Ya Herd? #19: Benjamin Belinska

This edition of Ya Herd? is with Benjamin Belinska, who recently put out his fantastic debut album Lost Illusions.

How important was it to draw from your experiences and travels over the years, and how did they contribute to the storytelling on this album?

It wasn’t conscious. Only when putting a press release together with the writer Elodie Roy did a neat, ordered little story start to emerge. Once you begin cutting out the everyday, reality morphs into a dream. Here we have the dream. This is the case with all forms of recording. I can’t tell you if it’s important, because it’s just the sonic record of a floating life. It’s about as important as a leaf in the wind.  

It wasn’t the easiest road for you — first, you lost a suitcase in a train station containing your early recordings. Then, months later, you were jumped on the street in a random group assault. How did both of these unfortunate events help influence your decision to forge ahead and record this album?

You wake up a bit. We’re all guilty of sleepwalking. It was a premonition of death, a kind of warning – you’re going to die and nothing lasts forever, so do your work whilst you still can. It brought me closer to myself. Good and bad. 

On the track “Mirror Lake”, you sing:

”  All my life, all my life… 

  You say I’m drifting, like it’s a bad thing.  “

Meanwhile, you’ve also alluded to the time recovering from your assault as a realization that you were finally ready to “stop drifting once and for all” and record this album. Could you give us your thoughts about the notion of drifting, the nuance of the term and how you see your own drifting in a different light as you’ve grown older?

That’s almost right, but the sentiment is close enough. Hmm, there’s a lot of crap that pop culture tells us right from the start, and one of those pieces of crap is that non-conformity is not tolerated, in any form. Drifting is a part of that, in the sense that you’re not really choosing anything definite to pursue. Drifting in this sense is anti-limitation, it alludes to freedom, in a silly kind of way. I was also thinking about drifting in terms of derive – Guy Debord and the Situationists – as a way of absorption and observation – a passive, gentle kind of energy that can be taken back and imparted into something. 

Can you describe what the title of the record, Lost Illusions, means to you?

Having the emptiness to form new ones.

The album sounds fantastic– it’s warm, balanced, and has a very lush production quality to it. Where was it recorded, who contributed to the music and production, and what was the process like?

Why thank you. Although I think that’s mostly down to the sterling work of Giles Barrett and Simon Trought at Soup Studios in London. I played and recorded it myself in various bedrooms and then mixed it with Giles. Simon did the mastering. Perhaps the perceived lushness is also the result of the arrangements. I will say that the entire record was recorded with 2 microphones. One being a stereo zoom mic, and the other a rode vocal mic. Anything else was DIed. So, mostly Giles and Simon then.  

I feel a definite hint of folk-rock-Americana in your sound. I know you’re from Britain, but how much have you traveled within America? Do you listen to a lot of classic American folk/rock music?

I went to New York for 2 days, that’s all. I don’t listen to Americana. My parents were Johnny-come-lately hippies, so they must have blasted the Eagles or something whilst I was still in utero. But I adore Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. They’re both very, very big influences on my song-writing. I’ve only fairly recently listened to Tom Petty, after people told me we sound similar. He’s great too. I don’t have any American yearning, but neither do I feel British. All these boundaries are quite stifling, I find. I exposed myself to the classic thing when I was young, and I feel those writers are in me, so I don’t listen to it anymore. If anything it’s probably classical, 60s jazz and 90s electronic music.   

Who are some other musicians that have greatly influenced you?

Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Mendelssohn, and subconsciously probably Nobuo Uematsu and other Japanese video game composers. I realised the other day that this highly melodic music was probably some of the first I ever heard. I was exposed to it a lot, over a long period of time, thanks to my older brother. Most of those composers came from a jazz and classical background, so I’m drawn to it. In terms of conscious influence, it’s writers and painters like Hermann Hesse and Paul Klee. 

In terms of the record release, it’s available on cassette from the French label Hidden Bay Records, and you also have CDs from Kocliko in Spain. Not only that, but you’re including an 8-page booklet of original collages and poetry. Can you talk a bit about how the physical product came together?

I’m penpals with Francois Marry of Francois and the Atlas Mountains. I had been bugging him for years, and then one day he said ‘Why don’t you email Manon at Hidden Bay?’ She liked the record and asked Kocliko to do CDs. The booklet was her idea. I had a poem and some collages lying around that I made at the same time (I do a lot of design and painting when not musicking). So, there we are.

Lastly, what’s on the agenda for the spring/summer? What’s new and next for Benjamin Belinska?

I recently finished an album of classical music arranged for synthesizers. That’s being mixed and mastered as we speak. I’m also working on a digital art project/ video game, which will take some time, but is going swimmingly. It’s very pleasant to switch back and forth between the art, music and writing. It will also incorporate a novel music system around the circle of fifths, which makes me sound rather clever. I’ve also been prepping for the next album of songs, which will hopefully realise some of these trajectories in a condensed, poppy format – the sweet dream candy.  

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