AN INTERVIEW WITH AUSTRALIAN PROG ARTIST, BEN CRAVEN ON HIS NEW ALBUM “THE SINGLE EDITS”
ON MAY 12, 2018 BY PAUL WATSON
IN PROGRESSIVE ROCK
I’m used to getting referrals to up-and-coming albums from mainly artists or even the rare heads-up from labels (remember those?), and even among my peers here at Progarchy, but it’s a special occasion when a fellow Prog fan, Robert Silverstein asks me if I’d like to give a mention to Ben Craven’s new album, “The Single Edits.” To be honest Ben had never shown up on my radar, or not that I can recall, so it was interesting to hear his album with no preconceptions whatsoever. I purposely didn’t google any information about this Australian artist other than receive a one sheet digital blurb Robert sent me. He organized a contact between Ben and myself not long after that and I received in the mail his new CD album which I instantly loved the artwork by Freyja Dean with Ben’s logo courtesy of her father. More on that later. But I also really enjoyed hearing the whole CD for the first time which is always a good sign. I’ll go into that in our interview, but what I know about Ben I’m happy to share here with a few lines.
Hailing from Brisbane, Australia Ben self taught himself guitar and keys, and played in a number of local bands. 2005 he went solo and recorded an album titled “Two False Idols” under the name of Tunisia, inspired by The Beach Boys and Pink Floyd. A live acoustic EP Under Deconstruction was released free nest. It was in response to how the Labels were really making a mess of the new mediums for listening and playing music. Roger Dean’s artwork graced Ben’s next album, “Great & Terrible Potions.” Then in 2016 he released Last Chance To Hear, where instrumentals played a larger part in the tracks provided. “Spy In The Sky Part 3” also featured William Shatner. We’ll go into this a little more in the interview below. suffice to say Ben has collated a number of tracks from his back catalogue and released them as a digital download last year. Encouraged by the response he has edited them further and released a CD/digital download under the album heading, “The Singles Edit.” You’re in for a treat. Ben is a very talented artist who shows his Pink Floyd colours on certain numbers with that David Gilmour soaring guitar down pat, but with an added taste uniquely all his. All found on his latest album and have to say I’m really impressed with the overall packaging of it. I can’t think of a better way of getting to know Ben Craven’s music . Enjoy.
How did you initially get involved in Progressive Rock?
I’ve listened to progressive rock all my life without even realising it. When I was three years old I had a cassette tape of “Days Of Future Passed” by the Moody Blues, which I played endlessly. I remember it particularly because it always used to jam and get tangled in the tape player. Later I discovered Pink Floyd and ELP in my parents’ record collection. I had no idea there was a particular label or a genre for any of this music. I just knew it stood out from the other things I heard on the radio and seemed much more exciting and rewarding to me as a listener.
When I did eventually record my first album, “Two False Idols”, it was a lot closer to Floyd than, say, Yes. I used the term “cinematic rock” to describe it. It wasn’t until later that events conspired to change that to “progressive rock”.
To some extent this is a compilation album containing tracks from your various releases (which I’ve yet to discover and listen to). What was your process of cherry picking these tracks specifically for this album?
This compilation started out as my attempt to address the music streaming problem. Most artists out there seem to be happy enough making their entire catalogues freely available on Spotify. I don’t perform live very often, so physical CD and download sales are still important to me. I didn’t want to abandon that concept just to become “discoverable” and gain “exposure”, so my music wasn’t being represented on the major streaming services.
However, making a compilation of single edits available seemed like an ideal solution. That way, bite-sized chunks of my music could be found on Spotify, and perhaps that would encourage people to track down the longer versions from the original albums on Bandcamp. So I tried to represent each of my three albums equally, and picked the most accessible tracks from each. Some of them already existed as single edits for airplay or video clips, and others were reimagined and remixed as singles.
“Aquamarine” and “Great Divide” has a kind of David Gilmour vibe to it in my opinion. Were there any bands that inspired you, either internationally or local?
Clearly, Pink Floyd and David Gilmour in particular are a huge influence. Gilmour was the first player, for me, who combined melodic taste with the ear candy of his incredible tone, and inspired me to actually pick up a guitar rather than admiring it from a distance.
Then I discovered Yes. Wow. I had never heard anything like it. After being immersed in glacial Floyd, the keyboards and guitar playing were beyond my league of comprehension at first. But that amazing, punchy lead bass guitar, I understood immediately. Chris Squire’s deliberate choice of basslines blew me away. It was like Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney on steroids. And Bill Bruford’s drums were utterly gorgeous, both sonically and melodically.
It’s worth pointing out as well that as an 8-year old, before I had any awareness of the existence of progressive rock, I was hooked on John Williams movie scores, particularly the Lucasfilm ones. Williams was at his height around that time and everything he touched turned to gold. I suspect in the back of my mind I’m always trying to achieve the musical equivalent in a rock context.
The first thing I noticed with the first minute of hearing “The Single Edits” and recurring throughout the album is how embedded the sound was cinematically in the 60’s particularly to my ears such as the track on here, “Critical Mass Part 2“, any spy movie that comes to mind. Thematically was that an intention at all by you?
I don’t doubt it, but it’s probably not as contrived as you expect. I am a huge fan of John Barry and Henry Mancini movie soundtracks, especially from the 1960s, along with The Ventures, The Shadows, The Beach Boys and so on. In another life I could quite happily play in a surf instrumental band, and may yet even do so if I retire to the beach one day and start collecting Hawaiian shirts.
My work has increasingly been moving more into instrumental territory as I’ve become more confident in my writing and arranging abilities and the music itself becomes more over-the-top. I suppose I have naturally gravitated towards twangy guitar as one alternative “voice” for the melodies.
It probably comes as no surprise that producing a theme for a James Bond movie was something I aspired to, a big traditional Barry-like theme. Given how the film franchise has moved on and the business operates, it’s difficult to think of something more unlikely now. So instead I just make them for my own amusement.
There is quite a strong Yes presence in that you had Roger Dean (for your logo and of course for the artwork for your “Great & Terrible Potions” album) and his daughter Freyja Dean to do the album cover and beautiful bird illustrations for this one, not to mention Billy Sherwood engineering and producing one of the vocal tracks with William Shatner? That’s some serious namedropping there. How did each of these artists get involved?
It all started with “Great & Terrible Potions”, which was my second album. I had been uncomfortable about embracing the label of “progressive rock” up to that point because I thought it was a little presumptuous and also carried with it certain expectations for the music, lyrics and my own instrumental ability. However a friend who was working for a record label at the time heard the works-in-progress and not only convinced me that it was indeed progressive rock but also that it needed a Roger Dean cover! Something I would have never had the temerity to consider myself, but I could certainly see the merit in his idea. I tracked down Roger and the “Great & Terrible Potions” cover was the result. It was really a most incredibly exciting and surreal event.
It was through Roger that I met his daughter, Freyja Dean who is just as ridiculously and unfairly talented. Freyja has a particular style all of her own, yet you can still recognise her heritage in her work. She painted the cover for the subsequent album “Last Chance To Hear” – in fact she painted six covers and we used them all – and also the cover for this new single collection. His name is Archie, he’s a starling, and according to Freyja, he’s a bit of a lad.
“Last Chance To Hear” included quite a long track called “Spy In The Sky” which featured fairly esoteric lyrics and climaxed with a guitar and minimoog solo duel. I sang it originally but could never get past the aural image I had in my mind of a spoken voice. A grand voice. A Captain of the Enterprise. William Shatner, perhaps. I’m a huge fan of Star Trek, loved his work on Boston Legal, and I’m yet to hear anything quite like his album “The Transformed Man”. A sensible person would have dismissed this idea as impossible, so naturally I was obliged to pursue it. My secret weapon and fulfiller of dreams was Billy Sherwood, who had worked with Shatner on his excellent album “Ponder The Mystery”. Somehow they found the time and opportunity to record the vocals for “Spy In The Sky” at the Shatner residence in LA! Looking back now, it seems miraculous how all the stars aligned to make it happen.
Is there anything new that you’re working on?
Always! I’m trying to finish off a piece of music for the next United Progressive Fraternity album and have been recording guitar parts for prog artist Joost Maglev from the Netherlands. Also recording songs with a local Brisbane band called Frankenfido, remixing my previous albums in 5.1 surround, and all the time trying to sneak in work on my next album proper. I’ve just about finished the opening 10-minute track.
Where can listeners hear tracks from your album, Ben, and purchase the CD/digital?
The best place to go is my Bandcamp page where everything is available: