Last month, I met up with Ben Talmi in his studio tucked away amidst a dusty construction zone in Brooklyn. Unless you were from his hometown of Pittsfield, MA or caught his past Midwest and East Coast tour, chances are you haven't heard of his solo act. Well, you've been seriously missing out. The instrumental genius is working on releasing a new EP, scheduled for release this fall. It'll be one of its kind too, once you hear him, the anticipation for the new project will hurt. Ben's past project was an orchestral-pop group titled Art Decade where he was also the lead vocalist, but now he's on to solo things. That same orchestral pop has made it in his new self-titled project, with happy electro synths accompanying it. Below, check out What The Sound's recent interview with Ben Talmi!
What The Sound: "I Know It's True" was released in March. Will your full EP be released sometimes in the near future?
Ben Talmi: I only put out the one song “I Know It’s True”, and that will be on a full album titled My Art of Almost. That will come out this fall. I have it completed at the moment, although I’m sitting on it. I want to figure out the best way to put it out. So it really matters.
WTS: I think people really like the electro-pop feel of "I Know It's True", and I listened to your older stuff, like "Forget, But Not Forget" from 2008...
BT: That stuff is so embarrassing… I was 18, and hardly knew how to use ProTools, and I was really figuring out my own voice and how to use it all. I listen back to that stuff, and it’s just so embarrassing.
WTS: Was that during the same time as Art Decade?
BT: That’s when I was leaving high school, I made a record with Art Decade in my last year of high school and that lineup had kind of fallen apart so I made this little solo record which was an acoustic thing that I did right before I went to college, then in college, it kind of reformed Art Decade. It was kind of in this in-between stage of leaving my hometown and moving to Boston.
WTS: So, Art Decade broke up because all bands eventually break up, not because your friends were going seperate ways to colleges, or...?
BT: It was a crazy story. We were poached by very large artists, and we opened up for that artist, and they brought us into their studio and they were kind of blowing us up into giving us this large record deal, and that artist who was financing everything and making everything happen, died, tragically. After that happened, my two friends and I stopped, it was overwhelming. So, I decided I was going to go to college.
WTS: Were there any other projects other than Art Decade that you were a part of?
BT: Art Decade was something that I built in high school then continued in college. It wasn’t until last year when it really ended. Art Decade may not be over, some day I may pick it up again and do another record, but for now, I wanted to start fresh. Totally focused on making solo records.
WTS: Recently you went on tour with Nick Hakim. How did you get on that tour?
BT: Nick Hakim is a friend of mine and I know his whole band, and we went to school together. I was lucky enough for him to invite me on that tour. I went out and opened up acoustic. Which is something that I’ve never done. It was a nice challenge to go up kind of naked every night and do these songs totally raw. I really, really loved it.
WTS: How was touring with him?
BT: Nick is really on his way. Seeing him perform, people really connect with him. Next time, it very well may be an Alabama Shakes type story where we went and played at a small venue in Michigan, and 40-50 people were there, something like that. The next time, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nick was selling out much bigger venues.
WTS: Were there any favorite venues of yours where the crowd really engaged with your music?
BT: Crowds were really, really cool with me. They all were quiet and listened, and it’s very difficult as the opening act whether you’re a big rock band, or not, for people to care at all. But especially if you’re just opening up for only acoustic and being vulnerable up there, people are generally not interested. But people were really quiet and listened to the stories I was telling.
The coolest thing was this very intimate garage show that Sean Moeller from Daytrotter set up. The day before our Daytrotter session, he set up a show for us. We played in this garage with maybe 60 people and it was so cool playing in a packed garage to basically family and friends and people from the streets who showed up. Totally silent, I was 5 feet from the people just playing acoustic guitar and singing. It was great. Shoutout to Sean Moeller.
There were tons of good shows though, like The Drake Hotel in Toronto, that was really fun, a great draw too. DC was great, Nick is from DC, got the little 9:30 Club cupcakes.
WTS: Did you make it out to the West Coast on that tour?
BT: No, we made it out as far as Illinois. As far south as DC, as far north as Toronto.
WTS: Do you think you're going to keep the acoustic in future tours?
BT: No, I really want to do it with a band and do it full and really represent the record. Doing the acoustic tour was fun and it was really challenging to entertain people with just an acoustic guitar and your voice. People these days, especially, are used to these huge blown out productions with electronic music being so big and people playing to backing tracks, but I think when people see an artist who knows what they’re doing and is very well-rehearsed, and is able to really communicate something through acoustic guitar and voice, they’re able to really connect with that.
WTS: So right now, when you're recording and in the studio. It's just you. When you play with a band, who will those guys be?
BT: Well, I did a show recently with Cale Hawkins, he’s a really amazing multi-instrumentalist. He played in Art Decade and plays in a million other ones too. He’s a good friend of mine, plays keyboards and sings. Mike Thomas played with me last time. He is currently playing with Empress Of. Conor Rayne, is Kate Davis’ drummer, played with me. Joe Harrison, who’s Nick Hakim’s guitarist. I have a large pool of musician friends who I would love to play with and they’re all phenomenal. So, it will probably change from show to show. I may just go out with a string trio or quartet and one other instrumentalist like Cale.
WTS: Do you hope to tour with anyone in particular?
BT: David Bowie, The Beatles, Beethoven.
WTS: Who are your biggest influences? Songwriting? Instrumental?
BT: On the nitty gritty side, where it’s bands and artists that I grew up loving, it’s, Sufjan Stevens, Elliott Smith, and Jon Brion, and David Bowie was a huge one for me. I grew up listening to a lot of classical music, it was all around the house. My dad is a classical music nut, he’s a composer and studied music. He was never really a Beatles guy, or got into rock n’ roll growing up in the ‘70’s, but he has never ending knowledge of classical music. He definitely opened me up to that whole world, very early on.
WTS: What's your songwriting process like? It's just you... is it just you?
BT: After being in a band for so many years. Generally the songwriting process coming from sitting down and writing something, or jamming with my band and coming up with a song, that idea is completely boring to me at this point. Even the thought of getting in a practice room and starting from scratch on something with just raw instruments is totally unattractive to me at the moment because I have done it so much. For me, I’ll take a little bit of piano, record a little snippet and then chop it up and mess with it and turn it into something completely different or I’ll make a little loop on the Moog and turn it into something. I’m much more interested in coming up with concepts first and going from there and turning them into meaningful songs. At this point, millions of songs have been written and a million more will be written. Currently, where I’m at right now is synthesis and taking very organic, acoustic sounds and turning them into what people may not recognize as an acoustic organic sound. Like that track, “I Know It’s True”, is all real audio, there’s no MIDI or fake samples. But when people are listening, they’re always like ‘sweet, cool electronic pop dance track’ yeah, that’s cool, but it’s all real instruments, chopped up and flipped on it’s head. Where I’m coming from these days is very much finding concepts that interest me and chasing them down the road.
WTS: What instruments can you play?
BT: At Berklee, I studied guitar very heavily. So I was deeply into being very proficient at guitar. As soon as I left, I found that in the real world music scene that you weren’t necessarily shredding arpeggios all day long, using every single chord that you could possibly imagine. So I’m more gravitated to things I did not know, like synthesis, and modular synthesis, and a lot of string arranging, because I’m an orchestral kind of guy. I do a lot of orchestral arranging. Primarily guitar, piano, and heavy programming.
WTS: Who are four artists that you are listening to that you think WTS readers should know?
1. Nick Hakim, super talented, amazing guy.
2. Nils Frahm, a modern Brian Eno who uses piano amazingly.
3. Son Lux, the new album is great.
WTS: Do you have any aspirations and goals for the near future? Where do you hope to see your music take you?
BT: For me, the most important thing right now is to be respected. Someone listens to something I make and says that it’s a very serious piece of art and that they’re contributing something new to the global discussion of music, that is a big goal for me. It’s not about having a hit record that all of a sudden I can sell out an arena because that comes and goes. On the other hand, if you make a piece of music that lasts forever then people are making busts of you (like the one of Beethoven’s head in his studio), and you live forever.
With that being said, I want to tour this record, get it out, and have people here it. I want to get real reactions whether they’re good or not. I want to see what people really think of it.