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Ben Harper Interview Part Two (cont'd)

Friday, 24 July 1998

 

by Angela Chiew


go to part one of interview

go to Ben Harper live review


Juan Nelson

Angela: Now where did you come across Juan? Because everyone who has seen you guys live has said, "My God - that man is amazing!"

Ben: He's definitely a prophet.

Angela: I've never seen someone who can do a bass solo for twenty minutes and have the crowd will be going, "Come one. Give us more! Give us more!" And it wasn't in the least bit self indulgent.

Ben: That's RIGHT! WELL PUT!! SO WELL PUT!!

Angela: [laugh] I had like aching ribs for three weeks after that show just from dancing around!

Ben: Alright!

Angela: [laughing] So how did you come across him. How did you guys meet?

Ben: We met in LA. Just by reputation I had heard about him and needed a bass player and we've been working together, going on five years now.

Angela: Oh right so you just knew each other.

Ben: Yeah.

Angela: Well that's luck for you!

Ben: Completely.

 

"Enough about me ... !!"

Angela: [sigh] Ohhhh OK so I am trying not to go onto those three topics but uh you gotta help me out here!

Ben: But you have been completely thorough though.

Angela: I have?? [Gigantic grin]

Ben: Yeah!!

Angela: Well I always want to find out things people don't already know so what don't we already know about you?

Ben: But you know, who really wants to know any more about me really?! Do you know what I mean?

Angela: [laughing] "Enough about me! Let's talk about you!"

Ben: I'm not that interesting. How can you fill up all that time? I love music. I love to write songs. Certain people would find me extremely boring. I can't talk about like 18th century literature or what really fine or pretentious people like. I don't know. I don't know about a whole lot but I know I love to make music.

 

Fatherhood and music making

Angela: [laughing hysterically] OK well you can tell me if this is a no-no topic but I'll ask it anyway. I know you are a daddy.

Ben: Ya

Angela: How has that effected your music?

Ben: I don't know yet, you know what I mean? Because I still write every day. So I can't say, you know, "Today my son caused me to play this chord."

Angela: [laughing]

Ben: And you know I'm not ... I love songs about people and about things but I find like certain like, oh, Song for My Son, those are pretty dorky. You know what I mean? You don't want to go there! He's an extension of the love in my heart and I feel him with every breath and you know. Therefore I can't really say how he has effected me but he's just, but I feel like I've learned so much from fatherhood and from my child and continue to do so. He's an extreme inspiration but I'm not sure how that has come out in songs. I'm still, you know. I just write every day, ideas and stuff.

Angela: That's beautiful. Have you always been singing?

Ben: Yeah. I've sung since I was a kid really. I've enjoyed singing since I was a child. By the next record, I hope, I believe through hard work and learning through breathing that my voice has taken some growth spurts and I am hoping to reflect those onto the next record.

 

Moving to Australia

Angela: Oh OK. We look forward to it. So when are you coming back to Australia?

Ben: When I move there. That's what I plan, I want to move there.

Angela: Yeah?

Ben: Yeah.

Angela: We would love you to move here! Where ... Bondi?

Ben: Ah HARGH! Um I dunno. I like the country. I like Perth and Adelaide and Cleland Park and the outback. Because I was raised east of LA towards the desert so I am used to that country stuff you know.

Angela: Oh right. So like Perth way? Oh yeah I guess so.

Ben: But I love Bondi too though.

Angela: Yeah it's beautiful there. I was quite surprised - I dunno but where do you find the countries that you are - well are you surprised with how well recognised you are in Australia?

Ben: Oh well, I don't worry about that.

Angela: No? Because I was in Sydney for the week or so leading up to your concert, and in Adelaide well, it's kind of. Well after you toured there was like big posters everywhere for when the album came out and all that but if you talked to someone on the street they'd go, "Who?" But in Sydney ... it was just everywhere. I couldn't believe it.

Ben: Really.

 

Commercial Radio Support (or lack thereof)

Angela: Yeah. It was like Ben Harper fever was in the air! It was great. I wish it came more often. Does it ... I know a lot of people who are big fans or your stuff I think have probably been moved by going to a show - though that's not entirely true because I know some people who love your music and have never seen you live yet. I don't know what it's like in America but here you don't get that much commercial radio play. I don't know why. But does that frustrate you? Because I know that it frustrates a lot of your fans, that we think you don't get the recognition that you deserve.

Ben: Yeah it's tough to comment on that because you don't want to sound like ... because you never want to sound like you are whining. Because it's true. We haven't gotten commercial radio anywhere. Like even in a place like Australia where we got one of our first gold records Will To Live without radio.

Angela: That's quite amazing in that respect.

Ben: It is.

Angela: From word of mouth and just amazing performances.

Ben: Yeah.

Angela: I guess that says ...

Ben: It can be done.

Angela: Yeah it can be done. Exactly. I don't know. We were talking about it. We were at an EMI meeting and we were saying how Triple M just won't touch it because, I don't know why! It's too intellectual for them? But I guess the commercial radio isn't ready to take the risks. But yeah ... I guess it's a bit depressing. But I guess that in a way it's sort of inspiring that you've gone without and even though you haven't had that support you have a huge following anyway.

Ben: Whether or not they play it I just don't think about them. You know what I mean? I'm not going to consider them. And for the first time in my life I started thinking, "Well God, if I start writing chords like this, and lyrics like this, well sure I'll get on the radio."

Angela: No. Don't do that.

Ben: But you know what. I just ... and of course I scoff at even the notion, I laugh at it, but for the first time I thought that in my life. And I thought, you know what, never. You know what I mean? I'm just going to make the music that comes from my heart and feel the strongest period and not even. I don't

think about them and at this point I don't need them. It's not even a ...if they play it or not. It can only help what they're doing. They're not really going to help me all that much. I just want to write songs and really good songs that move people like the songs that move me. That's all I want to do. Whether they play it or not, it's really, at this point. I mean I am able to support ... I'm OK, you know. I'm going to be alright. And it's just a really good feeling to ... Whatever. If they want to play it, play it. If they don't, don't. But, you know what I mean. Because radio is sort of becoming the ambassador for bad taste. Commercial radio. So if they want to be that - OK. You know what I mean? It's fine with me. I really don't want a part of it.

Angela: Well you know that saying that radio isn't in the business of music, they are in the business of making money.

Ben: True enough. And it's so scary because you hear all these songs that you used to listen to when you were 14, like all these pop hits, but they don't mean anything to anyone any more! Sure they were hits but I'd rather have my music mean something to someone in 20 years, 10 years, than have a hit. You know? It's a trip. But at the same time if radio played it, it would get it out to that many people, that much quicker. I can definitely be objective rather than just hoping.

 

Music: needs, projections and reflections

Angela: Yeah. Uh what was I going to say just popped out of my ... oh yeah. This is a question I ask everybody. What do you look for in music and what do you want people to get from your music?

Ben: What I look for in music is different things. If I want to dance, then you need a groove. If I want to feel, then you need soul. But what I want people to get from my music I hate to say because I don't want to tell what to get from my music. I just don't feel comfortable doing that because I want people to be free to get whatever they feel. Whether it's to move their body or to move their heart or mind. I just want people to be free to feel what they feel.

 

Everybody Here Wants You

 

Angela: Yep. OK. And OK [laughing] back to Jeff, what did you think of Everybody Here Wants You?

Ben: I think it's just incredible. And it's such a departure isn't it? It was something he had never done.

Angela: Yeah I was so surprised when I first heard it. I know some people who really still don't like it but

Ben: They'll get used to it.

Angela: Yeah. I got used to it. At first I was like, "Oh my God what is this? Oh my God what is he doing??" But I think ... our assistant editor at the magazine ... I've made it my business of converting everyone in the office to Jeff. Because before they didn't like Jeff and now they love Jeff so I've done my job.

Ben: Right.

Angela: But uh he was saying that it takes a lot of guts, for a white guy, to try and do something that soulful.

Ben: Yeah! ... yeah ...

Angela: And he actually pulled it off.

Ben: Oh yeah.

Angela: And maybe it's too sickly sweet or soulful for some people and that's their problem, it's too much. But he did it so well!

Ben: Oh yeah. I love that. I love that. That's brilliant. He could do anything. He could do whatever, you know. That was definitely one person who could truly play or sing in any style. Some people just have it. It. And it's what everybody is looking for in music. And he had it. And you can't get it. God has to give you it. And he was definitely blessed with it.

Angela: [sigh] He'll be sorely missed. So you'll have to figure out the rest of Lover so it can live on live.

Ben: That's it. I'm going to learn that song.

Angela: Yeah you should. Um The Tea Party have been going around playing Last Goodbye in the middle of Release I think it was.

Ben: Really?

Angela: Yeah and apparently he also did, apparently he did Everybody Here Wants You!

Ben: Alright.

Angela: But it would probably would have to be about three octaves lower because Jeff Martin's voice is much lower than Jeff Buckley's.

Ben: He's got the highest voice I've ever heard.

Angela: I know it's scary when I'm singing along and I realise there is a guy who can sing higher than I can.

Ben: Yeah ... Yeah ...

 

Yadayadayada

[Virgin interrupts and asks us to wrap it up]

Angela: OK. I guess that means I have to let you go now.

Ben: And the reason I would let her go is because I have to eat!

Angela: [laughs]

Ben: It's going on 9 at night here. We were supposed to go on at 7 but we didn't start to like 7.40 or something so now I'm feeding.

Angela: Oh yes you better go eat.

Ben: I have a ... you can stay in touch with me on a friend of mine's internet.

Angela: Really?

Ben: Uh website uh, I'm not quite up on all that yet but it's [address]. I can email from there, tell him that you know, "Ben and I talked when he was in Ohio and gave me the address for your website. Please pass him on a message".

Angela: Oh cool.

Ben: And I'll email you back.

Angela: I'll do that. Wow. Thank you Ben!!

Ben: Absolutely!

Angela: I'm so glad we finally talked.

Ben: Thank you for making the time.

Angela: You don't understand. When I started writing I had two main aims. One day to talked Jeff, but then he went away. But you're still hear and I finally got the chance!

Ben: Oh thank you. Tell me your full name.

Angela: Angela Chiew.

Ben: Alright. Good to talk.

Angela: Thank you.

Ben: Yeah.

Angela: Actually I wrote a big article on Jeff a couple of weeks ago, I'll send it to you. If I sent it to Virgin would you get it?

Ben: Let me give you an address. [Address]. That's my office. Well not office but it's a place where, well it is an office. I guess it's like Ben Harper Central or something. I get my mail there so it'd be great to get a letter from you there. Make sure you put a reply address.

Angela: Oh yeah sure. You know what I'll send you that and my favourite, favourite review which I wrote of your show.

Ben: Oh do and I'll write you back.

Angela: Oh ... thank you! You're a legend Ben. Love you. Thank you for everything. OK see ya.

Ben: Bye.

 

[Angela descends into delirious happiness at the fact that she just spoke to one of her favourite artists whose music has been her best friend through some of the toughest times, and at the unexpected gift of a new penpal hehehe.]