Benjamin supported Gareth Pearson at the Globe at the beginning of the year and we were so impressed we decided to make him our artist of the month. Not only is he a talented singer/song writer, but he is also a promising film maker currently studying at the Newport Film School.
Can you give us a brief history of Benjamin Squibbs?
Well I've been playing music for as long as I can remember. Standing on my nan’s stool when I was three singing for my family! My first record I owned was ‘Walking on broken glass’ by Annie Lennox when I was about seven! No idea why mind, I don’t ever remember asking for it or anything I swear! Have you read the Russell Brand book? On the back it says my life consists of embarrassing moment after embarrassing moment and then consists of me telling you about these embarrassing moments. Or something like that and that’s what my life book would be! I stutter on ever sentence I try to say and trip up every curb! Don’t ever get me to stand by your china! I now go by the name of the ‘calling card’ at gigs because it’s not going to be just me anymore I'm going to get more people to collaborate in the studio with me and play with me live.
How did you first get into music?
My mum was always into music from a young age as was my granddad so I think it has always been in our family to love music. There was always David Bowie records being played when I was growing up and then round my grancha’s it was Frank Sinatra so I have always been surrounded by good music.
What made you start playing guitar?
Umm one name really. Noel Gallagher. I was about 9 when “Definitely Maybe” came out and I loved that record the first moment I heard it. I had it on this copied cassette and played it to death. I remember seeing them on top of the pops when ‘Don’t look back in anger’ had just gone to number one and he was playing that infamous union jack epiphone and I knew instantly that that was all I wanted to do from that moment on. Plus it’s just the coolest instrument around isn’t it? Anyone who says drums are wrong. How many great songs have people written on the drums? Case closed!
Did you start singing straight away or did that come later?
Oh no the singing came much earlier! Even in infant school in one of the Xmas plays I had to dress up as a battered old teddy bear that some kid had pulled all the stuffing out of. The play was called “who came down at Christmas” and was all about a spaceman who came down at Xmas - very strange. Well it beats a normal nativity play doesn’t it? But yeah I have always been into singing I just loved it instantly.
Who or what inspires you to write songs?
Well again Oasis have made the biggest impact. I mean they released a Bsides album and it was better than any other bands proper albums until The Strokes debut came out. But also Ryan Adams inspires me a great deal. Being able to release three albums in a year and having 14 songs on the album and every song being brilliant, that is something to strive for isn’t it? I’m not interested in being in a cool indie band that has all the nme kids into for a week then have an album out that doesn’t deliver. I want to release album after album that’s just as good if not better than the last. Also things that happen to me in everyday life inspire me to write. “Neon Lights” is about going to London and felling like an alien. Everyone just seems so rude there and barges you out of the way when you walk down the street. “Why So Serious” even though sounds like a little pop song is about the death of Heath Ledger. I loved Heath Ledger! Was such a fantastic actor who just wasn’t even at his best yet. It’s a pity he turned into the River Phoenix of our generation.
What other artists do you like?
Right how long have you got? I am just such a big fan of music I love everything! From Ryan Adams to Slipknot to Nirvana to the Arctic Monkeys. If it’s a good album then I’ve probably got it.
Newport has a tradition of being a metal/rock city. Are things changing? What other Newport artists should we look out for?
Yeah your right it has. Well since the mid nineties when bands like Dub War, Flyscreen, The 60 Ft Dolls and Novacaine broke Newport and even the rest of South Wales it’s always seen as a predominantly punky/metal city, but there are loads of different genres. Bands like Kick Box Riot who play perfectly crafted pop/indie tunes, Save Your Breath who are bringing back the pop/punk style of New Found Glory, Dirty Goods who are going down the 80’s electro pop route, and then you have people like Blind River Scare who are firmly in the rootsy/Americana genre.
Newport and the rest of south Wales have so many fantastic bands at the moment. New State Radio are just brilliant. They have taken the best bits of Nirvana and mixed them with the best bits of the manics to create these amazing rock songs. They should be huge and I really hope it happens for them because their main songwriter James Sadler is the best songwriter Wales has possibly ever produced. I really really mean that. He just has “it”. Whether its acoustic songs or full on smash you in the face rock monsters he just makes them unbelievable. I hope someday I’ll get even close to writing lyrics like he does. Hopefully we will do some gigs or work on some songs together in the future because I don’t rate anyone higher than him. There are just so many amazing bands around here it’s untrue! The Blackout, Kids in Glass Houses, Halflight, Marks Set Go ,just tons.
I’ve been doing interviews with south Wales bands for the last few years and will hopefully turn it into a full blown documentary one day. I've got well over 200 hours of footage its crazy! And its all dynamite. So I don’t think it’s so much that things are changing I think these Newport has always had every different genre going its just whatever is big at the time those type of bands will always do better. I just hope one day Newport will be seen as having a scene like Manchester or Seattle did.
You have recorded an album that is due out this year. Tell us what we can expect from it?
Well it’s not fully recorded yet. I’ve got three maybe four songs already recorded and will hope to get the rest recorded asap. I’m trying to come to an agreement with the label about budget and things at the moment but the album is all written and is ready to be recorded. I’m really looking forward to recording it as the four tracks so far sound great. The only problem will be what other tracks go on it as I’ve got about 30 tracks I want to go on it! It will have to be a triple album. But you can’t really release a triple as your first can you! It could either go very poppy with lots going on or it could be very sparse like Ryan Adams heartbreaker or Bon Ivor’s For Emma I just don’t know yet. I guess it will be however I’m feeling that day in the studio.
You recently appeared at the Globe with Gareth Pearson. How was that experience? Did you pick up any guitar tips from the Welsh guitar wizard?
Haha no I didn’t learn anything from him! Except maybe give up! He is crazy good isn’t he? My fingers could never move that fast! I just don’t have the patience to learn how to play the guitar like that. He was really good. I don’t usually like instrumental music unless it’s a score for a film or something but I really enjoyed his set and would love to play with him again. I was surprised the audience didn’t boo me off the stage as well to be honest! I thought they were going to be very snobby and only like you if you could play forty notes in a second but they seemed to enjoy my set so I was very pleased with that. It was Gethin who is Gareth's brother who recommended me playing as he is recording my album. Quite a talented family!
What are your plans for the rest of 2009?
Hopefully get this album finished I guess! That’s the main thing. And I have a few things up my sleeve for the summer which should be good. Lots of shows are being booked now so will hopefully be playing all over.
You are studying film at Newport film school. How does being a film maker impact on your song writing and vice versa how does being a songwriter impact on your film making?
I think they go hand in hand. As soon as I’m writing the song I’m imagining what the video should look like. And if I come up with a good film idea I try to come up with music that I think would suit it. I could never pick one of these because they both have such an influence on me that I will always need to do both.
If you were making a film about the life of Benjamin Squibbs who would play your part?
Can’t really have Heath Ledger now can I? That would have been amazing. Ummm I’m not surreally sure really. Would have to be someone extremely good looking of course if we are going for realism! Obviously! I guess that Zac Effron would be the best bet at the moment then, everyone fancies him. So at least lots of people would go and see it. But if we are going on heights it’s going to be Danny Devito isn’t it?
The most memorable gig I have played was……
Probably last year when I played in Lepub on my birthday and all my friends and family came out to see me. That was actually the first time that I thought that yes these songs are good enough for a bigger audience and that show gave me the drive I needed I think. There was one shocking gig in Nottingham mind. Wow. That possibly had the opposite effect! Very drunk people and a crazy girl who screamed in my face during why so serious. Very very strange night that was.
I write songs and perform because……
What else would I do! When you write that song that has the perfect melody and you can’t stop humming it you just can’t wait to play it to other people! It’s the greatest feeling in the world. Even if its just ten people in the audience and I’ve played to even less before now, if I can get them to sing the chorus back to me that’s just magical! Not even Liverpool winning the league could compare to that. Well actually that might be an exaggeration there! I wouldn’t say no to that!
What would give you more pleasure an Oscar or an NME award?
Definitely an Oscar. No doubt about it. The NME awards are horrible! I hate the way the NME has gone. They try to find the most annoying obscure acts around and make you feel like an idiot if you haven’t heard of them. Using descriptions like “they sound like the Beatles if they all had a sex op then hung upside down for a week, snorted coke then ate a ham sandwich.” What on earth does that mean I ask you?! Very pompous. Whereas an Oscar on the other hand is the best of the best and nine times out of ten they get it spot on. To win best director or something at the Oscars would be a dream come true. Or maybe best soundtrack. And the soundtrack was all my songs. Now that’s something to aim for.
Benjamin performs regularly in south Wales so check our gig guide for details. He is also appearing in London 31st October at the Camden Underworld.