Ben Christo speaks with ReGen about his band Diamond Black, collaborations, and the story of how he joined The Sisters of Mercy.
An InterView with Ben Christo of The Sisters of Mercy and Diamond Black
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
43 years since the band’s inception, The Sisters of Mercy remains one of the most enigmatic entities in modern music. Guided by founder and frontman Andrew Eldritch, the group’s lineup has remained in a state of near terminal flux, and while Eldritch has shunned and decried the “goth” label often attributed to The Sisters’ music and image, the band has navigated through numerous shifts in the sociocultural landscape, surviving circumstances that typically cripple the average band. The sophomore album, 1987’s Floodland remains a benchmark for dark alternative and underground music, but after 1990’s Vision Thing, we’ve yet to hear an album of new material from TSOM due to Eldritch’s growing disgust for the music industry. Nevertheless, The Sisters of Mercy has continued to tour somewhat regularly since then, with the current lineup of Eldritch, Ben Christo, Dylan Smith, and “Ravey” Davey Creffield proving to be one of the most stable in the band’s history.
With The Sisters soon to embark on a North American tour, the band’s first in over 14 years, Ben Christo took the time to speak with ReGen, telling the story of his induction in the band and the working relationship among the current band members. We also get to hear about his own band, Diamond Black, along with several other collaborations, his love of the Gibson SG, his haircut, love of board games, and more!
You’ve been one of the longest serving members of The Sisters of Mercy, having joined the band in 2006. While I’m sure this has been asked before, would you tell us about how you first came to join the band?
Christo: I got a call one afternoon, from an unknown number. With very little preamble, the caller, without introducing himself, stated, ‘We might want you to be in our band.’
‘Well, what band?’
‘I’m not going to tell you.’
‘What do you sound like?’
‘I’m not going to tell you.’
Whoever they were, they needed a lead guitarist for their imminent U.S. tour… would I come to an audition? He sounded so outrageously confident that I thought this had to be some sort of windup.
I had to go trawling around Camden looking for bootlegs of live stuff. When I went into one record shop, the clerk smirks, ‘Why do you want that? Learning it for a tribute band, are you?’
Having been with The Sisters of Mercy… for 17 years now, what do you feel has changed most in the band (besides the lineup) and the music? This might be asking you to toot your own horn, but toot away… what has evolved or improved the most in The Sisters of Mercy throughout your membership?
As I understand it, you’ve co-written songs with Andrew Eldritch that the band has performed live. Well, I think you knew this question was coming, but in your estimation, what’s the possibility of new studio material from The Sisters of Mercy?
Christo: Yes, I’ve co-written new songs with Andrew and Dylan, and we’re really thrilled with them. In terms of recording them? Well, the party line here is, ‘There are no plans to make a new album. There are also no plans not to make a new album…’
Also, would you tell us about the writing process for you and Andrew, what that process is like; is it a total one-on-one collaboration, or is it clear that one person’s ideas and vision dominate the proceedings?
Christo: It varies. Sometimes the three of us write from scratch in the room. Other times, Dylan, Andrew, or I will come to the table with a partially formed idea and develop it together. The song ‘But Genevieve’ was quite magical in its composition as the chorus seemed to just appear from the ether. Andrew stepped up to the mic and sang the melody and lyrics and all in one hit. We all looked at each other and grinned in instant affirmation – something special had just occurred and there seemed to be an unspoken agreement that we all loved it and that this was now the part, no further discussion required.
It’s been 33 years since Vision Thing. Over the past decade, it seems that many bands have reunited and released new material, and there are waves of older styles of music finding popularity again, vinyl and cassettes have returned, etc. What are your thoughts on this?
Christo: Styles are cyclical and have perhaps always been so, certainly in the last 50 years. In the ’80s, we saw a ’50s revival, in the ’90s, the ’60s and ’70s were back, and there’s been a major ’80s resurgence in the last 10 years – we’ve even seen the mullet haircut making a return! In fact, my barber has been incrementally edging my own hair towards a sort of quiff-mohawk-mullet and I’ve not stopped him, ha! What’s nice now is that there seems to be a solid worldwide fanbase for pretty much every musical style, meaning that artists can really embrace what they love to create, taking clear influence from past decades, and be sure there’s an audience for it.
Andrew stopped dealing with record labels and studios a long time ago out of disgust for the industry. What are your thoughts on the current state of the industry and the many avenues that exist for independent artists to retain control of their creative destiny? Or do you feel that they don’t and that we’re still bound to the big money machine?
It is well known the degrees to which Eldritch has rejected the ‘goth’ label. Of course, most bands these days can hardly be classified under a single category anyway. What are your thoughts on validity of ‘genres’ in this day and age? I’ve asked this a lot, and many say it still matters for marketing purposes… do you think so?
Christo: There aren’t the polarized music ‘tribes’ of previous decades (mods vs. rockers, punk vs. prog, grunge vs. hair metal, skaters vs. goths, etc.) quality, and notions of genre seem to blur, especially in the alternative scene. Today, I feel musical ‘placing’ is less about categories and more about the individual artist’s brand identity, how striking and unique that is, and how consistently the artist stays true it. Plus, to have longevity, that brand identity has to come from a very authentic place within the artist. A paragon of this is the Japanese metal band, Esprit D’Air, led by Kai, the musical and artistic visionary who writes, performs, and produces most of the work, both sonic and visual. It veers from brutal ferocity to beautiful fragility within seconds and he sings mostly in Japanese. On paper, it’s a 1980s A&R person’s nightmare – indeed, labels explicitly advised him to sing in English if he wanted success! But Kai has adhered vehemently to his cause and has accrued a huge global fanbase, millions of streams, won awards, and even cracked the U.K. charts! Why? Because he’s really good at it. He believes in it. He works very hard. And that passion, talent, and commitment attracts people from all over the planet and there’s so much visual and sonic synergy to his brand identity. His art and his commitment to it is his ‘genre’ and it’s a genre only he can occupy.
I was lucky enough to co-write and perform a track with Kai, called ‘Dead Zone,’ which is one of the pieces of music from my back catalog I’m most proud of being a part of.
Let’s shift gears to Diamond Black, which you formed in 2016. What were your primary concerns with taking over the vocal spot when Jaakko Turunen left? Are you now better able to present or achieve your original vision for the band?
I’d seen you and drummer Jan-Vincent Velezco play in PIG some years ago, and now you have bassist Adam Hart. What is the dynamic like among the band members now, both in terms of songwriting and performing live? Is it an equal collaboration with you guiding the reins?
Christo: We’re a really good little unit, each with our own specialist area. My main contribution is to the musical and lyrical side, Adam’s is in the visuals – as the graphic guru, he does it all, from the band’s cover art to the website and designing each piece of merch. What’s lovely is that I’ll tell him in detail what a song is about, and he’ll expertly craft a visual that embodies this, whether it be cover art, a poster, a shirt design, or something else completely. Vincent is the glue; his incredible talent, machine-like efficiency, and wonderfully amiable personality locks it all together. Another important figure is renowned producer Jaani Peuhu, whose treatment (and often co-composition) of the songs imbues them with a deep sense of theatre, gravitas, and sensitivity.
What are your immediate plans with Diamond Black? You’ve released a few singles and videos with Diamond Black… is there an album or EP on the way? Will you be touring, perhaps in the States?
From your observations, what are the major lessons we have or should have learned in the wake of the pandemic and its effects on playing live? Or on the other hand, what do you feel artists, venues, promoters, labels, etc. should take away from the situation?
Christo: As a musician, I’m constantly trying to remind myself to be grateful for the fact we are out playing again! So, despite the numerous and ongoing challenges of being a live artist, the fact we are doing it is one I really try to appreciate!
You also recently created a remix for Plasmata, not just remixing the song but also performing your own guitars, vocals and arrangements. How did this collaboration come about?
Christo: I first communicated with Trent through Tom Daniel, the guitarist in my previous band, Night by Night. We all bonded over a mutual love of Dean Cadillac guitars. Trent and I eventually met in 2018, when I toured the States with PIG and Killing Joke.
I loved the freedom I was given to rework the track in that I could use whatever I liked from the original stems and then add my own instruments and vocals. The spite and melodic grit in Aly Jados’ vocal was one of the things that really jumped out at me, and I was inspired to build this version around that dark energy.
You’ve also done session and live work for more bands than I can really list here. Are there any other remixes or collaborations in the pipeline that you’re able to tell us about?
Christo: I co-wrote the eponymous, recently released flagship single for The 69 Eyes’ new album, Death of Darkness. This was a fantastic experience and a huge honor as I’ve been a fan of the Helsinki Vampires for nearly 20 years. The process was magical and seemingly effortless, as myself, Bazie, and Jyrki were so in-synch in terms of the song’s direction, and hearing the song darkly blossom was incredibly fulfilling. It led to a second co-write, also featured on the album.
I’ve also been working with a number of extremely talented and well-known rock and metal musicians on a cover version of one of my favorite ’80s songs, so can’t wait to get that released! There’s also a chance that the singer of the original version may get to hear it, so that’d be huge, as he’s one of my idols!
Seeing you onstage with PIG was exhilarating, and I’d have liked to hear more from that. One thing that struck me was that red Gibson SG of yours, which is a classic – Angus Young, Tony Iommi, Jules Hodgson, Robby Krieger, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Frank Zappa… and you play one in the video for ‘Through the Misery.’ Sure, I’ve seen photos of you with a Gibson Firebird and a Strat, but is it fair to say the SG is your favorite? If so, what do you feel is your connection to this guitar? What makes it stand out for you?
What do you enjoy most outside of music? Gaming, sports, bikes (you’d not look out of place on a Harley or a Triumph), painting, etc.?
Christo: Ha, thanks! Since going 100% sober 18 months ago, my love of board games has flourished and I can often be found in the local board game café (Sugar and Dice) with friends, family, or just the employees and locals. Board games marry my love of words, imagination, and community and in the U.K., such cafés have become a really fantastic safe space for people to find friendship, connection, and expression, and have been particularly supportive and inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community.
Is there anything that you’d like to add that I’ve not brought up?
Christo: I’m excited to hit the States with this incarnation of The Sisters, and am confident that fans old and new will have a great experience.
Also, any follows and shares regarding Diamond Black are mightily valued – it’s your guys’ passion and support that helps us elevate the band and, ideally, can get us to the States!
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The Sisters of Mercy
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Photography provided courtesy of Ben Christo and The Sisters of Mercy
nice interview with Ben Christo from The Sisters of Mercy.
I have provided some live photos for the band. I am totally fine with the fact that you’ve used one of my pictures (that’s what I have given the photos for to the band). However, could you please correct the wrong spelling of my name?
It has to be Christian Wojtysiak.
Thank you and best regards
Apologies for the misspelling of your name. I have made the correction.