Friday 14 February 2014

Ben Westbeech: 'The Original Brownswood Bubbler' [Interview]

IMRAN: Hi Ben, I'm Imran, we have an interview scheduled today for 6pm?

BEN: Oh sh!t, I completely forgot!!

Ben Westbeech is such a super cool dude, and one of my favourite people to have had the opportunity to interview - we spent ages on the phone talking about his debut album, upcoming projects, albums I was stunned he hadn't heard, albums he was stunned that I hadn't heard, etc. so I'm always thankful for the time he gave up and the article we made out of it.  (It would have been remiss of me not to have included the above highlight from our chat, which makes me smile whenever I think of it.)  That aside, as much as I was a fan of his Brownswood debut in 2007 ('Welcome To The Best Years Of Your Life') and subsequent work and remixes, I was yet to pick up his 2011-follow-up record 'There's More To Life Than This'.  But while listening to Starpoint Radio's (excellent!) Saturday Fry-Up Show (9-11am), I heard the below song which has rejuvenated my interest in the release big time, and also encouraged me to once again delve into the Liberation Frequency archive for my one2one from 2010.  

First though, check out 'Something For The Weekend':

...and before we get to the interview in full, here's an exclusive extra from our exchange taht didn't manage to squeeze into the piece's original release:

IMRAN:  I checked out your Dap-Kings remix of 'So Good Today', which is brilliant! Did you guys meet up for that, or was it done via sending files, etc?
BEN WESTBEECH: I recorded new vocals for it and we sent the track over, and didn't meet up.  It's quite strange that a lot of collaborations in this day and age happen like that, because 25 years ago they couldn't have, so it's a bit strange that you don't get to meet them but they're a band who can knock out backing tracks pretty quick, and we just asked them to do it and they were up for it. It's good having a track from those guys because they're quite obviously renowned so that's quite cool.

IM: It's a shame as I think listeners like to romanticise the idea of everyone in the studio together bouncing ideas off each other?

BW: Yeah, the majority of music you hear, it's a funny one when you know how it's made, all the mystery and romance just sort of disappears, which is a real shame, but sometimes it's best to let people think it's made like that.

LF: What are your thoughts on the mp3 generation?

BW: I'm all for it, I think if you're in the industry and you're still hating on it, then it's silly as there's really nothing you can do – you either go with the flow or get stuck in the past. I think it's great, because so many people make music, but that does mean there's a lot of crap about, that's the only problem with it, you have to sift through loads of really dodgy tunes to get a good one, because everyone's making tunes on computers, which in fairness is a really good thing in itself. You get people that make music and they're amazing at it and you think ‘wow’, without this generation then it wouldn't be possible, because some may not be able to afford it or you'd have to get into a studio, but these days it's so quick and easy, anyone could do it, and I'm always uncovering loads of gems from people that are doing it.

LF: As an artist though, does it bug you?

BW: Well, it's easy to be bitter about it but you just have to get on with it and realise ‘this is the reality of it’. This is the music business now so you just have to do what you can to make good music and survive in it.  It doesn't really bother me at all – I think it's more of a positive thing than a negative one. It's so much more power to the people now, you don't need a major record label to succeed anymore which is really wicked. Not for the majors, it's not, but that's why you have so many people setting up record labels and doing really well.

Ben Westbeech Interview: 'The Original Brownswood Bubbler

Originally published in 2010, written by Imran Mirza 

- "Hey, have you heard of Ben Westbeech?"
- "Maybe, what does he do?"
- "Oh, Ben does it all - he's a singer, producer, DJ, multi-instrumentalist..."
- "Ok, sounds good. What style of music is it?"
- "Oh, Ben does it all - R&B, drum'n'bass, house..."

In today's cosmopolitan musical landscape, such diversity from an artist is either a benefit or a hindrance. We as music fans reserve the right to classify our tastes as sitting anywhere between, and including, Bob Marley to The Killers, but artists equally as diverse, seem to have more trouble fitting in for some reason.

Meet Ben Westbeech. A Londoner and super talented singer, producer, DJ and multi-instrumentalist who comfortably creates music that draws on strong influences from R&B, drum'n'bass and house, as well as many more.

It's certainly no surprise then, that such an assortment of skill and variety would eventually wind up to the ears of Gilles Peterson - Radio 1 DJ, champion of the new and unsigned, and head honcho of the prestigious Brownswood Recordings label - now home to such incredible talent including Jose James and Soil and Pimp Sessions - but it was Westbeech's 'Welcome To The Best Years Of Your Life' that spearheaded all of the label's releases, making him the original Brownswood Bubbler!

"Yeah, that came about from me giving a CD to a friend of mine," explains Ben, "And she said she had a friend she could play this to, and I think she saw Gilles at a festival and played it for him, and he was really into it, and was like 'I want to sign the record', and I got a phonecall from her like 2 weeks later saying 'Gilles Peterson wants to sign you', and I was like 'what the hell', I really couldnt believe it, it was amazing."

'Welcome To The Best Years Of Your Life' was a perfect introduction to Brownswood and what the label would go on to achieve - Peterson's passion for liberal, creative and unrestricted music was encapsulated with Westbeech's project: its tendency towards different genres, its witty lyrics, and zero constraints made it a release that still finds its way to new ears even after 3 years of its release, "It was a great record to make, a very naive one but it was all good fun and everything was easy". The word 'naive' prompts me to ask if there's anything he would have changed about it after all these years: "Not really, it is what it was, and I'm a believer that things happen when they should, so I made a lot of music and just kinda got lucky with it".

Through the glory of hindsight, along with now knowing the prospective challenges of creating a record that was difficult to market through any one genre or group, I asked Ben if he thought the multi-tags were a help or hindrance as mentioned earlier, and where his follow-up record would take him: "Yeah, it's been quite difficult sometimes as people do want to put it in a box, but I think I've kinda got away with it and I think I'll continue to for a bit, but obviously I'm making moves towards more housey records and part of the reason is that people were always like 'what is it, what is it, what is it', so this one is very much a house record but it's still going to have a lot of elements of other stuff in there as well".

Even though it's been 3 years since his debut's release, Westbeech has certainly kept himself busy - as well as a wealth of remixes spawned from his album, he leant his production talents to friend and Brownswood labelmate, Jose James, with his notable remix of 'Love' from James' debut album 'The Dreamer' (song available on download from iTunes), appeared with an awesome collaboration on Jazzanova's hugely awesome album, 'Of All The Things', on a song called 'I Can See', and has nurtured his skill for DJing across the world: "DJing's been a passion of mine since I was 12 and I love DJing. I'm a prolific DJ, I play at a lot of different places every week and I work really hard at it". I asked Ben how he'd compare DJing to performing live as a front man: "It is different because you're kind of behind something, with the decks, and as a front man you're a lot more on show. they are a different kettle of fish but the same sort of performance. With a band, there's a lot more to think about and a lot more pressure and a lot more hard work for me, whereas as a DJ, I enjoy it a lot more".

Talking to Westbeech, you get a real sense of an artist who's a genuine fan of music - he talks enthusiastically about his musical influences, which range from Stevie Wonder to D'Angelo, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, his love of UK underground and house music, his adoration of Nirvana's 'Never Mind', his acceptance and encouragement of the MP3 generation, and as he would go on to say: "I buy a lot of music myself, a lot of old records really, but if I like a dance track I definitely go get it on vinyl. And I like playing tunes at home, I've got my turntables set up in my room and I just play vinyl in my room now, and it just feels good to put a record on".

He concludes our time together with the heartening words, "For me music is timeless, you can find an artist that may be really old but it's all new to you, but that's the beauty of music".

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