Tracking down the newly reclusive paladin of bedroom pop
Benjamin Duares is alone in his crumbling ancestral manse in the French wilderness when he takes the call from MTV Iggy. (Seriously, we can’t make this stuff up.) From his description of the 18th century dwelling it sounds like the perfect place for creating the blackened garage rock he records as Yussuf Jerusalem. The hooks are pure American rock ‘n’ roll but the sonics are bathed in black metal filth, while the lyrics have a weird way of marrying lonely boy pop themes to a darker world of heroic medieval legend. Definitely, music for solitude.
In reality, his two breathtakingly damaged and weirdly romantic albums under the moniker, A Heart Full of Sorrow and Blast from the Past, were done in his room in the suburbs of Paris, some time before his flight from civilization. (He played in more traditional garage bands like The Creteens before his bedroom recording project took over.)
Blast from the Past came out last year but we were still left with a lot of questions about the mysterious figure behind them. So, we embarked on a heroic quest of our own to find out what he’s been up to lately. Luckily, he didn’t seem to mind being disturbed.
Do metal heads like your music?
I have no idea, I’m not sure. We don’t play in front of a metal crowd and I don’t hang out much with metal heads, so I wouldn’t know.
I was just wondering if some heshers even wandered into your show and were, like, totally stoked.
There’s been a few shows we played and there are those dudes with metal shirts and long hair and whatever. I don’t know if we really appeal to the metal crowd, or if they know about us at all.
Were you pretty into metal when you were younger?
When I was about 15 or so I got into music, and then later on I got into punk rock. I started listening to metal when I was younger.
How did you end up making a project that brings garage rock, folk, pop and black metal together?
It’s just a mix of everything I like. When I was an early teenager I used to be into metal, rock, and erotic fantasy, stories about dragons and Lord of the Rings kind of stuff.
It was interesting for me to find out how much black metal was inspired by fantasy and J.R.R. Tolkein.
That’s a big side of it. But for some reason I was not into black metal so much when I was younger, but I was kind of into more other kind of bands. I got into black metal later. When I was a teenager I thought they looked kind of shitty.
Did there come a point when you were tired of your older band and wanted to do something entirely different, or did it just kind of happen accidentally?
No, I started recording music and I was not really a big technician. I wasn’t very good so I was recording punk songs because that was much more easy and what I was into at this time. Having played music for a while now, I can play the kind of stuff I’m playing now so that’s why I’m doing it.
Do you think as you move on you might experiment with other kinds of music, or do you think that this Yussef Jerusalem thing is where it’s at?
I’m doing this right now, but I’m pretty sure in, like, 5 years I’ll be doing something different or, like, whatever I want to do. Even the songs I’m writing now, I think they are kind of different from the first album, and the second one.
Where did you get the name from? It made me think of the crusades and there’s a lot of stuff about that in the lyrics.
That’s something I was reading about when I picked the name. That was like my thing at the time, like crusader stories and stuff like that.
Are you still using a four-track recorder?
You know my four-track broke down. And they don’t make it anymore and you can’t even buy a part to fix it, so I’m like experimenting with a bunch of different recorders.
Like analog recorders, or are you on the computer?
Right now, I’m using a digital recorder but I’ve never been into using computers. I think that’s better for Facebook.
Do you have any favorite producers?
Yeah, I’m interested in the work of people who do stuff on their own. Like, Jay Reatard is a good example. I like the results of people who do stuff themselves. I won’t go to a big studio. I’m not interested in the experience of recording in a studio with a guy and stuff like that. I couldn’t work like that. I just like to work in my room and do things on my own.
How is the garage scene in France these days? Do you play shows out in the suburbs? have to travel into Paris to play a lot.
No, it’s pretty good it’s definitely better than years before. When I was younger it was kind of depressing because it wasn’t as good as today. It was older people. Like, when you are younger the scene is full of older people it kind of makes you feel weird sometimes. But back in the day then I used to go to the United States, to travel there. I played when I was younger there.
Oh, like with The Creteens?
Yeah, with older bands. Now, in France there are a lot of younger bands and people doing stuff. There are like plenty of places to play not even only France, but Europe in general.
What’s a good place to go and see a show near where you live?
Well, I’ve moved this year in the woods near Switzerland. So, there’s like nowhere to go to a show.
Why are you living in the woods if you’re in a band?
I was kind of tired of living in the city.
Were you living in Paris or just in the suburbs?
I was living in Paris, I mean close to the suburbs. But, yeah, I worked in Paris and all of that. And last fall I moved to the mountain in the woods.
Is it like a big house or a cottage?
It’s a very big house. It’s from 1700s.
Are you fixing it up?
Yeah, I’m working on it and I’ve brought all my equipment here so I can work at peace here.
Are you working on a new album out there?
I’m working on recordings, I won’t know until it’s finished what’s going to come of it. But I’d like to have a new album ready for next year.
How are the repairs coming?
It’s very complicated. I’m going to have to fix it for like the next 10 years. It’s very big and there’s a lot of stuff to do. It’s almost like a ruin.
Did you buy the house? How did you get this house?
It was in my family and I got it out of an inheritance.
You should totally have shows out there.
Yeah, I have a big stone basement. I’m trying to fix like a recording studio. I’m planning on building like a real fancy studio.