When you think music-wise about Benjamin Stanford aka Dub FX, you get transported into another world.
As an independent artist, his lyrics pinpoint his undeniable message the most: It's possible to love someone/ And not treat them in the way that you want/ It's possible to see your eyes/ Be the devil in disguise/ With another front-end. It's possible to change this world/ Revolutionize the boys and girls/ Its possible to educate the next generation/ That will rule the world someday.
His lifestyle is his hymn, his philosophy, and since he started his solo moniker in 2006, as a street performer using loop & effects pedals to create layers of sounds using only his voice, Benjamin has constantly developed and released music. With his sixth LP, Roots, dropping 31 of January, he has a portfolio of five studio LPs, two live albums and two personal remix albums.
We had a nice conversation about his upcoming album, his label, environmentalism, remix culture and the art of music.
I've created the solo alias and started Dub FX because it was easier, no questions asked, I get to choose all alone whatever I want to do. It was all up to me. I got tired of compromising, I would write a song like Love Someone, and my bandmates would not like it. When I started Dub FX, the song became pretty much my biggest hit, so that tells a lot about context and relationships.
It is never easy to keep everyone excited about a project, plus people grow up, have kids, may not like the genre after a while, some people hate touring. There are so many reasons and a lot of factors. I have been in so many bands and projects over the years, before Dub FX, but even after.
Well, it's just been a long evolution. The nature of what I do just happens to be easy to record. It is a set up consisting of a mic that goes into an effects pedal, and it goes into a loop station, that goes into a mixer, and then the mixer can go into a speaker or it can go into a computer and record. The only thing I amplify is my mouth, so I don't have to work the sound of drums, guitars, electric bass, etc. I just plug in my set-up into the mixer and then get the recording going. I have everything I need to pump out any kind of track.
In the music world, you cannot be completely independent, you need to be part of something. It can be a collective, a crew, a scene, a record label and because I was initially by myself, none to bounce off and work with, I came up with my record label and vision of a crew. It didn't even exist yet, and because I was always driving everywhere, the idea of a convoy came into my mind. From the start, it was going to be Convoy Unltd. presents Dub FX and that means you got a platform, a roof for all artists. If my wife puts something out it's going to be Convoy Unltd presents Sahida Upsara. We always need that extra umbrella that everyone can fall underneath.
People must focus on music as an art form, more than a product. That is one of the huge problems of the capitalist mentality. The younger generations do not understand the difference between the artwork and a product. Corporations and big labels have made those lines very blurry. We don't end up with anything that feels real anymore. We live in a strange situation, where you just cannot tell if artists are trying to sell you something or to teach you anything. The message is very weird today.
I work on my albums a lot while I'm traveling, while I'm on the road and touring, so all the songs for Roots are written maybe six months before recording. Some parts are written a year before, so you could say it was a mixed bag. My songs are written and recorded at the moment, in a one-day session. But then, it would take me three months to mix it down and finish the rest of all the sounds, just get all the bits and pieces together. Roughly, the whole 9 tracks LP took about a year. It's a process of three to four months of touring, and the same period at home and back on the road for six months, then relaxing and working in the home studio.
Roots is an organic natural project. Fire Every Day is a special song because I wrote that hook for a Dubstep track, back in 2010. The baseline was written for something else, even further, in 2007. These never got used properly, so I just thought of them to put together and a new song came out. The juxtaposition took me about a day, to write the beat and the first verse. On the next day, I wrote the second verse. I like that kind of moment and the energy it offers. All the songs on the Roots LP pretty much have floated out of me easily. This is one of those albums, where I didn't have to think too much.
The initial plan was to write a comic book and with each episode to write a song for it, 12 episodes, and then to have an album that follows the book's story. But somehow things turned out the other way around, the songs came first and the strips after. So each tune has a short story, a graphic novel. As opposed to a massive story incorporating a storyline of the album, you got nine short stories similarly related because of my lyrics.
Voyager Illustration is one of the artists involved in the project. His name is Christian Benavides, he is from Columbia and he did the front cover of the album, but also the front cover for each song/ chapter. I come up with the ideas and get the professionals to make them for me, as I have no skills when it comes to visual art. I know how to express what I picture, and explain it to the people so they can do their best work.
I wrote the hook Fire Every Day/ Burning My Way in 2010. So ten years ago, we had bush fires as well. The idea behind the song is not about the literal sense of a forest in flames or bush fires, but about society being on fire. We are all on fire, we don't even notice it, we just walk straight pass by all these invisible fires. Ironically, Australia was on fire while I released that song.
I and Gaudi have known each other for a very long time, we met on tour. We often ended up having something in a bar and we kept in contact constantly. Because he is Italian and I am Italian, we have fun speaking Italian broken English. Every time we meet, we discuss making music together and five years ago, he did a remix for me. It came out temporary with the Theory of Remix album, but that record is no longer out on the internet now. Hopefully, I can get Gaudi to do more dubby songs out of my originals as it happened with Fire Every Day. And who knows, it could come out as a first Dub FX dub LP. I honestly would love that, because it is a cool idea to make a dub soundtrack to an imaginary film.
We just started a fresh collaboration, not even a remix. We are working on that together, so let’s see what happens next.
I've done Everything is a Remix, and Theory of Remix that was available only for a while. I never did a version for Thinking Clear, my last LP. But I am doing remixes for this album, Roots. Remixes are always fun!
I send my tracks to different producers for remixes out of respect for their work and because I want to see their vision of my music. One other reason is that the music I write is not designed to be played by DJs on the dance floor. The tracks are intimate and are meant to be listened to in your car, home or on your iPod. Most DJs play dance music with a certain feel, and I give my tunes to people who can rework them to be played in a club as well. That is the whole idea. On Roots, I am doing a bunch of remixes myself and I imagine them with a more drum and bass feel.
I’ve been commissioned to do remixes for other artists too, Zion Train’s Versions album is a good example for the type of remixes I engineer.
For me, dub music is less of a genre and more of a philosophy. You can dub rock and roll, drum and bass, jungle, anything. I kind of like the idea of dub in all music. If a song is not dubby enough, it just doesn't click with me as it should. That's why I like drum and bass so much because there is a lot of space in it, rolling baselines, especially liquid drum and bass. I just love the space in music and these two genres are generous with it.
People say that the Bad Brains, who are doing some sort of dub metal, are the original junglists. They came up with those really fast rhythms and I've heard a lot of their stuff, it's inspiring!
Like a lot of great things, this whole trip and recording were a combination of luck and connections. Me and my wife, Sahida Apsara, wanted to go to Jamaica for our honeymoon. We went there and it so happens that I have a Hungarian activist-singer friend living there, his name is G Ras. We have a song together called Real Revolutionary, and he's been to Jamaica many times and he's very well connected there. He told me if I wanted to hook up doing some dubplates and videos with some Jamaican artists, he could help. He is also doing a documentary about the ital diet, a Jamaican recipe.
Everything fell into place easily, I was there for eleven days and I made ten videos during that time. It was intense!
We didn't film lots of the outtakes, we just concentrated on the songs themselves. Ras G's documentary is about veganism and the diet. He was making that at the same time with me making the dubplates. After my session, he would interview the artist for his documentary on veganism. Hopefully, it comes out soon.
I was there at the Reggae Soundsplash festival and I was just hanging out with all the crew. They were frequently asking me about the Jamaican dubplates, so I came up with the idea of doing some video sessions there too, and we just went for it.
The thing about me is that my set up on tour is simple and I can record dubplates whenever and wherever I like. I can just set it all up and I am ready, so if we have a camera, it can turn easily into a live session. I pretty much always carry my tiny studio with me. Later on, I can take those tracks, mix them in my home studio, make them sound a million dollars and then… boom.
Greta Thunberg is just inevitable! She is not the first person to come along thinking and talking the way she does. She's great and awesome, but if you look at it from a longer perspective, people have been saying that for years and years.
The problem is not that the world is missing environmentalists, we luckily have a lot of them, all these people have their priorities in mind with a healthy world and society. But the industry and the capitalist society, that we are all operating within, favors the opposite of good healthy living, it encourages consumption and ignorance. A big part of that message is completely incongruous to the importance of green living and the future of our planet. Even within the music industry, there are plenty of artists who could voice their opinions on these things. But the radio stations are never going to play them, so if that happens none will ever hear what they got to say.
I am an independent artist and have been doing this for so long that I can say whatever I want, and my audience will be listening to everything I have to say. The big difference is that my fans already believe in everything that I am saying. It's not like I am changing anyone's minds when I sing about it, but at least I am a confirmation of what they are feeling. People have been constantly reacting to my songs like that: "It's exactly how I feel!". That's my job I guess, to remind people they are on the right track. And hopefully, I am on the right track as well.
Well, living in a car is not a non-carbon emission lifestyle for starters. In the past, I was driving a Diesel car, because then it was thought it has a smaller impact, but now they've proved it pollutes more. Sure, you can tour by train and that is great, but the artists are not the ones who need to be doing that. It's the industry and the massive corporations, they are the ones that don't give a shit about the planet. Ask consumers, do we have a choice? Let me put it this way, we should not be able to choose non-green products. The blame shouldn't be on us! There should be laws that we can't even put our hands on awful stuff. The fault is within the producers that are manufacturing plastic bottles and bags, that are creating more pollution than us consuming them in the first place. If they wouldn't produce them in the first place, people would not use them.
And now, Massive Attack touring by train sounds like a publicity stunt. At the end of the day, they shouldn't have to worry about that. A band traveling and touring by bus isn't putting up that much pollution, compared to say the whole band traveling around in their cars individually. It defeats the purpose, it sounds like sending a message! It should be the mega-corporations, who have billions of dollars, they are the ones that need to sort their business out, more than anyone else on Earth.