BEN CRAVEN
Two False Idols
(Desert Comb Music)

 

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 chronologically—around the same time, and a little afterwards—Ben 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, there’s 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, Ben’s 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

mwe3.com presents an interview with
BEN CRAVEN

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?

BEN 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.

mwe3: 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 there’s 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.

After 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 monicker altogether.

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.

mwe3: 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 what’s 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 you’ll 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 isn’t 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. I’m 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 I’d be incredibly grateful to be carry the torch for prog music.

mwe3: I heard your Cream tribute "(I’m 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?

BC: “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 Crow’s 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?

BC: Given the unexpected success of Great & Terrible Potions, I've started working on the natural follow-up album. It’s 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

 

 
   
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