Ben Abraham – Interview
‘YouTube sensation’ and ‘pop star’ aren’t labels Melbourne based singer-songwriter Ben Abraham is terribly comfortable with. He has undeniably established himself as the first however, and is set to attract the latter when he releases his first studio album later this year. Labels are something he might just have to get used to.
“I’m not cool enough for the music scene,” he says. “There’s all these people in the inner suburbs living this whole lifestyle that revolves around being a cool musician and I belong in like, Blackburn. No, what’s after that? Wantirna.”
Some might say he belongs on center stage though and one of his more vocal and well-known advocates is American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles. The pair shared the stage at Rod Laver just under a year ago to perform a duet of classic Bruce Springsteen ballad I’m on Fire during Bareilles’s Australian tour, but it is perhaps the song leading up to that performance which garnered the most attention.
Abraham has been releasing his songs on YouTube for the past five years, revealing he enjoys the pressure free environment of writing and releasing at his own speed, to an audience that’s always there. In March last year, his audience exploded when he posted a song he’d written To Sara, from Ben much like a letter, telling Bareilles how much he’d like the opportunity to sing with her. The video went viral and Bareilles received a cavalcade of messages from fans informing her of Abraham’s self-confessed “elaborate scheme” to get her to play with him. It worked, and less than a year later Bareilles called Abraham out on stage in front of a huge hometown crowd to perform.
“It was surreal,” says Abraham. “It sounds so cheesy but as a songwriter I’ve always loved Sara, I felt like we wrote in a similar way, and we’ve become friends since which I always thought we could be. She’s relaxed and fun about music which I try to be and through the whole experience I ultimately realised that artists are artists, no matter where they come from, and if you come from the same place artistically then you’ll connect on that level.”
The Bareilles experience aside though, Abraham has not always found it easy to connect with music and it wasn’t until five years ago that he decided to give it a shot. “I’ve always had a very musical family environment, my parents were folk singers in Indonesia in the seventies but for ages I wanted to be a film maker. I still hope to be one day,” he says. But for now being a musician is perhaps not as far away from film making as it might seem. “For me it’s about story telling, all my songs have stories behind them. You want to share those stories as an artist.”
Referring to his career so far though, Abraham is quick to acknowledge his “lucky run” outside many of the regular channels for success. Having trodden his own path, gaining recognition almost exclusively through live shows and YouTube videos, he points out the value of lateral thinking and urges other young musicians to do the same. “I’ve been really conscious of making all my performances unique and thinking ‘what’s the best context for my music?’ and maybe that’s not the way everyone else goes. You have to come to terms with what kind of music you really want to make and find ways to be creative to do that,” he says, referring in part to his left of field approach with Bareilles.
While he encourages artists to find their own way to success, he points out the steep learning curve he is currently undertaking with his first formal recording experience, having avoided the commercial road for so long. “You’re constantly working out what you are as an artist and that’s what recording does for you – helps define you as an artist. It’s nerve-wracking recording cos you’re always wondering how people will take it,” he says comparing it to the instant feedback of performing live. “It’s very exciting to watch the response as it’s happening. It’s not about the applause, it’s during the song while you’re singing it and there’s that terror that anything can go wrong.”
Steep though it may be, Abraham’s ascent continues steadily, but asked for advice to other young artists he is reluctant to answer, saying he feels ill-equipped for the task. Pressed, he offers that “I think one of the most important things is you really need to know what you want. If you really want to be famous, number one on the radio – that has a very definite path. Same as making great sounding music, and they’re not necessarily the same thing but they both have a path. And for me it’s to tell stories and make music that moves people.”
If the effect he had on Bareilles is anything to go by, moving people is something Abraham has a bit of a knack for. Whether it’s his wild abandon or the quiet dedication to doing things his way, Abraham’s method is working for him. “Know what you want and then just do it,” he says. “Don’t play the game or toe the line. Just do it, and don’t take things so seriously! It has to be fun. There are too many wankers out there,” he adds with a grin.
And if you haven’t already, check out THAT video:
The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the views of Melting Pot.
Author DetailsGrace Taylor
Grace Taylor is a Melbourne based writer and journalist. Specialising in features, profiles, interviews and reviews, Grace contributes regularly to several popular lifestyle, arts and culture publications throughout Melbourne.