Ben Westbeech: “It’s important to think about the bad shit that’s going on sometimes”

It was a hot Autumn afternoon for my meeting with Ben Westbeech; a gifted young musician whose confident nature preyed on my interviewing techniques. “Fucking hell that’s a lot of questions there,” – his eyes bulged out upon witnessing the thick amount of my question cards.  Nevertheless, as he sat in the sun’s heat next to a cafe bar, Soul Culture’s Philip Javens talked to the Strictly Rhythm artist about his origins, his musical limbo, and the influences that helped him create his latest album: There’s More To Life Than This

Born and raised in Hertfordshire, lived in Bristol, and now based in London, Ben Westbeech’s foremost striking ability is that he is a trained cellist. Having studied formally to grade eight at secondary school, it was also there that he picked up his next creative forte. “I was into dance music from the age of 12, and just started DJing,” he says. Like many of us, Ben had more than one creative desire he wanted to pursue. “It was [music] or drama.  I started a degree in music and drama, and it was like I had to make a choice in which one I wanted to do,” he says.  “So music came first.  I still love acting and stuff like that.  I was really into plays and theatre, and it was kind of hard to drop all that for music.  But I think that you have to kind of decide what you want to do.”

After nurturing and refining his musical talents, Ben first made his mark back in 2006 after getting noticed by BBC Radio 1 music guru Gilles Peterson, then quickly becoming signed onto the Brownswood Recording label for his debut album Welcome To The Best Years Of Your Life, which was released in 2007. His first record made him into a respected singer songwriter, producer and DJ within the industry, so-much-so, that he performed “Get Closer” and “So Good Today” live alongside Paul McCartney and Bjork on Later…with Jools Holland.

However after much success, Ben hit a growing wall of melodic anxieties, making him uninspired, directionless, and perpetually lost in musical limbo, “I was just making a lot of different music, and trying different avenues out.  I didn’t really know what I wanted to do really.  I didn’t want to make another Westbeech record.  I kind of put that one to sleep and wanted to move on and do something else.”

So how did he overcome it?  “Well, I just got asked to do this record, and that was it.  It wasn’t a case of overcoming anything.  You know, it just that I got a project to focus on again, so I focused on that.”

It was the house label Strictly Rhythm who approached and helped Ben and his band produce his long overdue follow-up album, There’s More To Life Than This.  “They approached me and said, ‘Have you thought of making a house record?’ So we thought about it and just said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it, let’s make a record with them.’  That’s then what turned into There’s More To Life Than This.”

Recording over 12 months all over the world, Ben’s describes his album as house inspired rather than straight up house music. “It wasn’t something I’ve always wanted to do.  It wasn’t at the time anything I really thought of putting my mind to.  But when they suggested it, you know, I mulled it over and thought, ‘Yeah, it makes a lot of sense,'” he says.  “I was playing a lot of house music at the time as a DJ, so it kind of did make a lot of sense to make a house record.  But then it sort of turned away from a house record and more into a house-inspired record.”

From listening to the album, it’s certainly a soulful, upbeat, house-sounding range of tuneful gems that are fit for any summer’s pool party – but what was the direction he initially intended for it?  “We chose a list of producers that we wanted to work with, and just went and made records with them all.  There was no concept to be put across, just work with a load of house producers and see if we can make a record out of it really.  That was the vibe,” he says. The eclectic range of different house producers that Ben collaborated with included Motor City Drum Ensemble, Redlight, Georg Levin, Chocolate Puma, Midand, Soul Clap, and Henrik Schwarz.  Many of whom Ben visited to their home countries; “It was nice to hang out with the producers in their own environment, and to get to know their friends.  We would go out for dinner, go drinking, have fun, and then go make some music.  It was cool.”

“With this album, there was no set way of working; it was all quite organic and all fresh.  Everything was different with every producer.  I think that was the nice thing about going and working with them in their own studios, which is important to get a sound for the record as well.  I think that if I had just done it in my studio, it would have just sounded a lot different.  It would have sounded like me featuring with a load of producers instead of me actually getting involved with the music.  So there was no set way of doing it, just have whatever worked, whatever worked logistically, or practically, in order to make the record work.”

What’s interesting about this album is that it’s reminiscent to the great artists of the house genre in the noughties period.  Musicians like Jamiroquai, Modjo, Stardust and Superman Lovers, can all clearly be compared to the sound of Ben’s second installment.  It could even be argued that they were his influences at the time.

“Everyone always says that I’m sounding like Jamiroquai, but he’s like, not a major influence at all,” Ben says. “I would say that I was more inspired by people like Labi Siffre you know, and that sort of sound from the olden days.  To think, it’s probably where Jay Kay (Jason Cheetham) got a lot of his sound from.  But I’d never say that he was an influence or whatever, I just think that it is because my voice sounds similar to his.  He’s never really inspired me, but I mean he’s amazing, I love what he does, but I never really focused on him as an inspiration.”

There’s More To Life Than This is certainly more up-to-date than the house music of the ‘00s, particularly in the politically charged track, “Justice”.  “It’s just about the state of affairs that this country is in, and probably a lot of places in the world are in as well.  People just forget about it.  You’re so caught up in what you’re doing in life, you know. 

“It’s so easy to forget about the bad shit that’s going on.  You see people on the streets everyday.  I think if you live in the city, you’re so used to seeing it all the time, you almost block yourself off from it.  It’s important to think about it sometimes.” 

Ben Westbeech – “Justice”:

There’s More To Life Than This is out now. Performing a series of live dates around European, visit for tourdates. You can also follow Ben on twitter @BenWestbeech.