ben nevile flies under the radar. although he regularly updates his soundcloud page with what seems like snippets of his musical musings, his profile is decidedly non-descript. he doesn’t have a facebook fan page, or a twitter account. his beatport profile is wiped clean of any telling information, and his biography on the telegraph records site – his home since he first started releasing music in 2001 – is a concise two paragraphs in length. if you take all of this to mean that ben’s artistry is equally as well-kept a secret in the industry, you are definitely mistaken.
it’s only been a couple weeks since local heroes hushlamb – made up of toronto natives sarah lamb and alicia hush – announced their third event, this time a nighttime follow-up to their under-the-sun jam earlier this summer. dubbed “motif local,” the party will host an incredible roster of canadian talent, including the likes of miss hush herself, magnanime, akufen, zeina, ana+one, diagraf on visuals, and of course, ben nevile. taking to the event’s facebook wall to voice their enthusiasm, everyone seems to be waiting on ben nevile. born in manitoba and bred in british columbia, ben makes detailed minimal and techno-influenced music grounded in his canadian roots; humble, organic, and genuine. it’s anything but elitist. ahead of this weekend’s festivities, i caught up with ben to talk keeping a low-profile, degrassi junior high, perfectionism, and what we can expect from the hushlamb motif local.
i don’t think i’ve ever interviewed another writer before. interviewing another writer is a bit like doing those workshops where you have to read your stories out loud or something. in that respect, is it easy for you to share your music with other artists?
yeah, these days i am happy to report that i don’t sweat the opinion of others. i think i remember a time when finding the courage to share with artists or labels or whatever was tough. at this point i just aim to make something that i like to listen to.
i know, it’s a total cliché. but… to be clear, i still get a buzz from positive feedback, but i’m not really designing the music to please any particular group of people.
so, do you approach writing music the same way you approach writing articles or interviews?
well, i don’t do any interviewing or article writing any more. but when i was writing, it was mostly a way for me to make money and go to shows for free. at that stage of my life all i was thinking about was music.
to borrow a question from an interview of yours, what is your first musical memory?
my first musical memory is lying on the blue carpet of our house on montrose street in winnipeg and listening to lite classical music like peter and the wolf or vivaldi’s four seasons.
you paint such a nice picture. i loved peter and the wolf, too.
yeah, my mom tells me i would get really excited for the cellos. then i really liked producing music in high school. my friends and i would pool our money and rent a 4-track cassette recorder for the weekend. we’d record really bad led zeppelin and neil young covers. my main instrument was the bass, but i borrowed some cool guitars and an echoplex from my uncle, who had been in the winnipeg band scene in the 60s and 70s.
and then how did you get involved in electronic music?
i think i discovered electronic music through a trip-hop compilation that one of my sisters borrowed from her boyfriend. the music was eerie and cool and foreign. it also appealed to me that you could do everything yourself – organizing and coordinating with everyone in a band is a drag.
i read online somewhere that your time in winnipeg was spent mostly being late for class and watching degrassi junior high. is that true? also, who was your favourite character, and if it wasn’t spike this interview is over right now.
that’s not true, but of course everybody watched the show. did you know that in quebec, spike is called épine? quebec is really a different country. after thinking about it for a bit, i choose wheels as my favourite character. he had some genuinely canadian hair.
good choice. anyway, you keep quite a low profile online. is that on purpose? personally i have a lot of respect for artists who fly a bit more under the radar. “actions speak louder than words” or something, which goes a bit against what we’re doing…
i think it’s because music making is not my primary gig. i do it because i love it.
i get that. but you certainly still take it seriously enough, yet you don’t have a facebook fan page. your soundcloud is pretty non-descript. what’s your beef with social media?
no beef. i love social media. until recently i was running a company that specialized in the design of social software! but personally, for the last 10 years nothing in my life has been dependent on me enjoying social-media success as a music-maker… i should probably have a fan page though, you’re right.
let’s talk about the hushlamb event, which will feature all canadian artists. are you excited? who are you most looking forward to hearing play?
and what about your set — what can we expect? what is the mark of a good dj set?
i think djing sets the mood for the actually important stuff that’s happening. it’s the soundtrack for dancing, conversations, and people having fun with each other. i like the gritty house music ingredients, moving into more abstract sounds when everyone is ready for it. i like melody and tension and momentum.
does canadian dance music have a signifying sound?
mmmmmmm… no. all the canadian producers i like sound really different from one another.
but do you think this event will “sound” different than other events because of its canadian roots or will that be a result of a well-curated roster?
oh, just the lineup. i think the lineup is fantastic.
definitely agreed, i’m pretty bummed to be missing this one. anyway, you’re a programmer/full time computer nerd by day. do you think being so involved with technology gives you the upper hand in your productions, or does it work against you because it makes you think rather than feel?
this question deserves a longer conversation. i think that any success i’ve had has been despite my work as a programmer, especially as an engineer who did a lot of work in the domain of signal processing for sound. i think when you’re technical it’s tempting to let yourself get obsessed in the details of sound design and recording and lose track of the composition.
are you a perfectionist?
definitely not. i tend to cover a lot of ground, and do most of it half-ass. i’m actively working on trying to do fewer things, but doing them really well.
speaking of your work, your soundcloud has a selection of short tracks, none of which seem overtly related, but they all flow together in some way. it seems a bit like moments captured in music, like if you were reading someone’s journal. was that the intention?
that wasn’t the intention, but i like the idea. the only intention i have is to publish as often as possible, without worrying about polish. most of those recordings were made through the microphone on my mobile phone, and are just me jamming with my rhodes and an 808 and some kind of looper. i like listening to long-form house music, which is a style that makes perfect sense for pressing onto a vinyl record, and then DJing at a chaotic party. but these days i’m more excited to create a stream of music that’s dense with a lot of different ideas. a year from now i want there to be a hundred short recordings, and maybe a few of the best ones will be adapted or combined into longer stories.
that would be incredible. your music pulls in a lot of references to nature… birds chirping, aquatic sounds, samples that feel very organic, like the breathy input in “petid.” where does that love of nature stem from? is it ever in competition with the digital world you’re so immersed in, or is the relationship symbiotic?
yeah, i don’t like cold digital sounds. in the studio i like to use rich sound sources with a lot of depth, and then use technology to build a performance instrument that i can use to play those sounds back. so i set everything up, and then perform a recording. if it’s a good one then maybe i edit a little bit, just by cutting parts of the recording out, kind of the same way you might crop a photo.
interesting. so, if you could capture one sound in nature, what sound would it be?
a tree? falling in the forest? no seriously, how about a thundering herd of bison? P.S: i’m from manitoba.