Taken from Ben's official website; www.benadams.uk.com
Ben Adams is a rare find in pop these days. In an industry only just getting over the ripple-effect of one-too-many TV talent shows, not only can he sing, write and produce his own material, at the tender age of 23, he's already gained enough experience in the music industry to call his own shots. From singing for the Pope in a children's choir at the age of ten to partying with Har Mar Superstar today and somehow capturing the whole experience in three minutes and seven seconds of perfectly sleazy contemporary pop, Ben's musical endeavours surprise and exhilarate at every turn, and mean only one thing – he's ripping up the rule books of what constitutes pop music and doing things his way. These are no idle claims. At a time when 'pop' is a dirty word, Ben provides an unselfconscious alternative to the devaluing effect reality TV has had on the genre. "The pop industry would have us believe that young music fans areTaken from Ben's official website; www.benadams.uk.com
Ben Adams is a rare find in pop these days. In an industry only just getting over the ripple-effect of one-too-many TV talent shows, not only can he sing, write and produce his own material, at the tender age of 23, he's already gained enough experience in the music industry to call his own shots. From singing for the Pope in a children's choir at the age of ten to partying with Har Mar Superstar today and somehow capturing the whole experience in three minutes and seven seconds of perfectly sleazy contemporary pop, Ben's musical endeavours surprise and exhilarate at every turn, and mean only one thing – he's ripping up the rule books of what constitutes pop music and doing things his way.
These are no idle claims. At a time when 'pop' is a dirty word, Ben provides an unselfconscious alternative to the devaluing effect reality TV has had on the genre. "The pop industry would have us believe that young music fans are too stupid to grasp or embrace new ideas," Ben states. "That's rubbish. If music doesn't move forward, it just dies." Ben has found a natural home at the new BMG label Phonogenic, whose success with Natasha Bedingfield has already redefined a number of preconceptions about solo singer songwriters.
Flicking through Ben's new tracks, from the slick, world-future R&B sound of debut single 'Sorry', to the c emotional highs and lows of the killer ballad 'I Don't Wanna Stay' and the frenetic nightclub sleaze of 'Get Off My Girl', the whole thing sounds like Ben has simply crowbarred open his iPod and shaken his enire record collection into the mix, and so it comes as no surprise when Ben casually admits that his entire life has been consumed by music. 23 years in the making then, Ben's debut solo album doesn't disappoint. It's dizzying stuff, veering from jazz to R&B to pop to soul and often doing all that in the space of a single verse and chorus, but the wide array of is no accident – and nor is the quality of the tuneage. "Pop music has really suffered from the 'It'll do' mentality", Ben shrugs. "But I didn't want my career to be 'quite good' or 'just good enough'. I wanted to smash the whole thing apart."
Ben grew up in Middlesex, in a modest house with a rabbit hutch in the back garden and Madness, James Taylor, Michael Jackson and Tracy Chapman on his mum's stereo. Raised single-handedly by his mum without much spare cash around, Ben found that from singing 'All Things Bright And Beautiful' in school assembly to picking up cal piano, oboe and violin in music lessons, and then combining all that with an emerging passion for musicians like Prince, Queen and Stevie Wonder, he could escape into the world of music. And while it may seem unlikely in the context of the drinking, dirty dancing and dubious circle exploits of new songs like 'Get Off My Girl', at only ten years old, a cherubic Ben Adams was one of the UK's top choristers. Having won a scholarship based on his musical talents he found himself based at St Margaret's Westminster Abbey, regularly performing for some eminent audiences (The Queen, The Pope), touring through all the major cities in Europe with the Choir and at one point taking lead on two of the Choir's CDs – "Benedicamus Domino" and "Laudate Pueri". Ben remembers his time touring with the choir as presenting a steep learning curve at such a young age. "It was great in many respects. I sang with the choir most days of the week, Christmas Day and obviously every Sunday. I must have loved it to give up so much of my free time at that age. And we did get paid, only about £4 a service, but I thought I was rich!". The experience would prove useful for his next career step. "If you are cally trained, which I was, it pretty much equips you to sing any kind of music. I'm thankful I was taught to sing at such a young age because it teaches you how to maintain your voice, which is really important, especially when you're on tour."
His experiences in the choir turned him onto all types of music. "Anything to do with music excited me. I remember sitting at home every Friday watching Top Of The Pops, and wanting to be on it so much. I'm very lucky the way things panned out." In 1997, Ben joined a band called A1. History may not have been kind to A1's brand of Technicolor pop but between 1999 and 2002 they scored a string of Top 10 hits – all but two of which were written or co-written by Ben. A1's finest hour came with the first single from their third album. Kick-started by Ben during a frustrating group songwriting session, 'Caught In The Middle' was ostensibly about an unhappy love triangle, but with hindsight its themes spotlit the musical tensions facing A1 as they approached their third album, and signalled a huge change in musical direction for the band.
Gone on that third album were the high-octane disco stylings of the band's first two albums. In their place was a sophisticated guitar sound courtesy of sought-after producer Mike Hedges (U2, Travis, Manic Street Preachers), who had been invited to work on a handful of songs and was so impressed with the band's songwriting that he stayed for the whole album. 'Caught In The Middle' became one of A1's best selling singles; a reward, for Ben, that proved versatile songwriting had a place in the charts and that pop fans are only too happy to be challenged. "A1 was a great experience but I always felt it was a rehearsal for my solo career. I am a lot wiser to the industry so I can avoid the usual mistakes people make first time round. It's like anything – the more you do it, the better you are at it."
When A1 came to a natural end, Ben was bombarded with all the predictable offers of work you might expect to head in the direction of someone who public persona had been permitted to extend little further that floppy hair and occasional winks to camera. In spite of having left A1, his record label Sony, his publishing company and his management, Ben turned them all down flat. "I was looking at the bigger picture," he remembers, "and I didn't want anything along the way to ruin it. But at the same time, I knew I couldn't just sit around." In fact when Ben came down to earth with a bump, he simply hit the ground running.
He called Mike Hedges, and asked the producer for his advice on what equipment would be necessary to build up his own demo studio into something with which he could make hit records. One hefty investment later, Ben was ready to start work. He even bought himself a guitar, but he soon realised that recording an album's worth of Caught In The Middle-guitar-pop songs and conforming to the expectations of what musical direction he should be heading in was every bit as pointless as accepting a role in Holby City.
Undeterred by the minor setback, Ben became a hermit, locking himself in that home studio and barely getting out of his dressing gown for an entire year. Unsurprisingly his long-term girlfriend left him, but the work continued; getting up in the afternoon and working through until 5.00am. "I was a nightmare to be around," he admits. "I didn't want to be around other people, I didn't want to go out. I knew that I had to put my all into doing music, because I'd thrown myself into it to such a degree that there just didn't seem to be any other option." In search of perspective on his songs – some voice of objectivity after two years of climbing the walls – Ben brought in some of his favourite songwriters.
One revelation was flying to LA to work on 'Get Off My Girl' with (and to hang out with) Har Mar Superstar – a larger than life party animal who drew out some of Ben's surprising songwriting quirks. "I just loved his music. It's very inventive and fresh. I'm not interested in writing songs which have been heard a million times before. It's really important for me to push the boundaries, whether it be musically, vocally, performance, and I think Har Mar is on the same tip in this respect. It's been great to work with people who are a little bit out there. I'd say to Har Mar, 'I've got a weird idea.' He'd go 'I've got an even weirder idea'. I'd say 'Brilliant, let's record it!'." Ben spent just short of a month in Los Angeles working with Har Mar. "We'd work during the day and go to some crazy places in the evening. He's a very funny guy."
Ben sounds chuffed, but from hitting the ground running two years ago to already being at a steady sprint in 2005, he has every right to be. He'd love to write for other artists, he says, but he's taking things one step at a time, and focussing on his own career. "The songs on the album are about my life, and the things I've experienced. Although I'm only 23, I've already been through a lot. Writing songs for me is like writing a diary, except one that can be read by everybody." It won't be long before those other artists are battering down his door anyway - Ben's is state-of-the-art pop music, as broad in its influences (on 'It's Brutal Out There' you'll hear Ben singing opera in the opening bars) as it is deep in its lyrical significance (the beautiful potential album closer 'Broken Bird' was written for Ben's mother). "Sometimes when you're a writer, the powers that be want to put you in a box which can squash creativity. I didn't have any of those boundaries on me, so I had free reign to do and say what I wanted. If I wanted to take jazz chords and use them over a hip hop beat with some opera riffs then I could. In fact, the more unique the songs were, the more encouragement I got."
Ben's view of the results – "everything's slotted into place without having to force it" - might sound as if he's taken it all in his stride, but there's been no complacency. "Pop music has become so unadventurous, but to me that's like someone throwing down a gauntlet. I know that I've got to step up my game at every opportunity, and that's what I've tried to do with these songs. Now I just can't wait for the world to hear what I've been doing for the last two years. To be honest, I never even knew I had it in me…"… Expand
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