It’s a known fact that Benjamin Reichwald (aka Bladee) rarely gives interviews. Consequently, there are numerous articles describing, obsessing, and deconstructing every aspect of his sound, his career, his art. It feels like everyone is trying to make it make sense, yet, in some way, all these attempts cover maybe one quarter of who he really is, if that much.
Bladee is a singer, writer, fashion designer, creative director, artist, and a founding member of Drain Gang. Benjamin Reichwald is a friend who collects toys, loves crystals, wants his own shade of purple, and dislikes any form of classification. The latter is also why I won’t even attempt to classify and break down his sound, as it is what it is: an evolving, everlasting story that with each release completely showcases who Benjamin is, and what he is feeling at a certain moment in time.
Reichwald has created his own language of communication with a very prototypical frame. He comprises multiple elements through which he generates new creative utterances, either in music, design, or arts. His musical journey started at the age of 13 when he formed the punk band Krossad (Crushed) with Ecco2K. Much has changed since then, but on the other hand, not too much, as both are still making music together now under the YEAR0001 music label.
Today, Bladee has numerous albums to his name — just in the last year he has released four: Exeter (2020), 333 (2020), Good Luck (with Mechatok, 2020), and The Fool (2021). He has countless collaborations out; he is probably not even aware of how many, as his entire approach is so easy, led by creativity and impulse. He just had his first big solo art show called Real Sprin9 at The Residence Gallery in London where he debuted new paintings, and he has a clothing line coming out called Drain Gang for GANT. On top of his design, he also created special prints/artworks for the collaboration, which will be carried out and showcased through the collection that goes on sale September 23.
So much could still be said and written about Benjamin. We attempt to capture his spirit in the interview below:
Katja Horvat: You recently just came back from London where you had your first solo show. Does an art opening feel different from the music drop?
Bladee: Definitely! At the opening, I felt a little bit like a child again; just this idea of making these drawings and then showing them to other people and waiting for them to like or validate it…
Horvat: You exhibited under your real name. How come you didn’t use the moniker?
Bladee: There was just something about that division of works. It is all coming from me, of course, but it’s layered… That said, everything I do exists in the same realm, so I feel like people that like my music also like my artwork, consequently.
Horvat: I remember talking to Jonathan about this, as he exists in so many different forms as Yung Lean, Jonatan Leandoer 96, Död Mark, etc., and how all these different personas inform and complete one another, and all make up for who Jonathan really is...
Bladee: I feel the same way. I haven’t used many aliases before, but I like this idea, and even just now differentiating between Bladee and Benjamin for the show was fun. There is something refreshing about it; I think in the future I will play around that idea a bit more.
Horvat: I mean, there are few theories out that you existed/worked under different names back in the day. One theory I heard was that you used to go by the name Ken Burns, and also that you worked in a daycare?
Bladee: I never went under the name Ken Burns, but I did work in a daycare. (laughs)
Horvat: Wait, you actually worked in a daycare?
Bladee: (laughs) Yes, right after I finished with school, it lasted for about a year. I also worked in a restaurant, doing dishes.
Horvat: What did you go to school for that you ended up in a daycare?
Bladee: Well, photography. (laughs)
Horvat: Smooth transition!
Bladee: Photography was never my thing, but I enrolled, as for that school you didn’t need a good point score, so I just went with it. And for the jobs, I just took what I could find for the money.
Horvat: What did you want to be, growing up?
Bladee: A painter!
Horvat: When did music come into play? You and Ecco2K formed a punk band super early on. You were 11 or something like that?
Bladee: It’s so funny to think about that in retrospect, with both of us now actually being musicians, as at that time we knew nothing about, well, anything! We did not even know how to play instruments.
As a kid, I saw someone on the street who was wearing a punk vest, and that was it. I became really obsessed with it; I started dressing like that myself and through that, my friends got into it, and then the band kind of just happened.
Horvat: It’s safe to say your sound evolved and changed quite drastically from when you first started...
Bladee: I went from just noise to full on melody. Now I am obsessing over that.
Horvat: If we just look at your first album Eversince, compared to all the recent releases, your sound really developed and changed through it all.
Bladee: Everything I do, as I am a lazy person, comes naturally without me trying extra hard to go a different way about it. It always just happens, as I play by intuition.
Horvat: Is it true that over the years you changed how you go about the lyrics? At the beginning you were writing and now you just go and record, straight up?
Bladee: True. Now I am just punching in. You know what changed? My vocabulary. Starting out, my English was not so good, so I was not comfortable going in without pre-prepared stuff; now it has gotten better, and that allows me to just have a go with it.
But I am coming back to writing, as it’s fun in its own way and a different form of expression. What I am not that good at is coming back to something and working on it. And that’s what writing is. But I want to change that and learn to be better too.
Horvat: In the past year you released four albums. Did that exhaust your creativity, to a degree?
Bladee: Honestly, I don’t have a day-to-day job, so that is it for me. I always do something and play around with different sounds, and then it just piles up. Funny thing is that making music almost feels like not doing anything. It comes so naturally, but then over time it accumulates and I end up with three albums, back to back.
Horvat: And you prefer to use one producer for the entire album, right?
Bladee: Correct. I feel like that ensures proper consistency and equal sound through the whole album.
Horvat: How many albums are you working on now?
Bladee: A few! (laughs) Stuff is coming. I mean, you know how it goes; once you get in it, you just go, and get into the rhythm of doing things.
Horvat: True. I think the best artists are the ones who are the most obsessed with their craft. Not necessarily the best in skill, but they are just obsessed with it. It’s not about that one perfect song, or a painting or whatever it is, it’s about creating their own world through their obsession and affiliation.
Bladee: Totally, you create your world, and that obsession does not allow you to go broad, so you perfect that world within which you exist, and then people get hooked and want to be part of it, too. I actually feel like my work is a lot about trying to express this perfect thing I'm imagining, and I hope that at some point my whole body of work can come close to that idea of perfection.
Horvat: Your fanbase is properly hooked. People who love you are obsessed with you! How do you deal with that, as you are such a private person who works in a field that is, well...
Bladee: It’s such a weird concept, fame! I try to look at it from a positive angle only, and it just makes me happy that people like what I do. I have such an urge to create, always, and to know there are people out there that can relate to stuff I am putting out, it's a good feeling overall.
But you know what the funniest thing about it is? Often if there is something I really love, my fans don’t, but I know when this happens that usually means that project will live longer, as it takes time for them to get into it.
Horvat: When I was watching all these YouTube videos and reviews of your albums, I think the most prevailing thing was how people with your new work started to understand your old work, and everything was in full circulation and started making sense.
Bladee: That’s the whole thing, now everything is made for the time it’s being released, but some things just need more time as there are more layers to it.
Horvat: Do you care about reviews?
Bladee: I try not to. I am ok with a negative and a positive, I just don’t want my stuff to be mediocre; that middle bothers me. Classification is also something I am not a fan of, but I got detached from that, as it comes with the business.
Horvat: Let’s now talk about auto-tune. Do you use it so much from a sheer preference of the sound or almost as a disguise?
Bladee: Actually both. I like the sound of it a lot, but also it gives you that little extra wiggle room and space to fuck up and not have it your face. It helps with confidence almost, as it’s that, yeah, additional protection.
Horvat: How do you see yourself in 10 years?
Bladee: That’s a good question! Main thing is just to be an evolved version of who I am now. Learn more, practice more, expand…
Horvat: Let’s check some facts now. Were you really hit by lightning in Thailand?
Bladee: I think so. I was outside the house we were renting, next to the pool, and there was a heavy thunderstorm… I saw the light hit, then I felt it, and then I don't remember much after...
Horvat: Do you really collect toys?
Bladee: I guess I do. Most recent one I got was a hulk-shark, it’s really fun! I am now getting into crystals, too; check this yellow one [shows the crystal], it’s so wild.
Horvat: Do you have a clothing collection coming out?
Bladee: Yes, with GANT. I did drawings that will be used as prints and my main vibe was to mix the classic stuff that GANT is known for, with more stuff that defines me.
Horvat: How did the collaboration come about?
Bladee: I have always been intrigued by preppy clothing and its subcultures, and started noticing GANT when I was in high school around the late ’00s. GANT has a unique status in Stockholm that I have always admired and deeply respected. Even though preppy has often been far away from my personal style, I’ve always been drawn towards it. To me, the Drain Gant collection is about the identity of Stockholm, youth culture, and a way of forming the new preppy.
I also love collaborating with someone who’s the opposite of me, as that is where the challenge arises, and the best things come out of it, as they are fresh and new. I am so interested and excited to see how the collaboration will merge the worlds and find that silver lining.
Horvat: Favorite color?
Bladee: Purple, but I want to come up with a new color! I want my own shade of purple. (laughs)
Horvat: Does color mimic your emotions?
Bladee: Always! It's only that, basically.
Drain Gang for GANT capsule collection goes on sale September 23, at 19.00 CET/10AM PDT/1PM ETD via Bladee's online store.