FOCUS: "YOUR OWN WORDS" - interview to BEN FREEMAN
Queer alternative R&B/soul singer-songwriter Ben Freeman returns with "Long Distance," the first song off a retro-inspired EP and the second collaboration with Nora Rothman and producer Jackson Hoffman.
FOCUS: "YOUR OWN WORDS" - interview to Ben Freeman
Queer alternative R&B/soul singer-songwriter Ben Freeman returns with "Long Distance," the first song off a retro-inspired EP and the second collaboration with Nora Rothman and producer Jackson Hoffman. Last year's self-produced album Quiet Fury saw media attention and steady growth in listeners and playlist inclusion. Upcoming concert dates include Queerchella Music Festival and Sofar Sounds in New York, after a recent solo show at Rockwood Music Hall. A delayed distillation of the experience of feeling both close and far from someone at the same time, "Long Distance" was written after Ben and his partner moved in together after two years apart. It features Ben's signature vocal arranging (in filtered, washed-out form), Rhodes-inspired keys, and an irresistible groove.
Hi Ben. Can you describe your artistic project? What first inspired you to make music?
I'm a singer, songwriter, and producer who sings about the big joys and quiet hurts of being alive. I see myself as a storyteller and a convener of community. I'm intentional about using my live performances as an opportunity to sing together, to put face gems on, and to get to know each other by having an intimate experience together. I released a first EP, Providence, back in 2015 — a set of five heartbreak songs. My first full-length album, 2022's Quiet Fury, was a collection of hymns and healing songs, a portrait of a moment of personal reckoning in the face of trauma. This summer I'm rolling out a retro-inspired alternative R&B/soul EP. I started making music because I ached to understand why humans do the strange and beautiful and sad and silly things that we do. Exploring my own inner world ended up being a powerful path for me to both live into those questions personally and to connect more deeply with others through them.
How often do you write new songs?
I'm always recording voice notes with song ideas. Quite often those song ideas stay in provisional form on my phone; it's often hard for me to push them to the next stage. Sometimes sitting down at the computer helps me move through the inertia, sometimes taking a class or going to a songwriting workshop or retreat helps, and sometimes it just naturally emerges with time. But the progression from essence to full draft is often a slow process for me.
What is your preferred method of writing and producing music, alone or in a team?
Although I self-produced the full-length album that I put out in 2022, at this moment I am deeply enjoying the process of partnering with a producer to elevate what I know how to do and to bounce ideas off of in real time. The way Jack and I work together is we use the bones of the demo that I've arranged and produced and add, subtract, refine, and reshape the sounds and vocals until it feels robust and tight. That's been a powerful process for me — the final products sound both like my production voice and like his. I currently write all my music solo. I'm interested in co-writing but have found it challenging in the past. Working on it!
What's the best advice you've ever received about pursuing a career in music?
An acquaintance of mine whose music I love, Elizabeth Woolf, says "I'm a singer-songwriter doing the best I can to sing about what I know to be true." I love the simplicity of that. It's not my job to write toward what I think people want to hear. It's my job to pay attention; to go deep; to listen, adapt, and respond; and to stand by the authenticity of the mirror I'm trying to hold up to the world through the lens of my own experience.
Do you have any funny or interesting stories from being on the road as a musician that you can share with us?
I lived for two years in Madrid, Spain, and sang in a Black church-style gospel choir while I lived there. We sang in venues all over the country and once opened a reception for the Queen Mother of Spain. It was a trip to speak Spanish in front of the Queen! She's actually Greek, so less pressure than I realized in the moment. ;-)
If you could collaborate with any artist in the world, who would you choose?
Lake Street Dive, serpentwithfeet, or Sufjan Stevens.
Are you planning anything exciting that we can look forward to?
"Long Distance" is the first song off a retro-inspired alternative R&B/soul EP that I'm rolling out over the summer and into the early fall. Look out for two more singles on the way! I'm also playing my first Sofar Sounds show on August 5 in New York City and looking forward to taking some time away from constant output to recharge and finish some songs-in-process this fall.