Interviewed by G. W. Hill
Interview with Ben Craven from 2016
MSJ: Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music?
Last Chance To Hear is my third album. In 2011 I released a progressive rock album entitled “Great & Terrible Potions” which was fortunate enough to boast cover artwork by Roger Dean. My first album, “Two False Idols” came out in 2006.
MSJ: If you weren’t involved in music what do you think you’d be doing?
I’d be a well-adjusted human being making a decent living in the corporate sector with a healthy work-life balance. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I’d probably be in exactly the same situation I am now, except trying to make films or screenplays or comic books.
MSJ: You’ve just recently released a new album. How does it differ from your previous one?
This new one sounds more confident. The arrangements are more purposeful. I’m finally resigned to sounding like myself, even when I try to put a spin on a style of music. But the biggest difference is the proportion of instrumentals. I felt that most of the new music was strong enough to stand on its own this time without adding lyrics.
MSJ: How is it similar?
It was written and recorded in exactly the same way. That is to say, on these albums I didn’t sit down and consciously decide to write a song in a particular style or format. I waited for the music to appear organically, while I wasn’t looking, and then it suggested which way it wanted to go and with whom. Some pieces sprawled, some were concise, and others had a style or structure which was baffling at first because I really had no existing template to follow.
MSJ: What prompted having William Shatner on one of the tracks and how did that work out for you?
I had already sung the track “Spy In The Sky Part 3,” but when I originally rehearsed that song I always broke out into spoken word. To me it had the feel of “War of the Worlds” or the “Knight Rider” theme so it really needed a narrator. William Shatner was my immediate choice. I loved the idea but clearly it was an impossible pipe dream. It ate away at me for months and somehow I built up the courage to actually ask him. Unbelievably, he agreed. Billy Sherwood recorded Shatner’s vocals in LA so I was in good hands! I was giddy when I heard the final track, in a good way. Once again it was the music dictating the direction, or in this case the vocalist. If I had deliberately set out to write something for Shatner it would have been very different, perhaps impossible.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, John Barry, Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith…the great Hollywood film composers. And then my usual suspects, like Pink Floyd, Yes, Mike Oldfield, King Crimson and Brian Wilson.
MSJ: What’s ahead for you?
That really depends on how well the new album “Last Chance To Hear” is received. I would love to take a one-man show out there and play to prog-appreciative audiences. Regardless, I have at least two more Ben Craven albums to finish off, plus a third by a fictional band.
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
I’ve thought about this a great deal so I don’t mind at all. Other people have described it as progressive rock, and I’m delighted to be included in such good company and have an identified audience to target! But personally I would describe it as “cinematic rock”. Prog, to me, implies a certain instrumental virtuosity which I am yet to attain.
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Unfortunately most of my favourite musicians are now of a certain age, so that seems to be increasingly unlikely to happen. For instance, it would have been absolutely incredible to have played with Rick Wright, or Chris Squire, or Keith Emerson. But I’m not sure what I could bring to the table by playing with musicians I’ve studied over the years and whose styles I’ve clearly tried to appropriate! On the other hand I would absolutely jump at the chance to write with any of them. That could be a meaningful exchange.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
That depends if I want to make an income from selling recorded music. As the artist and the label, I would like to, and have the possibility of doing so. But streaming seems like legalised piracy to me, with all the try-before-you-buy justifications and guilt removed. Independent artists make no income from piracy and virtually no income from streaming. In fact I suspect piracy actually requires more effort and dedication, and might be more likely to create a fan who will eventually purchase the music. Either way I think the future is pretty grim unless you’re on a major label or have marketing power behind you. Or you’re already a touring juggernaut.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
As a fan it’s an amazing opportunity to hear legendary shows I couldn’t get to, whether for geographical or historical reasons, such as living half a world away or not being born at the time. But as an artist I would much rather be in control of what people hear: the mix, the sound quality, the mistakes! I approach a gig now with the expectation it could wind up on someone’s phone or be posted to Youtube. That means I have to be extra careful to stick to the script and not take too many chances while soloing.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Anyone who makes a living by cannibalising the industry, preying on young hopefuls who haven’t yet realised the future of music is unsustainable, taking all their money and making big empty promises.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you’d like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
I think it already exists. I’m very excited at the prospect of the Anderson Wakeman Rabin band looming on the horizon. Rabin and Wakeman are the one magical combination we never got to hear on a Yes studio album.
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
It would be much more fun to tell you who wouldn’t be playing. I’d be here all day.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
The Force Awakens soundtrack. The movie was disappointing for me, but there’s always goodness to be found by studying John Williams.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Do comic books count?
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Sounds ridiculous but I honestly don’t remember. But as for a show that simultaneously inspired me to songwriting heights and put me to absolute shame for my playing abilities, it was The Crimson ProjeKCt, a couple of years ago. Seeing so many stellar musicians sharing the stage was phenomenal, and I’ll never forget it. That they played a small venue here in Brisbane to an equally small audience was absolutely criminal.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
No, nothing I feel particularly guilty about! I’m a massive Earth Wind and Fire fan and lead a seedy double life as a 70s funk and disco enthusiast.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Playing a covers gig on a cold rainy Sunday afternoon in a bar that forgot they’d booked me. The bar opened well after my start time and the audience consisted of three people. Fortunately they all got completely hammered and my share of the bar takings turned out to be not unreasonable. I pray for bigger Spinal Tap moments as my career progresses from strength to strength.
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Douglas Adams, Alan Watts and Roger Waters. We’d give solving the world’s problems a red hot go, and also figure out the best way to live. All before dessert.
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
It wouldn’t matter so much as long as the wine was matched.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
I would just be stoked if someone read this far. Thank you so much for having me!