Interview by Kristina Pejovski
What’s your AMMO?
Josh: It’ll have to be Mesita’s Out For Blood.
Tom: Meshell Ndegeocello
We think the tracks are fresh. What inspired Benin City?
Josh: Lots of music. Myself, Tom and Theo; we’re all music heads and we consume and geek over new and old stuff. Everyone had to come with his own original idea for the album and contribute to the production process so every song has a bit of all three of us in it. All three of us and Marc Pell the producer.
Tom: As a musician, I come from a jazz background but I listen to loads of electronic music too. Until we started writing this particular album I didn’t realize how much indie music Josh was in to and Theo’s drum and bass talents came in useful play too.
Where are you guys from, and how has your location influenced the music you produce?
Josh: We’re based in London. Tom is a Brixton boy, Theo is at the bottom south of the Northern line; Morden; and I’m on the opposite end in Highgate. All the ideas and a lot of the production was done in Tom’s house; made for some seriously early morning travelling. We spent six hours a day for close to a month of production and I think it helped us focus. It was something we hadn’t done before and we were on a deadline.
Tom: Not many people have heard the album yet but quite a few have said to me that our music sounds very “London”. There is so much amazing music being produced and performed in London right now so it’s hard not to feel inspired to join in.
How did you all meet?
Josh: I met Theo at a squat party. He was drumming [and] I was a poet. It made sense to stand in front of him and pontificate. And thankfully he didn’t stop playing and tell me to piss off. We got chatting afterward; mostly about what was the best hip hop album ever; and agreed to meet up and make more songs. One fruitful session later, we were both like ‘This is good but we need an arranger and horns; preferably one guy to do both.’ And Theo was like ‘I know just the guy.’ And boom.
What’s your creative process.
Josh: Like I said before, we are huge music nerds, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t pack all our inspirations into this project. So everyone had to come up with 20 songs they really liked. When that was done we combined them all into one collective Spotify playlist and whittled it down to ten songs, which we declared to be ‘The List.’ Any song idea, which did not fit into the list, was left behind. We also agreed that each of us would come up in a minimum of two songs each for the project. Once we had our favorites picked we drafted in Marc Pell (Micachu and the Shapes) and started production work, with the mantra that nothing was finished ‘til it was mastered and no suggestion was stupid, however stupid. Each of us challenged the other to more creative solutions while preventing us from going to far down any particular edge.
Tom: “The List” was a major part in us focusing our sound definitely. Sometimes the tunes started as a poem and other times an instrumental by Theo or myself; or Josh sings in my face like a crazy man and I write it down. We wrote the last EP in the rehearsal room by jamming things out and one of the album tracks “So You Say” came out like that.
What is your most proud musical accomplishment?
Josh: The song ‘Baby,’ to be honest. That was mine and Jon Cottle (*cough* Tom: and my horn lines), it was the moment I felt my ideas weren’t just interesting to me. The response it got gave me the confidence to start singing more. Theo’s would probably be People Will Say; he’s a drum n bass producer in his own right and I think bringing in that mindset into Benin City must’ve been a challenge.
Tom: I think I’m proud of the album in general and that we managed to finish it. It’s a real labor of love that record.
You have deep-seated roots in spoken word and poetry. Any life-changing novels you would recommend to our readers?
Josh: Life changing novels? Life of Pi by Yann Martell. Beloved by Toni Morrison. 1984 by George Orwell. Kill Your Friends by John Niven. Haunted by Chuk Pailaniuk. Lucifer by Mike Carey. Pride of Bagdad by Brian K Vaughn.
Fires in the Park raises the little hairs on the nape of my neck. What do you have to say about the LP in its entirety?
Josh: It’s good. It’s taken me a while to say that; it’s good. It’s us. It’s honest and it’s different and a bit of dick to finish. A lot of people didn’t expect us to make an album. I didn’t expect it, sometimes. I wake up some days and I’m like ‘I can’t believe we finished this.’ Not even got to our full vision of a twenty strong horn section or produced by an unholy matrimony of James Blake and Jamie XX; just finished something that I’m not ashamed to talk about. Other than that, glad you like it, I guess. I like people to make up their own minds.
Tom: I’m really flattered that people like it. I wanted to make a record that was different but that people still wanted to hear. I think we’ve achieved that. If you cherry pick things off there to listen to, you might be surprised at what you find but as an album, as a whole, I think it hangs together really nicely. It’s a massive milestone for us as a band and I’m so glad that we did it.
“Faithless” has a really well executed video. How did you concept this one? The water molecules.. Symbolic?
Josh: That is all Clouded Vision’s doing. I cannot take one iota of credit for the vid. They also did our “Baby” video.
Tom: Yeah, the guys at Clouded Vision did a great job there. It was basically filmed in our label boss’ shed which when you look at it is surprising. We actually filmed that video like a week after I fractured my elbow so I was trying to hide my discomfort throughout. Haha. Probably explains the “angry eyes” that pop up in the video a couple of times.
How do you generate beats? Do you dream them up, or are they a product of playing around?
Josh: Multiple ways. Tom is classically trained, so he will sit by the keyboard and write the thing out of thin air. I normally have an idea of what I want the song to sound like and then I make a playlist of songs that sound similar and listen to that until something comes to me. There are happy accidents in the album. There even a horn pattern that mimics a ring tone when Tom’s phone went off during a session. I have never seen Theo work.
Tom: For some of the beats I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, wrote it out and got Theo to play it for me. As a drummer I think Theo starts with a beat on the kit and build up from there. Marc chopped some of the tracks up a bit and they were remained that way. “So You Say” is a perfect example of that. Man, I love the beat on that tune!
If you weren’t making music, what would be you all be doing?
Josh: I’d be a writer.
Tom: I’ve been playing music since I was 11 years old so I can’t imagine anything else. I think I’m stuck here for life. No choice. No way out. Haha.
Where do you see the drum n’ bass/dubstep genre heading?
Josh: Dunno. I’m not at a vantage to even guesstimate. We’re in a weird, exciting place with music, at least underground.
Tom: I think it’s so hard to label a lot of electronic music. Labels like that can box things in or encourage people to write “genre” pieces that aim solely to meet expectation. Every time I hear something by Slugabed at the moment I’m surprised at where he’s taken it. I just don’t know what he’s going to do next. He’s a genius.
I’m a huge fan of the UK garage/dnb/electronic scene. It seems that the line of division across the sea is starting to dissolve, as UK producers are becoming more popular in the States. What are your thoughts on this?
Josh: Good, I guess. I’m rarely if ever concerned with the mainstream. Leftfield music has always, in my opinion, crossed seas and found audiences with people who love music. If more people from a previously maligned genre are earning a few quid, celebrate the hustle I say.
Tom: The UK is producing some fantastic music recently and I’m proud to see UK bands, producers and performers being recognized internationally. I think the Internet is a great way to discover new music from anywhere in the world and that has definitely helped.
Who or what you do credit to having spawned your success?
Josh: I dunno about success; we’re not anywhere yet. I do thank to a lot of people who saw in me a thing I did not for a long while see in myself. I don’t think the magazine has space for them all.
Tom: Haha, yeah it’s a bit early to be answering that question. Friends who come down to gigs and continue to support even though they’ve seen the set countless times. They’re invaluable. Thanks guys!
When you’re not invested in music making, what do you guys like to do?
Josh: Video games, movies, comics and music. My dad owned a video rental store. Tom likes to stop oncoming skate boarders with his body don’t you Tom?!
Tom: Haha, if you’re referring to my roller skating accident, yeah, that’s kept me busy for the last 6 weeks! I bought a bright orange sewing machine for my birthday and I’m going to start making my own clothes. I’m inspired by a friend who is a cutter on Saville Row. It’s my aim to make my own suits but more Brixton.
Playing any gigs in the states soon?
Josh: Plans are afoot. Meanwhile tell your promoters, pay our fare 😉
Tom: Yes please.
For more on Benin City click here.