Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Song by Song Deconstruction of Ben Ricketts New Album “Here, Asleep”

On Oxford Mississippi’s Ben Ricketts’ latest release he has ditched his standard set up in lieu of something a bit different. Opting to follow his latest musical interests in psych folk, acoustic instrumentation has replaced his, now standard, electric guitar playing as his vocals soar over ambient field recordings and assorted lo-fi samples. Ben has been honing his songwriting and perfecting his playing for some time now, and this record doesn’t just sound like the newest release with a new direction in a long line of releases, but it comes across as a fine tuned album from a person who has been doing this long enough to be able to cross into uncharted territories without losing what makes him him. I was fortunate enough to the opportunity to talk to Ben in great detail about his career and his newest release, and below he goes into the meaning and inspiration behind the album and the songs on it. I hope you enjoy. <3

The album itself came after months of writing, organizing, arranging, and scrapping material.  That’s why there’s so much unreleased stuff that came with the pre-orders, and that only scratches the surface.  I’ve never written and abandoned more material than I did with this record, but I had gotten kind of bored with the setup I had been using for years: guitar/keys, tracks, and vocals.  I wanted to do something more experimental, more in-the-moment, etc.  I toured with my friend Drew Danburry, and his shows are very minimal/acoustic.  I had already found myself listening to more psych folk/ambient music, so this record came as sort of a marriage of my love for that music and my love for experimenting. 

1) “The First Phase”  This one is inspired by two things.  First of all, I had a few sheets of paper than I always kept on hand and wrote nice sounding phrases that I heard or read around me.  I got a few of my favorites, and a song was forming.  Thematically, it was based on a conversation Drew and I had about celebrities and the way that we expect people to be a certain way.  We’re uncomfortable with people whose art we enjoy not being these angels.  Who better personifies that than Kanye West?  A genius producer and artist who many people hate because of his ego and personal behavior is perfect for the song.  He’s the “actor” who “wants some time alone in his bedroom.”  Yeah, he and John Lennon and (insert celebrity here) may not be nice people, but there’s no reason that we should automatically believe that they are.  I was fascinated by the idea of public figures still being humans with fears and private lives and favorite foods, etc.  Also, I’m proud of the field recordings on that one, which are from a Christmas parade in Hillsboro, MO that I attended with family.

2) “The Flood” I wrote this one without knowing what it was about.  I think that this one has a pretty uninteresting story, but I’m proud of it.  It just organically grew, and then I realized that it seemed (to me) to be about the way we process faith and belief.  "If I tried, I suppose I’d find my way around You" is a paradoxical line.  The idea is that, by addressing God to discuss going around God, one has still acknowledged God.  It’s a song about how beliefs are fixed in people.

3) “Objects of Industry”  This one was based on an experiment from a previous album draft.  I played the two main chords into a cheap tape recorder and then bounced that into my sampler and just looped it.  I got bored with that, and while I was in Hillsboro with family, I composed the rest.  The lyrics were written pretty quickly, but the main phrase (“all Your objects of industry”) had been put together a few weeks before.  This song, for me, is about life, emotion, God, my feelings about modern middle American Christianity, and acceptance.  I was a very staunch fundamentalist conservative Christian as a young teenager, and I look back on that in a variety of ways.  This song really addresses my feelings toward the younger, more militant and angry me.  Also, it came out being much more “Pet Sounds” than I intended, but that’s okay, because it’s my favorite album. Also, There are a few minor accidents (a note coming out as a whisper, lyric sheets turning) in that track that I felt added so much as nice little accidents.

4) “Kingdom” I wrote this single line (“When I make it to the Kingdom, I’m gonna have blood on my hands”) after hearing Paul Simon’s “Graceland.”  I had gotten into that 80s afrobeat/world beat stuff, and it started as a very chant-ish piece.  I’ve been working it into transitions and intros live since 2014 or so, and it seemed appropriate to transition from “Objects” to it.  It’s much more drone-oriented than it originally was, but I’m really proud of it.

5) “Cora” This was the name of someone who I really appreciated that worked in an office I had to go to once.  I can’t give away too many details, but there was nothing happening beyond meetings I had to go to.  Cora was just a nice person who always joked about “Benny and the Jets,” when I walked in.  I thought that was funny, so I referenced it.  But Cora in the song is a totally different person–a combination of people I’ve known over the years who had an effect on me.  I tried to put the emotions I’ve had over friends having the same problems that the character Cora is having, and I still get emotional playing it live.  It’s not about the Cora I knew at all.  It’s about this fictional friend and their awful (but all-too-real and common) experience.  It also plays into what I said about people being inherently good.  (“Cora, some things don’t ever change.  People are good, but not always.”)  Several people have come to me after shows and told me that it made them cry.  They have thanked me for talking about what was a really difficult part of their lives in a song.  The fact that I can connect with people that way means the universe to me.

6) “Our Own Language” This is just a very fun love song.  I wrote it as a synthesizer-heavy trip hop song during one particular attempt at a record that was all live synth work.  It’s about my girlfriend, Carlie, and how we (like most couples) have strange little inside jokes and words between each other.  The last chorus is about being away on tour, and specifically about a friar that came to my last show at this bar in South Carolina. He, my friends, and myself hung out for some time after the show, and he ended up explaining why he thought the Apostle Paul might have been gay.  He was drinking and telling us all sorts of stories, and he kept reiterating that “if Jesus were here today, He wouldn’t be off acting all high and mighty.  He’d be here at the Radio Room, laughing and talking and listening to music.  He’d be encouraging musicians and artists.”  That was an experience that begged to be written about. 

Be sure to check out the very in depth interview I did with Ben that I previously posted here. While you're doing that, below are links to his Facebook page and a link to the album described above, along with his other releases. 


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