Ben Meyers is a London-based American singer-songwriter and an alumnus of the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP), whose musical style is quite eclectic, but folk and Americana are the primal genres that dominate it. “Thunder” is Meyers’ latest release, which dropped on 30 April. Upon this occasion, I got the chance to have an interview with this talented singer-songwriter about his newest song and his solo project, and to have a little chat about music.
Aron: What is your very first memory of music having an impact on you?
Ben: Sure, I mean there’re a couple of moments that I would recall but maybe the most important one when I started to play an instrument. We were living in Madagascar at the time, my father is also a musician and had his crew of musicians, playing jam sessions, and we had a little studio full of musical gears, instruments and amps and all. And I remember there was one weekend when I was bored in the garden a little bit and watched some cartoons, and I was like “I wanna see that drum set downstairs and see what kind of noise that makes”. One of the guardians, who were staying at our property at the time… He was one of the drummers of the band, so I asked him if he could show me a little bit about how to play drums.
He was like “of course”, so I went downstairs, jumped on the chair, I’m super eager to learn, I had no idea what to do and he coached me for an hour to teach me how to play a simple rock beat. And then I stayed there to play the beat and variations of it for like five hours. That was the first time when I started learning about playing an instrument seriously, but I would mention the influence I got from my dad who plays the guitar a lot, and my relatives have got musical background as well. So it was really only a matter of time for me to take off with my musical journey.
Aron: Was that the specific moment when you realised you’d get into songwriting?
Ben: Songwriting was a later progression for me, when I started dealing with harmony and melody. With drums, I was just excited. It was just for catharsis, you know? It was a way of getting out energy and doing something constructive, making some noise that was really important for me as a kid, considering I was super energetic. And then, through that, I started to work with other musicians and doing all different band programmes and all that stuff. And that was the time when I started picking up the guitar and learning some songs and learning about song structures and realised that it was such a cool way to create music. That was around the time when I was 15 maybe.
Aron: Is there any message you’d like to deliver to your audience with your songs?
Ben: Hmm, that’s a good one! I mean that’s the heart of it, right? There’re so many incredibly talented musicians and songwriters out there. And we all learn how to develop a career with our brand, with marketing. But it’s actually really hard to look at it internally like “okay, man but what do you wanna say to people with all that stuff?”. I’ve been really lucky to grow up in a musical family, as I mentioned earlier. Since as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a strong connection with my folks, and the times when we got together and my dad, my uncle and my aunts started to play, the songs of their generation had an impact on me. And then when the time came, me and my cousins started to pick up the instruments and play the songs of our generation, which also influenced my songwriting. Whenever I write songs and work on new music, I always try to write something that actually feels good and has a sort of upbeat vibe with the intention of inviting people to be part of it in any way it’s possible.
Aron: I can definitely hear this upbeat vibe in “Thunder”. Man I think you’re on the right track!
Could you tell me a little about the background of your song “Thunder?
Ben: Sure. So after graduating at ICMP back in 2018, there was a period when I didn’t have a lot of materials and didn’t know what I really wanted to say. That was kind of tough and then “Thunder” was one of the songs, maybe the third one out of the flood gate, when I started writing songs again. I was inspired by a couple of different things, so I wrote it in early 2020, just broken up with my partner at the time. We were together for about five years and, you know, it was two weeks before Covid kicked in really bad and we started the lockdown.
So there were a lot of things coming to my head and, you know, I was going through a lot of challenges at the time, internally and externally as well. So I wanted to write a song that would accompany me to those places, but in a positive way. You know, to dig a little into the lyrics: “We’d go down to the river, we kinda get our hands dirty but we go with light in our candles”, which is in the chorus. But, you know, with a little bit of hope, with a little bit of energy. It meant to me finding my passion again in writing, but it was also about learning to be excited about my future even though the current moment was rather difficult.
Aron: Which came first? Lyrics, the guitar riff, or the vocal melody?
Ben: Generally, it depends. What I noticed so far is that I always kind of try to find certain moments during improvisation or in creative writing even though sometimes it’s unclear at the beginning what would come out of that. For example, in “Thunder” I recall realising the end of the chorus that felt like it would work well that way. I also find it interesting how new songs can reveal themselves for me when grabbing the earlier mentioned little nuances and patterns, melodies and harmonies, and seeing how things can come together.
In the case of “Thunder”, it began when I started to listen back to my demos and there was an idea with a cool, long intro, and I was like “okay but it’s got to come in with power, with some energetic drum beats.” That later became the intro of “Thunder” and after that intro, I came up with that line “down to the river” for the lyrics, with that offbeat stuff and the syncopated rhythm for the melody. And then the rest flowed from that.
Aron: Great, man! Its vibe reminded me of Nashville and its music scene in Tennessee, the mixture of folk, Americana but, also rockabilly and country music, all that kind of music that’s from Nashville, the Southern and Mid-Western states in America.
Ben: Thanks, man! I mean that’s where the heart of “Thunder” comes from, totally.
Aron: Is there any or was there any artist/songwriter who inspired you on your musical journey from those kinds of musical genres, like folk or Americana?
Ben: Well, particularly that is in regards with Nashville, I’ve always liked Johnny Cash. I think he is one of the best songwriters who ever, you know, graced this planet. And he had such a fantastic way of expressing his view on life and coining that sort of country music into a popular sense. I like that very much.
But when it comes to Americana and where my roots come from, you know, from The Grateful Dead or Bruce Springsteen, but I could also mention musicians and formations of the younger generations like The Lumineers, who were a major inspiration for my song “Thunder”. Or Ray Lamontagne who is one of the best songwriters ever, he’s got such a soulful voice
Aron: Did you work with others during the recording of “Thunder”?
Ben: Oh yeah sure. I couldn’t have done it without Ian Hansen, who has got his own sound recording place, called The Bookhouse studio. It is located in South Bermondsey South East London. He was the sound engineer and helped me with everything during the recording. He also works as a sound engineer at Resident Studios in north London. On drums, I also got help from Simon Treasure, who is a great session musician. All the stuff you can hear in “Thunder” was made by the three of us.
Aron: What are your plans regarding the future in a post-covid era?
Ben: Well, it’s kind of about going with the flow at the moment, but I’m also planning to get back to London and do as many gigs as possible. I wanna spend my next couple of years in the British capital, releasing new music at the same time, developing my career. But in time, I would also love to live later in Colorado Springs and become part of its music scene. So yeah, there are many things ahead that I wanna see and what I wanna do, let’s see what the future holds.