Success is seldom the mother of invention. Just ask Ben Westbeech. Following the release of his acclaimed 2007 debut album, Welcome To The Best Years Of Your Life, Ben threw his gears into neutral and decided to rest on his laurels somewhat.
For a while after Welcome To, I didnt feel inspired, he explains. I got a bit lost, a bit disillusioned. I was getting lots of work as a DJ, enjoying life, but I didnt have any hunger. Towards the end of it all, I asked myself, what do I have to show for the past few months? It just wasnt a productive time for me. I had fun, but I just wasnt making enough good music.
It was a turning point for an artist whose journey began as a twelve year old, buying Rave and Jungle mixtapes from the Jamaican blokes who ran his local newsagent in Hertfordshire. Later, Ben moved to Bristol, where he spent his days and nights working on music, and making friends with kindred creative spirits in this most musical of cities. One friend, a producer named Clipz (now known as Redlight), got Ben to sing over a Jungle track hed recorded. He really liked my vocals and said I should sing on my own music, remembers Ben. Three days later, I wrote my first solo track, So Good Today.
So Good Today " three minutes of sweetly sung, feel good, sunshine pop touching on house, jazz and soul styles over a playfully athletic breakbeat " came to the attention of respected DJ, tastemaker and music enthusiast, Gilles Peterson. Massively impressed by just this single song, Peterson signed Ben to his Brownswood Recordings label who released his debut LP, Welcome To The Best Years Of Your Life. The album showcases Bens skills and range as a singer-songwriter and vocalist, and has received a glowing reception from critics and fans: however, its success also brought attention, expectation and growing anxieties for Ben. How would he follow it up? What elements of his music struck such a chord in audiences? What did people want him to be? What next...?
Then, in 2009, much admired and respected house label Strictly Rhythm approached Ben and suggested he record an album for them. I was given a totally free rein and put together a list of House-y producers I wanted to work with and whose music I love explains Ben. At first I was just singing over their tunes, and it felt a too much like Superstar Producer, Featuring Ben Westbeech so we took another approach, and I started working with the producers on the tracks right from the beginning. Its been a more collaborative process and pushed the album somewhere else.
The result is a reinvigorated Ben Westbeech, and his accomplished, albeit overdue, second album; Theres More To Life Than This. For the record, Ben has worked with a stellar line-up, including Motor City Drum Ensemble, Redlight, Georg Levin, Chocolate Puma, Lovebirds, Midland, Soul Clap and Henrik Schwartz. These
collaborations have found all parties challenging themselves to come up with something fresh, new and - as Ben puts it - outside of our comfort zones.
The end result isnt so much a straight House album, rather House inspired, says Ben. Its turned into something else over time; theres so many different angles you can come at it from, it doesnt just have to be Kick Drum/Hi-Hat/Clap/Bass. You dont have to be confined, you can branch out. Its not a club record - my sound isnt banging, lairy music - Im not there to get peoples hands in the air. Ive slowed the tempos down, worked guitars and folk techniques into the sound, and focussed on song-writing craft... I wanted to make an album you could listen to in your home, in your car. Something timeless.
Where his debut was the fruit of five years labour, its follow-up has taken a mere six months to complete, testament to Ben finding his groove again, and casting aside doubts. Hes not looking for anyone elses approval anymore.
On this record Ive made tunes where I listen to them and I just feel, oh God, this is me, this is what I want to listen to right now, he says. A lot of the albums about love because I fell in love just as I was beginning it. I never thought Id write songs like that, but having met someone Im really into, which hasnt happened for years, gave me a positive boost. Its made me grow up a lot, look at life differently.
Asked to name some influences for the record, Ben supplies a wide-ranging list of legends: Kurt Cobain, Tracy Chapman, Eric Satie, Henryck Goreki. His music might not sound like any of these artists, but hes learnt from their lessons. I was listening to a lot of David Axelrod records, he adds, and its amazing how forward-thinking he was, as a producer, composer and arranger. I love timeless music, and thats why I want to go against the grain, to buck all the trends, and to make the music I want to make.
I feel like Ive got my spark back, like Ive found myself - I feel excited about music again...