Australian artist Ben Craven has just release his latest album titled "Last Chance to Hear". As Ben states "Time and effort are my specialties!". The result is a well thought out and executed collection of songs. Ben had a blast during the making the album and felt he was in his "comfort zone" in the process. There is a special guest - "William Shatner" - appearing on one of the cuts and Ben says "His performance was even more intense than I envisaged." I corresponded with Ben about his new work.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your third album release "Last Chance to Hear". What was the game plan for this release and what was the process of bringing the theme to completion?
B.C. - For this album I wanted to do things a bit differently. Instead of disappearing off the face of the earth for a year or so and have everyone forget about me while I worked on it, I decided to leak the tracks as I recorded them. I set up a website called TuneLeak where people could listen to the works in progress and even purchase them as advance tracks as a form of pre-ordering the album. This process added some self-imposed pressure to finish the tracks more regularly and commit to arrangements earlier during the recording, rather than living with them for a much longer time and messing about.
R.V.B. - Being a vinyl record collector it was an interactive process to hold the record... place it on the turntable... manually place the needle down... and then read the liner notes as you were listening. Has the process of listening to music become sterile?
B.C. - There’s certainly an element that seems to be missing in the way we’re most likely to listen to music today, myself included. It used to be a ritual. It required effort. Even something as simple as selecting a record or a CD and putting it on the player. It required time to be set aside and your attention. Not having a thousand distractions available at your fingertips every time your mind wandered off for a moment. I love the convenience of high resolution digital files and being able to chop and change tracks on a whim, but the act of experiencing a good album in its entirety leaves me feeling richer and in tune with the artist.
R.V.B. - With your influences being the progressive rock from the heyday era bands of Yes... Pink Floyd... ELP... and others, does a project like this entail a lot more time and effort due to the complexity of the genre as opposed to if you would do a standard rock and roll or blues album?
B.C. - Time and effort are my specialties! So I think the complexity of the genre is the main reason I like working on these projects. I actually enjoy spending hours and hundreds of listens getting the arrangements and mixes right. Without the layers and complexity of instrumentation, I would get bored by the songs very quickly. It’s fun to roll out more straightforward songs now and then, but it doesn’t feel as rewarding so it’s not something I want to spend most of my time doing. To my commercial detriment.
R.V.B. - What kind of gear did you use on this?
B.C. - If I told you I’d be laughed out of town! I’m very interested in creating the illusion that the best gear was used in an expensive high-end studio. The reality is that if you mix "in the box" and have a fairly good idea about how to use plugins, you can get pretty convincing results. The gear I used is largely the same as that for the previous album, but I think my production and engineering skills are improving. The main guitar was a 1954 reissue Japanese Strat which has a lovely chunky neck. "Revenge Of Dr Komodo" needed something more rockabilly so I used a Gibson 335 copy souped up with Gretsch-style pickups. My old 1960s Fender lap steel copy makes a couple of appearances, as does the Rickenbacker 4001 bass.
R.V.B. - How cool is it to have Sci-fi legend William Shatner appear on a track? Does he add a futuristic touch to stay in character?
B.C. - It is absolutely surreal hearing William Shatner on one of my songs, and an incredible honor. The music for "Spy In The Sky Part 3" had a vaguely sci-fi movie theme quality to it, and the first time I practiced singing it I spontaneously broke out into a dramatic voiceover instead. Immediately I thought, "William Shatner", with no irony intended whatsoever. His performance was even more intense than I had envisaged and couldn’t have worked out better. I like to think the music pushed him in that direction.
R.V.B. - How do you feel this record is different from previous releases?
B.C. - It’s angrier. It’s faster. It takes more chances. The songs dictated the way they wanted to go and I felt confident enough not to second guess them. I was out of my comfort zone most of the time and loving it. Even the bleak music was fun. And most of the music felt powerful enough to stand up without vocals, so there’s a much greater proportion of instrumentals on this album.
R.V.B. - Are you a studio band or do you take this out live?
B.C. - I give absolutely no consideration to the live playability of my music while I’m in the recording studio. The studio is a wonderful, magical playground where everything is possible and aural dreams can become reality. Limiting that to a particular band or configuration is still an interesting exercise, but something that I prefer to do afterwards. I have worked out 4-piece arrangements for most of the new songs, but unfortunately I am still musically single. I can perform live with backing tracks and have done so, but if the right players came along...
R.V.B. - Who else helped out with this album?
B.C. - Billy Sherwood did a tremendous job recording and producing William Shatner’s vocals in LA. Billy made that whole thing happen and I’m very thankful to him. The gorgeous cover and packaging artwork is by Freyja Dean. We had in-depth conversations about the meanings behind the songs and she put her own spin on it and ran with it. I would love to work with her again on the next album.
R.V.B. - How is the progressive rock scene in Australia... in general? Any different than anywhere else in the world?
B.C. - Progressive rock, in the traditional sense of the genre that describes a style of long-form music popularised in the 1970s, isn't all that widespread here in my experience. Anubis, UPF and now Southern Empire seem to be the ones flying the progressive rock banner, but there are very few outlets in Australia for getting the word out. Most of the attention to my music has been from overseas and I imagine this is the case for those guys as well. I'm just grateful to have found a modest audience for music I enjoy making to please myself with no commercial compromises.
R.V.B. - What is your gut feeling on what will happen to the music industry in the future?
B.C. - There are two things I see happening simultaneously. One is a “Big Freeze” situation where artists’ and audiences’ tastes diverge, thanks to the possibilities of online micro-communities. More sub-genres will pop up and niche artists will sell fewer records as people’s tastes become more specialized.
And the other is the winner will take all. The major record companies are in a position now, more than ever, to be ubiquitous and be the noisiest and out-market any bit players out there. They have radio and distribution tied up. They have shares in Spotify. People don’t even have to buy music now and the majors still get paid. The game is almost over.
I have a very pessimistic view of the future. But I am also deluded enough to continue to make music and put it out there. Make of that what you will.
R.V.B. -Thank you for considering answering these questions and good luck with you new release.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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