|Ben Elliot -
Taking the Gold
does an indie artist come along that brings the whole ball of
wax. Songwriting, vocal skills, arrangements, harmonies.
Even though Ben Elliot won the Golden Kayak in 07 for Best Male
Artist, I forgot how good he was. Actually the 2 new songs he's
uploaded for his IMP page I think bring him to a whole new level.
Started with a video for his song Fades of Echoes (currently in
the Kayak Big 25) which displays him multi-tracking with himself and is
reminiscent of Brian Wilson with that delicate blend of his own voices.
Now he's released a song called I'll Be Your Heart Attack which
really knocked my socks off, what a gem. I find his songwriting
style is so flowing and self-assured, there's something natural going
on here, you don't hear the labor of his work, he just finds the song,
seemingly out of the mist. Makes these masterpieces look easy,
one wonders about his potential because maybe he's just tapping the
surface. Anyway he goes into a fair amount of detail in his
Spotlight Interview, and I think there's a lot to learn from his
approach. Music like this is about flow and letting it happen,
there is a pureness to his creativity that one doesn't find very often
last time I've seen you around was a while
back, what have you been doing since then?
Ben: Work and
life got in the way for a bit. I had still been
doing bits and bobs of music, but hadn't managed to come up with
tangible due to time and motivation. The change came when I had the
to run an open mic night. It forced me into re-learning old songs and
effort to write new things as I had to perform on a weekly basis. When
stopped doing the open mic I decided to keep the ball rolling, continue
and try and record some of it, and that's where I am now.
I saw your video, seems like you're
more deeply into production these days.
Ben: In some ways I'm much less in to production. Writing
material to perform at the open mic changed how I write. I used to (and
do to an extent) revel in the aspects of modern recording that meant
have a piano part that would need an 8 handed pianist, or layer 25
create the dynamics, but to perform live regularly which I had never
previously, I had to write music
relied on the bare bones of chords and melody to keep things
it came to recording the newer songs I had to change how I did things,
realised that a lot of things I'd written recently had subtle changes
and had a much looser and simpler feel to them, so I stopped relying on
tracks and stripped back arrangements for songs. It was at this point
though that if I was aiming for simple arrangements done freely in one
would be fun to video them as well and create a YouTube channel for
Having said all this, do still really enjoy the audio-production side
and have a few things in the pipeline that are more like the old style.
Scott: How much time do you spend on
music? Is it as much
as you'd like? Do you have any difficulties with writer's or
Ben: The time
I spend on music varies depending on what I'm up to
week to week and what motivation I've got when I do have some time. Of
there are times when I have creativity flowing in my head but no time
to work on it, but generally it's nice to be able to have a flexible
like this and it means I suffer less with creative block as if its not
on one particular day I can just put it all to one side and pick it up
another time with no pressure.
I think its difficult to
say if the time I have is 'enough'.
I've had periods where I put aside lots of time for music and ended up
frustrated and struggling with creativity, whereas other times I've
equally as frustrated by not having enough time to work on things. I
fundamentally, if everything is flowing and working, you make the time
its not, its just not.
Take What You Can, Give What You Are has always been one of
of your songs. Care to elaborate about what that phrase means
Overall, the song is about self-worth. I've often thought
that people, myself included, can have
an ability to focus too much on what other people think about them when
develop an opinion of themselves, and we can often fall in to a trap of
ourselves by making comparisons between ourselves and how we perceive
people. The title is really just saying, take what you can from life,
remember you can only give what you've got to give. Sometimes you can
too much from both the giving and taking elements, and that from my
can make you unhappy.
Scott: Describe how you write your
songs? Mostly on piano?
Yes, I'd say mostly piano with a smattering of guitar.
methods for the majority of the songs I have uploaded to IMP over the
were really quite a different from the more traditional way of song
tend to come up with a short chord progression and melody, usually the
and record it immediately. I'd then start working on an arrangement,
some sort of chorus, and finally add in a middle 8 or such-like.
Vocals wise, I'd often come up with melodies and lyrics as I
was recording a particular section. I'd start by singing nonsense to a
and then fitting words to the sounds I was making. I have always felt
lyrics can often be my weakest points and I think writing like this
to that. Its hard to write lyrics about something specific when you let
phonetics of the sounds you made when coming up with the melody, effect
words you choose for the lyrics. I think this has led me to have
for songs as apposed to in-your-face lyrics about a certain subject.
Although this way of writing has led to some songs I'm
really proud of, the fact that it could be months between recording
guitar from one part to another left some tracks feeling quite
both a recording and song-writing point of view. However, having done
mic, I feel like I have become a better piano and guitar player as I
learn a song from start to finish without any re-takes or dropping
in after a mistake; things I'd become accustomed to being almost
'studio musician'. Its allowed me to spend more time crafting a song
not just gone straight in to recording so much. I've also started doing
collaboration/guesting on some tracks at a friend's studio. There are
a few musicians throwing ideas in to the mix and I have no dealings
production side so its a really cool, but very different experience to
used to and I expect it will start to have an influence on how I write.
In terms of how I think my song-writing has developed over
the years, there's a couple of examples that I think have had a really
influence on how I've evolved as a song-writer. To explain further, in
space of time, I was lucky enough to be chosen as a 'BBC 2 song-writer
year finalist' and was also offered a publishing contract with a small
company. Although very flattering, my experience of the latter was
scrutinised and having to write new songs to a brief, albeit fairly
This, coupled with deadlines, gigs being arranged for me, a key-man
the contract and a host of other things from both me and the company,
that we both lost a bit interest. For me it was to do with losing
and motivation from the lack of control, and subsequently nothing ever
signed. I think a lot of musicians would have pushed and made it work,
actually felt a bit of relief when it was all over, though of course I
a bit of regret.
The BBC thing was a great experience too, but with a similar
outcome. As 'finalists' we went to the BBC and did a few workshops and
song writing exercises, it was really great but mostly an opportunity
showcase yourself, something I didn't do too well. My feedback from the
sessions was exactly that, and it was suggested I might try to write
musicians if I wasn't too interested in the performance and showcasing
elements. I did give this a go, but fell into similar patterns of
creativity and motivation.
The point of talking about these two things, (other than to
name-drop a couple of accomplishments!) is that all the experiences I
me realise that trying to stick to a format and think too hard about
what I was
writing really hindered the song-writing process. I decided that I
less hard to find the 'hook' or follow a traditional structure as some
influences didn't lend themselves to that anyway, and I clearly wasn't
throw myself at 'making it big', where those things are more important.
Ironically, those hooks and structure started to come a lot more easily
actually didn't end up changing my style a great deal. However, it has
me to write some songs I think are really interesting, songs that
to conventional 'verse-chorus' formats, or traditional chord
arrangements. A good example of that is the song I videoed - Fades of
has also allowed me to write some absolute crap that no-one has ever
Scott: So how many instruments do you play?
can get a noise out of a few things, but its piano and
guitar mainly. I used to have a drum kit and I recently dug out the
played at school. I can play a few instruments to a decent standard,
than one thing really well. Its always been more exciting learning
new rather than practicing on the same instrument over and over, for
borrowed my sisters 'cello recently, it is indeed exciting to think I
some cello to songs, but actually its really hard and I'll perhaps give
it before I've got to a performable standard.
Scott: You have a song called No
Regrets. Made me
wonder if you've had some difficulties in your life. Anything
you want to
I mentioned before, lyrics are what I'd say is my weakest
area and often don't relate specifically to any one particular thing,
perhaps a little hard to really analyse them. I tend to work with
themes for my
songs and they can range from referring to myself or talking about
else; referring to something that has happened or something that I'd
like to happen; objectification or personification; complete nonsense,
on. So basically if I say 'I', 'you' or 'it' in a song, it could refer
anyone or anything. I think sometimes my songs can seem like I've got
complain about, but in reality I think my early influences tended to
grungy, dark, teen-angsty lyrics, so thats what I did too and it kind
I have tried writing more positive lyrics but they don't come naturally.
Scott: I see a lot of discussions out there these
days about artists who shun
political songs, how do you feel about them?
It depends on how subtle they are and whether I agree with
them I suppose. Within reason, as long as I can enjoy a song I don't
mind what its about as I tend to listen to the arrangement of all the
rather than focus on the lyrics or meaning. As an example, when I
Chic 'n' Stu by System of a Down, I hear a good, fun song that
lists pizza toppings, and I don't tend to think so much about
brainwashing and global consumerism.
Scott: Could you name some of the music that
inspired you to want to make
Initially it was Silverchair. I followed their transition
from grunge to orchestral rock while I was starting to write songs, and
that has been a big influence. Each album they released made me want to
songs like that album. Some way a long that time-line Daniel Johns did
project with Paul Mac called the Dissociatives which was essentially a
style to Silverchair but a bit freer and used a lot of electronic
and sounds. This is where I really started to take influence as it was
easier to create a similar sound than some of the orchestral elements
Silverchair had been doing at that point.
I've also always loved music for film, especially Danny
Elfman's soundtracks. I love the way film-music can completely alter
and feel of a scene, it showcases to the highest degree music's ability
emotion. Another notable mention is metal/hardcore/post-hardcore (or
silly name it has currently). Although I like to try and listen to a
range of music, metal is always my fall back and 90% of CDs I have in
fall into this genre.
Generally, I'd like to think I draw influence from anything
I hear, and sometimes a little too much. It's not unheard of for me to
very quickly and freely come up with an idea for a song that I think is
to be really good, only to realise its actually pretty much exactly the
something I've just listened to.
Scott: Tell us about your goals in music, as far
as career goals. Are
they reachable do you think?
Ben: I don't
really have any goals any more. I'm just enjoying
making music in a way that suits me, and that is perfectly reachable.
Scott: Does it ever bug you when you hear music on
the radio that isn't so
good to the point it seems like an injustice that it's not your songs
Not really. The music industry is a weird old place. The
great thing about the modern world is that you can listen to what you
when you want, so I tend to not listen to music that 'isn't so good',
miss out on some other good stuff too. As for it being an injustice
not my music, I think I've passed that now. If I can get the odd
any form, it makes my day.
Scott: We ask this to all Spotlight artists, have
you ever had any
experiences of high strangeness like UFOs or ghosts or what have you?
Thankfully not, despite living in the most haunted
Scott: Do you know where your music is headed?
Nope, and that's what I love about writing music. I spent
the day listening to Kate Bush and then some Dubstep the other week.
to say my song-writing took a weird unexpected turn thereafter. You'll
hear the results before long.