In 2011, Australian guitar hero and rising progressive rock icon Ben
Craven released the masterful Great & Terrible Potions.
Although some of his recorded music tends to overlap chronologicallyaround
the same time, and a little afterwardsBen recorded what he now
says is his first solo album entitled Two False Idols.
Originally structured as a band project of sorts, released under
the group name Tunisia, the original plan to release Two False
Idols might have fallen through yet, in the aftermath of Great
& Terrible Potions, Ben has finally reissued Two False
Idols as a download only release in mid 2012. Even as a download,
the release of Two False Idols packs a mighty sonic punch.
Even without a proper CD release, to make it legitimate among certain
CD buffs and audiophiles, theres still plenty of great music
on Two False Idols to recommend it to both Craven fans and
tuned in progressive rock fans in general. Ben says that, comparatively,
Great & Terrible Potions features more sophisticated
arrangements and productions, yet on the 2012 remix of Two
False Idols, Bens vocals, guitar work and keyboard work
are crisp and clear. With Two False Idols, Ben Craven totally
captures the essence of the progressive rock spirit. www.BenCraven.com
an interview with
mwe3: Do you consider Two False Idols to be your first
album and can you set the scene as to how and when the Two False
Idols record was written and recorded and how do you compare it
to your classic 2011 album Great & Terrible Potions?
CRAVEN: Around 2004 I had already written much of the music that
would end up on Great & Terrible Potions, but I knew my
rudimentary studio wasn't up to the task of doing it justice. The
prospect of sorting out the instrumentation and linking the pieces
together seemed like a mammoth task, and I wasn't confident enough
in my arranging abilities to pull it all off. On top of that, I was
fairly sure that if I released Great & Terrible Potions
as my first album, it was more likely to sink without trace.
So, armed with that list of excuses, I bummed around in a classic
rock covers band for a while, and tried to rally the guys into writing
originals as a band. This seemed like a good chance to simplify things
and write songs which would be possible to actually perform and record
for a change, all within the security and camaraderie of a band. It
started off well. I wrote "Enough About You" and "If
You Knew", together with drummer/guitarist/singer Brad Douglas.
We recorded demos in my studio, not quite at release quality, and
tried shopping them around to local labels without generating much
interest. Meanwhile I continued to upgrade the studio to the point
where it became possible to stop recording demos and start recording
actual finished tracks. This was the turning point for the album.
I no longer had to worry about raising funds or finding a record deal
to allow us to book time at somebody else's expensive studio.
All this engineering and artistic power went to my head and I hurtled
towards the goal of completing the album. My writing became less collaborative,
and my orchestral and prog tendencies started creeping back into the
newer songs. By then the album had otherwise turned into a solo project
but, being the eternal optimist, I released it under the pseudonym
of Tunisia, hopeful that I would form another band using that name.
Tunisia the band never happened, but Two False Idols was a
joyous time of recording and discovery. It was a celebration of artistic
and studio freedom, unhampered by outside expectations. The music
was fresh, the lyrics were of the moment, and the album had no baggage.
By the time I had built up the courage to start recording Great
& Terrible Potions, I decided that with great artistic freedom
came great responsibility. I had a duty to honour the songs with the
very best arrangements I was capable of, yet somehow remain true to
their original spirit. This time around I'd be building a monument.
Who played with you on the Two False Idols album and can you
recall what guitars you played on the recordings? Were there any other
key musicians or producers involved in the Two False Idols album?
BC: Brad Douglas provided vocals on the two songs he co-wrote
and did a great job. Other than that, Two False Idols was basically
a solitary affair and nobody else got a word in edgewise. I was performing,
engineering, producing and mixing as I went. To me they were all one
and the same job of making an album.
I made a point of trying to include as much guitar colour as I had
available to me at the time. So theres acoustic 6-string, acoustic
12-string, electric 12-string, Telecaster, 335, lap steel and mandolin.
But my main guitar, as it was on Great & Terrible Potions,
was my Stratocaster with EMG DG-20 pickups. Likewise for the 5-string
bass, which graced most tracks on Potions. I felt it was important
to have instrumental continuity, literally, between the two albums.
mwe3: Can you say something about the remix / reissue of the
Two False Idols album? Will it come on CD or just on download?
How has the album sound changed with the remix/remaster and were you
happy with the album when it was originally finished? Also are there
some tracks on Two False Idols that really stand out in your
mind as favorites of yours?
BC: The first version of Two False Idols was a delay
and reverb-laden tour de force. It had a very dense atmosphere in
headphones, and was mixed for late-night listening. Later on I decided
the effects were also doing a great job of hiding some of the instrumentation
and arrangements, so I was keen to remix the album for clarity.
Great & Terrible Potions was released it got a terrific
reception and started establishing the Ben Craven name. I felt the
time was right to draw some attention to my orphaned first album.
I grabbed the opportunity to remix it from scratch, juggled the track
order to improve the flow from start to finish, and dropped the Tunisia
Presently it's available via digital download from Bandcamp, but not
on CD yet. I am a realist and I suspect that because it's simpler
in approach and more singer-songwriter than progressive rock, it won't
necessarily appeal to everyone who bought Great & Terrible
Potions. Ironically it could also appeal to a much larger audience
for exactly the same reason! I would love to release a deluxe CD version
containing outtakes, alternative takes, works-in-progress, the original
album version in surround, video performances, the works! But being
the label as well as the artist, I have to choose my projects carefully.
My favourite track is probably "Golden Band", which has
been split into Part 1 and Part 2 for this remix. It was almost relegated
to the too hard basket on the original album, except for
a happy accident. I had finished recording all the instrumental tracks,
including the piece which "Golden Band" ultimately replaced,
and was psyching myself up for recording vocals. I was just recovering
from a cold at the time and we were booked to play a covers gig. At
the gig we opened with "Paranoid" and, for the first time
ever, I completely destroyed my voice during the first song! I was
hoarse for over a month. With a lot of time to spare I threw myself
into arranging "Golden Band" which had, up to that point,
otherwise eluded me. "Golden Band" introduced me to a different
and excruciating way of working which I found strangely appealing:
refining, distilling, aging over a long period of time, and pushing
my studio to its limits. I'd end up taking that approach much further
on Great & Terrible Potions.
I know you cite both YES and Brian Wilson as big influences in your
musical education. What do you think about the progressive rock scene
and sound in 2012 (at least compared to 1972!) and whats been
the reaction to both Great & Terrible Potions and the Two
False Idols albums in the progressive rock press? How do you feel
about the fact that in the years to come youll be carrying the
torch for progressive music in the 21st century?
BC: I think the biggest difference between 1972 and now is
that progressive rock has become an established genre
with recognizable characteristics, certain expectations from listeners,
and plenty of baggage! Whereas in the late sixties and early seventies,
bands were just inventing the stuff as they went along. The situation
today isnt necessarily a bad thing because it has helped create
a vibrant online community, but the potential is there of discouraging
artist development within the genre. It also creates circular arguments
about what progressive really means.
Fortunately for me, Great & Terrible Potions received terrific
reviews in the progressive rock community. Im delighted for
once to finally belong to a genre and be able to describe
my music to other people. If my follow-up albums receive the same
attention Id be incredibly grateful to be carry the torch for
mwe3: I heard your Cream tribute "(Im Dreaming Of
A) White Room", which is pretty cool. Being a multi-instrumentalist
yourself, what influence did Jack Bruce and Cream have on your musical
upbringing and experience? Any other big influences, then and now,
that your fans will recognize in your own music?
Tribute is such a generous word! "White Room"
was in the repertoire of my old covers band, and it was one of the
tracks we recorded for a demo EP. I remixed it recently as a curio
for my website. To me, Cream is the archetypal three-piece rock band,
each musician being a virtuoso in their own right. They're a big inspiration
behind the three-piece arrangements I'm putting together in rehearsals
with my live band.
My main influences on Two False Idols were Pink Floyd, John
Lennon, David Bowie, even Sheryl Crows The Globe Sessions,
and good old honest classic rock. "Enough About You", for
instance, was an attempt to create a Chuck Berry-Beach Boys-country
hybrid. On the other hand, to completely contradict myself, "Golden
Band" might have been a pop song written by Bernard Hermann.
mwe3: You mentioned before about two additional albums you
had in the works, including an alt-country album surrounding the life
of a real-life Oklahoma outlaw, called Ben Cravens! Just to make sure
nobody gets your two names mixed up (laughter), can you say something
about what you have planned for the remainder of 2012 and beyond?
Given the unexpected success of Great & Terrible Potions,
I've started working on the natural follow-up album. Its a blend
of prog rock and film soundtrack-esque material. The song structures
will be a little more abstract than on Potions, but the music
will still have dramatic changes. I'm three minutes into recording
the first track and very happy with them so far! No doubt that will
see me out of 2012 and into 2013.
The three-piece band has also filmed "live in the studio"
cuts of our set list and I hope to edit that material soon for an
official release. The alt-country album is still alive, kicking and
smarting from my change in priorities. Plus there are some new single-oriented
projects that need my attention. So much music, so little time...
Thanks to Ben Craven @ www.BenCraven.com