Beshken is the project of New York based musician and producer Ben Shirken. Following the release of his latest album ‘Aisle of Palm’ on his own record label 29 Speedway, Shirken spoke to Grace Allen about stoner audiences, bridging the gap between artistry and industry and the importance of ‘photographic’ field recordings within his music.
Your first single came out in 2015. Does ‘Aisle of Palm’ break or continue on from previous Beshken releases?
It’s definitely a break from my previous music. I’ve always seen Beshken as an extension of myself rather than as a completely separate entity. In that sense, consistency from one release to another has never been the main goal. I’d like for every project to showcase a different side of myself, while still maintaining a certain authenticity.
You play Jazz guitar, DJ, sing and self-produce all your music and have previously called the music you make ‘Acoustic Electronica’. Is being multidisciplinary and genre-spanning a conscious decision or does it come naturally?
I like to do what excites me. If I become interested in a certain concept or style, I would rather lean into it than never explore it for the sake of consistency. Though I would consider myself an electronic-forward artist, I like to combine elements from various musical styles because I listen to so many different genres. I’m not really that much of a purist. Certain things come naturally to me only because I’ve been practicing them forever, like producing, playing guitar, and djing. On the other hand, singing and writing lyrics are skills I’ve had to work really hard at because I never saw myself as a vocalist. I’m definitely always pushing myself to try things I’m terrible at.
You have surrounded yourself with artists such as Men I Trust, Gus Dapperton and Crumb who have more of a band set-up than yourself but you have similarly shared bills with more electronic acts such as Macintosh Plus, Photay, XXYXX, and Suicideyear. Do you ever feel that you are the only artist of your cross-genre style within these communities? Does this make things easier or more challenging?
The live setup is always evolving. I’ve played at d.i.y. house shows, clubs, on rooftops, and in big and intimate venues. I’ve never felt attached to a specific genre or even a way of performing. I used to play with a bass player and now I play with a synth-god (Jose Benjamin Escobar). This sense of versatility can make things easier because it opens up a lot more opportunities. On the other hand, people are always asking me who I am, or what kind of music I make, to which I don’t always have a perfect answer. It can make it hard to feel part of a community or movement. I think what makes me different from other artists who might be similar is that I choose to do everything under one name. I would never put a single sonic brand ahead of my own creative pursuits.
You have changed environments from the East and West Coasts to Europe. Is there a constancy that you seek in order to work within these places or do you find the change of scenery is more conducive for your creative process?
A big reason why I got into music was to tour, and I’ve always wanted traveling to be a big part of my life. Living in new places and picking up on different cultures and languages has always inspired my music and I’m the most creative in new environments. I get really bored staying in the same place for too long. Some consistency is definitely nice, but at this point in my life I’m quite happy to bounce around and meet new people.
Your live shows incorporate projections and your intricate cover art (by Jesse Fillingham) and music videos are stunning. How important is the visual identity of Beshken to the project as a whole?
Very. Important. One of my favorite things about making music is collaborating with artists who work in other mediums. The creative language is universal, and the key to making great art is collaboration. I’m not a visual artist myself but have a good sense of how I want to convey my music visually.
Each track feels very different yet the album is very cohesive. Is there a pattern in your song-writing method or do the tracks come about separately?
I wrote all of the songs in about a year. I had some strong emotions and anxieties that I wanted to convey with the music, and I think that this feeling is what ties all of the songs together despite their differences. I wrote all of the tracks separately, but with a very specific concept and aesthetic in mind. The record also sounds like the color “purple” to me.
You’ve credited your experiences with sleep paralysis and transitional states such as moving to Berlin as playing a role in the creation of the mood of the record. Would you say that feelings of otherness or discomfort are important in your creativity?
For this record, yes. I wanted to create a body of work that stood on its own and who’s influences were unclear. Writing about my own discomforts and feelings of alienation helped me to reckon with the complicated emotions that I was experiencing. On the other hand, I don’t consciously put myself into uncomfortable situations just so that I can be creative. It kind of happens naturally, and that’s because there is probably something very wrong with me :O.
You’ve played in New York, L.A, Austin, Montreal, and across the USA. How, if at all, do audiences respond differently to your music from place to place?
The people in LA are high. The people in New York are on cocaine. The people in Austin are drunk. The people in Montreal are French. They all act accordingly.
Have you found producing your own music more or less challenging than working on someone else’s?
Finishing a song for myself takes me about one hundred times as long as finishing someone else’s song. I’m a lot more of a perfectionist with my own music, and I guess that makes it more challenging. Although, I’m usually happier with the songs I make for myself, because I get to make all of the decisions. I’m a bit of a control freak. Working with other artists can diminish the judgemental, critical side of my brain.
Some of the sounds in the single ‘Cursed’ were recorded at the Cold War-era listening station of Teufelsberg, just outside of Berlin. What is the relevance of the location of field recordings within your music?
I’ve collected field recordings from all of my travels. I have sounds from Tokyo, Berlin, Rome, Israel, and my really clean kitchen. Recording a sound is like taking a photograph, it captures the moment and helps me to remember it later on. All of the songs on the new record have these manipulated recordings in them. I even recorded my vocals with a Zoom H5 field recorder because I think the quality is really unique.
You put out your album ‘Aisle of Palm’ on your own electronic label 29 Speedway. Has having your own label changed your perception of the music industry that you may have had when you were working as just an artist?
Starting a label has made me think more about creating a community. I recently started a music studio in New York under the same name and I’m going to start throwing 29 Speedway shows in the fall. It’s really all about creating an idea that other artists and creatives want to be a part of and contribute to. That’s truly how movements begin.
Today NYC producer Beshken has shared his track Cursed, remixed by Jackie Mendoza, listen here.
This week, he makes his first appearances in London playing a free show at The Waiting Room tonight and Visions Festival on Saturday - buy tickets for Visions Festival here.
In June, Beshken released his Debut Album, Aisle of Palm on his new label, 29 Speedway, listen here.
31 July - The Waiting Room
03 August - Visions Festival
courtesy BEN SHIRKEN
words GRACE ALLEN
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