I knew nothing about this before I got sent an invite to interview BEN LEVIN GROUP. ©2015 Anders Ekdahl
As you are not that known to me a short introduction might be in order.
-Hi my name is Ben, nice to meet you. I like making music and I hope you like doing what you do too. I’m in Secret Dog Brigade which is a collective of 5 bands that write and record together. I also write film scores and teach music on the internet. In this interview I am going to be talking about my latest album by my ensemble Ben Levin Group. The album is called Freak Machine and it is a 35 minute piece about a man’s experience as a bullet goes through his brain.
Was it hard for you to come up with a sound this time around that you all could agree on?
-Ben Levin Group doesn’t really “come up with a sound.” I write a piece of music, everyone learns it, and then we improve it and each musician adds his or her own flavor to their parts. Some things get removed when they don’t work and sometimes new parts get added. Everyone works together really well. Then, after we have learned and perfected the piece, we record it and our producer, Vince Welch, helps us translate the feeling of the music to recording.
How much of a in out does a producer have in what sound the recording ends up with? How much of a battle is there between producer/composer?
-Vince, the producer, is one of my oldest friends and he has a deep understanding of what my music is about. In fact, he has made my music much better every time I’ve worked with him.
I listen to everything he says very carefully because I love his brain. We have tremendous mutual respect and work like a partnership when we are making albums. He plays a huge role and we never fight about anything. We just talk and listen until we both figure out what we want.
How important are the lyrics to you? What kind of topics do you deal with?
-If I choose to include lyrics in a piece of music, then they are incredibly important. I don’t always use lyrics because I like the ambiguity of instrumental music. But, I also love the direct connection afforded by lyrics, so I write both instrumentals and songs.
In my lyrics I write about death, love, growing up, family, vulnerability, ambition, memories, dreams, basically anything that I feel or imagine is fair game.
How important is the cover art work for you? How much do you decide in choosing art work?
-Cover art is incredibly important because it is often the listeners first introduction to the music. It sets an expectation of what the album might sound like, and then the listener’s experience is influenced by comparing that expectation to the actual sound. I always have this fantastic artist named Greg Bowen do all the album art for Ben Levin Group because he understands the music very well. I played in a band with him when we were in high school and we’ve been collaborating for a very long time.
Where outside of your country have you had success with your previous recordings? How weird is it that there are people all over the world listening to your music?
-I have had most of my success on Youtube so someone from pretty much every country has heard my music or seen my guitar lessons. It’s not weird at all to be heard all over the world, that’s one of the things I want. It would be more weird if I put in all this work and nobody heard us. I would like more people to hear us of course, and it certainly wouldn’t be weird if more people did.
Do you feel that it is hard to attract attention outside of your genre? Do people gave biased opinions on what it is that you are really playing?
-I don’t think of my music as part of a genre. I know that’s kind of a cliche thing to say, but it’s definitely how I feel. People tend to compare me to Frank Zappa a little too much. I think Zappa was an incredible musical and social revolutionary. I am grateful to him. However, I only have two of his albums and haven’t listened to him a ton, so when people think he’s one of my biggest influences, it’s a little confusing.
What is your local scene like? What status does your band have in the national/international scene?
-The local scene here in Boston is pretty nice! People are supportive and collaborate. When we play a lot of shows with a band, we almost always become good pals. Ben Levin Group is fairly under the radar because we don’t tour a lot. That’s mostly because my other band Bent Knee is constantly touring and I feel satisfied by that experience. I like to focus on composing and recording often with Ben Levin Group, rather than touring all the time and butting heads with myself in Bent Knee.
Is being a musician a respectable choice? Have people’s minds come out if the gutter of sex, drugs and r’n’r?
-I think this question is ridiculous. There are many respectable careers, and I’d say that a decision to spend your life making music is absolutely one of them. Don’t you like music? How would you see concerts or listen to albums if people weren’t out there working their butts off to make them? The world benefits greatly from the work of musicians so of course it’s respectable to be one. The “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” bullshit only applies to a tiny fraction of musicians and it has more to do with the entertainment industry than having a music career. Great music takes a ton of effort to make, provides comfort to billions of people, and has been a part of humanity since we were still in the caves. So yes I think it is a respectable choice.
What does the future hold for you?
-My plan is to release a 2-hour Ben Levin Group piece called Foreverman in the next year and my other bands in Secret Dog Brigade will all be releasing albums and touring as well. I’m scoring a movie called “Gold Star,” releasing a ton of instructional content on Youtube, and am releasing a virtual musical-visual experience for Mac and PC.