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?
With 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
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?
It 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?
I 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.