Having first come to widespread attention thanks to his project Art Decade and having written strings for Manchester Orchestra and Wild Nothings, Ben Talmi has now branched out and taken himself in a completely new direction. Following on from his recent cover of “Girls On The Beach” by The Beach Boys, he’s now working on an album and kindly agreed to this interview to chat social media, dream shows and song-writing inspiration.
PW: How would you describe yourself and your music in a few words?
Ben Talmi: I grew up on a strict diet of classical music, rebelled into the world of indie rock. Forever balancing somewhere in the middle.
PW: When did you realise you wanted to make music a career? Was there an album you bought or concert you attended that inspired you?
BT: I cannot remember a time when I didn’t have complete tunnel vision about being a musician. When I was very little my dad would blast Beethoven’s 9th or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in the house and grab my hands and wave them around like I was a conductor. The first ever rock show I went to was Good Charlotte at the Pepsi Arena in Albany, sort of embarrassing but I was 13 years old and it blew my mind. I still have the ticket stub!
PW: Which bands or artists influenced you growing up and have those influences changed over the years?
BT: The biggest influences for me have always been Radiohead, Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens, Jon Brion…I still love that music and always look to it for inspiration but this age of information overload makes me want to put on a Brian Eno ambient album or one of Nils Frahm’s solo piano records.
PW: Is there a band or artist you might say you're similar to?
BT: I hesitate to compare myself to any of my idols but when I sit down to write, I’m typically interested in the kind of harmonic movement that Jon Brion, Eliott Smith or Brian Wilson use.
PW: How does the music you're creating now differ from that of your other project Art Decade?
BT: I had a really specific vision for the sound and esthetic of Art Decade, this sort of classically influenced rock stuff like a modern ELO. So, when making those records, there were very clear guidelines I had in mind. With my solo music it’s completely different, there are no rules: the music has to surprise me.
PW: Tell me about your new track, a cover of the Beach Boys' "Girls On The Beach.” What made you want to cover that song in particular?
BT: The 4 part vocal writing is like a Bach choral on crack. It’s so sophisticated but has so much swag and darkness at the same time. I really tried to take the time to transcribe the exact chord voicings to honor what Brian Wilson wrote. It comes across as a perfectly digestible pop song yet it’s harmonically one of the more complex things The Beach Boys ever wrote. That kind of simultaneous complexity and simplicity does not exist in pop music anymore.
PW: You've also got an album in the works. What can you tell me about it?
BT: I think it’s the closest sounding thing to who I really am that I've ever made. People who know me from my days in Art Decade might be surprised with some of the music on it but it’s really an unfiltered look into my soul.
PW: Who or what most inspires your song-writing?
BT: The best stuff comes from moments in life you can’t predict happening. The first single off the album “I Know It’s True” is about someone I was completely head over heels for who wouldn’t give me the time of day for over a decade and then boom all of a sudden she was in my life. Once that happened that song poured out of me almost instantly. I don’t believe in waiting around for inspiration to strike but to quote Akira Kurosawa, “Unless you have a rich reserve within, you can’t create anything.”
PW: In your opinion, which is the greatest song ever written and why?
BT: The world seems to have a general consensus about a few, songs like “Hey Jude” or “Thriller”. I can’t say there is a definitive greatest song ever written because that would imply that a piece of music would fit in any scenario or mood you could possibly be in and that simply does not exist. If I had to choose though I’d probably say “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
PW: If you could share a stage with three other bands or artists who can be living or dead, who would they be and where would you play?
BT: Radiohead, David Bowie and The Beatles who all open up for me at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts.
PW: What are your thoughts on social media and would you agree it's a vital tool for bands and artists today? Do you think you'd have the support you do without it?
BT: Today, it’s undoubtedly a vital tool for any kind of art or message to spread across the world but I think it comes at a cost. Unless you decide to completely cut yourself off from it you inevitably become distracted by this modern feeling of missing out. Can you imagine if the Beatles had been distracted by iPhones and Instagram while they were making Abbey Road?
PW: What else does the rest of the year have in store for you?
BT: I want to put out my album and play as many shows as possible.
PW: Finally then, what's your ultimate ambition as an artist and, with that in mind, whose career would you most like to emulate and why?
BT: My ultimate goal is to make music that is respected purely for what it is and nothing else. I believe Radiohead have achieved this kind of career. Their art gains respect just for what it is while being completely uncompromising.