Welcome to the third part of this interview. Once again, we’re focusing on Benn’s musical history and projects. Enjoy.
In order to fund the necessary production costs for 2016’s Monad, Portrait’s first album, you ventured into the crowdfunding arena by placing a goal of $7,500 (just over £5,500) on Kickstarter. Did you have high hopes that you would make the goal when the campaign started? Why/why not? How did it feel when the goal was reached?
Absolutely not. I assumed that we definitely wouldn’t reach that financial goal. I was extremely surprised when we did. Thinking back to that, I really loved that process. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so connected to the listeners as I was back then. It was such an honour to share parts of the process with them as we were moving towards completion of the record. We would have recorded that album if the Kickstarter had failed. I’m glad that it succeeded though. I think that we would do something like that again if we could. It was a very rewarding process.
Do you have any plans for the future of the Heretique project?
Yes, though it is spelt Hérétique. An EP is in the works.
Just how many musical projects/bands have you had over the years?
I don’t even know how many bands I am in right now; too many to count. Looking back, I can only remember maybe 40 or 50 of them (at a push). Most were silent and were more about practicing and honing my sound/skills in some way. I know that between 2000 and 2008 I released 42 albums with seven different bands. I only remember that because one of my closest friends had kept them all and gave them to me as a gift on the day of the sands.
I’ve listed a few of your musical projects below, name your favourite song from each (released or otherwise):
Two Down - Terminal/The Killing King (I can’t decide)
Z - For Z.1: Dissection; For Z.2: The Lake
Quiet One - White
Portraits - Man Makes Himself
Benn (not including Z) - Aed or Dae
Other than Z, what’s on the cards for future music releases? Anything coming soon? What about music video-wise?
Well the formula for the Z records has changed in the last few weeks. We have decided to do something that we previously hadn’t. This is all good news but means that the process will be slightly longer than anticipated. There are music videos for two songs from each Z record. Due to the fact that the albums are going to come out so quickly we are finding that singles from various albums are going to overlap with other records releasing. I don’t mind that happening. It is a necessary evil. When I finish the Z albums I will be moving straight on to another record which I will be tracking in Iceland.
What single musical project are you most proud of?
This comes in waves with me but right now it has to be the Z records. I am proud of most of the music that has been created since Hurt was established. So much time and care is taken with each song/release that it’s hard not to grow fond of everything. The response to Monad was probably the most inspiring though because that was a genre that I knew absolutely nothing about and the fact that we weren’t immediately gunned down for ‘trying our hand’ at progressive rock was astounding to me. I listen to Monad quite a lot and am still only learning what some of the lyrical content means. It must sound so banal on the first play-through yet it’s singlehandedly the most intricately lyrical release I’ve worked on to date.
When you’re forced to delay a release, either for reasons in or out of your control, what kinds of problems can that cause (in any area e.g. business, manufacturing etc.)? Can you give some reasons you’ve had to delay releasing something in the past, and tell me how you dealt with the problems doing so caused? [Thanks to Zach of the Hurt Records Street Team for inspiring these questions]
Since Hurt was created we have never really had to delay anything. My issue is more that I am a perfectionist and have been known to hold a CD in my hands (of something soon to release) and then realise I don’t like a lyric… This mean that we have to go back to that song; re-record it - have it re-mixed - re-mastered - re-created - re-packaged - just so I don’t have to be irritated by a lyric. In that way I must be fucking unbearable to work with… Also, it wasted literally tens of thousands of pounds of CD’s that are then incinerated. This only happened once last year with a song on Z.3 (which was lucky; normally its more.)
I tend not to give release dates now. It doesn’t help. When an album is ready, we release. It’s that simple. Until that moment, the albums are worked on constantly to meet my needs. The accountants at Hurt understand what I’m like now but for the longest time I think I was giving then aneurisms. At the end of the day I don’t care if an album sells a hundred copies or a hundred thousand copies. Once it’s released, I’m on to the next album. The people around me really do play catch-up masterfully though.
What’s your favourite part of the music production process? What do you enjoy the least?
It’s probably an obvious answer but the actual songwriting is my favourite part. It’s a really fragile time where you are dealing with the birth of a song, a few slip ups and it dies. I love those moments, and they’re instantly the moments I go back to in my mind when someone mentions a song to me.
The part I enjoy the least is the wait between mastering and releasing. This wasn’t an issue when we didn’t have physical albums. We have a really complicated system of copyright and content ID where we copyright every song individually in 55 countries. For example, for an album of eighteen songs we are sending 18 envelopes to 55 countries. That is a lot of paperwork and a lot of collating to make sure every letter arrives. I suppose the upshot is that by the time the copyrights are concrete, the physical CD’s are ready to be shipped.
Actually, that brings me to another part that I both love and hate. We call it ‘DOR’ (day-of-release) at Hurt and it’s absolutely hellish. It starts at midnight (GMT/BST) on the day of release and it doesn’t end for 72 hours. No sleep and no rest. For Z.1 it was eight people in a room for three days and we still were severely under-powered. The release of Z.2 will be much more organised. You end the three days with migraines from the glue on the jiffy bags and blisters and all sorts of evil shit. The moments that we start seeing orders coming in is a moment of elation though. It’s in that moment that I know with 100% certainty that the album is finished.
What helps you stay so productive musically? Where do you find a lot of your inspiration?
I make sure I lead a relatively interesting life. I like to go and experience things that ply me from my comfort zone. I like to throw myself into things that I have absolutely no experience in. One thing I don’t do is listen to music (bar orchestral) as it tends to stay with me and I prefer clarity of thought. I used to write two songs a day religiously, but I stopped doing that in March 2017 as I didn’t know if it was helping or hindering.
I read a lot; articles, books, research papers, anything I can get my hands on really. I like to keep my mind moving at all times. I’m recently becoming more and more interested in art and am trying hard to learn why anyone gives a shit about the different mediums and methods.
What tips can you give for people wanting to get into music, or people wanting to improve and be more productive?
I think the most useful tip is to always surround yourself with people who are fundamentally more talented or more ‘trained’ (at least) than you are. At some point things will level off but if you don’t have that then you will never have an immediate motivation to improve. Also buy yourself a tape machine (or if you are a lyricist - a typewriter) and record. Use a tape machine rather than your phone or anything else as it’s an immediate detachment from the pull of modern technology.
I found tape machines to be perfect for gauging how good you sound as you can’t ‘fix’ a performance on a tape machine and so you have to learn your parts. You’re almost forced to perfect your playing, and therefore become a better musician. Another tip is that you can become a better musician in a few minutes. It doesn’t take a year or two to become better; every time you play a scale perfectly or a chord progression without an issue, you hone your skills and you move up in skill. Don’t let online courses or the music syllabus throw you off, fuck them. If you put the work in, you will make it. If you haven’t currently made it then it’s because you simply aren’t working hard enough.
And that’s it for the third part of this interview. Be sure to look out for Part 4, which will focus on Benn’s history with video games, and his gaming-inspired music. Thanks for reading.
Interview by Jacob Evans 2017/18