The light outside is just beginning to fade on East Van, just in time for the end of a photo shoot. Sitting in a circle, five of the members of Flower Bomb Collective are winding down from the shoot, but the energy and excitement still reverberates through them. Conversation is easy, like everyone in the room has been friends for their whole lives. Whether in pairs, or across the whole group, there is harmony and community in the air. Around the room is the accoutrements of a band, synths, guitars, recording devices, a large piece of concrete with a pipe sticking out of it functioning as a light fixture.
Benton Robertson (He/him): I’m Benton, I guess I’m the initiator of this project [Flower Bomb] — I produce it and invite collaborators.
DJ (He/him): I’m DJ, I’ve played keys for Flower Bomb, which was a lot of fun, that’s my instrument.
Benton (laughing): Yeah but what else do you do?
DJ: Oh I’m so bad at this. I make music, I play drums, I make films. I’m just chilling.
Caleb Heppner (They/them): I’m Caleb, I sang on one of the songs in the project. I’ve been mingling in and out with these folks for a number of years. I’m also a songwriter/producer.
Benton: What’s your artist name?
Caleb: Oh, it’s Willohill.
Jade (She/her): Hey, I’m Jade, and I help out with art direction — videography and photography.
Dushine (He/him): My name is Dushine, and I’ve worked on two songs for Flower Bomb — and they’re amazing [laughter from group] can’t wait until they come out, yeah. I’m still young, I mean forever young, you know what I’m saying?
Benton: Wait, what about your own stuff?
Dushine: My what?
Benton: Your own music.
DJ: We’re all dodging that question. I don’t know why [laughter].
Cora: So what is Flower Bomb Collective doing with this project? Where did it start and where is it going?
Benton: It initially started while I was working with kids — I had done some harm reduction work, working at Insight and places like that, and then I started working with an after school program out of UGN, and the initial thing was I was just inspired by these kids — their resilience and ability to have so much fun within a sometimes pretty chaotic environment. That was like the conceptual basis for it. I just thought — with any creative project, the people most affected by it are the people who make it. And I just thought, okay, how can I use my musical ability and bring people in. So it’s just been a process of, at least for me, collaborating and figuring out what sticks.
Cora: So what’s your first inspiration, give me a snapshot.
Benton: It’s interesting, because I think this project was highly influenced by Jade — and a group of us, including DJ and Caleb too, who l were listening to a lot of classic sounding things.
Jade: Kaytranada was definitely a thing.
Benton: Yeah I think my mindset was: how can I create something that lasts longer than a moment? Because I feel like a lot of music is so ephemeral, to use that word. Before that I was making a lot of trap, and I think at some point that will come back into Flower Bomb’s sonic vocabulary, but this project I really wanted to go for something that will stand the test of time. And when I heard Caleb, AKA Willohill’s, voice on “Rush” it was just like — “alright, we found it.”
Caleb: So Fall 2021, Benton had shown me the skeleton of “Rush”— he had an idea of the melody, and some sort of context for the song, and that evening that we really nailed all of the parts. It just flowed really well. Everything connected, and I think because of our connection during the process, it came out feeling like that too. I think it was what Benton was trying to do with this project from what I can see. And I think it’s something that people — artists, the community, — need, which is just giving each other ideas and giving each other perspective, and doing so in an accepting way.
Jade: I feel like that’s the whole thought process, it comes from a place of desiring community, desiring connection, and I think that comes first. It’s not just,“I just want to make the music,” it’s like connection first, and music is the means to do so.
Cora: So how did you all meet? Where did this community start?
Jade: That’s a web.
Benton: I feel like me and Dushine’s meeting is the most random though. We literally met on the street — just by MacLean park. They were listening to some trap music and stuff, I just saw them and I liked the vibe. I was producing trap at the time and I walked up and I was like “hey what’s up, how are you guys doing?”
Dushine: And the day after we went to the studio and recorded this crazy song. Me and Benton developed this friendship, a very strong one. I feel like, the song we made for Flower Bomb was just inspired by that.
Benton: And we have another one coming under Dushine’s name on July 29 called “Running.” Go listen to it, stream it.
Cora: Tell me about the first song either all together — or the first song of the collective.
Benton: It’s been a bit disjointed. The first release, “Come Together,” was with my friend Wilson Blue and Dushine. I wrote this song on my guitar, and Dushine had sent a voice memo while he was in Rwanda. I texted Wilson Blue like, “Sam do you want to come over and sing [Dushine’s] hook for me?” and he was like “for sure.” and then the rest is history. We made a music video too, with a bunch of kids in the neighbourhood. It was super hectic. I think we had 4 kids in it and they were all like ten years old. I knew them all from the after school program, and it turned out way better than I could have imagined because it was so hectic.
Caleb: And DJ’s Vibe is…
DJ: Yeah tell me, what’s my vibe?
Caleb: He’s influenced by a lot of, I’d say jazz, but also modern classical, avante garde, and he always gravitates towards complexity and melancholy. He gives a lot of dissonance — he says a lot through what he plays. He’s a very versatile instrumentalist. Very flavourful, very expansive.
DJ: No, yeah, that’s actually accurate. ‘Cause yeah, I’ve played drums since I was in the third grade — that’s my main instrument. and then I got into modern classical, which is a vague term. More like… cinematic music, or ambient music, experimental music. I loved it, and if I wanted to replicate that sound, I would need to learn the piano, so I taught myself. It was a lot of fun. And yeah, very melancholic. I was in a mood.
Caleb: I find when he plays things, he also sees specific visuals as well.
DJ: Yeah it’s pretty synesthesic (sic). That’s the vibe. One of the songs I wrote, I remember I was looking at a painting while I was doing chords.
Benton: One thing I would say about Caleb as a musician especially after making “Rush,” is that they have the craziest falsetto of almost anyone I’ve ever met.
DJ: I remember that — Caleb was sitting on my drum stool, and they just hit the highest note you’ve ever heard, without any warm up really. They even surprised themself, like, “how did I do that?”
Caleb: I was hard into Moses Sumney.
Cora: What’s the platonic ideal of this project — like a concert, or a music video, or an album? What’s the dream?
Benton: Flower Bomb is a starting point, and there’s a lot to explore. So, I feel like I couldn’t say right now what the ideal would be, because I feel like as I did this project and now I know what I want to do for the next project […]Probably with more of a visual aspect — having Jade create the vibe, the aesthetic.
Jade: I really liked what we did with the short video for “Rush.” I’d like to do something similar by compiling different visuals of people within the project, adding in some floral arrangements for sure. That’s a huge part of Flower Bomb, flowers and all that [laughter]. The main concept would be connection, I feel like family and relationships are very important [to us.] compiling all of that and honouring our friends, that would be really sweet. I shoot in 35 millimetre, it’s a bit more dark and sombre.
Cora: Alright, any last shout outs or where to find your stuff?
Benton: You can find all of our stuff on our streaming platforms. Our website is not up right now.
DJ: Got to get that up, bro.
Benton: Yeah I guess eventually you can find us on “madebyflowerbomb.ca.” Our full length album, Garden will be dropping September 23rd.
Caleb: I’m finishing up my first EP under Willohill, hopefully that will be out in the fall. Yeah.
Although the light has faded and the interview has completed, it is hard to tear away from the homey, comfortable environment formed by the bonds of the band. Excited chatter about going to the studio later tonight, and even an enthusiastic invitation for me to join with, hang above the shared pizza. They are energised by each other — by talking about each other and by being in community with one-another. That energy shines in their music already, and is sure to shine through the music that stems from this night too. The sun sets on East Vancouver, but their work is just beginning.