Rising NYC-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Shaun Benjamin is fresh from the release of his debut LP. Benjamin dropped the exhilarating ten track ‘Evoke’ LP earlier in October via budding imprint Earthly Delights. We had the pleasure of catching up with the uber-talented artist this week as he took us through the inspirations behind the album, his top 3 LPs ever and lots more…
WWD: The album offers up a refreshing electronic blend. What were the key sources of inspiration fueling its creation?
Evoke is inspired by emotions, feelings and responses to my cultural journey as an artist. It’s my path of exploring universal values of inner harmony, equality, peace, beauty, unity and nature. Coming from Singapore, my intention was to harmonize Eastern values with the Western world. I found purpose in fusing the different worlds of classical, ethnic and electronic music.
As a percussionist, Ive always been drawn to the various drumming techniques from around the world. I began to realize every sound had a unique culture behind it, and it became an incredible journey exploring these techniques and how they were made. For example, I was really drawn to the Darbuka (Turkey) and Djembe (Mali). Two powerful drums that come from very different cultures. The way these drums are played and held are completely different, expanding the way my fingers approach the drum. This began my journey to seeking out instruments, players and recordings of percussions.
Inspired by New York’s electronic scene I had an innate desire to explore the world of hardware synths and sound design. I’ve played the piano but realized with the synthesizer I could push the understanding of sound. It was exciting to be a musician and a sound designer at the same time.
All the tracks started initially with ambient sounds of spaces. There’s a soul in the recordings of natural spaces like the Rainforest’s of Australia to the streams of upstate New York. I tend to take the experience of the space and begin to write from there. I guess maybe being in New York I miss the vastness of space and natural cleansing sounds. So this album is my way of bringing back mother nature into the music creation process.
WWD: Going into the studio, what were you hoping to achieve with the productions?
This project took a life of its own. Initially intended to be an 3 track EP became a 10 track album. Everything just flowed when I started to look inwards to explore myself, inner feelings, emotions. I created a space where I am able to feel safe and get lost in sound. And yes, I found myself through sound.
There is deep symbolism in this project for me, as I’m taking a stronger leadership role in my life and diving deeper into essence of art, music , society. Artistically I’m blending the elements of concert hall and ethnic cultures into the electronic stage.
All of this is done by integrating live instrument improvisation with synthesizers and sequencing. This allowed me to discover the sound synthesis and design element in music, marrying the worlds of DJ-ing and production performance into one.
WWD: Are there any albums in the electronic domain that stand out for you as ideal examples of quality LPs?
Massive Attack – Mezzanine
Damian Lazarus & The Ancient Moons – Message From the Other Side
Nicola Cruz – Prender el Alma
WWD: Can you tell us about some of the key production tools behind the album?
Ableton Live with The APC 40 played a huge role in sequencing and recording. Plus, these are my tools for live performance, which makes the music creation process very seamless and lively.
Mehmet Aydin played electric violin and viola. It was my first time recording live strings and experimenting with a electric violin. We were both really new to making electronic music so we definitely experimented with a bunch of things from guitar pedals, amps, effects to spaces.
I used an Apollo Twin from Universal Audio for recording the strings, including the guitar and percussions. It was fun to sound design patches for live and incorporate it into the album. I played live percussions like the Djembe, Darbuka, and for some songs electronic drums.
The Nord Lead 4 has been my main tool for live performance and the synths in the album. The Juno 106 was a fun piece to experiment and create the soundscapes.
WWD: We know it’s a moment many artists can struggle with. Tell us about the day you decided “yes that’s it, all done!”
It’s not all done yet. The concept behind this album is to be 3 dimensional, so it has 3 parts to it. This version is the listening version, and then there’s an ambient and a remix version with collaboration with 10 other producers around the world. This collaboration has been one of my favorite aspects of the album, allowing me to infuse my music with international musical expressions.
WWD: What was the one thing you found most difficult about putting it together?
This is my first time making an album of this complexity. Moving through the various phases of creating an album is a difficult process and a lot of this developed through experimentation rather than a set writing formula. All of this, combined with the fact that I experienced several hard drive crashes and computer problems… I’m just grateful I was able to finish the album!
WWD: Is there a meaning or vision behind the title ‘Evoke’?
Evoke is to recall the conscious mind. The smells, the sounds and the color that can evoke memories. I believe through a deeper exploration of ones psyche I was able to find harmony in chaotic times. It is inspired by the social, political, and emotional pressure we all experience everyday.
WWD : Now that the production side of things is all sewn up. What do you have in store for the rest 2018?
A combination of New York residencies and international gigs. I just spent my summer in Turkey and Portugal soaking up new sounds and experiences, so I’m learning a few new instruments like the Bendir and Saz which I’ll incorporate into my live performances. I’ve really been focusing my creative energy on collecting new sounds and instruments, so it’s gonna be a fun next few months in the studio.
Buy the ‘Evoke’ LP here.
Follow: Earthly Delights