“For the first time, I just decided to do something that was me.”
Next time you’re out in a crowded town centre, look around at the people either side of you. Some of them have known what they wanted from day one. Remember that kid who was 15 and had already found his girlfriend for life? He’s still happy now; dude is married, chuffed and comfortably living two streets down from his old dears. Then there’s you… chances are you probably haven’t found every last thing that you’re looking for, no matter how old you are. It can take people a whole lifetime to really tie themselves to something; to perfectly find a routine, method or purpose that they can truly call their own.
Good musicians are the same; they’re never happy, always pushing and plucking at things, testing out new chord phrases, structures or mediums. So, when one of them finds a particular soundset that they’re pleased enough to call their own, it’s kind of a big deal; a new world that’s ready to explore and populate with nuggets of sound. That’s how I picture it anyway. Some people are happy to rework the same beat over and over and maybe, I dunno, just reverse the vocal samples so they sound different but stay in the same key.
Ben Ash is one guy from the former camp, a producer who gets excited at the notion of his own ‘sound’, and rightly so. As Two Inch Punch, Ash released one of the most delightfully mournful records of 2011 with the ‘Love You Up’ EP. Dropping on PMR, it was tied by association to the work of labelmates Julio Bashmore and L-Vis 1990, but it was uniquely different; a tortured exploration of conventional, three and a half minute pop songwriting set atop embellished hip-hop instrumentals that blurted emotion out of every synth lick or choked vocal phrase.
“When I first did those tracks I wrote them on nothing really,” Ash tells Trap over a skype line on one of the hottest days of the year yet. “It was a new project I did for fun and it just started to grow and develop. I was actually writing for other people for ages but it was never really quite right, like it didn’t fit because I was always trying to do what I thought they wanted or what their sound was. But then, for the first time, I just decided to do something that was me.”
“the biggest thing i did was a beat for lil wayne”
A producer in the traditional sense – a central figure directing the songwriting and driving the recording processes – Ash took stock of some of his favourite artists and their audible calling cards, citing DJ Premier and Neptunes as two obvious examples.
“I was writing for all kinds of stuff,” he continues when pushed on those past collaborations. “It was all on whim. The biggest thing I did was a beat for Lil Wayne, which he rapped on but it never came out. I only heard it played back to me down the phone, they wouldn’t give me a copy. I didn’t have a sound yet, so there was no reason that people would come to me. I was just doing stuff and hoping it would work. It didn’t have an identity; it didn’t really feel like anything, so that’s why I decided to do Two Inch Punch and just set up my own thing and try and get a sound that people would want.”
“I don’t really listen to tons and tons of electronic music,” he continues. “I’ve sort of been put in that bracket somehow but really, everything I do and have listened to has all been song based; whether it’s The Beatles, some Motown or even various aspects of hip-hop, which is more sort of verse/chorus format.”
With Ash not really locked into the cyclical transience of electronic dance music circles, over time he was able to establish something that he was totally happy with, which resulted in that first EP; a collection of songs that shared a tonal familiarity with each other as well as a similar sentiment. One of the most overwhelming things about Two Inch Punch’s songs is just how downbeat they feel, even when they’re paced up a bit. And given the loose shroud of mystery (he didn’t have an exhaustative biog or cliched press shot) around him when that first EP emerged, you’d be forgiven for half expecting him to be hard work. But, in person he’s positively chipper, talking incredibly fast through the formal part of the interview like it’s not something he’s entirely used to just yet.
“I remember back in the day, in the 90s and stuff, there was a couple of bands I was really into and you couldn’t just go online and find images of them. All there was was the one photo on their album and that’s all you had, you didn’t know anything else about them. It made reading interviews and seeing them live much more exciting, whereas now you think ‘that’s a nice track’, go online and find out everything about them. It kinda kills the mystery a little bit. It can kinda ruin it y’know?”
With his second EP, ‘Saturn: The Slow Jams’, due out on PMR later this summer Ash will soon be entering into another promotional phase that’ll no doubt take him away from the seclusion and security of his studio and expose him to the world. You get the impression after talking to him for half an hour that he’s crafted a certain level of comfort for himself, able to really explore the depths of his own sound-set, so it’s interesting to learn how much he relies and feeds off the collaborative process:
“What I’ve always really wanted to do is just write and produce and that’s been my main thing, but I don’t sing. Like, I’ll do some backing vocals, but I always try and get inspiration from another vocalist, so I always need someone to work with. It’s always gonna be me producing for them, that’s the natural thing and I’m comfortable doing that now because I’ve got a sound, that thing that I wanted, so when I go in to a session people know what to expect from me.”
Having already committed to an album, and with his new EP being preceed by the ‘Paint It Red’ single, a duo of collaborations on Javeon McCarthy’s forthcoming PMR EP and a remix for Wacka Flocka Flame, it would seem that the world’s yet to be that privileged in its expectation. Like I said before, most people don’t even know what they want…
Words: Oli Marlow
‘Saturn: The Slow Jams’ EP is out now on PMR.