- Sun, 2007-01-21 11:26
Ben Watt has a music career spanning over 25 years as one half of UK Everything But The Girl with the pinnacle of their success being Missing a billboard chart big hitter. Since the mid 90s, Ben has risen to international DJ after he and Tracey (his partner in life and EBTG) collaborated with the likes of Massive Attack on Protection and released Walking Wounded.
In 1998 Ben established the seminal London Deep House Sunday club and compilation series, Lazy Dog, with Jay Hannan. He also knocked out some acclaimed re-rubs for Sade, Sunshine Anderson, Zero 7, and Sandy Rivera, and has since mixed and produced music for Beth Orton.
In April 2003 Ben launched his own independent record label and club night, Buzzin' Fly, and his series of best-selling Buzzin’ Fly mix CDs. The label won Best Breakthrough Label at the House Music Awards 2004 and Best Label in 2005. Now a well revered DJ on London's club scene, 2005 saw Ben tour the festival circuit, from Homelands and Coachella to Lovebox Weekender) and he currently fronts Buzzin’ Fly’s two new London residencies – monthly underground Sundays at Plastic People, and quarterly events at The End.
I Like Music caught up with Ben Watt to talk about the Buzzin’ Fly Winter Party, working with Beth Orton, and the sweet success of Everything But The Girl’s ‘Missing.’
“I like music because… it’s there.” Ben Watt,
ILM: Galaxy DAB will be broadcasting Ben Watts (EBTG) Buzzin' Fly Winter Party Fri 19th @ The End. And you’re headlining a two room monster bash. What can people expect from this winter party?
Ben: We’ve been doing parties at the End as Buzzin’ Fly for 18 months now. And, more recently, we’ve tried to make the two rooms offer something a bit different to each other and it seems to go down very well with the crowd. We’re doing the Buzzin’ Fly vibe in the main room this time, me and Chris Woodward and Justin Martin playing, but we decided to have something a bit different in the lounge, so we asked Tom Middleton to come and play, and I’ve just given him a remit to do anything he likes really and, once that was in place, I thought, why not go one step further and have someone really super. I ran into Nick Luscombe at a gig at the Luminaire in Kilburn a few months ago and I said how do you fancy coming and doing something for Buzzin’ Fly?’ and he said ‘Are you joking?’ and I said, ‘No, come and do a gig for us, come and play.’ And he said, ‘great’.
ILM: The Friday night Galaxy show broadcast 23:-00 – 00:00 features an unmixed half-hour of fresh cuts, hot promos, demos and wild card classics introduced and edited by your good self followed by a fully-mixed thirty-minute guest mix. Do you enjoy the variety of what you do now, radio, music production, DJing and running a label?
Ben: It’s fun. I spent a lot of my life on major record labels where, so much of the work you do, you do in isolation, making an album on your own. And then you give it to a major label and everything gets front loaded, lots of money gets spent on making videos and the impact of the opening campaign and it’s quite nerve-wracking, because, if it goes wrong and everyone doesn’t like your record, which has happened in my career in the past, it’s incredibly depressing and you just end up with nothing to show for all that work. So it’s just knuckling down and trying to come up with another one. But these days, I really like this new life. It’s more under the radar, as you say, I get to swim in different ponds and can move without feeling I have to compromise. There’s not so much money at stake, and if there is money at stake it’s usually my own that I’m risking
ILM: So more control?
Ben: Yeah, basically; and it’s just really nice moving within a community of people who are all largely in it for the love. Nobody makes house and deep house music to make a lot of money in the main, it’s vocational for a lot of people I think. So I enjoy that side of it as well.
ILM: I guess there’s no such day as a typical day for Ben Watts?
Ben: No there isn’t. And I try to make more time for the kids now. I’ve got two kids and it means I can be more flexible and I can work from home these days with the wonders of broadband and ftp and stuff, so I can keep in touch with the office, but pick the kids up from school which I really enjoy and I think it’s really important.
ILM: Buzzin Fly comprises a successful record label (Voted best label at 2005 house music awards), club nights and a number of other music projects, what advice could you pass on to would be record label start-ups about the business of running a label?
Ben: It’s a very easy thing to say but a very harder thing to find, and that is that all record labels are content driven, you just have to have a hot record really. You’ve either got the talent to spot it or the luck that one should land in your lap, or you haven’t. The dance-floor never lies, the old maxim. There’s no point really putting anything out unless it’s going to move a floor somewhere I always think. We had a few experiments with Buzzin Fly I put out a really lovely record in our first year by a London collective called Unity and two of the tracks on there were ballads and there were a couple of soulful moody remixes that were done of it. And it was a beautiful record to listen to, but it didn’t really suit any DJs and it was one of our lowest selling records, but that’s the way it goes with dance labels. The bottom line is what’s on the vinyl, so that would be my piece of advice. You can art direct it to within an inch of its life, but if it’s not going to rock a floor, it’s not going to work.
ILM: Buzzin' Fly Records is one of the key benchmarks on the current underground House scene since its launch three years ago. Can you tell us about any releases to watch out for this winter and spring?
Ben: We’ve got our 25th release coming up in March 2007 and we’re doing a special EP called the We Are Silver EP. And it’s a bunch of various artists on it. I’m on it, and Justin Martin, Dennis Ferrer Jimster and Steve Martinez from New York. There are two or three tracks on it. Jimster’s done a remix of Justin Martin’s The Sad Piano, Dennis and Steve have done a rerub of Justin Martin’s remix of my track, Lone Cat which was our very first ever release. And I’m probably going to put out the spoken word track I did with Baby Black, called Old Soul as a bonus track. So it’s just a ‘hello, we’re 25 releases old and here’s a nice package for you. We’re going to foil block the artwork on the front with silver and make it quite nice and fun and special.
ILM: You also launched The Neighborhood club. How’s that going?
Ben: I was involved with both Cherry Jam and Neighbourhood for three years, from 2002-2005 and was very instrumental in the early days with music direction, policy and I was a partner in it all. But in 2005 I decided I’d had enough as it was impinging on all the other things I was doing, and the other two partners I was working with wanted to take it in a more commercial direction and I didn’t really want to go that route, so we came to an agreed termination. I left and went on to do my own thing. I had a great three years doing both those clubs, but I haven’t been involved actively for 18 months.
ILM: After Everything But The Girl you’ve been involved with two acclaimed albums for Beth Orton. Did you learn a lot from each other?
Ben: I did a couple of tracks with her on her second album, which were just recorded in my home studio very casually, which was a lot of fun. Then for her third album, they needed someone just to mix the album, literally take what had been recorded on tape and just give it a scrub and a polish really, so that was my involvement in the third album. I didn’t contribute any production to that, I just gave it the tinsel and light. But she’s brilliant, Beth, she’s very heart on her sleeve.
ILM: Cracking vocal as well!
Ben: Yeah, she’s definitely a unique talent and I love her to bits.
ILM: You’ve been making music since you formed Everything But The Girl with Tracey in Hull in 1982. How would you describe your process of making music, and how it differs from the EBTG process?
Ben: I don’t think it really matters which musical tools you use, whether you’re picking up an acoustic guitar or you’re switching on a computer. At the end of the day, you need some kind of musical inspiration to make good music; everything else is just the paint brush in a way. People think using music technology on computer’s these days makes making music so much easier. And yes, technically, you can knock out a track fairly quickly given the tools and processing power that computers offer now, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any good!
You still need to have a bit of inspiration. I try not to question too much where that comes from, but just hope that I’m in the right place and can capture it in some way.
ILM: Just go with the flow with it.
ILM: Have you fully recovered from Churg-Strauss syndrome?
Ben: I’m recovered in the sense that I lead a normal life. But, it’s still something that’s there in the background of my life. I still have to take medication for it every day. It involves a hypersensity of my immune system, so if it’s not managed on a daily basis there’s a chance that it could get out of control again and start attacking my own body again, which is the basis of the syndrome. Luckily drugs I’ve been taking for 15 years, they now suit me and it keeps my immune system, and I lead a very normal life and a lot of the time I don’t even think about the fact that I have to take this stuff.
ILM: Todd Terry remixed the track Missing, which topped charts worldwide and charted in the U.S stayed in the US Billboard Hot 100 for well over a year. How was that whole experience?
Ben: It was a lot of fun, because we’d had a lot of success largely in the UK and Europe in the 80s, and then we kind of slipped off the map for a while in the early 90s, and a new generation of music lovers had come in, acid house was dominating the UK scene. In many ways we were sort of marginalised for a few years, and then I had my terrible illness.
We vowed we’d come back, that was very important to us, in the mid 90s, so that when success returned and returned in spades with the Missing record, it was actually really sweet the second time around.
We’d been a little bit bullish. When we first had success, it was a bit… ‘well what do you expect, of we course we’ve had success, we’re really good,”, and you don’t realise that it’s going to go away; it always does. So, when it came around the second time it was really good. And I remember really enjoying doing the promotion for Missing and it seemed like we’d been allowed to get back on the carousel once more and it was great. I got tired of it by the end of the 90s and that’s one of the reasons we gave it all up. But I remember there were two or three years, 96-98, it was just brilliant, we had such a laugh.
ILM: You’ve been on a real adventure with memories that you can look back on fondly.
ILM: The success of that track, along with your collaborations with Massive Attack and Deep Dish, influenced you guys to move into a more electronic sound. What does the future hold? More collaborations?
Ben: I’ve started writing songs again, and I’ve got half a mind to put together some sort of solo project, which is somehow going to link the acoustic and electronic world again, but it’s still quite early days and I haven’t quite worked out how I’m going to do it. My last project I had on the go for a while was the Outspoken Project when I did lots of spoken word stories set to music. And I haven’t decided whether to roll that into what I’m writing now or not, it’s all a bit on the drawing board at the moment. But there’s lots of stuff been written. I’d like to come up with something unique and original, rather than just bunging out a record for the sake of it.
Tracey has just done a solo album which comes out in March on Virgin. And that’s a beautiful record, it’s very straight ahead lovely leftfield pop record made with Ewan Pearson and all sorts of collaborators. And it’s just 11 lovely songs she’s written and had produced in a very modern way.
Tracey seems to have a much more direct approach to things. She very much decides what she wants to do and she can be very decisive and focused about how she’s going to pull it off. Whereas I tend to come to my decisions in a much more roundabout way and lay everything out on the table, not really knowing what it’s going to turn into. That makes Tracey’s approach sound more cold, which it isn’t at all, it’s just a different working method.
Tracey and Ben are still partners and have three children.