By Willow Grier
CALGARY — Dub FX a.k.a. Benjamin Stanford works a bit like a wizard when he gets to the stage (whether that stage be a sidewalk, the top of a bus, a bar, or a giant arena or festival). Using minimal gear, but also a creative approach, Stanford brings musical worlds to life by relying solely on his own voice. He beatboxes to create a backing beat. He loops his own vocals to create harmonies and the illusion of instrumentation. And then he sings and raps over his creation. Altogether, the live performance comes together like some strange and mystic musical conjuring. This process has resulted in the former street performer gaining a legion of fans. Since his humble beginnings he has started to incorporate a backing band and other performers to his stage show, but he remains true to his DIY roots. BeatRoute caught up with Stanford in anticipation of his upcoming tour.
BeatRoute: Since your creative style is quite unique, how did you get your start and what has the evolution process been like up until now?
Benjamin Stanford: From the age of 17 I started singing in a heavy metal band, a reggae band, a hip-hop band and a jazz band. Then by 19 I was also singing over DJs in clubs and doing acoustic cover gigs. Basically I immersed myself in as many different sounds as possible. By the time I was 23 I had enough experience to hit the streets of Europe with all this inspiration. It took about a year to find my sound on the street and that was it. Since then I’ve been tweaking the sound to what it is today.
BR: In many of your songs you include messages about the human condition and the state of the world. Where do you find you draw most of your inspiration lyrically?
BS: That’s a good question… To be fair I don’t really know. I don’t listen to other lyricists much. It’s not the first thing my brain hears when listening to music. I find myself listening more to the groove than the message. I’ve been writing my own songs since I was 14, so lyrics always just came to me. They pop into my head while I come up with vocal melodies. I usually start with a melody that consists of vowels my brain naturally gravitates towards, then I find words that have those vowels. In fact the premise of the song comes from finding vowels that turn into words. Almost like the theme comes last.
BR: How important is collaboration to your overall process and what have some of your favourite examples been?
BS: Collaborations are super important when I hit a wall. Most of the time that doesn’t happen, but when it does it’s really good to have someone else there to push you in a new direction. this new album I just made is full of collaborations. Not necessarily from vocalists but with my band mates Evan Tweedie and Andy V, who helped me write the songs. I have no real music theory background but these guys are jazz musicians. It’s awesome letting them re-harmonize my boring chord progressions with slash chords and different ideas I wouldn’t be able to come up with. A good example of me creating something new from a collaboration is “No Rest For The Wicked.” That was something I would never have been able to come up with on my own!
BR: Social media updates place you in the recording studio lately. What’s on the horizon for you?
BS: My new album titled Thinking Clear will drop in August! I feel like this body of work truly represents me as an artist right now in this time of my life. There is all the usual beatboxing and socio-political themes but I have a three-piece horn section, percussion, bass and keys backing it all up. It sounds really live and raw but groovy and refined also. I can’t wait for it to drop!
BR: We are glad to be one of four Canadian tour dates for you, what’s your favourite part of touring? And the most frustrating part?
BS: This is my 10th year performing as Dub FX. I’ve seen over 40 countries and played to crowds ranging from one person to 300,000! This is what I do and what I’ll do until I can’t anymore. The best part is performing, and the worst part is getting sick on tour. Fingers crossed that won’t happen. I’ve found some really innovative ways to stay healthy on tour. I try not to party much on tour and just save my strength for the shows.
BR: In your travels have you ever met an artist who said that you were the reason they started making music? How did that affect you?
BS: To be honest I’ve met quite a few. Heaps of street performers, loopers, beatboxers, and singers. It’s really nice to hear. Obviously it’s not possible that I am the only reason they started. We all absorb so many different things from so many different inspiring stories all the time. So I take it with a grain of salt and don’t let it inflate my ego.
BR: What advice would you have for artists starting out today?
BS: Stay humble, work your ass off, play as many shows as you can, and don’t give up! Be realistic, be flexible with your abilities, and street perform, street perform, street perform!
BR: Do you have any pre-show rituals that you feel are essential to your process?
BS: I have to warm up my voice, and I do Chi Kung (Qigong) to centre myself and draw energy and inspiration. I don’t do any drugs or alcohol before I play unless I am doing an improvised performance. When I am with the band we do a little huddle and do what we call an “Amen Break” where I call upon the spirits and energy of the universe to give us energy and inspiration. It’s basically a non-religious prayer.
BR: Lastly, is there anything in particular you would like your listeners to know about you and what you are now working on?
BS: Apart from the new album and the new tour coming up, I’m still the same guy doing what I do best! Come get some good vibes and good music at one of my shows! I guarantee I’ll get you dancing, inspired or both!
Catch Dub FX Tuesday June 28th with Frase at Marquee Beer Market and Stage and watch for his new album Thinking Clear to drop August 26th.AB, Alberta, beatbox, Dub FX, Marquee Beer Market & Stage