Leslie Irene Benson and Jason Reed Milner of the band THE SWEETEST CONDITION took the time to sit down with INFRARED MAG on the eve of their latest release “We Defy Oblivion” which will be available Friday, November 4th.
INFRARED MAG: For people who are not quite familiar yet with The Sweetest Condition, how would you describe your music, and what you offer?
Leslie Irene Benson (lyrics + vocals): “We write industrial-strength synthpop. It’s a blend of genres based on the emotions we feel during the songwriting process. For me, our new album, ‘We Defy Oblivion,’ is a poetic retaliation against the abuse of power in corporations, governments and personal relationships.”
Jason Reed Milner (music + synths + guitars): “Our current album is a throwback to the ’90s industrial, full of angst towards the current political climate around the world.”
INFRARED MAG: What was the first song, artist or CD that inspired you to pursue music?
Jason: “‘Pretty Hate Machine’ by Nine Inch Nails changed my life. It was that album that made me realize this is what I want to do with my life.”
Leslie: “I grew up in the late ’80s and ’90s, so bands like Nine Inch Nails, The Cranberries and Garbage were instrumental in shaping my early music tastes. Songs like ‘Head Like a Hole,’ ‘Zombie’ and ‘Only Happy When It Rains’ became the anthems of my youth and helped me get through some pretty rough times. They’ve stuck with me to this day.”
INFRARED MAG: The thing I find very interesting is that your background says that you are from Ohio. Now you live in Tennessee. Was this a culture shock for you? Was this where the music took you?
Leslie: “I’m originally from Ohio, and Jason is from Indiana. We met in a goth-industrial club in Indianapolis about 10 years ago. A few years later, we teamed up to form Irene & Reed, a project with just piano and vocals that was inspired by artists like Tori Amos. We recorded an album at Sony Tree Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. The experience was magical. Being in a city with that much music history and talent inspired us to move there in 2013 after forming our current project, The Sweetest Condition. We moved to find greater opportunities and for personal growth. Living in Nashville has helped us raise the bar as musicians.”
Jason: “I never would’ve thought I would move to Nashville, but after visiting a few times, it was quite obvious that Nashville is the epicenter of music. I’ve not found another place that is more accepting of new artists and new music than Nashville. It is truly Music City.”
INFRARED MAG: Leslie and Jason, you know what being musicians means—those dreaded critics and people on the Internet. Do you read all the press you get? Does the bad stuff get to you?
Jason: “In former bands, I would never read the press. It would always upset me when they got the band name wrong, or my name wrong, or my bandmates’ names wrong, or perhaps compare my music to something that didn’t even make sense. But now I do read it. I enjoy the positive feedback; it makes this all worthwhile.”
Leslie: “As a former music journalist, I love to read all the press. Of course, as an artist, I’m sensitive to criticism, but I always put 110% into my creative projects, so if someone doesn’t like something, that’s their prerogative. Art is subjective, after all.”
INFRARED MAG: What is your goal with this band? You have a new album on the horizon; what are you looking for this time out?
Jason: “Our goal is to reach more fans and play live shows.”
Leslie: “Lyrically, this album is very personal to me. I hope these songs empower our fans to find the strength within themselves to speak up in the face of adversity and to fight back against political corruption, racism, sexism and domestic violence.”
INFRARED MAG: I made a comment in my review that I found out about you on a compilation on Bandcamp. Does having sites like that showcasing your songs really help you? Let me explain. Do you see more people buying your CD or going to see you play based off that exposure?
Jason: “Yes, because it gives artists the opportunity to cross-promote among fans.”
INFRARED MAG: Does it bother you when you play a gig and looking at the crowd and people are texting or snapping pictures or videos of you? Are you flattered to see a video of you onstage on YouTube? Also, do you think that would help you garner more exposure?
Jason: “As a music lover and an audience member, there is nothing more disrespectful than holding your giant cellphone over your head, forcing the person behind you to watch the show through your screen.”
Leslie: “In my opinion, as long as you take photos or video tastefully, I think it’s OK to capture a special moment at a live show, especially if it helps cross-promote the bands. Just don’t disrespect the band or the people around you.”
INFRARED MAG: I know you expect your fans to buy your album. But, what was the last record that you both went out and bought?
Leslie: “We buy new music all the time. I always say, ‘We’re musicians, but we’re music fans first!’ Recently, we purchased ‘33°’ by Unknown Land, ‘Imagica’ by The Birthday Massacre, ‘Cult of Fake’ by Angelspit, ‘Paper Dolls’ by Ayria, ‘The NATO Alphabet’ by Tiny Magnetic Pets, ‘Cyber Rendezvous’ by Nature of Wires/CountessM, ‘Mine’ (single) by The Static Architect, ‘To Be Alone’ (single) by FIRES, and the list goes on. If we don’t help support original music, who will?”
INFRARED MAG: All these veteran bands are bitching and complaining about the music scene not being what it once was. What do you think could help getting fans to buy more music? Do you honestly think our government does all it can to stop illegal downloading?
Jason: “Technology is always changing. It has its pros and cons. The philosophy I live by is simple. Investing in a band that you like is investing in your own happiness. When you buy their album, you afford them the opportunity to make more music. Thus, they continue to make you happy.”
INFRARED MAG: Do you think streaming sites that carry your music are on your side? Do you think they have your best interests in mind? Veteran rockers complain about corrupt labels and agents who took them for the proverbial ride. It seems today that the experience for young bands is no longer to be on record labels but to distribute their music on streaming websites.
Jason: “Streaming is a double-edge sword. No one’s going to buy your music without hearing what you sound like. But if they can hear your music at any time, why would they buy your album? I, on the other hand, use it as a tool to find new bands. If I like the music, I buy the album in CD format, because the quality is far superior to any steaming service.”
INFRARED MAG: So far in your music experience, what has been your biggest positive and your worst negative? Please do not say this interview is the negative, I would cry.
Jason: “My biggest positive was previously being able to do a short tour with Razed in Black, who at the time was my biggest musical influence. The biggest negative has been every time an unprofessional promoter sneaks out the back door after a show without paying the bands.”
Leslie: “When fans say our songs have positively affected their lives or helped them through difficult situations, that’s what I live for. What breaks my heart is that not more people have heard this music that we’ve poured our souls into.”
INFRARED MAG: Which of these is easier for you and which is hardest and why: To play in front of a crowd? To go into a studio environment to make a record? Or to have to come up with music and lyrics?
Jason: “Leslie can come up with lyrics as fast as I can come up with a song, and as far as playing in front of a crowd goes, that’s a rush I can’t wait to get back to.”
INFRARED MAG: Who would you want to play with? Is there any bands or singers you would love to tour with? Would you be open to leaving Nashville and hitting the road? Overseas?
Jason: “I would love to play with Razed in Black again. I also wouldn’t mind opening up for Nine Inch Nails on his new tour. If we can find a way somehow to afford traveling overseas for a tour, and still somehow have full-time jobs to come back home to, we’d love to tour internationally.”
Leslie: “Opening for Ego Likeness, VNV Nation or KMFDM would be a personal career high. And if I ever meet the members of Depeche Mode, I can die happy.”
INFRARED MAG: What is on a Sweetest Condition iPod? What is the one CD (beside yours) that you cannot live without hearing? Also, what is the most embarrassing CD you own, that you hate to admit to?
Jason: “I’ve been listening to Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Die Krupps, Imperative Reaction, Gravity Kills, Skinny Puppy, Shiny Toy Guns, VNV Nation, and Razed in Black. As far as a CD I can’t live without, it would be ‘Hide and Seek’ by The Birthday Massacre. As far as a guilty pleasure, it would be ‘Every Open Eye’ by Chvrches.”
Leslie: “For our new album, I was inspired by listening to a lot of Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Tapping the Vein, Lacuna Coil, Kidneythieves and Five Knives. But my guilty pleasure is ’80s music. If I hear anything by Duran Duran, INXS or The Cult, I’ll drop everything and start singing along. As for an album I can’t live without, I’ve recently fallen for ‘Ten Love Songs,’ the 2015 release by electropop artist Susanne Sundfør. I absolutely love her songwriting.”
INFRARED MAG: If you do not get a CD deal, what is your backup plan?
Jason: “Getting an album deal was never an end game for us. If one happens to come along that is unbelievably fantastic, we’ll consider it, but ideally, we’d prefer to leave out the middleman and do it ourselves. There’s almost nothing a record company can offer us that we can’t somehow obtain ourselves.”
Leslie: “Hey, if Celldweller can do it, we can too.”
INFRARED MAG: Any final words?
Leslie: “Over the past few years, the overwhelming show of support we’ve received from complete strangers who have now become part of our musical family warms my heart. Thanks for reading this interview, and thank you for supporting our music!”
Jason: “We hope you enjoy the new album and share it with your friends!”
NOTE: You can buy “We Defy Oblivion” by The Sweetest Condition on Bandcamp as lossless digital downloads or on physical CD, along with t-shirts and other merch. The album will also be available on iTunes and Amazon in late November 2016. Follow the band on social media for news and tour dates!
Band: The Sweetest Condition
Band Members: Leslie Irene Benson (vocals + lyrics) + Jason Reed Milner (music + synths + guitars)
Sound Production: Joel Lauver, Burning Bridge Recordings, Nashville, TN
Album: We Defy Oblivion
Release Date: November 04, 2016
Available exclusively on Bandcamp: http://thesweetestcondition.bandcamp.com
[Album will also be on iTunes, Amazon, etc. later this year.]
Mailing List (Get FREE Music): http://thesweetestcondition.fanbridge.com