Ben Kelly is a free-spirited journeyman, one that is difficult to pigeon-hole as his musical stylings come from many different places, genres and influences including Latin American, Spanish Guitar, African inspired rhythms, and eastern-style melodies to name a few. Ben believes in the ‘experience’ of music and making a connection with his audience rather than the constant pursuit of the commercial aspects of music. Obviously Ben needs to make a buck to continue to share his art but his real mission is to create music that uplifts and heals. Music that speaks to the heart the mind and the body in an entirety. Music for the betterment of mankind. Anyone attending the Melbourne Guitar Show will be able to witness the Ben Kelly musical experience first-hand, when he plays the Acoustic Stage at 11.30am on Saturday August 8th. Ben always has several musical projects on the go and spoke to Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips about the various concepts he’s working on and his ultimate ambitions.
Ben, what was your earliest exposure to guitar?
I picked up the guitar when I was 13 out of my sister’s cupboard, an old Coles nylon sting. I learned guitar from the songwriting angle. Pink Floyd was my biggest influence musically and lyrically but I was probably following more in the footsteps of Eddie Vedder, Neil Young though, the singer-songwriters. I’m not a one stream musician. I have actually found that to be a hindrance over the years when people ask me what I do. It’s quite an eclectic palette.
Let’s talk about some of your musical projects. Tell me about ‘Lotus Feet’.
That’s a new band which came about through a project I did last year, a live series I was doing called The Rhythms Tribe. It was based around jungle afro, drum and bass, high energy stuff. From that we formed a collective called Lotus Feet and it’s the meditative side of shows we did last year. For this, there are no drums. There’s didgeridoo, singing bowls … it’s Syd Barret crossed with David Gilmour, with flutes and bass, bells, chimes … what I refer to as esoteric sounds. It’s a non-vocal, esoteric sound installation kind of a band. So you can see how far I bounced from the traditional singer-songwriter thing but having said that, I am currently producing an album of songs with drums, bass, keys and guitar, so I am not shying away from that.
‘50,000 People’ was another album you released. What was the concept behind that?
The title track was written when I was camping on a property in the Yarra Valley. I had my PA set up on the 10 acre property playing this song on my own, imagining that I was in celebration with 50,000 people. The concept of that song is that it won’t be complete until it’s played and celebrated with 50,000 people.
Another project is the ‘Path of Least Resistance’. What is that?
It’s my main project for this year and it’s to skateboard around Australia. I played down at the Falls Festival on New Year’s Eve and I took a few days with a friend camping, surfing and skating before the festival. While we were doing that my friend said, why don’t we surf and skate around Australia? I said let’s do it and he said well I cant really because I have to work. So I thought I’ll do it anyway, I’ll skate around Australia. I am doing my last gig at the Melbourne Guitar Show and then I am throwing myself at the universe and I will live off street performance for the rest of the year. I’ll busk, skate a hundred k’s a day, raising funds for Amnesty, living under the skies. Yes, It’s a little bit scary. So the Path of Least Resistance is that project but also the title of my next album.
One of great things about the Melbourne Guitar Show is the different kind of guitar players who will be performing. How would you describe the way you use guitar?
I wouldn’t consider myself a traditional guitar player. I am definitely blown away by some of the more traditional techniques from people like Lloyd Spiegel. When I am playing my best, I am having a conversation with my guitar. Emotional expression, that’s what drives me with my guitar playing, to express through my instrument my emotional feelings, inspirations and aspirations, expressing the moments lived through the instrument. For years I tried to learn the guitar and then I stopped trying to learn to play the guitar. Since I stopped trying, the guitar now just plays itself. It’s very much through feel and intuition.
What is your main guitar?
My main guitar is a Cole Clark Angel with the cutaway. She’s got rosewood back and sides with a maple front, a rosewood neck and the three way pickup system. I’m playing with 12 gauge Elixir strings.
You’ve been using that with a little amp?
I have been using the Roland AC33 with my street playing. I’m really happy with the Roland AC33, been using it for about 12 months now.
What’s your live set up?
My live set up is a stomp box, guitar and pedal rack. My pedal rack is analogue Echo, DD3 digital delay, original Boss flanger and a compressor, really basic. I use that across my whole set up. When I’m playing my trance stuff, I generally put echo on my stomp. Every second stomp has a loud thump which is the equivalent of two kicks at once. I use the digital and analogue delays to create that trance element from my guitar. I have a didge and flute player in Lotus Feet which compliments that.
You have a very bright and clear string sound. How do you achieve that?
I pump my trebles. I like the sparkly top ends. I like the warm low ends as well but where normally you’d use reverb and roll the tops off, I use a reverb and push the tops up a bit more and it’s sharper than what most people would go for.
What would you say was your most memorable gig?
Playing at Falls Festival was massive for me. I’ve never played at a festival that big before. That’s the biggest, whether its the most memorable show I don’t know. It’s probably more the smaller more intimate shows where everyone that is there, is there to soak up the music and there’s been hundreds of those. Also maybe getting off topic here but just having support from people like Lloyd Spiegel and Miles Jackson from Cole Clark … to me having support from them has been as significant as any show I have done. And even being invited to play the Melbourne Guitar Show. I mean, I haven’t even done the guitar show yet but I am really excited to be in that mix. It’s only an early slot but for me, it’s probably one of the most important shows I have ever been invited to. I have definitely been underground but to be invited into the main mix like this is a massive honour.
What are you most looking forward to about the Melbourne Guitar Show?
Like I just said, I am looking forward to playing but most of all just being in the mix with all of those artists. I’m from a farming community, my parents are farmers and it’s like little old farmer boy finally in the mix, that’s how I feel about it. It’s such a big deal for me. I am looking forward to playing a spiritually driven performance and not having my guitar heroes put me off!
You have so many different projects to draw from, what will you be doing at the show?
I will concentrate on the music from 50,00 People and a couple of new ones from the Path of Least Resistance. I will keep my focus on what has been carrying me this year and what I am about to work on. Most of it will be instrumental.
And the grand plan?
Well I am currently finishing the debut album with Lotus Feet and then after the guitar show, there’s the skating around Australia project, trying to raise $50,000 for Amnesty International. I am currently speaking with Nicky Bomba about a project. I said to myself, I have to record a new album this year, a band album. I thought if I could work with anyone in Australia that I could … Nicky was at the top of my list. I sent him an email and asked if he’d be interested and he said yes. Whether he is playing or not, he will be producing. I’ll record a solo album first but this is the biggest musical step I’ve been able to chase down. I want to live and create music and I don’t want that to be hindered by whether I get into the mainstream or not. There are artists like Lloyd who have created their own stream and I want to do that.
See Ben Kelly at the Melbourne Guitar Show Acoustic Stage at 11.30am on Saturday August 8th