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Some interviews are so fun that they should be illegal.
Interviewing someone that you don’t know is always an interesting dance. You do your research and then just let it all unfold. Sometimes it ends up being all business and can wrap up in under ten minutes. Then there are interviews like Ben Fields.
After a 40 plus minute phone call, I felt like I knew the guy and my face hurt from laughing.
Every call starts the same, polite ‘hello’s and confirming that it is okay that I’m recording the call. Usually, this gets a bland, but helpful ‘sure’ and the interview begins. However with Fields, the conversation veered into the complexity of wiretapping laws.
“I guess if you wanted to go to federal prison there would be more fun ways to get there than recording conversations with musicians. If you are going to go to federal prison, you might as well have a Maserati for it.”
And that my friends, is how I knew this was going to a memorable conversation.
Fields grew up in upstate New York, but his family relocated to Australia when he was 15, only to have New York City call him back.
“There is a certain element of it that is kind of nuts – I moved 14,000 miles on a business card and a suggestion. The notion of uprooting my life and changing absolutely everything based on a ‘Hey, if you are ever in New York, look me up.’ It is completely bonkers. But sometimes, you just get a feeling about something – this is going to work, this is going to be great.”
“I met Seymour Stein in Perth Australia, where I was living, and he said, “If you are ever in New York, look me up.” And I said, “I’m going to New York City.” That was all there was to it.”
Fields calls it, “One of the most ballsy moves I’ve ever made.”
“That is definitely how I normally make decisions, but normally those decisions are like, ‘Should I eat Mexican or Chinese?’ and then I’m like “Let’s go with Mexican!’ You know? Those decisions are really great to make that way. But the decisions about should I totally and completely change my life on a wing and prayer. Those decisions… well in truth I will probably make those decisions that way as well. If it feels right, I just kind of do it. It is one of those things that I think a lot of artists understand how that works – because you get into this head space where following your intuitions is the basis of what you are doing. So that is what I do – it was nuts.”
Fields attended a music school, first for contemporary vocals and then for composition. But upon school’s completion, he found himself feeling uninspired and jaded. He is quick to say that he did walk away with a lot of helpful knowledge, but that it “wasn’t the way I should have learned music.”
After a five year hiatus from music Fields had a moment of clarity. “For lack of a better term, I snapped. I had that moment where it was like, ‘You are wasting your life. You are actually wasting your life.’ I changed it completely. I started writing again. I started playing again.”
When I asked Fields what genre he preferred to be labeled under, I didn’t expect this answer. You can find a few of his songs floating around the web -including the video below – all showcasing his neo-jazz voice. He has one of those smooth, intricate voices that instantly makes you slow down and take notice… but his answer?
“Black metal. I’m trying to go straight for the throat. People think my music is all about the heart strings, but if you listen to the subtleties, there is definitely the undercurrent of typical Norwegian ulta-black metal. If I was going to put a label on it – Norwegian ultra-black metal.”
So if you happen to run across a jazz singer in corpse paint – you just might have run into Ben Fields.
I asked him about his writing process – and got one of the most in depth, honest answers I’ve ever had on the topic.
“My process – I have a little shed in my backyard in Brooklyn and I got out there – sit down with my guitar and start to write. Most days, I emerge looking like I’ve had the shit beat out of my by one of those Norwegian black metal guys, with nothing or with something that I can’t wrap my head around.
I think the thing for me, it is a systematic persistence. I go there and I write, and then I usually when I’m done – it is like that is a waste of time, what a horrible song. Then I will come back to it in like six months, with this new thing and I’ll realize again and again that there is something I found that day – something that I should have followed. Once that original creative process kind of runs dry, I need a lot of separation from that idea. I guess my process is kind of like making small batch whiskey. I make it. Leave it for a long time. And then I come back to it.
Usually when I come back to it – it has somehow matured or I can hear something in it that I couldn’t hear when I first did.
It is too hard for me – I think when I am working I have this thing – there are a lot of creatives who feel it is something given by God. Which is kind of how it feels. You sit down and don’t have a particular idea and then something emerges – and it is not what you expected generally. So you get this little gift that you have to do the craft part. And that is part I don’t really enjoy. I enjoy it kind of arriving as I think most songwriters do – you love the ones that kind of flop out and you are done. But there is this other part – and this is craft part – I think some songwriters focus so heavily on craft that they overlook that moment of divine inspiration. For me, the problem generally is that the moment of divine inspiration is so good – and then I will like write a chorus to it that isn’t as good. So I always know that I am playing second fiddle to that inspiration – to that moment.
I’m just trying to do the best I can – while some other force gives me the other stuff and I have to fill in the blanks. And the blanks are what I struggle with.”
Fields is releasing his debut album a little later this year.
Learn more about Ben Fields at http://iambenfields.com/.
enlightening re the creative process. Most arresting interview.
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