For an artist whose debut album’s title features the words ‘There’s Always Hope’, when we caught up with Benjamin Shaw he didn’t seem as upbeat as you might expect. He’s got no reason to be downhearted though – said record is a wonderful beast, garnering more than its fair share of plaudits. Bedroom recordings described by Shaw himself as a mix of “Sparklehorse, Hefner, the Moldy Peaches and Gram Parsons,” it’s one of the hidden gems of 2011.
Your debut album ‘There’s Always Hope, There’s Always Cabernet’ was released last month. For people who’ve not heard it yet, how would you advice they tackle it?
It’s probably best to approach this record with very low expectations. It is noisy, slow, badly recorded, and probably not for you. However, if you do enjoy listening to drunk northerners mumbling grumpy lullabies to themselves on the last train home, then please jump on board.
The inclusion of a seven-minute piano ballad and lyrics like “picturing your limbs in the freezer” don’t hint that it’s the easiest of listens. Was that intentional/important to you?
In my younger days, I probably would have tried to make something with that kind of intention, y’know, to stick it up ’em. But, the years plod on, and one tends to find more enjoyment from just making the things that he loves. These days not many people buy music anyway, at least not mine, so to make something with an intent purpose of being either ‘radio-friendly’ or ‘difficult’, seems a bit silly. Why not just create what you enjoy? And if you do alienate any potential audiences along the way, well, then that’s just a happy coincidence.
What do you hope that listeners take away from the album?
I hope this album would make the listener think, “Yes, thank you, someone else fucking hates their job too.”
Topics covered vary quite dramatically – where do you generally seek inspiration from when writing new material?
I’m not so hot at writing new material, things come through very slowly and I have to really force it. Even then, most of it gets discarded unless I think it’s fucking fantastic. So, it’s a pain, really. Also, being an emotionally void and crippled Englishman, I tend to not have any of my own feelings and emotions, so I have learnt to observe and ape others. This is mostly where the songs come from.
With everything from your website to seemingly the album’s artwork, you’ve adopted a DIY approach. Was it important to you to have ultimate control over everything? From the beginning, I’ve always felt like if I’m putting things out under my own name, and not a pseudonym, then I would like to do everything I possibly can myself. Sometimes, as hard as I try to make something classy and beautiful, it will often turn out pretty shoddy, but luckily people are easily duped into thinking that it was an artistic choice. Lo-fi indeed!
What can you tell us about the album’s recording process?
Well, it was recorded in little bits, on various computers, and in each of the three places we’ve lived in London – Tottenham, Hornsey and Finsbury Park – over the last six years, and then snipped and sampled and re-recorded and pasted back together over an arduous first half of 2011. I’m very happy with the outcome, but I think I’m mostly just glad it’s over.
Do you have any plans to take the new record on the road?
For a couple of weeks in September and October I spent a wonderful time with some friends I had met through the people at hi54lofirecords.com, and we played a few shows across Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, London and Rotterdam. It was a pretty great trip, but of this new album I sold a grand total of three copies. Next year, me and the noisemaker Broken Shoulder have big plans to do a small tour of South West Yorkshire, but mainly just to visit some nice pubs.
Finally, what’s the plan for next year?
I wouldn’t mind quitting my job, quitting music, and finding something better to do with my time. But good things don’t happen to me.