Name: Ben Corrigan
Occupation: composer, producer, music podcast host (excuse the mess)
Current Release: excuse the mess Vol.1 & Vol.2 compilation albums on Hidden Notes Records.
Podcast Recommendations: Have You Heard George’s Podcast? / Futile Attempts (At Surviving Tomorrow)
If you enjoyed this interview with Ben Corrigan, please visit the excuse the mess podcast website to tune in and learn more.
When did you start talking about music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
The first thing that hit me real hard was hearing “Killing In The Name Of” at the end of The Matrix, I counted up my paper-round savings and bought a guitar that night. I was around 13 years old and that’s where it all began. I became obsessed with anything guitar based and technical, which led me down a metal path, Pantera, Lamb of God, Deftones (I still get a kick out of some of this music) but also those overtly shreddy things like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai or Dream Theatre (less of a kick from these), I was just compelled to practice, practice, practice and become a sound alike for all those players. Thankfully those narrow tastes evolved. I started renting CDs from the town library, discovering new things, Miles Davis, Radiohead, whatever they had. One of the most important influences on me was the people I met at music college in London who opened my eyes to so much music, often on labels like Warp and Ninja Tune, I fell in love with all that stuff.
As for talking about music, my earliest memories would be in my metal band back in Carlisle (North England), writing the music with Bob the drummer. My first compositions and collaborations, lots of chat about how to craft the most brutal breakdown. Coming to London, the conversations included a more eclectic pool of music and the chats had a bit more depth and breadth to them. I never thought I’d end up hosting a podcast and publicly platforming music conversations, I’m not a proper music journalist at all and if there wasn’t a built-in composing aspect to the podcast it wouldn’t exist.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
From that metalhead starting point to where I am now, I think in a subtle way some of that energy is still present in my writing style. It’s in my bones, I just use different tools of expression now. But much has happened between then and now, I studied composition for 4 years at Trinity Laban (music conservatoire in London), that really widened my musical tastes. I was exposed to more avant garde music and influential composers, past and present. The course gave opportunities to incorporate the sounds that were influencing me into experimental acoustic frameworks whilst also trying to blend in the newly acquired electronic sounds I was starting to play with. Some artists have such a distinct sound that can almost infect your tastes, and yes you first of all emulate but as it’s a melting pot it becomes just one ingredient to the whole. Jlin, Cristobal Tapia de Veer, Mica Levi, Actress are a few good examples.
I’m still working out what my ‘voice’ is, and to be honest I hope I never quite arrive there, where’s the fun in that?
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your work?
I’ve never put any thought into this relationship. I’m usually quite instinctive, scrambling around in the dirt, stumbling across things I like, at least when coming up with ideas. I suppose in a subconscious way that could easily relate to my identity, I just can’t put my finger on it but it’s taste-led so that must come from somewhere. I’m just keeping my ears out for sounds that really capture my attention, that I want to delve deeper into. The sounds I’m drawn to are often otherworldly, wildly synthetic or become so after manipulation so it’s hard to find that relationship to my sense of identity in there but maybe it relates more to my personality or perhaps the personality I wish I had? Who knows!
What were your main creative challenges when starting out with the podcast and how have they changed over time?
One of the main challenges and something that will always be a challenge is that I record about 8 hours of material (sometimes more) per episode; reducing that into a 1.5hour-ish podcast always feels like an insurmountable challenge when I first sit down and look at all those raw audio regions. The guests are always saying something interesting and I have to make a lot of brutal decisions about what stays in and what goes. It kills me! On top of that I need to make space for snippets of their music and when making the ‘music making’ section of the podcast I need to include just the right elements of writing/workshopping ideas to make it feel like the audience is experiencing us composing in quite a ‘live’ way, witnessing it slowly piecing together. I’m definitely more efficient with it but those editorial, pacing, shaping, narrative decisions will always have me scratching my head.
Weirdly the actual writing of the music with each guest isn’t challenging at all, they're all so talented and the format of the podcast means we follow three rules that focus our creativity.
How do you see the role of podcasting in the creative process? Should it amplify public taste, distinguish the good from the bad, inform, promote artists, or, as Howard Mandel put it, “illuminate, educate and entertain”?
I quite like that quote, that’s chiming with me. The beauty of a podcast is that you don’t have to get someone’s permission to do it, it’s a relatively cheap medium to get off the ground and if the idea is strong it will hopefully reach a growing audience through word of mouth (which seems to be how most people discover podcasts). So, in that sense it feels like a really democratic medium, it presents very few barriers - that was a bit of a tangent - I don’t think a podcast ‘should’ be anything, I believe they ‘can’ be anything. I think with podcasts there is something out there for all tastes no matter how niche.
Whom do you feel your obligation to – the artists, the listeners or the podcast?
I feel really obligated to the guest artists, often they’re my friends and always people I massively respect. I want them to be comfortable and conversational (snacks help) on the day and I want them to be pleased with the end result, both the interview and the piece of music we make together.
The listeners aren’t secondary though, I think if I get the above bit right then it gives the audience something a bit special, an artist they love being relaxed, open and being themselves. I want listeners to enjoy every second of each episode. That's why I spend about 6 solid days editing each episode! I want it to feel like a tight edit, but not rushing through, keep the conversational flow, and keep it engaging with a well-structured balance of chat-music-composing. One thing that bugs me about other podcasts is that some are so frikin quiet and I can’t hear them in the shower…so I spend a lot of time on the mix so I can’t be accused of the same crime.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives, writers and possibly even the artists you're interviewing or working with for a piece?
I love writing with all the guests on the podcast and I think the three rules we abide by help glue us together as collaborators. I haven’t had a single episode where it just didn’t work, there’s always something we’re into at the end of the day.
The rules are:
1. We can’t pre-plan anything.
2. We only have that day to make the track.
3. We can only use one instrument as a sound source, we can however manipulate the recordings electronically.
I’d recommend trying it with a friend!
I only work in this way on the podcast and each guest requires me to collaborate in slightly different ways.
One of my favourite things is the sound manipulation stuff, it can massively steer a piece of music in unexpected directions and as we experiment with things there is an energy there like we’re tomb raiders unearthing secret doors. Sometimes there’s nothing behind them, sometimes a booby trap, sometimes a golden monkey statue.