Behind the Music: Interview with Ben Simmons

‘To tell a story perfectly through a song is no easy task, but that’s the beauty of music!’

Describe your music style in no more than 5 words: Singer-Songwriter infused with Blues.

Who or what influences your music? My biggest inspiration has to be my grandad. He was the first person to introduce me to the ins and outs of a guitar. When I was younger, I grew up with a lot of music from Phil Collins and the Eagles but it was after I left school that developed my sound and furthered my inspiration from artists such as Ed Sheeran, Ben Howard and Charlie Simpson.

I notice you use both electric and acoustic guitars in your tracks, as well as some extended techniques. How does this affect your songwriting process? It wasn’t until writing Light & Shade that I introduced the blues style adjacent to the folk sound. I normally play out a melody first and then bend lyrics round the sound. I feel this is the result of me being self-taught and learning by ear. The primary melody will come from the acoustic guitar but I tend to record a lot of riffs and vocals on my phone when I’m away from writing to use later. If I like what I hear, I tend to record both instruments with a loop pedal so I can cement what I create. It never gets boring!

Where is your go-to place for writing new tracks? Surprisingly I don’t have one! I wish I could say I go to the beach or a massive forest but it’s really not that magical. I tend to do most of my writing in the bedroom. When I was at university, I used to write in my accommodation and that’s where I wrote my debut EP. In Hertfordshire – where I was born – there used to a place called Heartwood Forest not too far from my village. I would find some inspiration there, taking regular walks in the evening so I could see the sun go down.

What does a Ben Simmons recording session look like? Coffee. A LOT of coffee!
If it’s a new project, I would arrive at the studio and play the song live to my producer. The collaborative process would then start with a recording of the acoustic guitar and vocals to cement the basis of the song. It would then be a case of unloading ideas into a pot and giving it a stir: Do I want any more instruments? What atmosphere am I trying to create? Is the original idea or sound still there beneath the lyrics or has it changed? They are a few questions I ask myself, almost like a thought-provoking checklist!

‘There’s something so unique about going to gigs, performing and actually talking to people about your music.’

There’s a great sense of reflection in your lyricism. Where does this come from? Thank you! There’s always been one major rule I’ve stood by when I write and that is to connect, convey and drop small subtleties. I can’t write from nothing. There 100% has to be a reason for me to write something. Some music artists can write ten songs in a day and choose one. When I write, I know it will be something I record one day, but that type of writing process can be rather limiting and difficult to process. It comes from personal experiences. To take time on something and to tell a story perfectly through a song is no easy task, but that’s the beauty of music!

A few examples of subtleties can be found within ‘Do You Hear the Rain?’ The lyrics ‘Guess it’s true that I’m still hollow inside’ found in the second verse is a reference to my song ‘Wasted’, where I sing ‘I’ve done you wrong, I was hollow inside’, almost as if it’s portrayed as a personal reminder to myself to do better. ‘Do You Hear the Rain?’ is also the exact same length as my first ever single ‘Where We Once Were.’ This is intentional. No reason in particular, I just thought it was pretty neat to relate back to my earlier writings.

What has music enabled you to do? Music has enabled me to look at the world with open eyes. It has allowed me to tell my stories and listen to others. It has been a gateway for numerous friendships and no doubt will be for many many more. It’s given me hope and tragedy and the opportunity to perform at many places as well as sing to many new people. Music is a universal language and it is a blessing.

What do you listen to when you’re not writing, recording or performing? My all-time favourite music artist and inspiration is John Mayer. My all-time favourite band is KALEO. Every day I feel my music taste growing and evolving, I could sit here and give you a long list of bands/artists to check out. Every one of them has a big impact on how I write. Artists such as Ady Suleiman, Chris Stapleton, Deaf Havana, Foy Vance, Jack Savoretti, JOHNNYSWIM, Max Milner, Paolo Nutini and Shawn James are only a small handful of what I listen to. The list goes on and on!

What are your musical aspirations for the rest of 2019/early 2020? I plan on heading back to studio around September/October time to work on something new.  I have some exciting gigs lined up for the rest of the year too. Other than that, I just want to take every opportunity possible to perform to new audiences, meet new people and discover new music!

Your latest release ‘Do You Hear the Rain?’ definitely seems to have the most developed sound out of your tracks to date. What led to this being the case? There are many contributing factors that have impacted the way ‘Do You Hear the Rain?’ was produced. A few examples would be the transparency of your sound, what angle you’re trying to take and the connection between yourself and your producer. Martyn was on board for the production of ‘Light & Shade’ so immediately there was an understanding of what sound I was trying to create. There were also 8 months between the EP and the single so experience within the studio was relatively fresh. The process became second nature and I knew what sound I was after.

Do you prefer performing live or recording in a studio? This. Is. Such. A. difficult. Question! There’s always something magical about both, whether it’s playing in front of a new audience or finally figuring out a riff to throw into a chorus. Recently, I’ve found beauty in performing live because I’ve been doing it a lot since the start of the year. But if I had to choose (darn it) then I would have to say the recording process is where my heart lies.

‘Music has enabled me to look at the world with open eyes and allow me to tell my stories and listen to others.’

What is the purpose of music? Music to me is something universal. I can’t pinpoint the exact emotion it makes me feel because it can make anyone feel everything. That’s the beauty of it. It’s simply to make people ‘feel’, your interpretation may be different to mine, but that’s what I love!

Who was the first musician/band you saw live? Confession time… I didn’t actually go to a proper gig until I was in my teens! The first real artist that I saw was Ben Howard back in 2014 at Alexandra Palace. I still have the t-shirt somewhere… somewhere being the operative word!

What is your first music-based memory? My first memory would be my grandad attempting to teach me some chords on an electric guitar. I had roughly 3-4 lessons in my hometown before I gave up, at the time it wasn’t something I wanted to persist with. A year went by, and I picked up my mother’s acoustic guitar that reared its head from the attic. I began teaching myself and found it to be much more rewarding!

And finally… What has been the biggest learning curve in your music career so far? The biggest lesson I have learnt and am still learning this year is fanbase building. People will tell you to create mailing lists, to constantly update your social media and to create new content to promote. Which is all true. But there’s something so unique about physically going to gigs, performing and actually talking to people about your music. If the person knows the artist behind the music, it gives them that personal touch, that’s why being a friendly, well-mannered and respectful individual is essential. It’s imperative in this day and age to communicate so that we aren’t lost to a technology-driven world.

Thanks Ben for chatting with Listen to Discover

Follow Ben Simmons on: Facebook & Twitter
Listen to Ben Simmons on: Spotify
Find out more about Ben Simmons’ music on: Track Review: Ben Simmons: Do You Hear the Rain?

Ben Simmons is part of Listen to Discover’s #FridayFindsFeaturedArtist series which you can keep up to date with on Twitter and Facebook.

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