Ben Wright Smith is a Melbourne-based singer-songwriter. We chat to him following the release of his debut album, The Great Divorce. Ben is also set to head out on tour in support of Pete Murray on his upcoming regional tour.
Hi Ben, thanks for taking some time out of your day to chat wih Forte. How are you and what’ve you been up to as of late?
I’m great thanks. I just got back from Sydney and I’ve had a few days off before heading to Adelaide tomorrow to play some more shows.
Where did it all begin for you, when did you start seriously making music?
Well I’ve always enjoyed writing and at some point I think I just became obsessed with songs. I’d been playing around writing poems and stuff since I was really little but it wasn’t until I was about 19 that I think I really fell in love with the process of how words find meaning in music. That being said I was still a long way from taking it seriously. I’d just been playing bass in bands as a kid and I bought a really bad old guitar and started trying to learn chords. I liked the idea of putting my lyrics to music but the thought didn’t really ever occur to me to try to do much with it. Living in Melbourne all my friends were in bands so I sort of floated around some bars playing my songs, but they were pretty lousy for the most part. One thing I did have on my side was that I wrote a lot of songs, probably hundreds in that beginning stage.
You released your debut album ‘The Great Divorce’ earlier this year, did it get the kind of response you were hoping?
I don’t really know what sort of response I was hoping for. When I was making it we were just trying to do something that we liked. When it was done that first week before reviews came in I was sitting around thinking ‘what are people going to make of this?’. It wasn’t really until it was finished that I realised that I’d actually have to show it to people and bring it out into the world which was pretty daunting. I was surprised that people seemed to connect with what we’d made as it felt very personal before we released it.
What were the main themes of ‘The Great Divorce’, what do you like to write about?
I like to write about all sorts of things and I don’t think I realised the themes of the record until we finished it. Now listening to it it seems like its an album about trying to escape the city it to find something new. A lot of the lyrics are kinda surreal and disorientated descriptions of city life and I think I was craving something more at the time.
What does the title ‘The Great Divorce’ mean to you?
When I wrote ‘The Great Divorce’ it was never really meant to be about an actual divorce or anything like that. I always thought it sounded more like a circus trick. Like jumping on a trampoline over a big wall. I think the idea was that making an album and spending so much time on it would lead to me coming out the other end divorced from who I was when I began it. I think for the most part of that is true and my life has significantly changed in many ways since I finished the record.
You video clips often have a lo-fi VHS vibe to them, what attracts you to this style?
I think really it wasn’t so much a choice as me not being so caught up in the video clip side of things. I know a lot of artists who love the visual side of making music and I do to an extent as well but really I’d rather just be making songs. I’ve had some brilliant friends and filmmakers like Rhys Mitchell, Tobias Willis (Kirin J Callinan, Client Liaison) and Charlie Ford (Courtney Barnett) who have stepped in to help me with my videos and basically we just like to mess around and have a bit of fun with it. We never really have much of a budget so usually we just go with what we think is funny.
Your latest video for a your track ‘Hellion Heeled’ seems similar in concept to Bob Dylan’s famous video for ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ with the words written on bits of paper, was this your intention?
Yes, totally – it was a little homage in a way.
How and when does inspiration strike you and how do you convert it to a song?
Inspiration for songs just pops out of nowhere. I always take notes when I have a thought, which I think might be able to make a cool song but its hard to say really. Sometimes a melody might pop up in your head and you’ve got to stop what you’re doing to go pick up an instrument and figure out how to play it.
Recently you’ve announced that you’ll be supporting Pete Murray through regional towns such as Bendigo, Ballarat, Warrnambool and Geelong. How did you get this opportunity and what draws you to Pete Murray?
Yep, we’re about halfway through the tour now and its been absolutely incredible. Pete and his crew have been very kind to us and have been putting on some great shows. When I released the album I had no idea I’d be spending this much time playing these huge rooms and I can’t wait to get to our home state and play there too. I’m not sure how it all came about really. Apparently Pete heard one of my songs somewhere and then next thing I know I got a call asking to do 33 shows around the country. Pete’s a very honest songwriter and he really does have some of the loveliest fans you could imagine, which has made the tour even more special for us.
What do you see the future holding for your career, are you working on anything new at the moment?
I’ve been writing a lot of new music which I hope to record at the end of this tour. I’ve got a heap of new song demos but I just need a moment to figure out what to do with them. Hopefully it won’t take too long and I can bring another album out sooner rather than later. In terms of the future I’m not really too sure. I think songwriting really is about capturing the present so I don’t think about the future of my ‘career’ all too much. I’ll just take it one song at a time. I feel as I just keep writing things get better and better so I’ll keep doing it. Who knows though maybe this time next year I’ll want to do something completely different. That being said, I think I’ll always continue to write songs no matter what other things come along.
Where & When: Regent Theatre, Ballarat – August 24 & The Wool Exchange, Geelong – August 26
Image sourced via Ben Wright Smith socials