Inspired by the likes of Wu Tan Clan and Massive Attack (yes, he’s a man of very eclectic taste!), British producer Ben Frascina -a.k.a. Skylab 3 – is a truly unique artist. Rather than focussing on creating meaningless pop ditties (and there are enough of them already) to make his way into the charts, he has instead turned his attention to making listeners truly feel what they hear, to connect with each and every moment they lose themselves in the music. Having just released his album A View From Above, the future is looking bright and Ben kindly agreed to this interview to chat careers, creativity and dream concerts.
PW: Please introduce yourself.
Ben Frascina: I’m Ben Frascina and I make music under the moniker ‘Skylab 3’.
PW: How would you sum yourself and your music up in a couple of sentences?
BF: I’m generally quite a laid-back and chilled out person, which I think is reflected by the music I produce. Some of my favourite things in life are music, food, sports, films and beer – that’s pretty much me in a nutshell! I think that the music I make at the moment tends to be rather atmospheric, sometimes a bit melancholic with elements of euphoria and is made up of soundscapes, noises and ideas that inspire me.
PW: Which bands and artists did you grow up listening to and how did they influence you? Have such influences changed over the years?
BF: I grew up listening to a wide range of different artists involved with different genres, which all influenced me in some form and played a part in shaping the sort of music I create and listen to now. When I was very young I remember overhearing tracks from artists like Fatboy Slim, Groove Armada and Moby, then I started listening to heavier stuff like Iron Maiden as I started to play guitar and explore music myself. In addition, I’ve always had a huge interest in artists who use sampling such as The Avalanches and loads of hip-hop producers in general. I feel that these artists have all influenced me in ways, particularly when it comes to blending genres, experimenting with instrumentation, song structures and overall creativity.
PW: When did you first realise you wanted to be part of the music industry? Was there an album you listened to or concert you attended that made you think 'yeah, I want to do that'?
BF: This is something that I’ve wanted to do for as far back as I can remember. Since getting my first keyboard as a child I’ve constantly been into making music. With regards to getting involved with the industry and considering it as a career choice, that’s a decision I made when I was around 16 years old. I didn’t really want to do anything else so I ended up going to University to study Music Technology, which has proven to be beneficial in areas, particularly sound synthesis and production techniques. I’ve been to quite a lot of shows and there hasn’t been a defining moment that made me want to do this, I just think that creating, sharing and performing music is something that I’ve always felt compelled to do.
PW: Did you have any other career ambitions prior to turning to music?
BF: No, not really. Growing up, I’ve always had hobbies like skateboarding and football but never strongly considered them as viable career options. The music industry excites me more than any other industry I can think of, so if I wasn’t trying to push myself as an artist, I’d probably be trying to get involved in other roles and areas of the industry anyway.
PW: Tell me about your new album A View From Above. Is there a story behind the title?
BF: To come up with the entire album, I spent around a year experimenting with different sounds, software, samples and ideas until the whole thing started to take shape and come to life, track by track. The album is influenced by my experiences, places I’ve been, films I like, other musicians and consists of songs that I felt ended up sounding good to me. The title ‘A View from Above’ is fairly ambiguous as I wanted to leave it open to interpretation rather than portray a direct message. To me, the album title fits with the ‘spacey’ elements of the music and suggests ascending into space and looking over the views below, but on the other hand it could refer to being happy or free. Music can make different people feel different emotions and may remind them of different memories and experiences, so I’d like to think this is an album you can get lost in, see where it takes you and enjoy it!
PW: Could you pick a favourite track from the collection and if so, which is it and why?
BF: My favourite track from the album at the moment is “Your World”. From a producer’s point of view I’m very happy with this track due to its sonic and dynamic characteristics. Personally, I feel like it has the grittiness of that raw 90’s style hip-hop, blended with smoother keys and synths you find in more modern electronic music, which creates a pleasant contrast. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing about with this track in the live set I’m currently constructing too, so I think it may have good potential.
PW: How easy/hard do you find the song-writing process and who/what most inspires you?
BF: Sometimes I can start working on a track that naturally comes together quickly and have it finished within a day or two, whereas sometimes I’ll work on a track that has potential but takes months to work out the final touches. Occasionally a track I’m working on just doesn’t make me feel anything so I end up deleting it and starting again. My writing process involves searching for that moment when I find a sound, beat or idea that excites me and then building on it. I’m often inspired to make music when watching films, whether it’s a visual element or whether it’s a note I hear in the soundtrack. Also, I tend to come up with ideas unexpectedly when I’m outside walking around and sometimes when I’m drifting off to sleep. When I feel any sort of inspiration I try to keep the idea in my head as best as I can, then start working on it as soon as I get to my laptop.
PW: Which song, in your opinion, is the greatest ever written and why?
BF: It might sound a bit cliché but I’d have to say “The Ecstasy of Gold” by Ennio Morricone. It’s probably the most powerful, influential and effective piece of music I can think of and it’s really interesting to see how it’s sampled, remixed and used in other productions to this very day.
PW: How do you find the experience of making music videos and how did you come up with concept for the “A View From Above” one?
BF: The director, Nick Richards and I spent a lot of time planning, storyboarding and coming up the concept for this video. We shared ideas about films we’re into, storylines, scenery and filming styles that we find appealing and that would go well with the music. We agreed to come up with a narrative in order to try and captivate the audience, which we thought could be challenging when working with instrumental music, rather than having lyrics or a performer to concentrate on. The idea of portraying a near-death experience and its aftermath was something that intrigued us both and felt like it worked with the music, so that’s the route we went down. It was the first time I’ve ever been involved with making a music video, so it was really cool to experience the filming methods, editing techniques and see the whole thing come together like it did.
PW: If you could play one venue anywhere in the world, which would it be and why?
BF: I’d love to play at Glastonbury because of its diversity, prominence and history. It’s quite close to where I live so I’m sure my friends and family could be there to watch too and share the experience!
PW: If you could share a stage with four other bands or artists, who can be living or dead, who would they be and why?
BF: The first act would be Shpongle because their live shows are incredible and I think their fans would welcome my sort of music too. Secondly, I’m a big fan of DJ Shadow so it’d be an honour to share a stage or tour with him and learn more about his creative processes. It probably wouldn’t fit with the music I make now but I’d love to just for a moment see what it feels like to support a huge band like Metallica in front of an arena or main stage at a festival. Finally, I’d love to perform alongside Flying Lotus, not only because of the music itself but also the way in which he incorporates graphics and visual elements in his shows, that I feel really bring it to life.
PW: What are your touring/performance plans for the rest of the year? Will fans see you at any festivals or are you focussing more on headline shows etc?
BF: I’m currently in the process of putting together a live set using an Akai MPD232 set up with Ableton Live in order to trigger and play about with sounds as I go along. I’ve recently got to grips with the new equipment and software I’m using for it, so once I’ve perfected the performance my aim is to get some live dates booked in as soon as possible. Any festivals this year are fairly unlikely due to the timing of it all, but I’m excited to play other shows as soon as the dates are set.
PW: What are your thoughts on social media and do you agree that it's necessary for bands and artists today? Do you think you’d have the career you do without it?
BF: Personally, I don’t post much about myself on social media unless it’s music-related, however, it is such a powerful tool that I use for communication, news and generally staying up to date with everything. With music, I don’t necessarily always feel that the artist needs to have their own profiles on all social media platforms in order to succeed, check out MF Doom’s Twitter page, for example! However, the people, listeners, bloggers, magazines and outlets on social media clearly help to drive artists’ careers significantly. It’s beneficial to me as it’s so easy to share songs and videos in an instant, get stuff heard and connect with like-minded people.
PW: What does the rest of the year have in store for you?
BF: I’m looking forward to letting people finally hear my debut album after all this time writing and producing it, working on additional tracks, remixes, potential collaborations, live shows and hopefully starting work on a follow-up album to A View from Above.
PW: Finally then, what's your ultimate ambition as an artist? Whose career would you most like to emulate and at what point would you be happy to call it a day?
BF: I’d like to keep creating my own music to share with anyone who’s interested in listening to it, work with other artists to collaborate and experiment with new ideas, and I’d love to be involved with composing music for other media such as films or games one day. I want to experience whatever path life takes me down, but if I had to experience something similar to another band it’d probably be Pink Floyd so that I could influence other artists and make an impact. I’d be satisfied if I could say I’ve travelled the world making and performing music, but I doubt I’ll ever call it a day and stop altogether!