Ben Stevenson channels future soul sounds for a better tomorrow

Ben Stevenson mines all manners of music genre for his latest release.

Ben Stevenson mines all manners of music genre for his latest release.

CALGARY — “When you work on something long enough,” says Ben Stevenson, over the phone from a temporarily quiet Edmonton band house, “you will find you have an endless pool of discovery to draw from. You’ll be able to appreciate awesomeness when you come upon it, and in doing so trust your own instincts.” While he may only be 35, Stevenson has been playing in bands for over a third of his life. He fronted his pop-punk band, Misdemeanour, at 14 while his parent’s drove the band to shows in and out of town as his bandmates had just turned 12. From there, Ben went on to form post-punks Our Mercury followed by the blue-eyed rock and soul of The Wondertones and finally, a move to the Big Smoke. After arrival, he explored both hip hop and electronic music and methods. The accumulation of these experiences has led to his newest record, Cara Cara.

The shift from punk rock to hip hop was both necessary and “where I had to start from square one, artistically” recalls Stevenson. “I had grown disillusioned with the process in rock bands and was drifting so when an opportunity to step into hip hop world happened, I took it.” Meeting a major label producer, he was temporarily seduced by the idea of scoring an American deal and began pitching both writing and beats as “in the world where those guys live, a beat can make you $30,000,” while drawing on his love of old school reggae, dancehall and early hip hop. The beat deal and producer never came to fruition but he credits the experience with changing his idea of song writing from “putting a mic in front of my guitar amp” and the realization he had strayed from why he made music.

Upon awakening he began on his current project, which features a combination of electronic beats alongside live instrumentation. Primarily recorded in the now-shuttered 6 Nassau Studio with engineer Steve Chahley (U.S. Girls, Slim Twig, Neko Case), a trip to a friend’s studio in Joshua Tree also aided with the record. “The concept I had was ‘Future ‘70s Sound’ as I have such a love and appreciation of ‘70s tones and textures but I didn’t want to limit myself to gear that only existed then. Joshua Tree was pretty wild in that it was dirt roads, hillbilly neighbours with hillbilly weed and old synths at my pal’s place whereas Steve has a deep record collection he listens to daily. He pushed me to up my game and the results were great.” Finally, California can take credit for the record’s title as a cara cara is a type of orange that is a state-specific speciality.

The upcoming Western Canadian tour will feature backing band Altameda and Stevenson selected them based on “how musical they are. I knew they’d be capable of taking on the material. While someone may want to make the exact same sounds as the record I feel that would come at the expense of the live show. I don’t want us to be one of those bands that goes through the motions.” So, after swimming through the deep pool, Ben Stevenson is ready to re-emerge. “I’ve spent the last couple years returning to what’s important to me artistically. That’s the record I just finished and it was no one’s job but mine to put it together.”

Ben Stevenson performs on October 9 at Yellowhead Brewery (Edmonton) as part of Up + Downtown Festival, October 12 at the Palomino (Calgary) and October 14 at the Biltmore Cabaret (Vancouver).

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