Name: Neil Charles aka Ben Marc
Occupation: Producer, multi-instrumentalist, bassist, composer
Current release: Ben Marc's Glass Effect is out April 5th 2022 via Innovative Leisure.
Recommendations: Sunra Quartet – When There Is No Sun (audio); James Baldwin – Dark Days (book); Jean Michel Basquiat (painting - anything from him is incredible)
Over the course of his career, Ben Marc has worked with a plethora of artists, including Jonny Greenwood, Mulatu Astatke, Matthew Herbert, as well as Shabaka Hutchings from The Comet is Coming and Joshua Idehen of Sons of Kemet.
[Read our Matthew Herbert interview]
[Read our Danalogue of The Comet is Coming interview]
[Read our Joshua Idehen of Sons of Kemet interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Ben Marc and would like to know more, visit him on Instagram, twitter, as well as his official website.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing blues guitar at the age of 7. I had a New Orleans teacher and he taught me how to read notation. I had to do it to not get into trouble on the streets. But one day he busted out into a jazz blues solo after 6 years of lessons and that blew my mind. I continued with guitar but added classical double bass to play in orchestras. Later I got into jazz music.
I soon realised to keep any band happy was hard so I started producing music for myself soon after that. As a producer the opportunity to be in control of every instrument and the creative aspect of writing was fun. From choosing which effects like reverbs, distortion, choruses etc was all from me. That was the fun exciting bit.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
Sometimes I would love to go to a rave, club night or whatever. Come back home in the early hours of the morning and just create something based on my energy of the night.
I also play bass with many free jazz artists, so having to think about colours as a creative tool is so important. Not knowing what frequency will be next on stage is daunting. But on the flip side, being able to read music notation gives you the element of shapes and patterns. I believe both are just as important as the other to have your own musical adventure.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
When you start out you think you are the next best house producer or the next J Dilla. You then suddenly realise that the world doesn’t always need another legend doing the same thing, so it took a while for me to be comfortable in my own space and sounds, fusing the sounds I love from hip hop, jazz, house, dnb, techno, reggae.
It might feel too jazz for the electronic guys and too electronic for the jazz guys. But it's what I like.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I grew up with my mum listening to Jim Reeves and my dad listening to dub music. Bob Marley mostly. I had to get hobbies and get off the streets of Birmingham so I ended up being that streetwise kid playing a classical instrument.
This double jeopardy has stayed with me ever since, hence having 2 kick names as my artist name. Both from 2 separate worlds of my upbringing
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
A key idea is definitely to be as original as possible. There are only 12 notes in a musical scale but with production you can be as free and as creative as you can be with all the technology available.
Art is subjective and I'm lucky that people are starting to dig what I'm doing.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I think both aspects are key.
On one side there's a tradition and genre that just keeps producing amazing traditional sounds. Then on another state of mind, there's others aiming to push the boundaries to the next level. If an artist can do both in their works, that’s a genius.
People like Dilla, Prince, Machinedrum, Sven Väth, Abashanti, Sun Ra, Meshell Ndegeocello, John Coltrane are geniuses. I aspire to those guys. There's loads more but these just came to my head.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
The most important development I can share is time and patience. I've learnt that art shouldn't be forced. If it's good it will survive the ever changing rigours of time.
Also as each piece, each song is different, and you aim to create something unique every time, if it's not working, put it down. Let it breathe, come back to it in a few hours, days, months then see if it's something you deeply believe in and are proud of.
Regarding instruments, I would never start with bass, considering that’s my first instrument. I would start with a creative melodic idea, from whatever source is available. I have a bunch of analogue synths in the studio or me just playing guitar. Once that idea is secured it's magic when you hear a good bass line underneath it opening up the motifs and bringing the original idea to life.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
(Laush). I wake quite early. I love doing a run. I used to do 10k runs in 45 mins. Now I just do 45 mins runs. (Laughs)
I then get my double bass out and practise for an hour. Got to keep sharpening the tools as it were. I take out some difficult classical repertoire and scales and try and improve slowly each day. Bare in mind I used to practise 12/15 hours a day when studying in university.
This will take me to lunch time, then I'll be in the studio for the rest of the day. It’s a fun routine and it keeps me on my toes the whole time.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
One particular song for my album, I collaborated with Judi Jackson. She is a star. I've worked with many vocalist in my time but she came in and blew me away with her energy, creativity and endurance.
I had an idea I sent over to her. Was probably about 8 bars long. Nice idea but she came over to the studio around 7pm one evening, me thinking we would just work on a chorus. We arranged the whole song right down to the string lines and lyrics. We went up until 3am. That thing I was talking about previously about patience, was blown out the window that night. We both knew we had something special.
That songs call "Give me Time" is now out on my album Glass Effect via Innovative leisure.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Great question. I think by now you probably would get me and that I like a little bit of both elements, which is so important to the final results. Art is for the people. Regardless of what any artist would say. So with that in mind, you must dig deep and drag yourself through the depths of yourself to be confident enough to share your soul with others. This might mean on a collaborative daily session or just being open with someone listening and criticising your music.
I found my first gig with my live set up really hard. However I had to learn that I'm not the producer anymore but just a band leader and the band members have learnt, got inside my brain and have interpreted the music in their own way.
The gig was awesome and it was me learning over time how to let go.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Having two nicknames as my artist name, I can only bring both of my separate worlds together.
One world is from my hip hop teenager self growing up in Birmingham and the other a professional jazz / classical bassist finding his way in London. I try to bring both those elements to my sound. it's all I know, apart from the classical conservatoire education I received at Trinity college of Music. With this in mind, music is a huge part of society, especially for me.
Regardless of which genre people listen to, there's always someone talking about love, politics, war, families, food, cars, housing etc or if it's an instrumental piece of work. People will pick what they like to get them through the day.
I loved walking the streets of a new city with my heads phones, bouncing to what I felt necessary at the time. Whether it's house music in Jamaica, banging techno in Canada, dubstep in japan or folk music in Italy - music is everywhere.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
I am always listening to music so if one or more of those topics come into my life at any given point I will go back to a sound that will uplift me or calm me down. I probably won't ever listen to my own music on certain occasions as my critical thinking will go through the roof.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I will go back to what Charlie Parker would say. He would say. Learn the chord changes, practise 20hours a day if you have to. But when it comes to the crunch, forget them. I.e. when you are on a gig, and improvising, you cannot be scientific in your approach to the music, as this method will slow you down and hinder your creativity process.
The same method applies to producing and the mixing and mastering stages. Science is so important to your end goal no one should ignore it in my opinion. A true genius has everything.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I think every gesture in life has an expression, whether musical or not. It's important to have a purpose. So getting that coffee whether it's you making it in your kitchen or walking to the coffee shop you will have a sense of purpose.
However with music or art, these sound skills enhance your daily activities. But if you just want to lie on your bed all day and listen to tunes that’s a task too. Unless you fall asleep.
I feel very lucky to be able to produce and play music, so my life is one big noise of sound contributing to my mundane tasks.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Wow, your brain takes in all types of sounds every day. From the birds tweeting, to the builder banging. Every day will be different, so I expect every message would be a different message daily, depending on your conscience.
However when I go to reggae dub nights music is felt through the chest and your body, vibrating especially with the frequency of the bass. Without that physical feeling you just cannot tap into the brain elements.