“It got more intense,” London-based musician Ben Khan begins, explaining why it’s been three years since his last EP, 2015’s ‘1000’. “Coming off the back of ‘1,000’, I just took a step back and was like, let me just recalibrate and see what I want to do.
“I wasn’t really feeling the direction it was headed in, so I just stopped and kind of restarted…. whether it’s coming from the industry or people close to you trying to direct your head in a certain space, it just felt a bit like I was getting pulled in a direction rather than deciding to go somewhere.”
Retaining control over his creations - in his own space and time - has always been an important aspect of making music. “I understand it - people are running businesses at the end of the day; ‘If I’m going to support this, I want to see what your 18-month plan is’.
“But it’s like, ‘18 month plan, go fuck yourself!’ I get it from one perspective, but I just had to step back...” More than deadlines, it’s about “incentives; if people’s incentives are messed up, then you’ll end up in a place you don’t want to be.”
The result of being “embraced by certain people over a short period that I didn’t really think was going to happen” left Khan feeling like he owed them something. “I was like, nah man, if you like what I’m doing then you’ve just got to let me do it rather than ask me to do things. There are a couple of hoops that certain industry people ask you to jump through and I’m not really into that.”
That loss, somewhat, of artistic freedom, led him to take some time out, away from the industry. Stepping back allowed him to think about it and understand what he was trying to get out of music. “I think you need to have some idea of what you want from it - what’s going to make you happy out of it - which, for me, is just making something that I’m going to be happy with for however many years.”
Though he says “everyone gets bored with their work and moves on thinking it’s old to them now”, Ben approached his debut album with the mindset that he wanted to “make something I cared about - and hopefully be able to do it again. My version of success now is to just keep doing what I do and be proud of what I do. That’s kind of it…”
Produced by Khan alongside PJ Harvey collaborator Flood, mixed by Spike Stent (Björk, Frank Ocean) and mastered by Dave Cooley (J Dilla, M83) – his self-titled debut is an album of quiet, subtle aggression, using computer-driven sounds and organic noises he recorded whilst in Kashmir, the home of his father.
“I just walked around and took sounds on my daily rituals, and tried to put that in there somehow, so it felt like a journey through places.” With some songs having been written for a couple of years and others materialising in a few hours, he hopes the result – coming out on Dirty Hit - is a work of “magical realism.”
‘2000 Angels’, the album’s lead single, builds up through layers of industrial clattering, while the funk-laced riffs and beats of ‘Do It Right’ sound as though they’re being played underwater. ‘Monsoon Daydream’, meanwhile, has the sonic atmosphere of a video game.
“I think the point of an artist is to show people a different side of things, to take different perceptions of life and present them back to you,” he continues. “Hopefully, this album will take you out of your reality for a bit, and take it to the start of a fantasy place.”
Instead of having a number of reference points - “something that’s probably more normal for people to have when making their second album” – Khan’s music comes more naturally; as a result of whatever he’s been watching, listening to or doing with his time.
“The first album for a lot of people, or for me anyway, it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. That moment of making something that feels like a full piece and being able to put my name on it and feel like that’s a bit of me,” he says.
Something that did impact the creation of his debut, though, was the science-fiction films that would be playing in his studio: Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner, for example. “It’s one of my favourite genres,” he says.
“There’s something nice about having moving image for your lighting. I just turn the lights off and have the projector running. It puts me in a better headspace. You kind of leave the room a bit, and it feels like you’re not just in a studio. It feels a bit like you’re somewhere else...”
Rather than listening to other people’s music, Khan becomes “obsessed” with what he’s making, listening over and over again and trying to think about what it is he’s trying to do. Such an attention to detail means that when he leaves the studio, Khan switches off from music entirely. “The last thing I want to do when I get home is listen to music,” he considers. “I just want to sit down and chill, maybe read a book or something, watch TV... just wind down really.”
Away from making music, Ben spends his time hanging out with mates, drinking beer, watching movies and reading every now and again - “things that hit me”, he confirms; the room where he lives looks “pretty simple” with a decent vinyl collection and some nice books. Then there’s his studio equipment; synths and guitar mainly. “That’s how I keep busy, to be honest. I like doing that.”
Instead of trying to elicit a certain feeling from people who listen to the album, it’s more of a personal thing for Khan. “I do it to make myself happy, and if other people can enjoy it, in any way, I really don’t care as long as they are actually enjoying something there. I’d like them to feel that they can take something from it,” he summarises.
As an extension to the album, he’s created The Foundation - a futuristic, interactive website inspired by the Isaac Asimov sci-fi book series. “I wanted to build something for more ideas; it’s just a fun platform. I’ve always been into creative technology of the future, and I want to build into that and have an outlet to experiment a bit more,” he explains.
It’s a platform that’s not often used by artists, which Ben – who plans to play some “special shows” instead of going on a traditional tour – is quite surprised about. “I feel like in the industry it’s quite restrictive in terms of what musicians can do; your platforms are Spotify and YouTube, right? That feels like kind of it: release a song and make a music video, which is fun and I like that, but it just feels like there’s a lot more that could be done and there’s a lot more that could be experimented with and played with,” he continues, clearly passionate about how future technology can and should be utilised.
“I like artists that push it out a bit and see how you can bend it. It’s kind of crazy to me that there aren’t many people doing it because you’re in an industry which allows you to do that. People will back those with interesting ideas in this industry, and most people don’t have that luxury; they just have to play it by the book... I guess we’ll see how it goes for me,” he laughs. “It might flop, and that’ll explain why no-one does it.”
Taken from the August issue of Dork. Order a copy below. Ben Khan’s self-titled debut album is out 10th August.
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