Q: Hi Ben, can you walk us through your musical journey and how it has influenced your latest album, ‘Beneath the Topsoil’?
A: This album was a long time in the making. I’ve always been a music nut, but only started playing the guitar seriously back in 2012 or so, and then I fell into a proper pattern of guitar lessons where I learned theory and technique, from which composition naturally flowed. So between 2012 – 2013, I must have wrote about 30 songs mainly on the guitar, and I performed a couple of gigs in 2013 showcasing about 10 of them. Although I developed them fully, I didn’t know how to record or produce them. Someone I used to know produced an ep containing 4 of my songs in 2015 called ‘Tickling the Dragon’s Tail’, I picked up a few things through the process of being recorded and took some of that into the sessions that produced ‘Beneath the Topsoil’. Now in 2023 feeling quite middle aged, I felt this urgency to get something done on my own terms, and having gathered various bits of equipment through the years, got online and learned through tutorials how to use a DAW, and over the course of July to September this year, recorded, mixed and produced my first album. As I was doing the sessions, several new tracks emerged spontaneously during the recordings which made a nice contrast to the older tracks that I had never recorded before, so I feel this album is a proper blend of past and present.
Q: What was the main inspiration behind naming your album ‘Beneath the Topsoil’, and how does it reflect the essence of the music?
A: I think this reflects my essential character, my nature even. I’m always interested in what lies beneath the surface of things, whether it’s a news report or meeting someone new, I like to delve a little and see what’s going on in the realms of behaviour or contexts that are normally hidden so that I can learn something useful about the world or human behaviour, so yeah I think the album title sums up my disposition towards life really.
Q: Can you share some insights into your creative process while composing and producing ‘Beneath the Topsoil’?
A: I wasn’t too worried about it sounding ‘perfect’ or whatever that might mean, I feel a lot of contemporary music sounds over-produced, artificial and lifeless even, I wanted to leave in the rough edges, I was more interested in capturing the essential experience or essence of what I was doing, so there are very few takes involved in the recording process for the album. I would record one guitar line from start to finish, then record a couple of vocal takes before usually laying down another guitar line – it’s great fun playing along to your own song! Some of the overdubs were unexpected and worked out really well (I think), such as on the ‘Grow Afterglow’ where the bassline is one take, as are the other guitar overdubs which all came together in just a few hours. ‘No Future’ came about when my new cajon arrived, I simply set it up and recorded a percussion line, then added bass, guitar etc in one take, I really liked how organic this process felt. ‘I Stand Alone’ has been gestating for years, but it was only through the recording process that ideas came about some samples that would (again in my opinion) elevate the song and bring it into a ‘dark folk’ type of genre. Overall, I feel I captured the spontaneity of the process and I think it can be heard and experienced when you listen to the album, particularly the order of the tracks, though of course very few people listen to albums through like the old days!
Q: How does your songwriting in ‘Beneath the Topsoil’ compare to your previous works? Are there any new elements or themes you’ve explored?
A: As with all my songwriting, they are a combination of painful past relationships that have come to an end, or concerns with the darker sides of human nature all the way through to random acts of inspiration that can be provoked from watching a film, hearing a piece of news that deeply affects me etc. I’m not sure there are new themes, as I think one of my strengths as a songwriter is not being limited to any particular theme or narrow scope of writing, I’ve written about some really weird stuff!
Q: Which track from ‘Beneath the Topsoil’ is most meaningful to you, and why?
A: Probably ‘I Stand Alone’; it’s one of the earliest songs I ever wrote but came together in unexpected ways through the recording process and the happy accidents (particularly the backing vocal and how it complements and elevates the main one) that for me, really transformed the song. I love how I captured certain resonances from the guitars during the song’s climax, and even if not many people will listen to this track due to its length etc, for me I am deeply satisfied with the way it came together and the fact I was able to keep all the sounds and resonances I liked through my naïve mastering of the track during post production.
Q: Were there any significant collaborations or contributions from other artists in this album? If so, how did they influence the final output?
A: The only contributions came from a lifetime of musical influences as they continue to intuitively shape my sound. I made this album all by myself.
Q: Who are some of your musical influences, and how have they shaped the sound and style of ‘Beneath the Topsoil’?
A: Some of my biggest influences would be The Smiths, Pixies, P J Harvey, the Cure, Wild Beasts, Aphex Twin, Autechre, John Maus, Lil Peep, the Mike Flowers Pops, Radiohead, Boards of Canada, A-ha. I don’t consciously try and sound like any of them, I know from experience if I stay true to my musical instincts, then I will create something that is no doubt indebted to my experiences of hearing artists I love and how they inspire me, but there is no conscious attempt to sound like The Smiths or John Maus etc. That being said, my guitar style is definitely influenced by the strong melodic playing style of Johnny Marr, and the last track on ‘Beneath the Topsoil’ definitely nods its head to my love of ambient techno and the intricate weaving beats of Autechre.
Q: Who do you believe is the target audience for ‘Beneath the Topsoil’? What message or feeling do you hope to convey to them?
A: I don’t really know who my target audience would be in 2023 as the musical landscape is completely changed from the days when I was a teen in the 1990s. I think that so many social media platforms combined with even easier ways to create music quickly means we are over saturated as listeners and it’s hard to sift through the dross and find something that actually says something a bit deeper about life. I guess my target audience is anyone that likes a bit of depth to what they’re hearing, who feel a bit intrigued to know what meaning(s) are behind lyrics, who like to pull at the threads of life to see what they reveal.
Q: Are there any plans for live performances or tours to promote ‘Beneath the Topsoil’? What can fans expect from your live shows?
A: If I can find the time to practice enough, I might do an open mic or two in the future, I’m pretty confident there isn’t a great demand to hear me play live!
Q: Following ‘Beneath the Topsoil’, do you have any future projects or new directions in mind for your music career?
A: I am already laying out plans for another 9 track album, the next one will have more aggressive, punchier songs with an electric feel, interspersed with a few folk type numbers. After that, I plan on getting more experimental which is what I’m really looking forward to. But first, I want to at least record and produce the second wave of songs mostly written about 2013 – 2014.