PHOTO CREDIT: Aisha Latosski
THE fantastic Benjamin Shaw…
has been talking with me about his upcoming album, Megadead (out 31st August), and what sort of themes influenced it. I ask about his connection with Melbourne and how his current work differs to his earlier stuff. Shaw recommends some upcoming artists to look out for and what he hopes to achieve going forward.
I ask the songwriter which three albums mean the most to him; what got him into songwriter in the first place; the advice he would give to artists coming through; which musician he would like to tour with giving the choice – he ends the interview with a cool song.
Hi, Benjamin. How are you? How has your week been?
Hello! I am ok. This week has not been bad so far. I’ve been happily putting off jobs and commitments and it’s definitely going to catch up with me and make my future weeks an almighty nightmare...but, right now? Delightful.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Ben and I make often sad and consistently difficult-to-enjoy Pop songs. I try to make them sound good, honestly, I do, but my attention span undermines me every time.
Is it true you were ‘accidentally’ born in Canada and raised in Blackpool?! you are now in Melbourne. How is one ‘accidentally’ born in Canada and then ends up in Australia?!
Yes, all true. It wasn’t so much of an accident: I think I just say things like that to make me sound more interesting. My mum was living in Canada at the time (what up, Edmonton?); I think my dad was from there or something - I don’t know, nobody talks about it - and then just ended up moving back to her hometown Blackpool in the U.K. Melbourne comes into it through my partner, Aisha. She is from Melbourne and, after a decade of living in London, we figured it was time to move back to Melbourne and try and recover our health.
PHOTO CREDIT: Aisha Latosski
Is Melbourne a great space for you to create and find inspiration?
Melbourne’s always been kind to me. I lived here for a year back in, like, 2005 and made so many friends and had the greatest time. Currently, I’ve been able to work just three days a week at my day job here, so I have much more time to devote to my ART. I’ve never found inspiration too hard - I am constantly anxious and/or sad, so material is never far away, but finding the energy, love and time to do anything with it was always a problem. So, having more time to myself, physically and mentally, has been honestly incredible.
Megadead is your forthcoming album. Can you tell me about some of the themes and ideas that influenced the songs? Do you have a standout cut?
Like most of my albums, the themes are sadness, stress and hating your job and colleagues. All the classics. I just can’t seem to shake them. I hope, one day, to not have any of these things clogging up my head, so I can just relax and paint some dandelions or something - but they’re always there ready to push down on my chest at any moment.
I really like the track, Terrible Feelings! - for obvious reasons, I guess.
I can hear developments and new additions since your debut album, There’s Always Hope, There’s Always Cabernet. Do you think you have developed as a songwriter?
I don’t know. There are certainly big differences to Cabernet, but I’m not sure whether it’s progression or regression. I used to pen actual songs with middle eights and choruses and all that but, for the last few years, it’s been mostly repetitions and patterns. I think I got pretty embarrassed about being a ‘singer-songwriter’ for the longest time (rightfully so), so I purposely shied away from writing anything resembling an actual song.
But, as I hurtle through my years (at the fastest speed, O.M.G.) I think I’m beginning to see the fun in it again. Songs can be fun. There’s even a chorus in one of these new ones - only one, mind you. Let’s not go crazy.
Do you count yourself as a bold songwriter? It seems, when listening to your work, you love to explore unchartered territory and take risks. Where does that come from?!
I don’t feel bold. I constantly feel like I’m just treading water and that all my albums sound exactly the same, but I think that’s probably what keeps me going. Like: ‘Oh sh*t, what if that was my last album; you can’t end on that!’ And, I don’t know, I really like trying to come up with atmospheres that match the song (or the other way around), so that often involves throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. Some of it is bold, but a lot of it is just blind panic.
Who are the artists that inspire you and led you to get into songwriting?
I’d been writing songs in various bands for years, but in the early-'00s, it was that New York Anti-Folk scene that really opened things up for me. The Moldy Peaches, Jeffrey Lewis and Ben Kweller especially made me feel like: ‘You know those stupid songs you love to make up that nobody else likes? There are other people out there that do them too’. It totally gave me the confidence and passion to keep going. These days, I’m well into Camp Cope, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and Charlie Louvin. All the Cs.
PHOTO CREDIT: Aisha Latosski
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
Oh, man; 2018 is already gone. Forget it. Let’s do something in 2019 instead. This year, though, I’d like to go back and see my family for a week or two, buy a new fridge-freezer and learn how to make a decent sauerkraut. I got this.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
There have been plenty of ups and downs but there were a couple of nights in 2009 where I was part of the supergroup ‘Tapegun’. Paul from the band Nervus who now runs the LP Cafe and record store in Watford; Neil from Broken Shoulder who now runs Kirigirisu Recordings in Tokyo and me, Ben, who now runs... away from his problems. I’d never played with other people before and actually felt a connection and I’ll never forget it.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
Sha Sha by Ben Kweller
Not only is it a great Pop album, but it also kinda kick-started my adult creative life. Despite always being super-into art and music, I’d dropped out of uni and a Fine Art degree because I wasn’t fine enough, I guess. Oh, and the drinking too much, bad health and generally just feeling sh*t about myself which, now looking back, I can see was obviously a depression.
I loved this album Sha Sha and somehow stumbled onto the Ben Kweller message board on his website and things began to pick up. I met tons of cool people from all over the globe and it really opened me up to the world and my own passions. I definitely would not be sitting here writing this right now if not for B.K. and his early-'00s message board.
From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah (Live) by Nirvana
Like all gawky small-town teenagers in the ‘90s, Nirvana kinda changed everything. I’d have been thirteen or fourteen-years-old when this came out and as someone who was previously super-into Bon Jovi and, for some reason, Motörhead. I became obsessed with them overnight and deep-dived. The cliché is real - Nirvana absolutely were the gateway into Punk and Hardcore; art and left-wing progressive politics - all which left a permanent imprint on my psyche.
We Love the City by Hefner
I have a nice memory of sitting on my childhood bedroom floor at my mum’s house in Lancashire when I was about twenty, having just come home from some probably dreadful night at the local pub; eyes half-closed listening to this album. Imagining the chaotic London city life it portrayed, the romance in the weird fuc*ed-up characters and relationships and just how far away it all seemed.
Somehow, years later after finally moving to London, I became friends with Hefner guitarist Jack Hayter through the magic of MySpace and then later even supported singer Darren Hayman live. I have had zero success in all of this music business, but stuff like this is still super-freaking-cool.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
Oh, sh*t. Sod it, Neil Young. Reach for stars, eh!
As for the rider, can I get some fruit, some Kettle Chips - and I guess I’m gonna need some red wine if I’m gonna be playing with my old pal Neil.
Can we see you on tour soon? What dates are coming up?
It’s unlikely. I haven’t played live in a few years. But, there’s a night down the road from me that puts on weird, unlistenable acts every week; so I wouldn’t mind putting my name down for that one day. But, then should you really sh*t where you eat? I’m not sure. I’d like to get back on the horse one day, though.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
I don’t know. It feels like it’s getting harder and harder to even survive, let alone make art too. Especially, for people from working-class and minority backgrounds. Just try and keep healthy I guess. Be kind. Punch up. Express yourself in whatever way your life, budget or circumstances allow and keep uploading stuff to the Internet, whatever the fu*k it is - Bandcamp, SoundCloud; Instagram or just tweeting the fu*k out of your day (not Facebook, though…never Facebook).
None of us will ever make a living from art, but it makes you feel better and finding someone else that is creating CONTENT that you connect with can get you through a sh*tty day. So, if only for each other, we need to keep going.
IN THIS PHOTO: Camp Cope
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I try to chill as much as I can. Anxiety is a daily torment, so it can be a real sh*t-show, but I have been trying to get into meditation more and I can feel that it really helps - I’m just not very patient with it. Really partial to a bit of CBD oil too. It’s not legal in Australia (surprise) but we’ve found an American webstore then sends it in the post all discreetly with fake customs labels and all that, so that is way cool. Lovely stuff. Also; going for walks is cool. Australia can be (definitely is) super-conservative politically but the nature is incredible. The creeks, the animals and birds are so beautiful. So easy to fall for and it really takes the edge off.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Divide and Dissolve - Resistance
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