Feature: Ben Westbeech

Picture of Ben Westbeech

Interview by Marc Kets

Coming from the same music melting-pot as the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead, Bristol-based Ben Westbeech has gained a lot of plaudits amongst the notoriously clued-up devotees to Gilles Peterson's much lauded Worldwide Show on Radio 1 who voted his, as yet unreleased, first single as the fifth best single at the Worldwide Awards in 2005. With Gilles Peterson kick-starting his brand new label, Brownswood, with Ben's first single. "So Good Today", he is sure to make a dent in the charts and in the record boxes of music-lovers and tastemakers the world over.

You're a classically trained cellist, pianist and vocalist, what made you fall in love with hip hop and dance music? Were there any particular records that did it?

I first heard early bootleg rave tapes I bought from a geezer down my local newsagent when I was about 11 and that opened my ears up to it, I remember listening to the tapes all day and night totally obsessed. I loved the drum patterns and the basslines. I started djing a year later and that was it, I was hooked. Hip-hop totally blew me away too, I just vibed off it. I think the main two tunes that got me were LTJ Bukem's 'Atlantis' and NWA's 'Straight outta Compton'.

Your influences vary from NWA to Charlie Parker, do you find that there are links between these that have fueled your desire to make music and get it heard?

I always wanted to make music that made me happy. I make a lot of different music all the time and I think genres naturally start breeding with each other. It's all linked together in some way or another but I don't really think about my music too much. I just let it happen.

Your work seems to be instantly accessible, but yet when you listen to it and peel back the layers there are some quite ingenious production skills and tricks. What methods do you use when constructing your tunes? Is it just a matter of letting inspiration take a hold of you or are there set guidelines and patterns that you use?

It's simple, anything can trigger me off, a loop, a riff, a drum break, whatever. If I hear something that gets me, then that's it! I'm going in and making a tune with it. I then write the vocals or give it to an mc or vocalist depending on where I think its going. Obviously there are different formulas you can use, but I just do my thing and let the music tell me where it's headed.

You've collaborated on your new album with DJ Die of Full Cycle/V Recordings fame. How did you meet up, and what is about working together that works?

We met through Clipz in Bristol and just got on, we went skating and then got on a beat and clicked. He's really looked out for me in Bristol, and is a true friend. He's a beat master and a perfectionist and we make a lot of great music together. Die's a challenging producer to work with and has definitely pushed me as a singer and producer. He collaborated on three tracks on my album, and we are currently working on a hip-hop album, too.

Are there any artists that you think are really pushing the envelope? What do you think it is about them that make them stand out from the rest?

For me it's got to be Clipz. He's been doing it on the drum and bass side of things hard. I really love the sound he gets and he's a real trendsetter. Other artists who are pushing it are Sirplus and Bugs who are MCs that are gonna come through soon and blow people away...

Your album is launching Gilles Peterson's new Brownswood label. You must be honored to be given the privilege of kick-starting a label as potentially big as this one? How did you meet up with Gilles?

My single 'So good today' is the first release. I think The Heritage Orchestra's album is coming in May; mine should come later this year. Yeah I'm so honored. Its crazy, but I've worked hard for it you know, pushing myself a lot. Gilles got played a few tunes of mine in a car at Creamfields last year through a friend of mine and he was in it. Two weeks later I got a call and that was it.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline?

Yeah the album 'Welcome to the best years of your life' on Brownswood is nearly finished. The single 'So good today' is out very soon. Drum and bass with Clipz and Die on Dope Dragon and Full Cycle under my alias Lean. Sirplus' album on a Full cycle imprint which I've produced four tracks on including 'Big ras crew' also as Lean. Die and I are getting a hip-hop album together at the moment so lots to do.

You're going to have a full band; this must be an exciting and daunting prospect. What are your hopes for the future with regards to your music?

Yeah it's definitely a big task as I wrote the album without a band, but I'm working hard on my show and have some great musicians on board. It's real exciting. I'm keeping it four-piece to start with for practical reasons, but who knows, one day I want an orchestra behind me. I just want to push myself musically and hopefully carry on putting music out.

You're from Bristol, which has a rich musical history from Massive Attack coming from The Wild Bunch Soundsystem, Tricky emerging in a puff of Durban Poison from Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry, Portishead and many, many more coming from the city. What do you think is in the water in Bristol that has given rise to all these remarkable artists and acts?

I don't know. Something happens down here though. The multiculturalism is definitely part of it and it's a real stand-alone city. We just do our own thing and that adds to the originality of the music produced here. There is a lot of fiendish partying, its crazy funny. Everyone's on his or her own little vibe.

www.myspace.com/benwestbeech www.myspace.com/brownswoodrecordings

Marc Kets, Mar 2006

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