Panning for gold amongst the streams of musical artists on offer can be a frustratingly unrewarding process…but luckily not always. Sometimes beneath the layers of grime and dirt you’ll spot a sweet golden glimmer. Such riches are revealed with Ben Mitchell, whose extraordinary talent has unlocked a rich vein of valuable musical gold.
With his debut album, ‘The Stars Can See’ released early in 2006, the Melbourne born singer-songwriter fluidly demonstrates his diversity of style, a wonderful blend of alt-country, folksy blues, and acoustic soul. While he has been compared to many artists, such as James Blunt, Ben Harper and Jeff Buckley, in reality such comparisons are unnecessary; Mitchell’s style is all his own.
‘We Win and We Lose Some’ is a soulful richly melodious song with honest, uplifting lyrics. Delivered with an edge of country, these lyrics are sung straight from the heart. Thankfully devoid of a complicated musical backing, Mitchell’s poetic voice is used to full effect as an instrument in its own right. ‘Superseeded’ has a slower, sweetly melancholic sound which highlights the powerful range of Mitchell’s voice. The raw sorrowful music perfectly complements the achingly beautiful lyrics which are delivered with real emotion.
Ben Mitchell is a music lover’s musician. His voice is sensitive and strong, which speaks truthfully, both from experience and from the heart. His music is like nothing you’ve heard before, and yet at the same time seems strangely familiar; connecting to your soul, like that is where it has always belonged. Gold has well and truly been struck.
Speaking with Ben this week he offered further insight into his musical processes and the path he followed to arrive at where he is today.
TS: Did you grow up in a musical household?
BM: Mum played the piano and would often ask me and my brother to sing along with her – and I was the one who seemed to hang around longer. Burt Bacharach songs and old show tunes which were pretty easy for her to play had a big influence on me when it comes to melody and structure of pop songs. The old three way stereo player (tape, cassette and record) was more of Dad’s domain. He liked Johnny Cash, Charlie Pride and Kenny Rogers. I used to deny those country influences but they seem to be coming out a bit more, at least in so much as I am a songwriter first and those guys had some great songs.
TS: Which of your songs means the most to you and why?
BM: I love them all. Maybe my CD’s title track, ‘The Stars Can See’ because it is simple with a bit of mystery and romance. I generally think the last song I’ve written is the best. I just did a Xmas song called ‘My Best Present Ever’ for an end of year industry party and before that was touring around the world performing ‘Love Is King’ which is a great song I am yet to record.
TS: Your lyrics and music have a very real sound, like they come straight from the heart. Are your own life experiences a major source of inspiration for your work?
BM: Definitely. They say ‘Write what you know’ and I don’t know what else you can honestly write. Everything we say and do is shaped by our experiences and the best you can hope to do is share that view sincerely.
TS: Your music conveys a wonderfully intimate sound, allowing you to achieve a real connection with listeners. Do you think this ability to connect has been an important part of your success?
BM: To me, music is all about connecting. If, as a singer and songwriter, I have been lucky enough to do create a sense of shared experience with anyone, anytime then I am fortunate to be doing what great music has always done for me.
TS: Did the path to releasing your first full-length album take longer than you expected?
BM: Yes, longer and more crooked. The long and winding road continues too. As a Japanese singer/songwriter friend of mine Masa (who sings in English and lives in London) said to me once – we are at least lucky to have found our passion. Not everyone knows what they love to do in life and even if it seems hard some times to be an independent artist, I feel very lucky.
TS: Who would be your dream artist to perform with and why?
BM: The few times I’ve watched other artists cover my songs have given me a special kind of high. I would love to see many more sing my songs. I can imagine Jimmy Barnes doing ‘Could Not Love You More’ or my friend Sally from English group Circle doing a version of ‘Photo’ (I should mention that to her). I guess it would be a massive thrill to perform along side Neil Finn. From Split Enz to Crowded House to his solo albums, he has been a consistently inspirational songwriter.
TS: How would you describe your music to other people?
BM: Melodic songs, deep in meaning and humour. A bit catchy – hopefully, so you can sing along and remember them forever.
TS: Does all the praise you’ve received add pressure to the creative process? Or is it more like sweet validation for all your hard work?
BM: Not everyone likes the same kind of Tea. When someone chooses my brand of Tea over all the others – even for just an instant, I am deeply gratified. The creative process is a joy. The only pressure is funding studio time!
TS: What is the next step for you? More recording, more touring, or a well earned rest?
BM: Playing Queenscliff Music Festival in a couple of weeks, promoting THE STARS CAN SEE a bit more and playing a few new songs which I will record over summer.
TS: Dog or cat person?
BM: As a Gemini, I can honestly say both. Dog’s and Cat’s are different but they probably can’t live without each other!