Ben Abraham powered straight to number 1 in Australia’s alternative chart when he self-released his Cinematic-Folk album Sirens. Now, he has signed to Secretly Canadian and Sirens will be released globally on June 17th. Ben took a moment to describe what Cinematic Folk means to him, and what lies on the road ahead.
First off, congratulations on being signed to Secretly Canadian and having your album released worldwide! With the internet being such a large channel to distribute music it can be easy to dismiss how hard it is to break out of a specific region. How does it feel to make the jump off the island?
The years I was doing this before Secretly came along, were largely spent putting content out through social media, so I had always felt like the music was getting beyond the coastline. But I will say the new experience is actually getting off the island myself and getting to play to these audiences that I had only imagined were out there but could never be sure. I can’t begin to explain how amazing that feels.
I think with a label involved it just consolidates that relationship and means it’s much more likely to grow from here.
With that barrier having fallen, is there anywhere you’re particularly excited to build a following?
I truly want to build an audience everywhere! I love getting to know the personalities of different audiences and love to think that I could connect with people all over the world. American audiences tend to be very vocal and up for anything, British audiences I have found to be much more reserved but still engaged. One of my favourite shows I’ve ever played was to a beautiful room in Berlin with the Mahogany sessions. The crowd were so attentive and generous I wanted to get off stage and hug everyone in the room as a way to say thank you.
Obviously getting signed to Secretly Canadian is a huge accomplishment, but what was the last big moment for you prior to that?
I had actually released the album independently in Australia in the months before the signing (we then took it off all the platforms for the re-release).
Getting it out there myself felt like a huge achievement because the early days of my music career were such an uphill battle. From my first days of gigging I had very little industry interest and in fact in the final stages of the album being completed, everyone we sent it to (from labels to publicists and management) basically said “good work but no thanks”, and I got very used to closed doors.
The day the album went on iTunes in Australia it went to #1 on the Alternative Charts and it sat in the top 10 all week amongst some other pretty great albums from that year.
In the scheme of things, numbers and charts are pretty meaningless, but for me it was nice to see that we (me and some very patient and helpful friends of mine) had self-managed my work to that place.You’ve said before you’re heavily inspired by your film background and label your music as Cinematic Folk. How difficult is it to make those two art forms meet?
I think I’m still learning just how much those two things connect for me. Ultimately I suppose it’s the art of narrative that I’m drawn to and that has just been worked out in different fields over the course of my life.
For Sirens I think the connection was more subconscious. Though there are plenty of narrative devices employed in the writing, the idea of the work having a cinematic quality wasn’t really something I noticed until we reflected on the completed work.
As I start working on the next project I would say those tools and the cinematic approach are playing a much bigger role in the writing process. And it doesn’t feel difficult to combine the art forms because narrative sits at the centre.
The music video for You and Me is a hauntingly bizarre watch that doesn’t distract from the music itself. Did you already have a mental image of the end result going into that project? How did you decide on creating the balance between the visuals and the music?
Actually that clip was entirely the work of the directors Darcy Prendergast and Josh Thomas.
Normally I would try have a big hand in creating any content related to my work but for my first music video I wanted to entrust it to someone else. Darcy has a proven track record of really innovative music videos in Australia and I knew their production company (Oh Yeah Wow) would do something sensitive and thoughtful for the music.
I am really happy with how it turned out.
Can you see yourself ever flipping your dynamic of cinema-inspired-music and making the soundtrack to a film?
Absolutely. I don’t think I have the skill set yet – or at least I don’t yet know enough about the types of sounds that are available to me yet. The more musicians I work with, the more I realise there are so many ways to approach this art form and so many different ways to communicate an emotion through manipulating sound.
Give me a few years and I’d like to think I’ll know how to speak the language fluently enough to start telling other people’s stories through it.
You’ve mentioned in the past that you enjoyed the relaxed pace of making Sirens, with it naturally coming together over years from your experiences. Getting a record deal obviously presents a new challenge in having to work to a schedule. How do you feel about that change of pace? Do you already have a list of things waiting to be turned from memory into music?
I think I already have over half of the next record. Sirens ultimately ended up being a kind of PHD or something for me – like a coming-of-age work of which the conclusion was “I’m allowed to be in the room”.
Now that it’s done I feel like I’m a qualified artist, ready to start really exploring things. My next album is all about this stage of life I’m in but with the confidence of someone who has just had their qualifications certified. People are already noticing it in the writing.
I feel pretty energised to write.
Joining a label has presented you with a lot of new opportunities, are you concerned at all about that hampering your creative process?
It’s all still so new that I actually don’t know how it’s going to play out. I definitely feel confident that my label will allow me the space I need to create freely.
Having extra stakeholders is definitely something I think about. Like every song I write is potentially going to put my manager’s kid through college. That’s a weird pressure to have on your work and is certainly not something you think about as a 23 year old writing in your bedroom.
But I think I have a pretty good team around me who seem to understand what I need to give my best so hopefully it doesn’t get too complicated.
You tour with ukulele, guitar, piano and harmonium, which definitely gives you a lot of range sonically. Are there any other instruments you’d like to add to your repertoire for future use?
I honestly want to learn how to play everything. At home I have already amassed quite a collection of instruments (violin, cello, four ukuleles, three guitars, a pedal organ, two electric organs, electric piano, mandolin, harmonium, shruti box etc.).
Touring with a home-made orchestra is a bit tough but it’s amazing how much the tone of an instrument can add to the narrative of a song.
If you sing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” on a nylon string, steel string, or electric guitar, you’ll have three very different stories being told and I love that idea.
There are a few instruments I’m on the lookout for. I really want a hurdy-gurdy and a nyckelharpa.
Thanks for taking the time Ben, I hope Sirens gets the reception it deserves!