Ben Christophers Interview

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What’s this? Interviews on a blog! Yup, a new section on Secret Tones. Each month we will feature exclusive interviews with our favourite artists and groups. First up this month is the critically acclaimed singer song writer Ben Christophers. Have a read and be sure to check out Ben’s Myspace profile where you can listen to some of his songs. It’ll give you an idea about why we’re so excited to have Ben speak to us.

I read that your father presented you with a guitar when you were five years old. Do you come from a musical back ground?

Not really, we had a piano also which I loved and still have back home, it was the beginning we all had a go at playing it was fun I think that’s what mattered to me then like now.

Did it come as a surprise that you got signed to V2 or were you confident of obtaining a record deal eventually?

I suppose I always had boundless optimism, it helps.

How did they approach you?

It was a classic story of me giving an AnR man my CD and about two weeks later he called me and by the end of the month I was signed, it happened quickly and the heart ache and utter misery the ten years before that get all forgot.

How does it feel looking back now to the late nineties when you were a unknown figure playing low-key solo shows in the West End of London compared to playing huge festivals like Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds?

It provided me with a great platform to keep making records, those low keys gigs were me earning my stripes quietly, Glastonbury and all the festivals are completely different and I’ll never forget my first appearance there I was high for weeks after it.

Were you nervous about playing to such a large audience with a new group backing you up?

The first time is earth shatteringly scary, but by the time Glastonbury had arrived we had been touring Europe as a band so we were feeling pretty good, but you still can’t help thinking to your self when you’re walking up the ramp “what the fuck am I doing”?

What was it like working with David Kosten for the first time?

We had a great time, for both of us it was our first outing as album artist and producer we were like two school kids bashing away at guitars and samplers having no clue and much of the time no songs. We’d drive through Camden listening to the mixes once we’d finished something, it was special, it felt like we had a secret sound we were making, he turned my musical world upside down.

Your debut My Beautiful Demon was a beautiful, often dark affair, which seems to be an under current in many of your songs. Where does this almost gothic influence come from?

Don’t know really, I just feel drawn to certain sounds and chords and the way they make you feel. I have always been into noises and the makeup of sounds probably thanks to electronic music from the likes of ‘japan’ or ‘Brian Eno’ or ‘kraftwerk’ (the list is endless) and songwriting curtisy of ‘the beach boys’ or ‘Tom Waits’ (the list is endless)

My Beautiful Demon received great critical acclaim upon its release. Do you read the reviews your albums receive and if so how do they effect you?

Beautiful Demon Cover. Ben Christophers first albumWith My Beautiful Demon, I would get home from gigs and walk the streets all night because I was so hyped up I’d buy the magazines and read them sitting in this park in Islington, it made me really happy at the time because it had taken me along time to get recognised, but I knew it wasn’t healthy to get too close to it, it messed my concentration up for a while because I was too scared to write ‘spoonface’ I have always been advised to keep all reviews at arms length but I can’t help but jump about with good ones, the bad ones make me feel like shit for about 10 minutes then I’m fine.

Your second album Spoon Face got great reviews from established magazines such as Uncut who said “…stunningly combining pin-drop stillness with spooked, unusual arrangements worthy of Mark Hollis…cramped in the void between Jeff Buckley & Art Garfunkel…” How does it feel to be compared to such greats?

It’s the greatest, all I ever wanted was recognition all artists crave for it, it’s always an honour to be compared to people
like that.

Who would you say have been your biggest influences?

So many people/artists I’m indebted too, the list reaches into space. Kosten and Wibberley these two probably the biggest.

The TV Station More 4 used your song Falls Into View for a documentary on Iraq which seems to have generated a lot of interest in your work.Have any of your other songs been used for a soundtrack?

Quite a few things have been used in films and TV, it’s really exciting as an Artist to see images put to your music. I loved the more4 one, it was so eerie and twisted with this soldier dressed as a clown going mental..

If you could rewrite a soundtrack to a film what film would it be and why?

Oh definitely ‘Metropolis’ made in 1926 as a silent movie and then in the 80′s someone put music to it and it’s shocking this movie is classic, and the music destroys it, ‘Kraftwerk’ should have done it at the time.. I think some of it should still be silent because that’s what it was made for, so any music can’t steal the show but to give it a colour, I would love to do it.

It’s reported that for your third album ‘The Spaces In Between’ you had a lot of material to choose from. Was it difficult to choose what tracks to use?

Spoonface album coverIt was actually, it could have gone down a few paths but narrowed it down to what sounded good together, I fell in love with the sound of my guitar again. When I was making ‘Spoonface’ I think David and I (Faultline / Kosten / Producer) toyed with the idea of binning the guitar for an album although we didn’t quite in the end I did feel like bringing back some good old fashioned sounds and music back to the album.

On your website you say “This is the most upbeat and optimistic record I’ve written”. Was it a conscious decision to make the album upbeat?

God no ! I’m big into misery, Don’t get me wrong not in a negative way but in the way of striking a chord with emotions, even joy or love. Especially for me as an Artist, so much music / film / TV etc etc skims the surface of nothingness and encourages us not to think but to fill up until next time. I am desperate to feel something I see or hear whether it’s hardcore, pulling on your heart strings, sad or happy, or tearing you apart, I always thought that was what made us real.

Why was it decided to make Viewfinder a limited edition?

View Finder album coverI loved the character of the songs, dead simple, I liked the black and white, the hiss and the way the harmonium clicks and the old synths sound like they’re breathing out. All things I would have ironed out eventually and made more hi fi, But I wanted to capture it without designing anything else, there was something very honest about it I liked. So i left it as was.

You have been involved in numerous side projects. How did you find it working with Francoise Hardy and how how did you meet?

I have known her music since I was a kid, I had heard she was a fan so I wrote a letter to her, it took me three months to write as I sounded like a stalker, she wrote a really nice letter back to me and asked me if I’d like to write something for her next album, so I did and the record went gold which was really cool, we still hadn’t met until earlier this year when she asked me if I was interested in singing a duet with her on her next album, I went to Paris for a couple of days and recorded it, that was when I met her, she’s amazing, really untouched by her fame the most graceful woman.

How is work on the new album going and what direction can you see it taking.

I have gone back to basics, I sit at the piano I lean over my guitar, the writing has taken many different turns, I can see it but I can’t describe it yet, I’m working on this in a different way in that I’m only concentrating on the songs and not thinking about anything else, it does make you hone in. I have a good feeling about what I’ve done so far, it’s my fourth studio album I have alot to prove to myself, I love the process of writing a record, it’s like you’ve got control of your life again and it all starts from here.

Ben Christophers on Myspace

Buy Ben Christophers Music

Buy Ben Christophers limited edition album View Finder

Ben Christophers Website

No music day!

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The idea of going to B&Q (British hardware store) and not hearing James Blunt or The Killers while shopping for undercoat sounds very appealing to me. Better still, not hearing Neil Young’s classic album On The Beach while standing in the frozen food section of Tesco holding a packet of value country veg would be more satisfying. But unfortunately for those of us to which music matters a life of cringe faced moments lie ahead. For instance the music genre ‘coffee house’. The never-ending Starbucks (I know) drone of singer-songwriter drivel that wafts from the speakers like sleeping gas.

Any airplay is good for an artist i suppose but if I ever joined the lovely list of lovely songwriters I think I’d aim higher and market my music with live performances in Carpet sale warehouses and maybe Ikea. What do they play in Ikea…mmm? What kind of music triggers spending endorphins.

OK, i’m straying. The Point is that today is No Music Day and I was reading the list of reasons people posted on the No Music Day web site to why they would benefit a day with out music or not. No Music Day! Who could ever dream up such a concept? Only ex KLF money burner Bill Drummond. “No Music Day is an aspiration, an idea, an impossible dream, a nightmare. There are as many reasons for marking No Music Day as there are people willing to observe it – or reject it.” What about you? Will you be complying to No Music Day? Better decide as tomorrow see’s the annual mad celebrations of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music.

“I went to the radio interview, but I ended up alone at the microphone”.

Good chilled cafe in Edinburgh with good music (Think Smog, M.Ward)

The No Music Day web site

On the Secret Tones Stereo

Ideally I would prefer to set up some pod-casts and let you listen for your good selves but due to the legal implications i thought it best just to stick to a list of what i’m listening to each week.

Each album will be linked to somewhere or other so you can preview the tracks. Love to hear what you think of the albums profiled or better still let me know what you are listening to.

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Gabriel Naim Amor – Soundtracks
2002 | Label – Film Guerrero
French singer/guitarist/composer first album of his Soundtrack series.
Naim Amor on myspace

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Dan Sartain – Join
2006 | Label – Swami/One Little Indian
Second album from the “bastard son of J Cash”
Samples of Dan Sartain’s Join
Dan Sartain on Secret Tones

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Lawrence – The Night Will Last Forever
2005 | Label – Novamute
Lawrence’s third album. Mix of house, minimal techno and deep ambient electronica.
Lawrence on myspace

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Howe Gelb – ‘sno angel like you
2006 | Label – Loose Music
Living ledgend Howe Gelb’s solo album joined with a Canadian gospel choir.
Gelb on myspace

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Deaf Center – Pale Ravine
2006 | Type Records
Norwegian ambient/eletronic composers return!
Listen to Pale Ravine…no really, Listen to it.
Deaf Center on Secret Tones

Secret Tones recommends November

Mono – Memorie Dal Futuro
Recorded and Mixed by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio Recording, Chicago in Sep 2005.

memorie.jpgJapan’s instrumental post rock troubadours release two track 10″. This is a limited edition so it’s well worth investing now. The last time Mono released a limited edition (a split album with Pelican) it mostly sold out while they were on tour. I have to say this is one to make my mouth water. Slow crescendos of soaring strings and wailing guitars build like brewing storms and morph into a ritual of raw metal noise. Breathtaking. There is a wee preview over on Mono’s annoying site. So lock the doors and get in mode what ever that may be for you. I personally like to listen to good music while smoking duty free cigarettes and drinking strong Italian coffee in a preferably isolated room with big windows. What about you?

Also in a few days, November 21, 2006 to be exact Mono will release a compilation album featuring groups such as The Anomoanon, Sleeping People and of course themselves.

Listen to a sample of Memorie Dal Futuro
Interested? Buy it here

The Jesus Lizard Head/Pure
Steve Albini again! 1990.
jesusl_lizard.jpgThe Jesus Lizard have been called “a leading noise rock band in the American independent underground who turned out a series of independent records filled with scathing, disemboweling, guitar-driven pseudo-industrial noise, all of which received positive reviews in underground music publications. This is a good place to start for those new to the Jesus Lizard. Head/Pure is a combination of their first EP release (Pure) and first LP release (Head).

This is what Secret Tones contributor John Barron had to say – “Sorry fellow pilgrims, but if you don’t like this album your license to rock will be revoked and destroyed. This is the blues alright – the type of blues where our hero remembers “marinating in a pool/a puddle of blood and urine/my own urine/someone else’s blood. If you are not thrilled to the spinal fluid by the monstrous beauty of David Yow belching, grunting, screeching and moaning down a garbled phone-line to the backing of the most apocalyptic, bastardised and orgasmic guitar blues crescendos, you may actually be clinically dead. Buy it and decide once and for all whether you are worthy of your lonely hearts column claim to “like rock music”

Preview/buy Head/Pure

Dan Sartain – Join
2006
sartain.jpgAlabama’s Post-modern rock’n’roll, punk kid Dan Sartain with his outlaw bony Latino-boy face can only be trouble. I can hear my parents telling me “to stay away from that Dan Sartain”. Senior Sartain is a rock ‘n’ rollcar_sartain.jpg throwback, churning out punky, no-frills garage rock in the same of waters as Billy Childish and with the sheer rawness of Micheal Yonker’s Microminiature Love which helps separate him from the never ending masses of three-chord bores. Amazingly Sartain is only 24 yet he writes and spits out his songs with the insight and gut of a man who’s lived a million lifetimes of love and hate.

Described as “…a troubadour on course to collide into greatness” and maybe more interestingly “some bastard son of Johnny Cash”. This is proving to be one of my best buys this year. You know what to do.

Listen to Join

Gaudeamus Live Electronics Festival

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Venues: Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ / Bimhuis | Amsterdam Date: 20 Nov 2006 – 24 Nov 2006

Gaudeamus Live kicks off in just a few days with eletronic pioneer Gordan Mumma confirmed as special guest amidst other standout names like Mouse on Mars and Tomoko Mukaiyama (winner of the International Gaudeamus in 1991) to name just two. Gaudeamus Live is an experimental electronics music festival held in The Netherlands.

Founded as early as 1945, it’s aim is to organize and promote contemporary musical activities and festivals both in Holland and worldwide. It also focuses on supporting the career development of young composers and musicians.

Also, annually the International Gaudeamus Music Week is held in Holland. A competition aimed at shinning the spotlight on new composers from the age of thirty under. Gaudeamus Music Week is “a unique international event for the introduction of new music by talented young composers”. This years winners were Lefteris Papadimitriou (Greece) and Gabriel Paiuk (Argentina).

gaudeamuslogokleur.jpgIf you are in Amsterdam you should think about dropping by to see some of the performances. I went to a similar event in the UK last year with out being too familiar with the line up. I seen Cypriot composer Yannis Kyriakides and Scottish avant guitarist Andy Moor combine their expertise on stage. Throughout the performance of the live acts i felt thrilled energized and a lot of the time confused. It opened my mind a lot to this genre of music and of course was fascinating to see live.

“Nowadays it’s not unusual to see a laptop onstage next to a cellist. While it’s evident that the musician behind the cello has to work hard to get the right sounds from his instrument, it seems as if all the person behind the computer has to do is click on a mouse a few times. But there’s more to it than meets the eye and music lovers who want to know more about live electronics are very welcome at the Gaudeamus Live Electronics Festival, to be held at the ‘Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ’ in Amsterdam this coming November”

This years line up – Gordon Mumma, LOOS Ensemble, Bakin Zub, MAE, Wouter Snoei, Michel Waisvisz, POW ensemble, My Kingdom for a Lullaby, Tomoko Mukaiyama, N-collective, Erax, unsounds, original kraakgeluiden, Francisco Lopez, Iris Garrelfs, Mouse on Mars.

Links:

Gaudeamus website
Gordon Mumma website
2006 Winners Lefteris Papadimitriou (Greece) en Gabriel Paiuk (Argentina).

Deaf Center

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Just spent an evening listening to Norwegian sound duo Deaf Center’s 2005 album Pale Ravine. “Inspired by old silent 8mm film reels and the historical architecture”, Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland set out armed with microphones and recorded whatever they could, then mixed their findings with haunting pianos and strings. Pale Ravine is a beautiful sometimes disturbing album blending “elements of classical music with electronic music”. It felt cinematic soundtrack to my life, each song a nostalgic flash back that left me deep in a train of thought. Very personal indeed, as great music should be.

Buy it here

Hanged Up – Clatter for control

One big avant-punk fuck off from God Speed label mates Hanged Up. Listening to the third album from viola and drum duo I find myself scouring the albums hand made cover for the ‘Hanged Up do not condone violence’ sticker.

Right from the off Clatter For Control erupts with the apocalyptic call to war that is “Klang Klang”. It be comes quite clear from an early stage that I have become a danger to myself and others listening to this in a shopping mall. Genevieve Heistek has an audio looper attached to her viola to add layers of distortion.

Genevieve Heistek refuses forgiveness on her viola, while Eric Craven is simply mind-blowing on the drums. This album is full of energy and tension. The second track “Alarm” again fast and furious, Heistek’s frantic playing climaxes with warning drives whaling in to the sky. While Craven’s drumming becomes a matter of life and death. Each trashing beat sounding like Craven is desperately trying to put a raging beast out of its misery. Suddenly silence…and “A Different Kind Of Function” begins with it’s aftermath, war torn sound-scape. “Eksplozije” finishes with a static feedback whistle that leaves you with a metallic taste in your mouth.

Then like winter turns to spring, there is hope. The clouds seem to almost clear for the optimistic jig-like march that is “Go Let’s Go”. Craven’s snares shimmer like the mass meeting of swords to change and speed race past Heistek’s devious Viola drones.

But all isn’t how it seems and quite quickly it’s apparent we were mealy experiencing the calm before the storm. Jesus! “Derailleur” and “Fuck This Place”, this is chaos. On “Fuck This Place” we hear ‘Hanged Up’ introduce vocals for the first time. Or more like a continues scream of terror going unanswered. The sound is huge, just how the Duo have managed to achieve such a big sound is in it self amazing. Heistek has now become a medium to voice some out of this world force. The screeching and winning coming from her distorted strings makes you wonder if you will make it to the other end of the song alive. Craven’s drumming sound like a robotic mass war in the midst of an heavy electric storm. Simply Fascinating.

What could possibly follow that? Only a true piece of magic. “How We Keep Time” has turned this album from a great piece of work to an amazing piece of work. The dust is slowly settling over a warm sky, sorrowful beautiful waves ascend and descend from Heistek mournful strings. These are the dying mans last breath as his life rushes before his eyes. Craven’s drumming here is pure genius. Symbols and snares rattle and hiss, sometimes in an almost whisper like flurry. Beats twitch and tap of Craven’s drums like his each limb has a mind of it’s own.

“Junk The Clatter” closes the album and the our new found peace seems unstable again. Heistek’s playing swells around us and soon enough breaks under it’s own weight into a heavy, torn riff. Craven too is uncompromising. Chaos resumed and in control again. The world is ending and I never thought I’d enjoy it so much.

Constellation Records



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