Interview // Ben Abraham

by AdamTait
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on 17 June 2016 in Features

Changing career can be a daunting decision, especially when you've worked and worked only to find yourself on a path that's not working out for you. Deciding what to do next is scary.

But that's where Australia's own Ben Abraham found himself. After years of hard graft towardas becoming a screenwriter, Abraham found himself dissatisfied with his own work, while the songs he wrote in his spare time garned increasing acclaim from those that heard them.

Fortunately he was bold enough to run with it, and after self-releasing his debut album Siren in Oz the record hits the shelves worldwide today courtesy of Secretly Canadian.

We had a word with the man himself about making the jump into music, the pressures and pleasures of a DIY ethos, and how Finding Dory is the most exciting thing this year.

First thing first, I wanted to ask a little bit about how your music career got going. I read you were a screenwriter - how did you transition from that to songwriting?

It was quite a slow and organic process. I was a few years into my screenwriting course when I began writing songs just about things I was going through in life.

I found my scriptwriting was plagued with neurosis and I never felt like I was any good whereas I would show my songs to friends and family and get instant feedback that was always pretty positive.

By the time I played my first show in Melbourne I packed a room full of about 50 people and the response was really amazing. I think from that moment the writing was on the wall for my film career.

There's a remarkably cinematic atmosphere to your music. Do you think that can be chalked up as an after effect of your old job?

I definitely think so though. In fact the song ‘Time’ was written as the opening credits song to one of my screenplay ideas I was working on for one of my classes.

As I move into writing for the next album I think the cinematic quality to the music is going to have a much bigger role in the writing process. There’s a story I want to tell and I think this time around I’m going to really work on using some of the atmosphere to tell it.

When you first sat down and started writing songs, what were your chief influences and inspirations? How have these changed?

These have definitely changed.

When I first started writing I was listening to a lot of bluegrass music - Alison Krauss and Nickel Creek were 90% of my playlist - and this is reflected in some of those early songs like I Belong To You and She.

Remembering that Sirens covers about 8 years of writing, you can kind of trace the different music stages I went through in my 20s. Cat Stevens, Randy Newman, Leonard Cohen, Sara Bareilles, Joni Mitchell, Donny Hathaway - all of those influences are very present in the writing itself.

In the arrangements of the songs you can hear many of my later influences like Feist, Sufjanand Radiohead.

How did you come to hook up with Emmylou Harris and work with Sara Bareilles?

Emmylou was a total surprise that apparently came about through her management finding my work online.

The Sara story...well ha it kind of has a life of its own. If people look up a video on YouTube called “To Sara, From Ben” they’ll get the gist of it.

It’s funny to think about because it was so long ago but I’m happy to say she’s become one of my dearest friends and allies.

You self-released Sirens in Australia initially. Did doing it all off your own back give asense of freedom to the process, or add stress?

Both for sure. I loved the sense of achievement that came with doing it myself and the control I had - given I had been told “no” by so many industry people in the lead up to it. It was definitely a huge thrill that it made the impact it did on our release.

But it was also hugely stressful. Now that I’ve ‘crossed over’ into the world of having a label involved, it’s so much nicer not having to know if various forms were filled out correctly at the pressing plant etc. Self releasing is exhausting and given we were doing it from the lounge room floor of my friend’s place in Melbourne, I can’t believe we pulled it off.

Secretly Canadian are now releasing the album worldwide - how does that feel compared to self-releasing?

It feels incredible! The whole signing was amazing for me. As I mentioned previously, I’d hadso many doors close on me by different industry types in Australia. To then have a label on the other side of the world, with some of my favourite artists on their roster, want to work with me was such a brilliant feeling.

And now that I know how much is involved in getting music out into the world, I’m all the more appreciative to have a machine take care of it all for me so I can just rock up and be creative. One day a vinyl of mine is going to be sitting in some London record store and that’s just really damn cool to think about.

Oh Yeah Wow made the video for 'You And Me'. How did that creative process work and -given their previous work - was it what you expected?

I had always loved their work which to me was marked by innovative visuals and soulful narrative - some music videos are just tricks for trick’s sake whereas I always felt like OYW employed their inventiveness in service of the story.

The concept was a challenge because with all the lights it definitely pushed the budget for the clip a little bit over what we had allocated. I think the label definitely grew some grey hairs over the making of the video.

The final concept was slightly evolved from the original pitch so it wasn’t exactly what I had set out thinking we would get but in terms of the quality of the visuals and the piece of work as a whole - it’s every bit as beautiful as I was hoping it would be.

Those of us elsewhere in the world often only have a vague idea of the Australian music scene. What's exciting over there at the moment (other than your good self of course)?

Hahaha I don’t know how exciting I am in the scene but I will definitely take it! I actually feel really of out of the loop at the moment. I’ve been so swallowed up in the tour and release of my own work that I’ve barely had time to pay attention to anyone else. Ha. My ego is probably about the size of a small house at the moment.

There’s a new electronic artist called Braille Face who has started releasing music this year and I think his stuff is really beautiful and soulful. Also my friend Wafia is working on some new music that is going to blow everyone’s minds. She’s one of my favourites.

Other than the album release, what are you most excited about this year?

You probably mean in relation to my music but I’m actually most excited about Finding Dory. I’m a huge Pixar fan and Finding Nemo was always my favourite of their films.

As for my music? I’ve just locked in a guest collaboration for a song on my next album and I’m pretty excited to work with them.

Also other than the album, what's your great source of stress this year?

I have an art exhibition that I got grant funding for that will be going up in August. I am not anywhere near as organised for it as I need to be. And I’ve just remembered a whole lot of things relating to it as I talk about it now. That’s stressful. Ugh.


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