I became familiar with Ben’s music about a year ago with his exceptional Close My Eyes EP. At the time, he just had a series of EP’s and demos but then came his debut full length late last year called See You Next Spring and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. Ben has a knack for writing catchy punk and power pop songs but this particular offering is a sonic fusion of spiraling noise heavily anchored by incredibly infectious Americana melodies, with truthful accompanying words and delivered with a Springsteen-esque passion. The album emits a dark, beautiful, and mysterious atmosphere so when you close your eyes while listening to it you see something similar to one of those Hubble Telescope deep space images on the insides of your eyelids. Like those Hubble pictures, I hope this album is just the start of many cerebral images beamed back to us earthlings from the depth of Ben’s consciousness!
Interview by J Castro
Hopefully this isn’t starting things off too heavy, but can you tell me who you feel is the single most important musical influence in your life?
BEN: Eeshh, that’s a loaded question. It has honestly changed over the years I can’t narrow it down to one. It’s the songs that make you feel so alive you wish you could tattoo them to your brain or heart. That feeling alone makes me want to create music always.
From reading your bio, you have been involved with punk rock for a really long time, since you were in 7th grade I believe. Can you recall who introduced you to this type of music and where you were at the time?
BEN: I feel I lucked out at an early age. While taking the school bus our driver let the older kids listen to their cassettes through the stereo. This exposed me to Green Day, Nirvana, Beastie Boys and the Offspring in grade one. An older girl made me a tape of all the Green Day albums and I listened to that nonstop. It was in rotation with the Weird Al and the Simpsons tapes I also had.I didn't really understand what punk was at the time, I was just a brat who didn't fit in with the other kids but wanted to make music that at the time I thought was called “extreme.” Later in life seeing one of my cousins wearing an Exploited shirt and seeing the bright colored spiky hair and studded kids in the city seemed so cool to me. I didn't know how to use the internet that well and for the most part I lived in the country, so when I would go to shows in the city I would look at shirts and patches and slowly learn about what was to shape my life.
Like I said before you have been involved in musical groups for a good part of your life now, what led you to the decision to go solo?
BEN: I really enjoy performing and when I started playing solo it opened up the venues and locations I could play. Places you couldn't normally cram a band into. I also wanted to write a wider variety of music that I couldn't in a specific band. I didn't want to be tied to just punk, hardcore, pop, noise, folk etc. It wasn't something I intended to go as far as it did but I had a lot of great support and I feel I can stop and start it when I need to.
What sorts of things influence your song lyrics? Are there any subjects you purposefully try to stay away from, if so why?
BEN: I personally try and stay away from writing political lyrics, it’s not who I am and I’d just write a failing essay. I would write a lot about girls growing up until my roommates told me not to write anymore love songs. What else is there to write about? I guess I started writing about life experiences and trying to slip in odd inside jokes that perhaps only I would ever know about. For a couple of years I battled depression and drug abuse and that seems to be a common thread throughout most of my songs. I try and write about what I’m feeling, about a certain moment that stood out to me. Often I find I don't write lyrics to songs but as I sing, they form and then I know what the song is about. It’s not for some time that it’s put on paper.
Your new album, See You Next Spring, came out in the latter part of 2014, was mastered by Mathew Melton (of Warm Soda fame) at his Fuzz City studios. How did you hook up with him?
BEN: We played a festival in Calgary called Sled Island a few years ago. Warm Soda was one of the bands I was really excited to see but the festival got flooded out and cancelled. A lot of bands headed to Edmonton to play a dryer city. Warm Soda was one of the bands that was on the Edmonton bill but they didn't make it. I was really into the sound they had captured and emailed them asking who they recorded with and who masters their stuff. Matthew got back to me right away and said he did it and could help me out. We got him to do the Close My Eyes 7 inch that we put out on Crude City Records. I was very happy working with him so we got him to master the See You Next Spring LP right away. I’d highly recommend him and look forward to working with him again soon.
And speaking of your new album, one of my favorite songs on it is “Can’t Hear the Tiger”. Can you tell me a bit about that song, like what influenced the lyrics or if you remember where you were when you wrote it?
BEN: As for “Can’t Hear the Tiger” most of the See You Next Spring album was written in my old van. I’d drive around the country or mountains with my guitar and small cassette recorder demoing songs and getting drunk alone spending the night in the back of this red velvet beat up van. I remember I was listening to a lot of Tom Petty while driving around. The lyrics though, came to me in the flooded basement I was living in. A few records got damaged along with some books and all my old show posters got stuck together. I was living with my significant other at the time and things where tense. That song’s about wanting to get out of the many situations I found myself in that night. We both wanted to leave but the water kept us there. She wrote in the flooded kitchen and I wrote the lyrics on the bed that was my island off the molding carpet. Long story short, it’s stating that nothing will ever be solved if you don’t let each other talk. You can’t hear the tiger if you got the cat by the tongue.
BEN: Perhaps because I was playing shows at a young age I found myself star struck all the time. I remember seeing the New Town Animals and to this day I believe they’re what a perfect band would be: tight, quick, catchy and fully entertaining.
I was always motivated by the Wednesday Night Heroes for the same reason, how hard they worked and their stage show. I was very lucky to tour with them for months on end with other bands I really looked up to like the Casualties, A Global Threat and one of my all time favorite bands to this day The Briefs.
Like most of them I am now bitter and jaded. I keep thinking I wish I had someone to look to for guidance. Perhaps I should know everything by this point? I love playing baseball. I hate most sports, but baseball I feel is an out of body experience. You have to clear your mind and just absorb the breeze and focus on the ball and the play. It’s like being on stage to me. That being said Peter Perrett has the best singing voice and hooks and I think the Only Ones are a band I’ll adore till my years in the ground.
I always hear people say what wonderful life lessons the game of Golf can teach a person. What sorts of “life lessons” do you feel being in a band can teach a person?
BEN: These are great questions, wow umm; well I feel it’s a never ending lesson. Each show, practice, photo shoot, video shoot you learn more about yourself and how you want to portray yourself. Perhaps that’s me looking to deep into this but I do think each time it shapes you and you understand more what of your doing and how it really affects you.
I didn't think it was really teaching me anything over the years but looking back I can see how it has. Being in a band has taught me how to work and play with others. It taught me geography, how to drive properly on a highway and how to read a map (thanks to Brian), and how to make the most out of nothing. It has made me more confident and insecure more than anything else I have ever done.
Here’s a short list of simple life lessons: always have good grip on your shoes, stay away from broken bottles, bring toilet paper with you everywhere, don’t lend your keys out, always lock the door, change your strings and socks and underwear often and peanut butter sandwiches are not good when your hung over and dehydrated.
In your bio you describe your sound as “Street Pop.” I thought that was pretty interesting, I’ve never heard that before. It immediately conjured up Johnny Thunders and Stiv Bators solo stuff or more recent stuff like Jesse Malin or Brandy Row. Is that kind of what you had in mind or am I totally off the mark?
BEN: I’m not sure if I came up with “street pop” though I’d like to believe I did. Coming out of the street punk scene and wanting to write poppier music without just being a pop punk band, “street pop” seamed to make a lot of sense for a genre. Like Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe mixed with Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders. The Boys mixed with Sloan. It was just a wide open genre I felt and didn't want to be held down to one thing. I’d say your right on the mark.
What’s the single most valuable piece of advice your parents (or anyone for that matter) has ever given you?
BEN: I’ve gotten to meet and play with a lot of great punk icons over the years. I think the overall message and feeling that I got from them all was: be confident in yourself on and off stage.
What’s in the works in 2015 for Ben Disaster?
BEN: Right now we are doing a big local push for our new LP, See You Next Spring. We are on one of the main stream alternative rock radio stations as “band of the month” and we have a show coming up with No Problem, Slates and Power Buddies for that.
I’m excited about doing a breakfast television show if that works out for this event as well.
Outside of Edmonton we applied to a few festivals and are planning to tour out east and small tour out west this summer and fall. Just North America for now but I have Europe and Japan in my heart and hope to make that work one day soon. We have been busy writing and plan on getting into the studio in a few months to record another LP or a bunch of EP’s.
Links to promote: