby!)

Follow Ben Katzman’s DeGreaser @bkdegreaser69!

Ben Katzman: Yo, whattup pimp?

Hi Ben! When are you moving back to NY already?

Ben: Oh, I’m never moving back to NY, it’s such a rip off. My plan is this: One day I want to buy a castle in the middle of nowhere so it doesn’t cost too much money. And like Elvis had Graceland, I want to have Shred Mountain. How sick would that be?

Please do that! That would be so sick. So, let’s talk rock. Your new album comes out October 12th, just in time for Halloween and it’s called Quarter Life Crisis—is that what you’re currently going through?

Ben: I think in this generation it’s something that’s happening more and more. But this record is definitely the culmination of something I’ve gone through in the last couple of years. I feel like the idea of the “American Dream” we all believed was going to happen—like you go to college, you get a degree and then you’re guaranteed work—doesn’t exist anymore. You know what I’m saying?

To be playing music in a genre that isn’t really that popular anymore is even harder to make a living. Not that it’s impossible. It’s the combination of me trying to make things work in my life, but at the same time the living on the road and all this band stuff can really wear you down.

The reasons you get into the game when you’re younger change. When I was 17 I was like, “I wanna be in a rock band! I wanna be in magazines! I wanna play big shows!” Then that stuff happens to some extent and you realize, “Damn, I gotta pay my rent too…” So a lot of the songs are like that, like “Too Old For Retail” and “Cool Points Don’t Pay The Rent.” So yeah, this album is like a deep diary entry of my quarter life crisis.

Hold up, when I hear crisis I think nihilism, you know, ‘fuck everyone, fuck my life.’ But you are such an optimistic person in your music and in general—how are you going through this crisis, yet stay so happy?

Ben: It’s not really that I’m so happy. A lot of people criticize me for my social media presence because I always look happy, but I have depth. I think in this time that we’re living in a lot of people are bummed and angry at the world. It’s hard to control a lot of things, but the one thing you do have control over is your day-to-day and your life, so I try to chill and surround myself with good people and do the things that make me happy—therefore I’m happy on the regular. I know there were times when I wasn’t like that, where I was like, “Fuck everything! Everything sucks! I hate life!” and then I’m like, “man, we’re pretty privileged…” So I try to count my blessings.

Then what’s your view on people who think you have to be this tortured soul in order to be a successful artist?

Ben: I think that’s kind of whack. [laughs] Look, to try and pursue art or anything to the degree where you’re trying to be successful, you have to be a different kind of person. I never felt like I ever fit in and then I found rock music and I was like, “wow, this is so sick!” Then I started to go to rock shows, but I still never felt like I fit in. You meet bands or people and they’ll try and be punks or metal heads and have this very physical identity defined by how the carry their band’s t-shirts or whatever. That’s cool and all, but at the end of the day you still have to go home and be with yourself. So, it’s a thing, but I think for me it’s not so much being a tortured soul, it’s more so like, “ok, this is what I’m going through… so I might as well make my art the most me that it can be.”

Right on—I totally agree. I think the best artists are the ones that are just like, “fuck you guys, I’m gonna be myself and if you don’t like it just go away, and if you like it that’s chill.”

Ben: Yeah, exactly. The aestheticized version that you’re supposed to portray has to come from somewhere real it can’t be fake. Everybody’s got some sort of problem, so you might as well deal with your own and try to work it out through your art. This cliché of being some tortured soul Kurt Cobain-type, it’s like, just count your blessings and try to make your art the most you that it can be.

I mean if anybody is dispelling that whole tortured artist thing, it’s you.

Ben: I’m not saying it’s not out there—there’s mental health issues and people have their own ways of dealing with things. So I can’t comment on anybody else, but I know for myself it just doesn’t seem to be me.

I’ve definitely had to break up with artist boyfriends because they were trying to be these tortured soul types and bringing me down.

Ben: Ugh, it’s just so draining. It’s like you’re trying too hard. When I was in high school I was pissed all the time, I was in a metal band and took myself way too seriously. But at the end of the day, you’re not famous, so why are you taking yourself so seriously? And I’ve gone through lots of phases where I’ve taken myself too seriously. It’s like, every time you go to a party and someone asks you how you’re doing and instead of just saying good you start talking about all the things you’re doing, as if that’s an answer. I realized like, what am I doing this for? I feel miserable, I feel like I’m isolating myself from relating to people. So I started writing all these songs about that kind of stuff, because at the end of the day playing music is supposed to be fun, isn’t it? When you were 12 you picked up a guitar not because you were tortured, you picked up a guitar because it just felt really good. So I want to retain that feeling of doing it because it’s fun. I can make some jokes, but I take what I do seriously.

When I’m feeling down I definitely put on one of your songs and it makes me feel so much better, I hope you know that.  

Ben: You rock so hard! Hell yeah. That makes me feel so good. That’s what it’s all about. In this day and age people make lots of music that’s depressing because we kind of live in a depressing time, but I’m a firm believer that you can make the change you wanna see—maybe not so much on a grand scale—but I think on a day-to-day. I’m just trying to rock.

Can I ask you about your love for Kiss?

Ben: Hell yeah, I could go on for hours about this. Let’s go!

I only have one question. How do you convert someone who isn’t a fan of Kiss into a fan?

Ben: Okay, I do this all the time. [laughs] I’m gonna give you a two part answer. If you can go to the movies and watch a comedy or a buddy cop action movie that makes you feel good, music should be allowed to have the same effect. With Kiss, all the songs are about partying and being yourself, at least the classic records. Sure a lot of it is also about hooking up, but it’s also about realizing you are a freak and you gotta wave your freak flag high.

And I think for people who take themselves too seriously, they’re kind of afraid to do that. I know I was one of those people. You’re afraid that people are going to write you off for being weird, but you gotta live your life for yourself. There’s always going to be somebody who’s going to judge you, so you can’t start living your life for that person. And Kiss is like the embodiment of that, for me at least. Then you add the make up and the special effects—it can only be a good time.

Now, my second argument: All the people that hate on Kiss and I’m like, “you know how many of your favorite bands have started playing music because of Kiss and have covered kiss?” Nirvana’s covered Kiss, The Melvins covered Kiss, Sonic Youth has used Kiss samples many times. It’s like, if you’re gonna hate on something because you don’t like their music, that’s fine. But if you’re gonna hate on something because of the gimmicks and you’re gonna think all these other bands don’t have their gimmicks, get over yourself. Kiss is like the Star Wars of rock ‘n’ roll.

Well, you’ve convinced me. You might have some Kiss sounding influences, but your messages are always on the positive side. So, what’s the idea behind the upcoming album?

Ben: It’s that you don’t have to be defined by what you’re going through or the standards you set for yourself. Life is too short to be so bummed all the time. In your early 20s when you’re forced to work at Urban Outfitters ‘cause you can’t get a job somewhere even though you have a college degree, you learn first hand from working with people your age that everybody is stuck in something. You can always bond with people.

I think the bottom line is you gotta learn to make friendships and you have to value the things that matter—those aren’t your job title or how much money you make. What matters to me is what gets you through the day. If hanging out with your friends and playing shows and having a good time is what gets you through the day, I think that’s what you should value. That kind of thing is lost in the hustle a lot of times and I get it, it’s a hard game to be in. But it’s not about strength in numbers. If you can get one person to come to your show that genuinely loves your band, it’s better than playing a packed show in Brooklyn with a bunch of people who don’t really care. So that’s the message I’m trying to get across with the album.

Truth. One more question, I feel like you have to have a life motto, what is it?

Ben: Oh 100-percent. I always say, you gotta work hard to chill hard.

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