Music, musings and more from the mind of Ben Averch.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ben Averch Featured Artist of the Month at WikiMusicGuide



Featured Artist of May | Ben Averch

His soul and love for his craft reflects on every music that he makes. Every song that he writes has a story to tell. He is Ben Averch, the “one man symphony of prog rock!” And we at the WikiMusicGuide are so honored to have him interviewed and featured as our artist of the month.

It all started when I first heard the Fortune Cookie’s carrier single, “The Hook”. I instantly became a fan of a man whose music has a definition that is beyond the strums of his guitar and beat of his drums. More than just the hymn, it’s the story of the song, “The Hook” that made me decide to listen to his music more.

But Ben Averch did not only give me a new music to listen to. He has also cheerfully accepted my invitation to have him interviewed and be featured on our blog. Indeed, it was a remarkable experience as he is the first musician to be personally interviewed by me.

Thank you again, Ben for the opportunity to know you and your music more...



1. Since when you started singing?

I started singing as a little boy, probably when I was 6 or 7. My older brother Mike and his best friend Dave and I tried to cover Rush songs like “The Trees” and “Working Man”. We loved those songs so much, and our expectations were that we should be able to reproduce them. It was always hard for me to listen back to our recordings since I was so young and wanted so much to sound like a full grown man!

When I was about 17 I started singing and playing guitar as a street musician in Harvard Square, Cambridge, which is where I really developed as a musician and a songwriter. I would put in very long days, really going full out to try to get an audience, and even when there was no one to play to. My goal was to bring big arena rock energy to the sidewalk, every single song. I look back to this period of time as being really pivotal in my growth as a musician.

2. You are called as “a one man symphony of prog rock” now, have you ever been a part of a group/band before? If yes, what band?

I was the singer/guitarist for a band called Bison back in Boston in the mid ‘90s. My brother Mike played guitar, my best friend from high school Matt Olken played bass, and we had a drummer named Doug Cabot. We were a very fast paced, up tempo hard rock band with a really intense rhythm section and lots of guitars all over the place. Bison was very dense, driving rock music with a lot going on – but at the same time we had a focus and coherence to what we were doing.

3. You can play almost all kinds of music instrument, what is you most favorite instrument? Why?

While I love playing each instrument, my favorite instrument to play is electric guitar, because for me it is the most expressive. With drums and bass, you’re really building the foundation of the song, so there’s a little more pressure to make each take perfect and have everything locked down tight. Guitar playing feels somewhat freer to me — there’s room to experiment and create different textures. Also, I love playing guitar solos since that can be so climactic — where the emotion of the song ultimately gets expressed.

4. You play rock music, what other music do you want to listen/play?

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Elliott Smith records. I’m not sure if he is considered rock as a lot of his stuff is more acoustic. In the singer/songwriter vein, I really enjoy Jackson Browne and his approach to songwriting. It’s very direct, vulnerable, and honest. I love the Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris record which is about as ‘country’ sounding as I go. I also really love all periods and styles of Miles Davis music. Beats Antique is a trippy Middle Eastern sounding dance band from Oakland that I like a lot. Swell Season is on the border of folk and rock and I like them a whole lot. American Music Club is not a rock band but more of a singer-songwriter with backing group and they have always been one of my favorites. I even covered their song “Western Sky” on the original version of my “Start at the Beginning” record. Joni Mitchell, I love her singing and songwriting too. Sarah McLachlan is amazing. Michael Hedges was a real pioneering acoustic guitar player who had a huge influence on me (and an even bigger influence on my older brother Mike) in terms of discovering altered tunings, and different, more percussive ways to play guitar. These artists, and a whole lot of rock bands are what I enjoy listening to primarily.

As far as other non-rock genres that I play, it probably goes to the folk side of things, with some of the influences I mentioned, and I have dabbled a little bit in more “electronic” sounding songs with some pretty heavy loops. Putting huge guitars on these electronic songs brings them into the rock sphere for sure.

5. You are the musician, writer and producer of your songs, what/who is your inspiration?

The inspiration for my music comes from life. There are struggles and also beautiful moments as you go through things and grow and get to a place where you hopefully feel stronger and more together. If there’s an emotion that’s really intense or there’s some aspect of a life event that stays with me, it’s usually a sign to me that there’s a song that needs to get written. So, I try to keep my antenna up for both feelings and situations that are poignant or otherwise important. I try to express both the really hard things that a person goes through, and also the really beautiful and transcendent things. Life is a process of growth and discovery and I look at songwriting as both a way to chronicle some of the experiences and imaginings of life as well as a way to discover things through the process of creativity.

Listening back to a song that I’ve been working on, before anyone else has heard it, is probably the most exciting and rewarding thing. I’m always excited to share my songs with people but those moments beforehand, it’s still totally personal and full of potential.

6. What were you thinking when you create your albums? Do your songs have a theme per album?

Each song has its own story that it’s trying to tell. When the songs are collected in sequence in an album, a theme for each album does seem to emerge. The “Washington State” record is about starting to discover spiritual awareness and the experience of nature as a way to resonate and connect. “Start at the Beginning” explores a lot of the (self) destructive ways strong ego manifests in relationships. And “Fortune Cookie” is maybe about reconciliation between that spiritual awareness and strong ego, and recognizing the need to bring depth and presence into personal relationships to create real love. Basically, “Fortune Cookie” is about trying to figure out how to leave behind that more ego-driven nature and aspiring and working to become a more genuine loving person.

7. Could you briefly describe how you make your music? What comes first, the lyrics or the hymn?

Often (usually when I’m driving) I will get a single line or two lines of a song lyric that will just pop into my mind from somewhere. And usually somewhere in those lines is the kernel of an entire song. I’ll try to see if I can let those lines lead me to another few lines and see if there’s something unfolding, like a story that wants to be told.

When I have a few lines together, I’ll grab a guitar and see if there’s a melody or some chords that go together with the lyrics, and then follow where the song leads. When I have a good idea of the lyrics and arrangement, I’ll start to record some basic tracks to hear the song playing back. Then I’ll simply layer each instrument and vocal on top of these basic tracks until the whole song is done.

I really live for the spontaneous moments of discovery during recording, where a particular sound or harmony or phrase really adds some new dimension to the song and takes it to a new and surprising place.

9. What has been your biggest challenge as a musician so far? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If yes, how?

This is a great question. I think the transition between my first and second solo records (“Washington State” and “Start at the Beginning” respectively) was pretty dramatic and challenging. “Washington State” was well received, and it sounded good but I felt that there was some element to it that was still a little bit distant emotionally. It was focused more on awareness and experiences of the outside world. The “Start” record was all about trying to make something that was much rawer, more internal and more direct emotionally. While this was not totally new territory for me as we had done very emotional music with Bison, creating this kind of music totally alone felt a little daunting, to be sure. While the process of creating “Start” was very difficult, I’m pleased with the results in terms of the intensity and the quality of the songwriting.

10. How do you describe your music to people?

I usually call it high-energy emotionally charged rock with an emphasis on lyrics and songwriting…and lots of guitar solos!

Let’s talk about your album..

1. How can you differentiate the Fortune Cookie album from the other two previous albums?

Apart from the difference in the lyrical themes and the emotional directness that I described earlier, I think “Fortune Cookie” has an aliveness and electricity to the sound and the production. There’s a lot of energy in these songs. Most of the songs feature both acoustic and electric guitars, and I think the way these guitars weave together with the vocals to create the body of the songs was really successful. Sonically, it’s the best record I’ve done, and in terms of songwriting, I think it carries forward and builds on what I began with the “Start” record.

There’s more coherence and I think the tracks on “Fortune Cookie” really work in terms of the flow of one track into the next. What the albums have in common is an emphasis on guitar playing and using guitar as the sonic fabric that ties everything together.

2. What’s your favorite song in the album? Why?

This is always a tough question to answer but I think “The Hook” is probably my favorite song on the record. It seems to have its own little world unto itself and texturally it feels really different and new for me. And I think that there’s a glimmer of hopefulness inside this otherwise-sad song that has a real resonance and impact for me. Also, it has probably my favorite guitar solo that I’ve ever recorded.

3. How long did it take you to finish the album?

The record took about two years from the starting the first songs to finishing the mastering. There are a bunch of other songs that I did during this period that were left off the record that will hopefully be released in the future.

Quick fun facts for your fans:
1. How young are you as of this interview?
I’m 34.

2. What’s your favorite past time?

That would have to be having fun with my wife and kids. I’m also a huge pro football fan. I love the Patriots. And I usually like to watch whatever’s on Bravo.

3. If there’s one love song that would be singing, what would it be?

I Would Die 4 U by Prince comes to mind.

4. What are the three things that could you not live without?

Family, coffee, and guitars!

Parting words…

1. How can fans gain access to your music? Please site website, song demo pages, etc.

All my music is available at http://averch.bandcamp.com. This is the best place to stream and download all my songs and albums.

My music blog is http://averch.blogspot.com. I put interviews and reviews here, and have some thoughts on recordings in progress.

My Facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ben-Averch/29539496225. It’s fun to see people comment on stuff, for sure.

2. Do you have any upcoming shows?

Right now, I’m working on putting a band together to play my material. Things are happening quickly so I expect we will be out there in the Seattle area before much longer!

3. What advice do you have for aspiring musicians who want to have their own album?

This is a great question, too. I’d say: Listen closely to lots of music. Pay attention to the parts of songs that resonate with you. Understand what elements about those songs are so exciting. Maybe it’s the texture, maybe it’s the melody or the chord change or the vocal harmony. Become an expert at what you like to hear.

Then it’s just a matter of doing the work to create music that you like listening back to! It will take a long time and it will always be a work in progress. Make your statement and enjoy the journey.

4. Any last words?

Thank you for the great questions and thanks to all for reading! Hope you enjoy my music. Let me know what you think!


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