Aural Fixation: Heaven Is Albuquerque

Maggie Grimason
3 min read
Heaven is Albuquerque
Self Defense Family (Mitch Wojcik)
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In November 2014 after Self Defense Family’s show at the old Gasworks venue, Benjamin Tate told me that he was moving here. This spring, after his van broke down outside Gallup, the guitarist of the post-punk outfit made good on that promise. He signed a lease and bought a couch in Albuquerque. Back in the 505 after an Australian tour to promote the band’s LP, Heaven is Earth, he’s back home, with a fresh perspective on the Land of Enchantment.

“I think Albuquerque has the best balance of any place I have been in the US,” said Tate. He’s from New Hampshire but has spent years in NYC and Boston. “It has the feel of a smaller city without the sense of stagnation that normally permeates those places.”

Tate’s relocation hasn’t changed the dynamic of the band; members of Self Defense Family are spread around the globe from LA to Reykjavik. The distance has made Tate’s approach to writing and recording more intentional. “Knowing that we will only have a small amount of time to record when we are together means that I need to come into the studio more prepared than I have ever been,” he said. A feat, considering the output of the band—they’re releasing their second 12” of the year this November and heading back to the recording studio in December.

“On my first tour out west in maybe 2003, we were late for our show and came over the mountains from the east just at the perfect time for sunset; I was sold from that moment on,” Tate said. Those stretches of emptiness are meaningful. “The city ends. Cities like New York don’t really end so much as fade into smaller cities and then suburbs. You can drive 30 minutes out of Albuquerque and in each direction be treated to a totally different, beautiful, wild landscape. The potential for adventure here is high.” While Tate says that it is to soon to guess how living in Albuquerque may shape his songwriting, he did mention his new surroundings made him want to listen to the
Dead Man soundtrack, an album typified by the rushing sound of wind and spacious Neil Young guitar solos.

Heaven is Earth—released in July—is arguably an album as bleak as the physical landscape of the desert. The lyrics explore a vague sense of desperation while the music is alternately spare or expansive. The material resonates without defined hooks, thanks to Tate’s ability to create structure and seamlessly shift time signatures. Tate is lending his talents to the local scene too, working with friends on a project nearly ready to play shows. Albuquerque’s community is devoid of the rules and expectations that other cities frequently operate under, according to Tate, “in other cities with larger subcultural populations, the rules for what is and is not cool often stifle creativity. People here seem more willing to give new things a chance,” he said.

The isolation—of living thousands of miles from his bandmates, of hollow desert expanses—provides an opportunity to focus and explore new sounds amid a city full of peculiarities and secrets. “I love weird,” Tate said, “and this city definitely has that to offer me.”
Self Defense Family

Mitch Wojcik

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