miércoles, noviembre 23, 2011

An interview with BEN SALTER


Nuestro colaborador Gato Palug despertó de una de sus legendarias siestas para ofrecernos este clinic de como descifrar a un maestro del pop australiano vía mail. Habrá que esperar a que se desperece de nuevo para ofrecer la versión en castellano. Mientras, angloparlantes todos, disfruten de las explicaiones de Mr. Salter, que ha firmdo con "The Cat" un mayúsculo y emocionante disco de pop/rock artesanal, ya comentado AQUÍ con anterioridad.

KAPUT- The range of your sonical landscapes varies a lot (I can see some arabic influence in the first songs, some irish stuff in “opportunities”, saxes, 80’s pop, 90’s melodic influences...). How do you decide which is the addecuate treatment for each song? Has it something to be with the lyrical content of it, the feeling you are trying to express?

BEN SALTER- With this album I just wanted the treatment of each song to do something unexpected I guess, so I employed a number of guests to come in and play on different songs, but I didn't let them hear the songs beforehand. I met sax player Julien Wilson at a bar one night where he was playing and he turned out to be rather famous! Then I saw multi instrumentalist Peter Nowotnik on the television and got in touch with him.. but yeah as I said I didn't let them hear the songs beforehand, I just kind of told them what the chords were and roughly where they should play.. So they would kind of go into it fresh. I had some vague ideas of what I wanted but nothing set in stone.. I guess we just made the decisions as we went along. I remember feeling very strongly about having the slap-back effect on "Mailbox Song", I thought that would make it all fit together! I never anticipated that we would have sax on it however.

K- You have been playing for a long while in different bands. Why a solo album? Are there things you cannot express with the back up of your previous bands? Is this a more “personal” album?

B.S.- Well I just wanted to be able to tour and perform by myself and so I felt it was time. I suppose it is more personal in that I had the final say on everything!

K- As a writer you seem to be focused in the big “problems” of life (the lack of sense of it all, the sense of loss, the impossibility to understand each other) but you approach them from somehow “domestic” experiences (contemplating a cat, traveling, etc...). Are the big issues somehow, for you, contained in the little things?

B.S.- Yes, I think this is always the case, and vice versa I suppose.. like a Mandlebrot set. The world seems to mirror itself at each end of the spectrum, the really massive and the really small, and likewise the really profound can often be discovered in the mundane.

K- “Networking eternally”. Have we become networking apes somehow? Your music sounds organic, what’s the importance you give technology in all the process?

B.S.- I think technology is just another part of human evolution. I think treating it as somehow 'separate' or 'cold' or 'inorganic' misses the point... human beings will always be messy and imperfect, and I think technology reflects that as much as any other aspect. There'd be no recorded music, no orchestras, no piano, no guitar, no synthesizer, no drums without some kind of technology. We are innately technological, tool making people I think.

K- “Mailbox song”. We are in a so called “communication world”, but more and more people feel alone (you just have to look at pop songs like this). Is there a created need to feel “in contact” all the time what is making this happen? (I mean, I no longer feel anxiety when I open the mailbox, but I do when I open the “digital” mailbox )

B.S.- I don't know if I agree that more and more people feel alone.. I think more and more people feel anxious about the rate of change in their lives and in the world around them.. I know I do. But I don't think I feel any more or less alone than anyone else. In the end we're all trapped in our own consciousness I suppose. And that can be quite terrifying, that pure subjectivity. But that's part of the human condition. I think things like Facebook and the Internet and Twitter are attempts to make us closer, not further apart, and I think that generally speaking they succeed.

K- Could you please make some comments on some lines in your songs I found specially touching...

1- “That to fly it must be heaven/Because the watching it is hell”

Well.. just that our society is driven a lot by envy, wanting what other people have, wanting what we don't have.. it is quite depressing!

2- “I know all about beliefs/I just can't formulate any of my own” (can the fact of being a creator/observer get to be paralizing sometimes?)

Well I wrote that line quite a long time ago - around fourteen years! - when I was studying English Literature and philosophy and stuff at University but was still quite unsure what I was doing with my life.. so I guess that's what that line is about. I think I have a better sense of who I am and what I am doing these days but the most profound kind of questions like what the hell are we all doing here and what is consciousness etc etc are all still a mystery.. so I suppose it is still a relevant lyric.

3- “So take these opportunities out/Tie me to some straight stout mast/But don't plug my ears or gag my mouth/There's still some things need doing” (I guess the “tie me to a mast” is a reference to The Odyssey)

Yes, a reference to The Odyssey. I guess that song is about needing discipline.. like when you go to the shops and there are twenty types of milk and you just think I JUST WANT MILK I DON'T NEED ALL THIS CHOICE. People in Australia are always whinging about everything even though we live in an amazing country where there are so many opportunities and choices and stuff. So I guess I was just thinking about what it would be like to reject that.

4- Is the cicle of love an “awesome” cycle? Why? Is love the great question after all as far as death we cannot solve?

I wasn't really talking about love in that lyric, more the cycle of highs and lows in emotion/mental state generally. And I use the word awesome in the old sense, the same as 'awful' - something that makes you feel awe, not necessarily in a good or bad way. I guess I just meant that the predictable nature of my cycles of high and low and behaviour is sometimes pretty ridiculous it suprises even me!

5- “And how do you think this will all turn out?/As the delicate fail and the tragedies mount/The universe with her indifferent gaze/Will set your precious bodies ablaze”... Is this a pesimistic statement or just an accurate description of reality? Is there room for some optimistic vision in your work?

Well despite all the negative stuff in my lyrics I am pretty optimistic.. I guess the music helps me to deal with the pessimistic side. I think I am just a realist. That song was more just about kind of skewering the narrow minded optimism of hippies.. the kind of attitude that exists in a sticker on the back of a car that says 'No War' or 'Magic Happens' as though somehow a sticker on the back of your car means anything at all.. Being a realist means accepting that there is a lot of shitty stuff that happens in life. It just depends on what you focus on.

6- “And I felt so old and sick/And like this it went on and on/These impossible vixens and fauns/All their faces are so cruel”... If in the fifties one of the R&R themes was enjoying beying young and in the sixties liberating oneself from parental tyranny (among others), the fear of getting old and the passing of time (a classic topic in literature) seems to be one of the most important nowadays...

Yeah no one likes getting old I don't think.

K- Gareth Liddiard is, for me, one of the best –if not THE best- songwriters of our time. His late solo album is quite naked, but yours is quite arranged. I would like to know how it was to work with him and how the process was...

B.S.- Well I have known Gareth for a little while, my band The Gin Club played with The Drones a few times and I am also a massive fan of his songwriting.. I think The Drones are one of the best bands doing the business at the moment, absolutely no doubt about that at all. Anyway one day I mentioned that I wanted to do a solo album and would he be interested and he said yes and so we just went from there.. we have fairly similar tastes in music, or what we want out of music I suppose, and our attitudes to it. He was a great producer.. I was a little intimidated about showing him my pop songs and what not but he was nothing but supportive and encouraging throughout the whole process. And he knows how to run Pro Tools good. He is what we call a POWER USER.

K- Do you see creation as a NEED, something you can not avoid and would do even if it wasn’t giving you any money? Is it a blessing or a curse?

B.S.- Well it doesn't give me any money as it is, so that might answer your question! I mean people are creating things everyday.. two people have sex and make a new kind of life, that's pretty creative. I think it is part of our human condition, and I think it's part of how we deal with death. I think creation is very closely linked to the fact that we're probably the only species on the planet that knows one day we're gonna die. Artists and writers and the like are kind of like the Shamen, helping people deal with that or escape that, one of the two. Or both. But I love it. I love making something where there was nothing before.

K- Do you believe that music (and words) can be a healing power? How?

B.S.- Well sometimes I dunno if they heal really.. I think they just soothe. Sometimes I agree with late period Plato (or was it Aristotle?) that music and art is dangerous for people because it is unreal, that it provides another kind of filter between our perception and reality. Like advertising, with it's pseudo artistic pretensions, it's just awful.. but at it's best I think art and music and words heighten the perception and help people to see things in a new way. I don't know about contemporary rock and roll though, it leaves me pretty cold these days. It doesn't seem to be heightening anyone's perception of anything - just reinforcing tired cliches and providing a soundtrack for a kind of empty materialist culture. But then again, at it's best, stuff like The Drones etc, it is pretty transcendental. So I have to believe!

K- Gime me some brief information about the other bands you play with...

B.S.- Giants of Science - est. 1999 - kind of stoner/rock n roll/math rock. INTELLIGENT HARD ROCK. Still sort of going. www.myspace.com/giantsofscienceaustralia - we once played with The MC5! Well, the MC 3 anyway.. also played with McLusky, Mudhoney, Radio Birdman, and on lots of festivals.

The Gin Club - est 2003 - a collective of singer songwriters who all met at an open mic night I was running at an Irish pub in Brisbane. We all write and sing songs, all nine of us. www.theginclub.com.au - www.theginclub.bandcamp.com - www.facebook.com/theginclub - we've played all over Australia and in USA, we have about four studio albums and a couple of rarities things, live album on the way, played with Midlake, You Am I, Drones, Lambchop, Iron & Wine.. stylistically all over the place as you would expect, from folk to rock to psych and pop and country and etc etc

The Young Liberals - est 2008 - my garage rock band.. probably my favourite band I am in. We tried to record 12 albums in 12 months but only did five.. still do the odd show.. www.theyoungliberals.bandcamp.com - get them all!! The Young Liberals are the youth faction of the conservative political party in Australia who strangely are not very liberal at all.. it confuses foreigners.

Megafauna - just a thing I did with Conor from Gin Club.. for fans of Sparklehorse, Smog and Will Oldham.. you can download it from www.bensaltermusic.bandcamp.com

The Wilson Pickers - a sort of bluegrassy singer songwriter thing I was in for a while - we did two albums - I played banjo! We actually got nominated for ARIA awards for both albums which is pretty funny cause it was just something we put together very quickly. www.thewilsonpickers.com

K- Name five songs for a hangover morning and five songs for a broken heart

B.S.- Ummmm.. hmmm.. off the top of my head..


What Goes On - The Velvet Underground
Gnossiennes 1 - 7 - Erik Satie
Piano Tune - Bert Jansch & John Renbourn
Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting - Charles Mingus
Come On - The Jesus & Mary Chain

Oh and can I have six?

Sun Coming Up - Eric's Trip

Broken Heart:

Sometimes You Just Don't Know Who Your Friends Are - HITS
Broken Heart - Spiritualized
Cello Concerto - Edward Elgar
Walk Into The Sea - Low
Congratulations - The Travelling Wilburys

K- I’d like to you to same some words about some musicians/bands that came to my mind while listening to your record... (maybe wrong impressions, but...)

1- The Magnetic Fields

Only recently heard '69 Love Songs' for the first time.. I don't listen to much music these days - LOVED it. Must get it.

2- Bob Mould (your voice in “The Coward” reminded me of him and “Opportunities” seems to have something in common with his late solo ballads)

Don't know much.. know some Husker Du, great stuff, but once again, I need to listen to more!

3- Richard Thompson (and all that english folk stuff, you know...)

I really only know "I Wanna See The Bright Lights Tonight" which is amazing.

4- Van Morrison

Don't really dig on Van that much. I probably should. This was a bone of contention between Gareth and I. I haven't really listened to much . I am very slack.

5- The Beatles

Love The Beatles although I haven't listened to them for ages. They invented so many genres of music, in a way. I think The White Album is my favourite.. I have always wanted to write an essay on the use of percussion in The White Album! George Harrisson's "Long Long Long" is probably my favourite Beatles song. Stunning. Invented woozy psych of the Elephant Six variety!

K- Whats the importance of the place/city/country you live in over the music/lyrics you write? Has Australia something to do with your work?

B.S.- Absolutely. It is every artists responsibility to mythologize the landscape in which they live, I think. "West End Girls" is very much about Brisbane in a lot of ways. Although now I am living in Melbourne. Australia is a huge influence on every artist who lives and works here, either the rejection of it or the embracing of it. Kind of like ROman Catholocism. We do rock and roll so well because our first people, the aboriginies, were kind of hunter gatherers who never settled down, were always wandering.. then Europeans came along and turned the entire country into a giant prison. It's about as rock and roll as it gets.. wandering and crime.

K- New australian bands we shouldn’t miss...

B.S.- Well as I say I am totally out of touch but here is some stuff you might enjoy..

HITS from Brisbane are probably the best rock band in Australia right now. They're amazing. Get their album "Living With You Is Killing Me" from Merenoise records www.merenoise.net! www.myspace.com/hitsgalore - www.hitstheband.bandcamp.com - I think they're touring Europe next year so definitely check them out. Desperate ragged rock and roll. I love them. Plus I played tambo and keys on their album, probably my finest hour.

I really like another Brisbane band called The Stress of Leisure.. kind of like a Flying Nun band except from Brisbane.. neurotic, quirky intelligent rock music. www.thestressofleisure.com

Texas Tea are great and very good friends.. www.myspace.com/texasteaband

Ummm.. who else. There are so many.. Dreamtime are pretty amazing.. www.dreamtime.bandcamp.com - kind of psych jams, pretty cool. Also from Brisbane.

The Meatbeaters are four scary looking guys from Adelaide that play thuggish Motorhead style rock and roll at very loud volumes.. it's pretty amazing. I have to plug them or they'll beat me up - www.myspace.com/meatbeaters01

The Mercy Beat from Brisbane are incredible - www.themercybeat.com - intelligent hard rock!

This guy Jarrod Quarrell performs under the name Lost Animal and his debut album is incredible - www.myspace.com/lostanimal76

Also.. Jack on Fire www.myspace.com/jackonfireband - Howl At The Moon - www.myspace.com/howlatthemoonmusic - both amazing Melbourne bands..

K- Which are your non musical influences?

B.S.- Antiques Roadshow, Wassily Kandinsky, William Gibson, Moby Dick, Vietnamese Pork Rolls, my cat Stubbs, Nitrous Oxide, Alan Moore, Don DeLillo, Sci Fi movies, the computer game industry, girls, everything.

K- What comes after death?


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