Ben Abraham’s music brings a tender touch to the music industry with his soulful, pop folk tunes. After the release of his first, self released, album Sirens, TWL could not resist the opportunity to chat with this considered artist to see what makes Abraham tick. What we discovered were his inspirations, hopes and his rather interesting musical background.
Your songs are heralded as being ‘deeply human’ and are no doubt universally relatable. Being so big on story telling do you find your songwriting is directly influenced by your personal life or are the sentiments more fictional?
These songs were written in the first 8 years of me finding my feet as a songwriter so they’re definitely influenced by my personal life. Certainly every song on my album can be tied either to an experience of mine or one of my friends and I think that approach was my pathway into the craft of songwriting.
In those early years it was a case of “I feel therefore I write” and so my music was always narrative before it was aesthetic.
For me my first album represents – from first song to last – a snapshot of the awkward, youthful early days through to a more mature command of the craft. I’d like to think that with the confidence that comes from learning new skills, I might be able to write some good fiction in the years to come.
Your debut album ‘Sirens’ definitely doesn’t fall into just one genre. In fact you sort of invented what’s being called ‘cinematic folk’. You have a talent for songwriting but equally stunning capabilities vocally. So in terms of making music what comes first, the sound or the stories?
Well firstly thank you! And secondly I see my previous answer’s long-windedness preempted your question. ‘Narrative before aesthetic’ has become a bit of a catch cry for me these days and I’ve been reminding myself of it the more I write with other people; I suppose as a way to keep my core values in check.
Suffice to say I am always going to care more about what the adjective in the third line of verse three means, before caring what synth patch you used in the chorus.
Unless the synth patch is a sonic representation of said adjective, in which case I’m all about it.
Narrative, narrative, narrative.
You’ve only got one official video on your Vevo – an amazing clip for ‘You and Me’ you did with the production team at Oh Yeah Wow. You must welcome working with other creatives, but how much do you like to control what creations come out of the Ben Abraham camp?
These are great questions!
I am both a massive fan of collaboration and a complete control freak when it comes to the way my work and my brand are represented. Brand seems like such a dirty word I guess but it’s helpful when you think of it as the bigger picture of who you are as an artist on every platform and medium.
In my days of self management I controlled everything that was created for Ben Abraham out of necessity, however now that I have a team of people working with me (Secretly Canadian and Inertia etc.) my role has evolved to more of a curator and creative director than content creator.
When the video conversation came up for example, I was very strong in the directive that I only wanted music videos that were high quality and strongly narrative with a cinematic quality to the work. I approached Darcy and the Oh Yeah Wow guys because I trusted them with that vision and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
You’ve already attracted some pretty cool collabs…like Emmylou Harris, Gotye, Sara Bareilles. Plus you’ve got super loyal, music-orientated following that started in Melbourne and is taking over the country/world. So you didn’t just pop up overnight. But for the rest of your journey is there an artist whose career trajectory you would emulate if you could?
Hmm. I would maybe split up my answer.
I’d love to have the outlier status of someone like Sufjan Stevens. The guy is one of the most influential artists in the world but most people on the street would have no idea who he is. His position as an outlier is attractive to me because he can always innovate and surprise and get away with it. His BQE project is the perfect example of that.
But I’d love to be even more diverse than he is. The more I travel and meet people in different strains of the music industry, the more I want to defy any kind of genre restrictions and expectations. My list of dream collaborators is as diverse as it is long.
As a songwriter, I love pop music and I would absolutely love to work with some big pop names. The obvious career reference here would be Sia though, I don’t know if I’d want the #1 song for myself (my mangers wont love me saying that) but hot damn I’d love to have Tori Kelly or Rihanna sing something I wrote.
But then I also want to do so much more than just music and in that way I’d love to have the kind of career diversity of someone like David Lynch who is a director, actor, writer, visual artist, musician and the rest of it.
So I guess something like Sufjan’s status, Sia’s credits and Lynch’s resume. Heh.
Oh and Kanye’s manners.
Even in your tweets you can spin a good tale! “I have a seven syllable jet-lag horror story for you: Just woke up. It’s 10pm.” That must have been from somewhere in between continents. And you’re going to be doing shows on at least three continents off the back of your album this year. What’s your greatest tour horror story so far?
I’m still so new to touring that I really only have pretty tame stories for you! It’s mostly boring tales of playing to empty rooms and catching trains by myself on rainy English mornings.
Actually one time I played a support show in Sydney a few years back and I went up by myself and stayed in a super cheap hostel. My room was basically rotting from the inside out and sat directly above the hostel entrance which on a Saturday night meant I had a whole bunch of drunk foreigners stooping beneath my window. They yelled all night and I didn’t sleep at all.
That was the moment I learned that I have a minimum comfort level when it comes to touring. You think touring is a musical holiday but it’s actually a work trip.
Talking influences, who is the odd one out in your record collection? Are there any albums or artists you draw from that might surprise us?
Hmm. I’m a massive Alison Krauss fan which may not be immediately obvious listening to my music. Or maybe it is?
The odd one out in my record collection is definitely Ke$ha. Her Warrior album is incredible and features some of the best production I’ve heard in pop music. I think she’s a kind of mad genius and am really impressed by her artistry.
You dabbled in different things before full time music. If music didn’t exist what would you turn your attention to?
I would have loved to do a fine art degree and then pursue a career in film. As you can see I was doomed to a penniless life from the beginning.
You finished school wanting do go into film, but you must have always had that flawless voice and musical know-how. What was the process that shifted your focus from film to music?
Well thanks again. I definitely didn’t have the musical know-how. I still feel like I don’t. Or maybe I’m only just starting to get my head around it.
I was raised on music by musician parents so it was always more of an instinctual thing for me. It’s why my early songs are so melodically and harmonically simple – and I’m not being reductive here, I think there’s something artful about that simplicity, but it’s definitely not pushing the envelope.
As for how my desire turned from film to music it’s actually quite a long story that involves a hospitalised teenage girl and a co-written song that took me to fundraisers around Australia.
Suffice to say I had a ground-zero moment where storytelling and music collided for a moment in my life and I thought “Yep. I could do that”.
I’ll keep you posted on how that works out haha.