INTERVIEW: BEN FROST Colours Of The Night

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Posted on Nov 16th 2009 11:46 pm

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INTERVIEW: BEN FROST Colours Of The Night

In the space of just a handful of records, Australian-born musician Ben Frost has defined a very particular sound, which blends in elements of modern classical, metal and electronica into haunting cinematic soundscapes. Although his first album proper was published on Room40 in 2003, it is with his debut contribution for Valgeir Sigurðsson’s Bedroom Community, Theory Of Machines (2006) that he began to receive the attention he deserves. With his latest opus, By The Throat, Frost has developed a much more organic sound, which he developed with a number of collaborators, including Valgeir Sigurðsson, Nico Muhly, Sam Amidon, Swedish hardcore metal band Crowpath, Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara and Icelandic string quartet Amiina. Ben took a few minutes out of his current tour with the Bedroom Community guys to talk to themilkfactory about his many influences, how he got acquainted with Bedroom Community, how he faced the weaknesses in his work and addressed them, and how things are not just black and white.

Ben, it’s been two years since you released Theory Of Machines. What have you been up to?
Touring, scoring dance pieces, trying to sleep on planes…

How did you come to music, and who influenced you in your formative years?
I studied piano from the time I was like seven or eight years old and then studied music theory all through school. But my first real connection with a particular kind of music outside of the classical realm was probably with Metallica’s Master Of Puppets, Ice T’s Bodycount, and also my parents listened to a lot of Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Fleetwood Mac… A sizeable portion of my initial exposure to music happened in the mid eighties- when Tears For fears ruled the world (pun intended), later on I guess I found Nirvana, The Birthday Party, The Dirty Three, the Smashing Pumpkins, Trent Reznor, and then I suppose through those bands I found a lot of material I missed because I was too young to appreciate it at the time- specifically The Cure, Joy Division, Swans, Big Black, Coil… I don’t know really, I could go on forever…  then, I mean, the first truly electronic music I remember taking an interest in was Autechre’s Amber LP and Mick Harris’s Scorn recordings, long after I had started playing in bands, I had never really heard anything like that before.

Your first album, released as Frost, was entirely guitar-based and very ambient. How did you work on that album, and do you think you will ever return to something so bare?
Even at that point in time I knew myself well enough to know that in order to make a record that simple I needed to restrict it with both time, influence, space and instrumentation. I packed my car with a couple of guitars and amps and rented a small house in the middle of nowhere, with no net, no phone, not even a radio. I had to come home with a finished record. It was really that simple. I made the rules and then obeyed them. If I wanted to I could do it again, no doubt. In fact Lawrence (English) and I have talked about it at length just this last month. I just need to decide what exactly it is I want to do and where I want to do it and then just set the time aside.

You’re part of Valgeir Sigurðsson’s Bedroom Community crew, which seems to be a very close-knit family, with Nico Muhly and Sam Amidon. You all work on each other’s records and you are also currently touring together as part of Bedroom Community’s Whale Watching Tour. How did you get involved with these guys?
Valgeir and I met in Melbourne, Australia in 2003, we got along immediately. I needed to leave Australia, I liked Iceland, Valgeir wanted to start a label, with myself and Nico… All of these ideas just aligned in the right way. I moved to Iceland in 2005 and the rest is history really. We know what we want, what we like and we do it exactly like that. It’s a very simple setup really, no compromises, no nonsense.

Your first album for Bedroom Community, Theory Of Machines, was a pretty complex and dark affair, where guitars still appeared, but very often in treated form, and the inspiration seem to be pretty far reaching, from electronica to metal and to noise and drones. Was working on the album a very different process to what you’d done before?
Leading up to that record my music was just getting better I think, becoming more concerned with form, and overall shape rather than influences. I was studying with Darrin Verhagen and Phillip Samartzis who were both, in their own ways very hard on me, and made me face the weaknesses in my work and address them, which I owe a lot too particularly in regards to Theory Of Machines. I was searching for something that was more immediate and dangerous. At that time, that sort of 2000-2004 period, Melbourne had become engulfed in this fender twin, reverberated post Mogwai shoegaze thing that I, along with everyone else was drowning in. I walked into a record store one day around 2003-04 I guess, which at that time was owned by Oren Ambarchi and I recall mentioning how I had found my way back to the Swans, Big Black and a lot of metal because for me that was kind of an antithesis to everything around me then, but how also I was actually fascinated by some of these nu-metal records, the texture of them; so hi-fi, so clinical and so brutally cold. It was fascinating to me; Slipknot, Korn, The Deftones… I couldn’t put my finger on what I meant exactly, I mean, the music itself was mostly irrelevant, but I remember at one point I said, “what is there that sounds like this, but works like this” and I held up two records: (The Deftones’) White Pony, and Arvo Pärt ‘s Tabula Rasa. He couldn’t name anything, and in a very crude and simplified way, I knew there and then there was a record that needed to be made that could feed on that space

It was quite a difficult record, which was extremely well received. Were you surprised by the reception it got?
Yes, no, I don’t know really. By the time Theory Of Machines was out there I was already well versed in bad reviews, or more often than not having my records completely ignored by the press. If a journalist said my work was rubbish I didn’t pay attention to that, so it is only logical that I apply the same logic to positive press too. There is no room for diplomacy in art, or at least not in mine: making music for other people is design. Ultimately I’m only interested in being satisfied with it for myself, I am not a Designer.

By The Throat, your new album, is possibly even darker than Theory Of Machines, but it is also very different. How did you approach it? Did you have a clear idea of where you wanted to go with this one, and is the finish product close to your original idea of it?
It’s interesting to me that the description of music in print often comes down to basic visual metaphors like light and dark when what is really being described is the emotional hue, or “colour” of a record. We need a better lexicon for the description of music I think. I always knew the colours would be different, it had to be warmer and have more distance than Theory, and a luminescent glow to it where Theory Of Machines was unashamedly stark and clinically defined. But I also knew it would be a “nocturnal” record too. From day one this record evoked a fiery, burning glow set against ink black.

For this album, you’ve worked once again with Valgeir Sigurðsson, Sam Amidon and Nico Muhly, who has done some orchestral arrangements, as well as Swedish hardcore metal band Crowpath, Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara and Amiina, an all-female Icelandic string quartet. How do you manage to bring all these together into something coherent?
It’s not about crossing lines, it’s moreover that I just don’t see any lines to draw. I guess this irrational juxtaposition of images is a kind of surrealism. The dramatic and narrative spaces that explode between these disparate shapes are ultimately more exciting to me that presenting some kind of distorted image of an existing reality. By The Throat is not an abstract reflection on an existing space, I want to create new realities, ones that I needed to hear.

Are these representative of what you usually listen to?
Right now I am listening a lot to Chris Watson, Krzysztof Penderecki’s Third Symphony and the Cure’s Seventeen Seconds. I would suggest that they are more representative of this record than anything else.

You use howling wolves a couple of times on the album, which gives these particular tracks a very chilling twist, and wolves are also pictured on the album cover. What is the idea behind using wolves so much on this record?
I am fascinated by the natural world. In music though there is very little in the space between Chris Watson and new age whale song relaxation music. Aside from anything else I thought it would be a challenge to create a record that drew from the natural world in its raw beauty but stopped short of making a parody of it in the way that aforementioned new age music does. This is a vocal record, a physical record, and Wolf song is the original choir.

On your site, there is a message to those who have downloaded the album through file sharing to who you say “I woke this morning with the depressing thought that because many people are now listening to By The Throat through internet theft (congratulations).You are – as a direct result – not enjoying the visual aspect of this record, which is as important to me as the aural one.” You then go on to provide a link to download some of the pictures, taken by Bjarni Gríms, used in the booklet, which seems a bit contradictory. Is it more important to you that people experience the whole work than they experience it legally?
Unfortunately yes.

Some of these pictures are pretty impressive, and they reflect part of the record to a certain extend, although perhaps softening its atmospheric nature quite a bit. Did you want the visual aspect of the record to reflect its tone, and do you think they convey that particular idea?
It’s not enough for the visual aspect to just convey something anything… I need the images to be in direct dialogue with the music. The roots of those images were inextricably linked to the making of the record. Having said that, I don’t want to be didactic- I want to present ideas, but I don’t want to tell you how to feel about them, how you contruct a narrative, if at all is not in my control.

Do you listen to a lot of music while you’re away touring? What’s going to be on your iPod or in your CD wallet?
I don’t have much of a finger on the pulse of contemporary music, but I’m lucky to have friends whose lust for new music supplies me with things I should hear. I just got an album by this band, Mount Eerie… there is some interesting stuff going on there. But for the most part, if I am going to listen to music, it will usually be the same four or five records.

What are the five most important records/films/books or work of art to you?
I could never live somewhere that didn’t have The Cure’s Disintegration, some images from Bill Henson’s Lux Et Nox series or a copy of Groundhog Day.

Email interview November 2009

Icon: arrow Ben Frost | Ben Frost (MySpace) | Bedroom Community

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4 Responses to “INTERVIEW: BEN FROST Colours Of The Night”

  1. […] original post Comments (0) […]

  2. […] Una banda sonora para un día nocturno. El nuevo disco de Ben es bastante evocador y al escucharlo te imaginas estar en un bosque completamente solo con una total incertidumbre de lo que puede llegar a pasar en esa noche (incluso más cuando escuchas lobos). “By The Throat is not an abstract reflection on an existing space, I want to create new realities, ones that I needed to hear”, Frost en TheMilkFactory. […]

  3. Vitaminicon 07 Jan 2010 at 11:14 am

    […] The Milk Factory intervista Ben Frost […]

  4. […] a recent interview with The Milk Factory, Frost stated that the new album is representative of his recent listening […]