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Ben Lapps interview

April 5, 2014

Ben Lapps interview

Music is simply a journey of exploration and
self-expression, an excursion into the human mind and an attempt to find some
way of understanding our experiences and impart that to other people.  For that reason when I hear something as
honest and true as the first time I came across Ben Lapps, I become instantly
infatuated.  Though all doesn’t happen
all that often to say the least, The New Color is one the truest, rawest and
most honest musical statements that I’ve ever heard.  From the opening notes of “Reverie” to the
closing sounds of Lapps’ cover of “Phunkdified” the album is utterly
hypnotizing, an incredibly interesting study in the unbound possibilities of
the acoustic guitar.  Completely
instrumental and a seeming snapshot of one of the most unique and driven young
musicians I’ve ever had the privilege of listening to, The New Color began a
now three year obsession with Ben Lapps, which has seen an explosion in not
only his popularity, but his creativity and skill level as well.  While The New Color will always hold a
special place in my heart and most likely be my favorite album on the whole,
he’s followed it with two absolutely stunning full-length albums, 2011’s See,
The Sky
and the extremely recent Stormalong from earlier this year in 2014.   The growth and expansion in his music is
almost as jaw-dropping as the sounds themselves, recording everything in a
closet at his parents’ house with a single microphone and handcrafted
percussion instruments.  I could make the
obvious comparisons to Michael Hedges, Don Ross, Kaki King and Leo Kottke with
his guitar but I think that lumping Lapps in with those guys kind of sells him
short, as his music reaches a place of transcendent honesty that the above
artists have only half-heartedly managed to capture at their greatest moments
in my humble opinion.  From the chair
squeaking, single-session masterpiece that is The New Color to the extremely
well thought out and precisely written Stormalong, Ben Lapps is an ever evolving
and always entrancing musician, and one who’s just beginning to enjoy a small
amount of the international exposure and success he deserves!  With all of this in mind, it’s a pleasure to
able to present you with an in-depth interview with a man, while well-respected
in many circles, virtually unknown outside of internet.  So please, settle back in your chair, grab a
cup of warm coffee, click the link below and prepare to experience something
entirely new and different, Ben Lapps is here…
Where are you
originally from?
My home has always been Cincinnati, Ohio.
What was the music
scene like there when you were growing up? 
Were you very involved in the music scene?  Did it play a large part in the formation of
your musical tastes or the way that you pay today?
I couldn’t find any other fingerstyle guitarists playing in
the Cincinnati scene growing up, and I didn’t start going to a lot of shows
until I was sixteen.  I saw a lot of the
great Indie rock bands rising in Cincinnati, my favorites being Walk the Moon
and Pomegranates.  Those guys inspired me
to start playing drums in a band, PUBLIC, and that’s mostly how I contribute to
the local music scene.  This is
completely separate from my fingerstyle guitar playing, but just as important
to me.
Was your home very
musical when you were young?  Were either
your parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely involved or interested
in music?
Everyone in my family has always been involved in
music.  I grew up with my father playing
the trumpet and both of my siblings playing piano and singing.  It was very easy to get into music at my
house, however I was the first in my family to have a real drive to make music
my career.
What was your
first real exposure to music?
When I was twelve, I bought a “best of Led Zeppelin” CD and
that was it for me.  I couldn’t listen to
anything else and absolutely had to learn every Jimmy Page riff I could
find.  That was definitely the beginning.
If you had to pick
a single defining moment of transcendent music, a moment that opened your mind
to the infinite possibilities of music and changed everything for you, what
would it be?
That moment came when I got a hold of Michael Hedges’ record
Aerial Boundaries.  That title track has
continued to be the most inspiring piece of music for me; the guitar has no
limits.
When did you
decide that you wanted to start writing and performing you own music?  What bought that decision about?
I wrote my first piece of music, “Reverie”, when I was
fourteen.  I had just discovered Michael
Hedges, Thomas Leeb, and Justin King.  I
found DADGAD [an alternate guitar tuning] and just started making up my own
tunes.  Then, I’d written enough for an
album, so I recorded my first record, The New Color, a few months later.  There was no decision, it just sounded like
such a cool idea to me and I really wanted to do it.
What was your
first instrument?  When did you get it
and who gave it to you?
My first instrument was a guitar that I took from my
brother’s room.  He had a cheap acoustic
and never played it.  I snuck into his
room one day, curious about the guitar, and just started fooling around on it.  Soon enough I had figured out a few things,
and started playing every day.
Is there any
creed, code, ideal or mantra that you live by musically?
My main thing is to keep listening to new music.  Keep expanding my knowledge no matter what.
Where are you
currently located at?
Still happily in Cincinnati, Ohio rooting on the Cincinnati
Reds.
What’s the music
scene like where you’re at now?
The music scene is growing slowly.  We have a lot of solid local talent and some
very supportive fans in the city.  I’ve
watched a lot of the local venues start filling up over the past few years, and
that’s super exciting for me.
Do you help to
record and or release any local music?
Recently I’ve gotten really involved with other local bands,
filling in for odd members or adding some auxiliary sounds to their
recordings.  It’s not a steady thing, but
I help out when I can.  I love supporting
my fellow local musicians, and I’ve become good friends with many of them in
the process.
Do you book or
attend a lot of local shows?
I attend many local shows. 
I usually try to make two to three shows a week.  But usually I only really get involved in
booking a show when I’m personally playing.
I’m pretty good at
a lot of things but describing the way that people sound, especially someone as
unique as yourself, is not one of them. 
How would your describe your sound and what you do to our readers who
might not have heard you before?
The simplest way to explain my guitar playing: Any sound
that I can find on the guitar is valid. 
There have to be no limits to making the best sounds I can find.  If I have to scratch the guitar, slap it,
scrape it, knock on it, whatever, that’s what I’ll do.  I use entirely alternate tunings and a ton of
harmonics.  Any sound I can make is valid
in a song.
You have a really
unique and interesting sound as I said before so I’m extremely curious to hear
who you would cite as your major musical influences?
Well, I think the obvious major guitar influence is Michael
Hedges.  He’s simply my favorite and I’m
always left feeling inspired after hearing his music, and I feel the same way
about Chet Atkins.  But I hardly listen
to any instrumental music these days.  I’m
a huge fan of bands like Grizzly Bear and Local Natives.  Those guys are really up to something and I
just can’t get enough.
What led you to
the technique of playing that you utilize on the acoustic guitar?  When did you start playing it in your own
fashion?
I first saw a video of Justin King playing his song
“Squaredance”, and I went crazy.  I had
to learn how he was tapping so mightily with just an acoustic guitar.  Then over the next few months my mind opened
up to my “no limits” method.  I just started
experimenting with any sound I could manage to make.
Can you talk a
little bit about your songwriting process? 
Do you usually start off with an idea for a riff or some melody, or do
the accompanying parts come later?
My writing process is still a bit mysterious to me,
ha-ha.  I usually just stumble upon a
“hook” and then the rest just unravels within about an hour.  I know now that I have to sit and finish a
song once it’s started or else it’ll get cold and will be tough to finish
later.
Do you spend a lot
of time figuring songs out, tightening them down and getting every nook and
cranny sounding just the way that you want it to?
Yes, definitely.  When
I’ve written or learned a new piece, I’m never done “learning” it.  There is literally, always room for
improvement.  For example, after five
years of performing Justin King’s “Phunkdified” I feel like I’ve just recently
started to really get it to a place I’m proud of.
Do you enjoy
recording?  I mean I think most musicians
can really appreciate the end result, holding an album in your hands knowing
that it’s yours and you made it, there’s not a whole lot in the world that can
beat that feeling.  Getting to that point
though, actually getting everything recorded and all those tracks laid down and
sounding just the way that you want them, can be a rough road to travel.  How is it recording for you?
I’ve never enjoyed recording until this newest record,
Stormalong.  This is the first time I’ve
recorded my own solo album and it has been the most rewarding decision.  I’ve taken a full year to craft these sounds
and it’s been a blast.  I could take as
much time as I wanted, and not have to pay anyone extra.
Do you utilize
studio environments when recording, or is it more of a DIY proposition where
you handle stuff on your own time with your own gear?
I record everything in a closet at my parents’ house,
because it’s the most soundproof room in the house.  I use a single microphone for all the
instruments, a Neumann tlm103, which I absolutely love.  All of the percussion instruments are just
little handcrafted items.  For example,
the track “Lodgings” features a jar of almonds and a Christmas ornament that
jingles.
Let’s take a
little time and talk a little bit about your back catalog.  You’ve been releasing music since 2009, when
you self-released The New Color CD.  The
first time I listened to the album I remember hearing some chairs squeaking and
other small little background noises, which is far from a jab at the production
values.  It’s been a long time since I
heard anything that seemed that honest and pure in a sense, it was just
mesmerizing.  Can you share some of your
memories of recording the material for The New Color?  When and where was that material
recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?
I was fourteen at the time and didn’t really have a plan for
recording.  I just knew I had written
some songs and wanted to make an album. 
So I called up a family friend who had a studio and booked a single
eight hour day.  The studio is called The
Monastery because it’s in an old church here in Cincinnati.  It was just me and Ric Hordinski, the studio
owner.  I don’t have a clue what
equipment he used at the time, but I was really excited about the way it
sounded.  All songs were recorded
straight through, with no more than two to three takes per song. It was indeed
an honest recording session.
You followed up
The New Color with See, The Sky in 2011. 
Was the recording of the material very similar to the sessions for your
previous album?  Do you feel like you
learned, or progressed a lot in those two years?  The New Color was a beautiful snapshot of
what was going on in your head at the time, a Polaroid of that time in your
life.  See, The Sky however seemed like a
much more contemplative and thought out album. 
Where was that material recorded? 
Who recorded it?  When was
that?  What kind of equipment was used?
I recorded See, The Sky at the same studio in
Cincinnati.  Indeed, I had a lot more
vision for this record than the previous one. 
I believe that my songwriting had developed greatly, and the main
influence on this record was one of my favorite Canadian bands, Do Make Say
Think.  A lot of their music was
beautifully repetitive and the melodies were simple and sparse.  This really got my attention and I started
writing longer songs.  Like you said,
this is more telling of my growth over the two years since The New Color.
You just digitally
released your third album this past week as of the writing of these questions
and I know the CD is coming sometime soon. 
What can our readers expect from the new album?  Did you try anything radically new or
different with the songwriting or recording of Stormalong? 
Stormalong is by far my favorite thing I’ve ever made.  It isn’t a long album, just twenty-five
minutes of material, but I guarantee that you’ll be captivated for every
moment.  That was my goal with this
record, it’s only my very most precious material.  Apart from the writing, I hope you’ll be
fascinated by the production.  Some of
the guitar sounds are very untraditional, but still instantly recognizable as
my voice on the guitar.  This is the
greatest example of my “no limits” mentality.
Can you tell us
about the recording of Stormalong?  Was
the recording of Stormalong very different than your two earlier albums?  When and where was that material
recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?
I recorded the entire album myself in my closet at
home.  My only studio gear is a Neumann
tlm103 and ProTools 8.  Stormalong was
extremely different than the other albums because I was in absolutely no
rush.  I took a full year to work things
out, rather than cramming the entire album into one or two days like
before.  It was definitely a DIY process.
Other than the
upcoming release of Stormalong on CD, do you have any other releases planned or
in the works at this point?
Yes indeed I am working on my next album, which I’m
particularly excited about.  It’s got a
really new element of funk, stemming from my recent obsession with Earth, Wind
& Fire.
Where’s the best
place for our US readers to pick up copies of your music?
My music is always available on iTunes, and for physical
copies of all of my albums, check out www.CDBaby.com/artist/benlapps
With the
completely insane international postage rate increases the last few years it’s
getting harder and harder, or at least more and more expensive, to pick up import
releases.  So to battle this, I try and
provide our readers with as many possibly options for picking up import
releases that I can.  Where’s the best
place for our overseas and international readers to pick up your music?
For Japanese readers, my CD’s are sold by Pooh Yokocho, a
good friend of mine, in Japanese stores and online here.  For other international sales, I believe
Amazon is the best way to go.  However,
I’m always willing to personally ship a hand-signed copy to anyone interested.
Just email me: benlappsmusic@gmail.com
Where’s the best
place for fans to keep up with the latest news like upcoming shows and album
releases at?
All of my news is kept up to date best on Facebook, Twitter,
and at http://www.benlapps.com.
Are there any
major goals that you’re looking to accomplish in 2014?
I’m hoping to finish the new record by the end of the year,
and then hopefully release it in early 2015.
What was the first
song that you ever played live?  Was that
with a band or solo?  When and where was
that?
My first guitar performance was at a little Italian
restaurant called Pitrelli’s in Mason, Ohio and I’m sure that “Reverie” was my
first tune; that was my favorite at the time. 
This was 2008, I was fourteen, and I was playing there twice a week for
about a year’s time.  It was a fantastic
start to my career.
Do you tour at
all?  Do you spend a lot of time on the
road?  If so, what’s life like on the
road?
I’ve done some small solo touring, but nothing stretching more
than a week.  Recently I’ve been on the
road quite a bit with my band, PUBLIC. 
Life on the road is still exciting to us, we’re still young and fresh.
Do you have any
funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to
share here with our readers?
I once played background music for a Spaghetti-Eating
Contest.  That was one of my more
interesting shows.
In your dreams,
who are you on tour with?
I would love to go back in time and meet Michael
Hedges.  I know I would have a lot to
learn from him about the guitar.
With all of the
various mediums of release available to musicians today I’m always curious why
they choose and prefer the various mediums that they do.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for
your own music?  What about when you’re
listening to and or purchasing music?  If
so, why?
Personally, I am a big fan of physical CD’s.  I love having my own copy of an album, and I
can easily listen to it in my car, unlike vinyl, which is more expensive and inconvenient
to use.  But most of my fans are all
internet based because of my YouTube success, and so it makes sense for me to
release my music digitally.  That’s
definitely become the biggest market for my music.  However, I still like to give people the
option of getting a physical copy.
Do you have a
music collection at all?  If so can you
tell us a little bit about it?
I have a very large music collection, entirely made up of
physical CD’s.  There’s music from every
genre and decade.  This is what keeps me
pumped about being a musician, always having new influences to draw from.  Right now I’m buying a lot of great funk records
from Earth Wind & Fire, Parliament, etcetera.
I love my music
collection, I’ve got a deep rooted obsession with physically released music.
When I was growing up I was encouraged to listen to anything that I wanted, I
would just wander up to these enormous shelves of music that seems to stretch
on forever and pick something completely at random, stick it in the player,
read the liner notes, stare at the artwork and let the music transport me off
to another place.  Having something real
and concrete to hold in my hands always made for a more complete listening
experience and I get a rush every time I listen to a new album and get to
experience it like that.  It’s something
I don’t think I’ll ever fully get over. 
Do you have any such connection with physically released music?
Yes, absolutely. 
There’s nothing better than playing my favorite record through my best
stereo system and just getting lost in the tunes.  I also love having the liner notes.
As much as I love
my music collection there’s no denying that digital music has distinct
advantages, namely portability.  I can
care as much music on my phone as I could have stuffed into my trunk a few
years ago.  When you add the internet to
the equation though, that’s where things really get interesting.  While people are being exposed to a
completely new universe of music and bands are given unparalleled direct
interaction with their fans and critics, illegal downloading is running rampant
and it’s harder and harder to get noticed in the chocked digital jungle out
there.  As a musician during the reign of
the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?
For me, the digital world is responsible for all of my
success to this point.  People are buying
my music because they saw my YouTube videos and looked me up.  So I’m definitely very grateful for all of
this.  It is so simple to make my music
instantly available to the entire world, and I’ve really thrived in that
environment.  However much I personally
love buying physical music, I can see that my generation loves the convenience
of digital downloads, so I’m just happy that people can hear my music in the
way they want.
I try to keep up
with as much good music as I possibly can but there’s just not enough
time!  In hopes of keeping up with even
one-percent of the great stuff going on out there, is there anyone from your
local scene or area that I should be listening to that I might not have heard
of before?
For the past four years, my favorite Cincinnati band has
been Pomegranates.  Check out their
record, One Of Us.  They have four
full-length albums available, and every single one is gold.  A great band with a great message.
What about
nationally and internationally?
I really love Young the Giant’s new record, Mind Over
Matter
, and I’m still listening to Phoenix’s most recent record, Bankrupt!
Thanks so much for
doing this interview, it’s been awesome getting to learn so much about you and
your influences.  I know this wasn’t
short and I assume it couldn’t have been extremely easy to do, a lot of brain
wracking and what not.  But before we
call it a day and sign off, is there anything that I might have missed or that
you’d just like to take this opportunity to talk to me or my readers about?
You certainly covered a lot of material with these
questions.  All I have to say now is,
thank you!  I’m so grateful that you’re
looking to expand my audience and help your readers get to know me better.
DISCOGRAPHY
(2009)  Ben Lapps –
The New Color – digital, CD – Self-Released
(2011)  Ben Lapps –
See, The Sky – digital, CD – Self-Released
(2014)  Ben Lapps –
Stormalong – digital, CD – Self-Released
Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014
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