Benümb interview

Benümb band logo

Originally published in ‘zine issue #26, 2002

Benümb is a five-piece dirty, fierce grindcore band from sunny California. Among other releases they have two CDs out on Relapse Records, Soul of the Martyr and Withering Strands of Hope. Here Pete Ponitkoff, the vocalist and lyricist, by phone speaks out.

D.U.: Talk about how you are trying something different this time with the vocals.

Pete: Yeah, I’m just going back into, like, probably an older-type thing that I’ve done in the past, like when we started Benümb originally, that was just, like, the more straight-ahead, straightforward vocals––I think you described them as monotone––that type of thing, where it’s just everything turned up to 10, just scream my––not screaming, just yell, y’know, as hard as I possibly can. Basically I was listening to some of the older stuff, and I was just going, man, some of the higher stuff just [pause] it doesn’t cut it with me, it just weakens the whole [pause] obviously the music or whatever like that. I mean, these guys are pouring out this heavy stuff, and all I’m squeakin’ out is this “squeak squeak squeak squeak” stuff, where, how do we say, it doesn’t sound like a blender, it sounds like Barbie’s First Blender, you know, that type of thing. It doesn’t do justice to the hard work that they’ve put behind it or anything. I mean, people [who] can do the higher voice just make them sound killer. I mean, look at Matt Harvey, the master. I mean, you listen to Decapitated, you listen to, y’know, Exhumed, and he’s got that stuff wired down perfectly. Another master is, I think, uh, what’s his face, Travis from Cattle Decapitation. That guy’s got an awesome voice too. Along with [the singer] from Impaled. He can, like, go between, y’know, both the highs and lows and do it really successfully, where it’s just I’m unfortunately smack right there in the middle. I have no real lows, but at the same time my highs just aren’t [pause] up to par, whatever like that. So what I sat there and tried to do on this is concentrate on my strong points as opposed to struggle with my weaks.

What are your listeners going to say when they hear the record?

Well, I hope they don’t get bored. And I think [pause] there’s a lot of good musicianship that went into this one. The songs are a little bit longer, I’d say, at some points, but at the same time––I think we’ve topped out by two minutes––there is no eight-minute song on here. And everything else is in the 50-second range, that type of thing. So I think it stayed true to form, but we also went somewhere else [to record] as opposed to Bart [with whom Benümb recorded in the past]. We were really impressed with the Vulgar Pigeons’ album, Summary Execution, so we went to record with our friend Larry Santiago. Y’know, just does a really good job and really knows how to handle the 808 [drum program], that type of stuff.

So the die hard noise fiend Benümb fan, is that person going to start rumbling a little bit, afraid that Benümb’s not going to be total rotting grind because it’s passed the two minute mark more than three times on the record?

Um [pause] that’s yet to be determined, I’ll put it to you that way. I’ve played it for some people who’ve loved it and I’ve played it for some people who just didn’t like it. They were just all like, “I liked the old stuff that was more spastic and everything like that,” and it’s just like, “Okay,” y’know, that type thing. It’ll be interesting to see. I don’t see some huge transition because, I mean [pause] yeah, we have gone longer in some sections. Hopefully it’ll keep the interest. I mean, I really, really, really hope people still dig it and stuff like that. Yeah, I hope for the best, but I don’t see anybody really getting too thrown off by it.

Benümb performing live

Do I remember you saying you were trying to work out a concept for the new record, lyrically?

Um, not that it was supposed to be, like, a concept type thing, but just I wanted to take more time lyrically, y’know, that type of thing, because this time around we are printing lyrics, and I just wanted it to be good.

There wasn’t a lyric sheet on all the records in the past.


Do you find yourselves put into a certain group because of what is perceived as your lyrical content? Do people try to put you on political shows?

Honestly, no, lately we just get on all types, that type of thing. These lyrics aren’t saying much different than we’ve really said in the past and everything. A lot of the stuff is just a lot of social commentary, this type of stuff.

Without being labeled socially conscious?

Yeah, exactly, ‘cause [pause] we don’t embody any definition of one area. I mean, as far as, like, straight edge, I mean, please—

Oh, I know you’re not straight edge.

[laughs] Nooo [pause] I mean, there’s stuff we touch on, but as far as, like [pause] being an activist, that segment of life or that thing of life, no, I can’t really say too much. I mean, outside of worker’s rights, because I’m in the union and I’m involved with that type of stuff, that’s something I do feel strongly about, um—

And drug abuse with the last record.

Yeah, that’s another thing. I [pause] how do I put it this way: I dabble. I transport backpacks from this church to the Haight/Ashbury Youth Outreach team that helps people either, like with needle exchange, with living on the street, that type of stuff. And these backpacks are full of clothes and toothpaste, y’know, just toiletries like that. And just recently––what I should say to make myself completely clear is Haight/Ashbury Youth Outreach Team puts out a survival booklet to live on the streets and everything like that––I recently, recently, recently have been bringing them over to [924] Gilman [Street, the venue in Berkeley] and just, like, leaving them out for people to pick up and stuff like that. But again, this is major dabbling. It’s not something I’ve spent any week after week after week [on].

Benümb performing live

Tell me a little bit about the challenges you guys face having two members of the band in another band, and one of those people is also a sibling.

Um, honestly, considering that we’re all such good friends, it doesn’t amount to nothing. Paul, my brother, and John [who are in both Benümb and Vulgar Pigeons], they pace themselves really good. If they’re feeling burned out, then they just, like, step away from one for a little while, just concentrate on the other, y’know, that type of stuff. Again, because we’re such good friends with Vulgar Pigeons, it’s just like, okay, they got a show next week, we don’t practice this week, that type stuff, so they can concentrate on that. And if we’ve both got shows at the same time, we just double up on the practices, y’know, where the first two hours or whatever like that’s dedicated to Benümb, then the next few hours is dedicated to [Vulgar Pigeons]. It all works out really cohesively.

What are you guys going to do now?

Oh, right now we’re practicing, and we’re just boning up and just making sure we know these songs in and out, everything like that. And we’re just gonna play, play, play, play. This is, y’know, similar to what we did with Martyr, where we just made it to the East Coast a bunch of times, the one-off weekends type things, and also just play locally as much as we possibly can. And [in 2003] we’re gonna be hitting the metalfests plus whatever we can get besides that.


Basically anywhere. Sterling, Virginia is where I wanna do it [laughs]. The basement in Sterling, Virginia. We’re gonna do places we haven’t done before. I got shitloads of vacation time and I plan to use it all.

Benümb’s new full length for Relapse to be released in January 2003 will be called By Means of Upheaval. ■

Photos: Benümb performing in California in 2002 (D.U.)


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