Wednesday, March 8, 2017

An Interview With Ben Ricketts

I was first introduced to Ben’s music through our mutual friends in Mocklove. He needed a show and they sent him my way. I was skeptical at first because I normally only work with screamo, grindcore, and the other assorted core’s, but I decided to give it a chance. Holy shit am I glad I did. Ben’s extensive slew of releases are enough to keep anyone entertained for quite some time. Ranging from more simplistic guitar oriented tracks, to disco dance parties, and all the way to avant-garde noise tracks, Ben has a song for pretty much everyone. I talked to him quite a bit while getting his show together, and I thought it would be fun to ask a few questions and post them on here so we can all get to know this unique character a bit better. 


1. Let’s start this off easy, tell me about where you live and where you grew up.
I live in Oxford, MS, a college town not far from the heart of blues country.  I grew up in Glen, MS, a smaller town outside of Corinth.  My parents live in Corinth now, and the TN line is literally in their back yard.
2. Do you feel like growing up in Mississippi had an impact on you as a musician? Did you have a musical up bringing or was it not until later that you discovered your talents? 
I think it did in some ways.  Mississippi is a place like no other, and while it has many faults, it’s not an inherently bad place.  It’s home.  I didn’t really have a musical upbringing in terms of creating or playing music.  My grandfather, who died before I was born, was self-taught musician who used to work for Wurlitzer.  He was one of the co-inventors of the Sideman, which was the earliest commercially available drum machine.  That was always talked about as a grew up.  My mom loved Louis Armstrong, and I grew to love him and wanted to play trumpet at first.  I was really bad at it.  My dad loved blues and gospel.  During my childhood, my sister was really into country at the time.  A lot of my musical inspiration came from my late brother, Seth.  On the way to school, he was always playing early punk or alt rock in his car.  I always knew I wanted to do something “showy,” but being a musician didn’t truly come about till I was in the fourth grade…  I started guitar in the fourth grade after–embarrassingly enough–seeing “School of Rock.”  It’s sort of a funny way to get into playing music.
3. When you first started writing music what where your inspirations? What made you decide to start playing shows?
I got on a big Johnny Cash kick before I wrote my first song.  It was a really weird, cheesy seventh grade love song that repeated “I wish I had ten yous for each day.”  Pretty ridiculous stuff.  But there was a really weird local metal/pop punk scene in North Mississippi.  70 or 80 kids would come out, pay a cover, stay for one song of each act, and then go outside and smoke.  Playing shows was just what you did to make music, I guess.  Then, I played a few shows at a beloved (but now closed) local record store and film rental spot in Corinth called Top Shelf Records.
4. I read in the liner notes of your first album, Happy Island EP, that you where the lead vocalist and guitar player for the band “Youth in Asia” when it was released. Was that your first band or was that a bit farther down the line?
YiA was a band I was in after I had already started doing solo shows.  I was doing solo sets starting in 2/2009.  I even did a few during the YiA time.  YiA was a fun project between friends, and it only lasted a few months. [I’ve] never officially [been in another band]. I have been very closely involved with The Holy Ghost Electric Show over the years, doing everything from guitar to bass to keys to drums to arranging. They’re an amazing band worth checking out.
5. Staying on the topic of your first release, what inspired you to develop this unique brand of freaky folky indie poppy weirdness?
I was really into Radiohead at the time, and I was all about making traditional song forms a little “weirder.” I didn’t really listen to The Beatles at that time, but everyone compared it to the Beatles. Also, my sister in law had just bought me this great little synthesizer (Korg Kaossilator). All of the little blips and noises were either created with that or with noise generators in Audacity. Some of the songs were written as part of a project I did in 2010 called “The November Project.” I had to write and record one song a day in November without repeating a topic and without repeating a key before going through all 12. It’s mostly lost now, but the recording of “IHOK” ended up on Happy Island EP. “Airport” was written as part of that project, but the released version is a lot different. There were all these weird influences.  The Flaming Lips, of course.  I feel like they’re all over some of those songs.  Radiohead, Modest Mouse, and some others were in constant rotation around that time.
6. You mentioned earlier that your father was a fan of gospel music, and I know you’re a man of faith. How has your relationship with God and religion influenced you not just as a musician, but as an individual?
That’s a good question.  Of course, as religion does, it’s shaped everything about what I do in some way or another.  I think that one should view every single person they meet as an extension of divine light.  Now, people can be awful, but I still see people (even at their worst) as someone who is capable of good who has–for whatever reason–moved away from doing good.  I pray a lot.  I don’t make “Christian music,” but I still view one of my greatest goals as a musician as spreading God’s Love.  I think that music is a divine gift, and enjoying music at all is a form of worship in a very real way.  I can listen to something not at all “religious” and still feel like there is something greater going on inside of it.  As a musician, it’s all about sending that same feeling.  If I can give someone the same feeling of pure emotion that I get from music, and if I can show them love in a real and human way, I think I’ve expressed my feelings about faith well.  Most of my lyrics are in no way “religious,” but my faith does come up a lot in my music (like on “Objects of Industry” from the new album).  I just hope that people hear it with open ears.  Religion sources my work just like my studying history, my conversations, my experiences, and my weird ideas.  I’ve never really viewed it as too much of a high concept.  It’s important to me, but musically it comes across how I think it should: another part of my life… I totally understand why the stigma around Christianity exists among my fellow millennials.  There are a lot of people doing really bad things in the name of religion.  But for me, I don’t think belief has ever been a choice.  I believe in Christianity.  I believe that the Bible must be read contextually, and the messages have to be interpreted.  But a lot of folks believe that it gives them the right to be really unkind, and that is strange and really sad.  I could go on for a while with this topic.
7. You’re a pretty prolific musician, so far releasing 10 albums. What have you learned through out the years of doing this, what’s your favorite release, and if you could go back and give yourself past self some advice, what would it be?
I’ve learned to not be ashamed of the past.  I feel like everyone loves to hate their first records, but I view them as snapshots of where I was at another time.  I have a few favorites.  "The Human Race EP" was the first one I was deeply, truly proud of, and it was the result of a lot of emotion.  "Bumps in the Night EP" is a standout for me.  "Where Nobody Knows" is one that I’m very emotionally connected to and proud of.  I feel like “Here, Asleep” and “Where Nobody Knows” are my two greatest albums thus far, but in different ways.  I look back on “Happy Island EP” happily, because it came from a genuine place.  All of my records have.  I don’t believe in releasing something that I’m not totally in love with at the moment I release it.  I would tell myself to always be open to experiment.  I don’t really regret anything in my career, other than mixing way too much bass in the opening track on that President Hotel EP (“In Lo-Fi”).  People need to work until they have work that they truly love.  If you always do that, you won’t regret much at all.
8. So far you’ve been on three tours, with your fourth upcoming this month. What are some of the most memorable experiences, what have you learned since your first tour, and where would you like to tour next? 
My most memorable experiences would include some of the weirder sleeping arrangements (including a guy in New Orleans who made sausage at 3AM and blared "Scarface," all while he and his friend yelled over it as we tried to sleep).  I've gotten to play with a lot of heroes of mine. Last summer, I played a show with John Fernandes (of Circulatory System, The Olivia Tremor Control, and countless other Athens bands).  I'm playing with him again on this tour.  Last October, I toured with a musician who inspired me endlessly when I first started making music: Drew Danburry.  I would play found percussion objects on his songs, and he would sing backup vocals into effects pedals on my songs.  It was really surreal to be playing my songs with someone who I looked up to so much.  As far as future touring, I plan to just keep going to new places.  I'm currently planning a Northeastern run in the summer.
9. Now with your latest album, "Here, Asleep", released, what are your plans for the future?
I’m already planning shows/tours for the rest of 2017. I’ve also been planning out ideas for the next record. I’ve not written anything yet. 

10. With the next record, do you have any ideas for the direction you want to take with it? Will you continue with the current psych folk style or will you try something new again? 

I never know until I try a million things and destroy them. Honestly, I think I’ll go further in this direction, but not in a “part 2” kind of way. As I have always done, I’ll take what I love and expand upon it and experiment with ways to make it better in my eyes. I don’t feel like “Here, Asleep” was a major departure. In fact, I feel like it’s the only logical step to come after everything else. I feel like if you listen to my discography in sequence, it pretty smoothly transitions. I don’t mean that to brag, but I feel like when any artist puts out so much work, you can trace their evolution. I feel like this record picks up where “Where Nobody Knows” left off, and I think the next will pick up where this one stops. I make whatever record works for me, and that seems to create a pretty steady line of change. 


11. What’s a good movie you’ve seen lately?
I (like everyone) loved “Arrival.” I haven’t seen much else recently. I’ve been finally finishing “The Office” in my spare time. The last seasons, though not as good as the first ones, are pretty great. The supporting cast shines brighter, and Robert California rules. But back to movies, my girlfriend and I watched “Adventureland” the other night. It was a pretty typical “indie movie” with some good humor and a great soundtrack, but Bill Hader’s performance made the whole film a lot better. 

Be sure to check out Ben's extensive catalog of releases, and be sure to give him a like on Facebook to keep up with all of his music. 



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