Virtuoso is a word that immediately comes to mind to describe Ben Westbeech. Singer, producer, DJ, bandleader, multi-instrumentalist -- he's even mastered the über-classy cello.
And the breadth of Westbeech's creativity is not limited to his solo work. He's also a prolific collaborator whose 2011 long player There's More To Life Than This on Strictly Rhythm enlisted an ensemble cast of dance music luminaries like Henrik Schwarz and George Levin.
But for all his talents and skills, Westbeech's strong point is sheer soul -- warm, heartfelt lyrical songcraft that's just as much at home on your mama's iPod as it is on the dancefloor of an underground house club.
Crossfade caught up with the talented Mr. Westbeech ahead of his live/DJ performance at the Electric Pickle on Saturday to chat about his studio collaborations on the last album, his Breach side project, and white-boy soul.
Crossfade: What did you listen to growing up and when did you first begin making music yourself?
Ben Westbeech: I grew up listening to so much music: rock 'n' roll, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Frankie Lymon. Then I listened to classical music. Then hip hop and drum 'n' bass, then grunge -- the Seattle sound... All types of shit! I started making tunes about 18 years old, singing when I was 21.
So how does a white boy from Bristol end up with such a striking soulful singing voice? Did it come naturally to you or did you develop the skill?
Ha! It's just the way I sing! It comes naturally to me. White boy soul spesh!
There's a very lyrical element to your work. How do you typically approach to songwriting process and what inspires it lyrically?
Lyrically, I sing about anything that happens to me: people, places, situations, dreams. I don't have any formula -- I just get in the studio and roll shit out.
You're a singer, multi-instrumentalist, producer and DJ. When push comes to shove, which of these roles is the most rewarding for you and why?
I think singing live with the band is so much fun and adrenalin. There's nothing like the buzz of having a crowd go crazy to all your own music. I get the same vibe from taking clubs out though too! Although I really don't like to choose between any of them as I love to do all of them equally!
What can you tell us about working on There's More To Life Than This. What was the creative process in the studio? And how did the numerous collaborations come about?
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The creative process was always different with everyone on the record. I chose people by their sound and vision about making records -- mostly on previous work -- or just people I'd met along the way. I hadn't worked with any of the producers before (apart from Redlight) so it was all about a new musical experience and for me to get pushed and come out of my box.
Here's a little on all the artists: Midland -- a decision by my manager. He is an amazing young house producer and I love the tune "Stronger" we made together. It is a very personal tune to me. It turned out amazing and I play cello on it too. Henrik Schwarz is the most amazing thinker and musician. We worked on "Inflections" in Berlin at his home. I feel it is the most mature tune on the record and it takes you on a journey. I also played cello on this tune. Motor City Drum Ensemble's Danilo [Plessow] is a very good friend of mine and I wanted to work with him for a long time. We always talked about it and finally got to do it on this record. "Justice" is a protest song about the world we live in.
Danny J Lewis -- I'd heard some of his music through my A&R for the record and so wanted to work with him for his soulful style. "Something For The Weekend" turned out very summery and reminiscent of "So Good Today". Rasmus Faber was a suggestion from the A&R at the label. I heard his music and was instantly uplifted. We made "Butterflies" and "Summer's Loss" together in Sweden. It was freezing cold! He is an amazing producer and now a good friend of mine. His chops are crazy. George [Levin] is mad! He is so musical and funny. It was sometimes difficult to work with him as we are both singers! But this added to the quality of the music we made. We had a mad energy together and the music I made with him speaks for itself. Chocolate Puma -- I had the best time in Amsterdam with Gaston [Steenkist] and René [ter Horst]. We made some great music and it was a shame the other tracks didn't make it onto the record.
There is an almost pop sensibility to the album. Was it your intention to make a record that could be accessible to a big cross-section of listeners and not just the die-hard house heads?
I definitely wanted to make a more accesible album so that more people can hear it, then get into house. I think the album is more house-inspired rather than straight-up house.
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What differentiates Breach from your eponymous work? And what do you have in store for the project next?
Breach is underground, forward-thinking future music. I produce under that name and have records on Dirtybird, Pets. And Lobster Boy and PTN, me and Eats Everything are setting up a label to release our music on this year! More news to follow!
Ben Westbeech. Saturday, January 14. Electric Pickle, 826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $10 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.