Interview With Ahimsa
People sure can RULE in a completely awesome way sometimes. Meeting humble independent musicians like Ben here from the project Ahimsa really shows you can make quality music and never have to have an ego about it. It also makes me wish for them all to retain their independent inherit goodness and never “grow-up” into the cold mainstream.
But I have a feeling that Ben would continue to make music even if he never even dipped a single toe into the mainstream…
Ahimsa – post/space rock in all its glory. This music, despite what Ben might tell you – is not shitty in the least! This recent EP Ben has called Qualia has emotional depth and vibrant ideas – all well-executed, again, despite what Ben might tell you…
And for the short duration that the EP may last – it packs an incredible ride.
So let’s talk to Ben! I’m excited for you to hear this album and read what he has to say. He’s got a wicked perspective and intense knowledge on his local music scene in Australia and overall, just an incredible guy to talk to. Check out Ahimsa’s EP Qualia RIGHT NOW!
It makes for excellent accompaniment to this interview…trust me.
– Jer @ SBS
Interview With Ahimsa
SBS: I figured I’d start out by listening to the new EP, Qualia, and go from there. MAN am I happy I’ve done this today. You my friend…are in my favorite genre and style of music and it just so happens that you truly sound a lot like one of my favorites of all-time…Mogwai. But not in a ripped-off kind of way! “Arcane” the opener really does remind me of how I felt when I listened to “Auto-Rock” for the first time off the Mogwai album Mr. Beast. I like how you’ve darkened, thickened and pronounced the bass in your music – I think you’ve found a way to take a great existing formula and add something to it to make it work even better. Seriously – I am STOKED about this EP brother! I can audibly hear that this is music you would want to listen to yourself as well, so tell me about that desire to want to make more of something you love and about how careful you have to be (especially in this genre) to not become an exact copy…
Ben: First up, thanks so much for listening! It’s great to get positive feedback about something that I’ve made, it’s awesome! I don’t consciously try to avoid becoming an exact copy, I think unless you have only ever listened exclusively to one band in your life, you’re not going to be an exact copy, you may sound similar, but not an exact copy, because you have influences coming from other bands. You hit the nail on the head in terms of making music that I want to listen to; I don’t understand people who don’t do that. I think that stems from the type of music I listen to, there’s no point listening to post rock and then making a death metal record. I wanted to take post rock elements and make it darker and a bit heavier; bands like Explosions In The Sky are amazing, but are sometimes too ‘happy’ for me. I wanted to take the uplifting post rock ideas that they were laying down, and fuse them with the dark, brooding atmosphere of bands like Isis and Rosetta.
SBS: “Written, recorded and mixed in a bedroom in Townsville, Australia.” I just LOVE the sound of that. Especially when sitting here listening to this music that sounds altogether otherworldly – to think that it is simply taking place in a bedroom is nearly mind-blowing. So how much of this is done with amplification, what instruments are you playing and good-lord brother, what do your neighbors think of all this?
Ben: So far we haven’t had any neighbor complaints about the music, which is a good thing! I do a lot of writing and jamming using amplification and a loop pedal, but my amp is really REALLY small and I generally have it turned down pretty quiet so there’s not a lot of noise that escapes the room. In terms of recording I hook my instruments (guitars, bass, keyboard etc.) into my computer, so there’s no sound coming out at all really. The main reason I work like this is because:
1) My amp is rubbish
2) I don’t want to make too much noise recording everything. The disadvantage with doing this is that you lose a bit of the natural atmosphere that comes from recording in a room/studio with mic’d up amps etc. It also means that I have to program drums, which is a pain, I would much rather just play real drums.
SBS: Something like the song “Ganymede” is pretty short and sweet in comparison with the rest of the EP. All of these different aspects of sound from out-there space-rock, to clean guitar you tackle incredibly well and with genuine authenticity. I always think this genre must be the toughest for a musician to both know when to cut themselves off and wrap up the track as well as to know when they’re truly “getting it right.” You know what I mean?
Ben: Yes I know exactly what you mean. Ganymede was actually the hardest song on the EP for me to get right. I came up with the idea and was trying for weeks to get it turned into a full song, but no matter what I tried I wasn’t happy with it, but I really liked the initial idea. One night I looped it up through my amp and just sat there listening to it for half an hour, and it worked so well as an endless loop, so I left it as it was. Who knows, down the track I may re-work it into a full tune. I find it really hard to consciously ‘wrap a song up’, but rather I let the song wrap itself up, if you get what I mean, when it stops flowing naturally is the time to cut it off I think.
SBS: For me – what really wins in this genre are those bands that conquer the light vs. dark aspect and have those massive dips and crescendos in their music. Brother Ben – as I’m closing out Qualia for the first time with “Nebula” you KNOW that I’m feeling you’ve nailed this through and through. In particular, this track to close it out is just kicking my ass right in man, and I’m loving it.
You’re making incredible music from that bedroom way over there in Australia. That also suggests that you probably have as much time as you can spare to make the music as well. So give me an idea about that – how long did it take to put these four songs together? “Nebula” specifically, how much time and effort & how many takes did that take you to get that nailed as perfectly as it is?
Ben: It took a long time! That’s the simplest answer, I couldn’t give you an exact number of hours or days because of the way I work with music. I wrote and recorded the EP in my spare time, which means that sometimes I’d spend an entire weekend on it, and sometimes I would spend 2 weeks without even picking up a guitar. The fact that there were no time constraints made the process longer as well, since I basically had infinite time to make things right. Personally I don’t think Nebula is perfect, far from it actually, the more I listen to it the more things I find that I could have changed. It took a lot of takes, a LOT of takes, because there are so many guitar layers throughout the song, getting each layer perfect was a big pain (especially because I’m quite a sloppy player), but I’m glad I took the time to do it, the song wouldn’t have the same dense atmosphere if I didn’t. I’m taking a slightly different approach with the album, working on it consistently an hour or so per day (with uni and my work this is the maximum amount of spare time I get). I’m getting through the process a lot quicker now.
SBS: Let’s get our philosophy on Ben. What can you say with instrumental music that you can’t say with the adding of lyrics and vocals? What advantages do you hear in instrumental music?
Ben: For me the main advantage with instrumental music is that I don’t have to sing or write lyrics, as I’m very poor at both of these things. I’ve always much preferred instrumental music, it shifts focus to the instruments, which is what I’m about. It makes every guitar or keyboard note that much more important. I also like the fact that you can tell your own story with instrumental music, but other people can form their own stories and ideas through it. Every song of mine has some sort of personal meaning to me, but other people don’t want to hear that, and I don’t want them to, I’d rather they’d relate their own personal experiences to the music. For me it’s more about what you don’t say.
SBS: Describe the musical atmosphere of Ahimsa as you hear it. How does your music make you feel personally when you hear it? Take us to that place in your mind Ben! Where do you go when you listen and close your eyes?
Ben: I generally go back to the state of mind I was in when I wrote the song. Each song relates back to a specific set of thoughts/ideas/events, so when I hear it it’s somewhat nostalgic. The music is quite emotional to me, as I tell stories through it. I’ve also got a fascination with space and the universe, and the music has a ‘space rock’ quality to it, so I like to imagine I’m traveling through the cosmos while listening to it as well.
SBS: “Nebula” also has that Mogwai-feel to it that I love. Reminds me a little of “Friend Of The Night” – which is also from their album Mr. Beast…hmmm…okay…I’m going to go out on a limb and just assume that you are indeed a fan… So let’s DO THIS! Top five Mogwai tracks of the moment, you and me, let’s go!
This is also a really hard question as every Mogwai song is in the top 5.
Jer – 5) Ex-Cowboy Ben – 5) Auto Rock
Jer – 4) Auto-Rock Ben – 4) I Know You Are, But What Am I?
Jer – 3) Golden Porsche Ben – 3) Batcat
Jer – 2) Punk Rock Ben – 2) I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School
Jer – 1) Stop Coming To My House Ben – 1) I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead (Burning Live Version)
Ben: ‘Friend of the Night’ and ‘Christmas Steps’ are also high on that list.
SBS: How do you go about achieving the maximum from your creativity in your music? Describe the room, your state of mind, how you get ready to make the most out of a recording session or jam.
Ben: The room is literally my bedroom, I’m not lying when I say that, there are clothes scattered everywhere, a bed, a desk, computer and my instruments, all crammed into a tiny room. I think this is one of the secrets to achieving maximum creativity, because I’m 100% comfortable in that space, it’s always easier to be creative when you’re comfortable. I’ve always struggled with studio work in the past because there are time pressures on you in that situation, some people dig that, it helps them get the ideas out, not me though. My state of mind during a recording session is typically very focused, I’m not thinking about anything else except for making the music.
SBS: Typically, people struggle with listening to music without words more often than when they do. Now, I know that doesn’t factor into why or how you make your music Ben; but why do you think that really is?
Ben: I think there are 2 main reasons, the first is that people like to recognize and sing along to a particular song. One of my favourite pastimes is going to my local bar, drinking a few rums, and then singing 500 Miles by The Proclaimers as loudly and badly as possible with the live band. People like to immediately recognize the song, it feels comfortable for them.
The second reason I think is that people have to think about instrumental music, they don’t have the vocalist there telling them what the song is about, they have to make their own connections with it. Personally I love doing this, it feels more personal to me, but then some people don’t want to have to think about music. There’s no right or wrong way to listen to music, but I think the majority of people prefer to sing along and be comfortable with it, personally I don’t.
SBS: The Australia I’ve known (musically, from so far away, never actually been…) has always been very accepting of all styles of music. Tell me about the Australia YOU know Ben. What’s the musical climate there right now? What’s going on in music in Australia and, realistically, is there room for yours in the present state of what the people there are listening to?
Ben: Man there’s so much happening in the music scene over here at the moment, so many amazing and unique bands, I definitely think there’s room for my pokey little bedroom project. The progressive and post rock scenes are absolutely going off at the moment, 2 of the best Australian bands have released new albums in the last couple of months (Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus), and this has put the eyes of the world on Australian prog rock. Local lesser known bands are now stepping up on the world stage, bands like Twelve Foot Ninja and Circles are touring the US and playing festivals with Meshuggah. Post rock bands such as Sleepmakeswaves, Meniscus, Laura and Echotide would be right at home touring the world with Mogwai and Mono. Ne Obliviscaris are the most unique band I’ve ever heard, fusing death/speed/melodic metal, flamenco guitar and violin, who thinks of that??! One man projects like Plini and On Wings of Wax are starting to gain worldwide attention, it’s awesome! Overall I think that Australia has the best Prog/post rock scene in the world and I’m stoked to be a (tiny) part of it.
SBS: Now that the EP is out, I also hear that we can look forward to a full length album early in 2014! Come on Ben! We’re like brothers now after all these questions! So let me in on some details… Tell me about the new album in relation to the EP. Will it be similar? Different? Come on Ben! What’s up?
Ben: I think the album will be a step up from the EP, I’ve learnt a lot more about mixing and getting it all sounding right, so hopefully it will sound more massive and dynamic than the EP.
Musically it will be slightly different, it will still have dynamic shifts but I’m focusing a bit more on creating more guitar and piano driven songs, rather than keyboard soundscapes. There will be songs which are heavy and noisy and some which revolve around a delicate piano melody, I don’t want the listener to get into a comfort zone, that is, knowing what to expect next… Mind you I change my mind a lot with music (3 of the 4 songs on the EP were not going to be on the EP a month before I released it), so don’t quote me on any of this! *Editor’s Note – Dually Quoted. J
SBS: As far as I know you’re just getting into the whole press circuit and promo thing…justifiably so – this is music that SHOULD be heard! But anyway, WELCOME to this whole mess of confused independent journalism worldwide…now get ready for this one…over…and over….and over…and over…
Where do you want people to look for your music online? What will they find there? Will they find YOU there?
Ben: Yes promo and press is much harder than writing and recording the music. I’ve got my music on Bandcamp and Noisetrade, the links are below. Both of these websites are pay what you like. I don’t make a living from my music, and I’m not stoked on the idea of being a full time professional musician, so I urge people to download the music for free. I also have a Soundcloud account on which I put demos etc. (album samples will be on here shortly) and a Facebook page (All links are below). I stay pretty anonymous on the websites, but if people listen to the music, they will find me (man that sounds corny hey?).
SBS: Brother – I want to thank you SO much for taking the time to do this interview. You have really made a kickass EP that I would have no problem playing in my personal post-rock rotation any time. You have a completely valid place in your genre my friend and I wish you the best of success with the upcoming album.
For now, we’ll say goodbye. Keep us updated on that new music, I definitely want to hear it. Take this next spot to say anything else you’d like. This is the SBS “Open Floor” for you to let the people out there know anything else you want to spill from your brain. So have at it – and thank you again for your time Ben & introducing me to the music of Ahimsa.
Ben: I just wanted to say thanks for your time Jer! It’s always amazing that I can play some pretty shitty guitar into my shitty laptop while in my shitty bedroom, and have people on the other side of the world vibe with it, music is amazing isn’t it? I would also like to thank everyone who has listened to the EP. People may not realize how much their one listen means to someone like me who does this, every day I log onto bandcamp to see who has been listening and downloading, I love seeing what countries people are downloading from (I got one from Lithuania the other day!). Finally everyone should take some time to immerse themselves in the Australian music scene, there are some amazing bands here that need to be heard!