Ben Gillies is about two weeks off officially releasing his new solo album Diamond Days to the world. Performing under his new project Bento, the Silverchair co-founder and drummer has shown he is more than capable of heading up a band of his own and has stepped into the spotlight as lead vocalist on the new material. Gillies chats with me about the making of the album, its place in Silverchair's timeline and what it's been like to branch out on his own once more.
Diamond Days is a cracker of a record, I’ve been able to listen to it a few times now. You’ve been working on this album for quite some time, haven’t you?
Yeah, definitely. It’s been about two years in the making; I went into the studio with a friend of mine and at first, I didn’t think I was making a record, but as time went along it felt like one and I just ran with it.
Did you have any songs stored up before Silverchair announced its break, which have made it onto this record, or did you approach the writing and recording process of this album with a completely clean slate?
Well with Silverchair, we haven’t actually broken up; we’re on an indefinite break! It was a bit of a blessing in disguise because it’s given me a lot of breathing room to do the Bento stuff. I think that there is nothing negative on there about Silverchair, it’s more about just breaking free and doing something different and discovering myself and being really excited.
You take on lead vocals, obviously, with this material – did it feel strange to be taking this position in the band? I know you’d done it previously with Tambalane, but Bento seems to be a whole new phase and chapter for you.
Yeah, definitely; doing the frontman thing has been scary, but I’m really excited by it and I’m excited by the fact that in Bento, I’ve got my own voice and I can say what I want to say without having to run it by anyone else, you know? I mean, being in Silverchair, it’s great, because you’ve got your bandmates next to you and you feed off each other, but having a project that’s completely mine…I guess after doing Silverchair for so long, it’s liberating and exciting.
I particularly enjoy “Living Strong” and “Miss My Mind”; can you tell me what is behind those two songs in particular? The arrangements are brilliant.
“Living Strong”…you’ve put me on the spot…
I’m doing my job well, then…
[Laughs] No you are! The thing is, I haven’t many interviews yet so I’m still trying to think of how to abbreviate their meanings without being too crazy. I think “Living Strong” is about having minders or bosses and them being in charge of a lot of your life and you taking back ownership; being your own boss again not really answering to anyone else. A lot of my life, I’ve always had management and people looking after me and it’s about being like, ‘You know what, I can do this on my own and I don’t need all these minders’. What was the other one?
“Miss My Mind”.
I think “Miss My Mind” is about old habits and how they die hard; you know how sometimes, you do the same thing over and over again and you expect a different outcome, but ultimately you get the same outcome? You know that it’s going to be the same, but you just do it again. It’s about that.
What’s great about this album is that, as the press release states, it sounds nothing like what people might be expecting from you, coming out of Silverchair and your work with the band. It’s always going to be a risky move for any musician releasing material which separates them from the larger, more iconic band they’ve been so long associated with – how did you approach the possibility of people automatically setting Diamond Days up against Silverchair material?
I think it’s probably a natural thing; even if I heard a band outside from a musician that had been in a band for a long time, you’re automatically going to think, ‘I wonder if sounds similar?’. I expected that to happen anyway and I kind of embrace it, you know? I mean, being in Silverchair and playing music with two really good friends, it’s an amazing experience, but for me, Bento is a completely separate thing, you know? It really has nothing to do with it but at the same time, I’ve got to appreciate that people are going to ask those questions. Once they listen to the music, people will quickly realise that it really is separate from Silverchair.
That definitely comes across; I think that once people finally get to listen to the record, there are going to be so many things that they’ll pick up on, that they’ll forget.
Yeah definitely! The funny thing is, I haven’t really done much press over the last few years; you can tell from the press that they’ve picked up that it’s very different and in a way, it’s a kind of blessing, because there isn’t really talking point where it’s like, ‘Oh it’s like Silverchair…', it’s mostly like ‘Okay cool, it’s a different thing and we want to hear about that’ – it’s been a great experience actually up til this very moment!
You pulled together some impressive muso mates of yours in working on Diamond Days - how much did the recording process feel like you were just working with mates, as opposed to the formalities and restraints an album-making process could potentially entail?
One of the great things about making this record was that I didn’t have the pressure of a record company. There was definitely pressure to come up with something good, but being in the studio and having guys come in who were not only friends, but amazing musicians…the whole process was really fun, but that was one of the sweeteners along the way. People like Scott Alpin or Tom Rawle coming in, they’d just tear it up. I was just saying to someone earlier today that it was great because a lot of their parts…we’d be sitting in the studio and we’d be like, ‘Okay, we need an amazing keyboard part’ and we’d just get on the phone to friends and we’d say, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Did you want to come by the studio and play?’. It was a really great way to do it, because the parts that you got were very reactive and instinctual; they didn’t have much time to think about and process the song, they just had to react to it and go with it.
The flow of the material on the record definitely nods to a real organic process and work between each player.
The funny thing is, the album is a real patchwork quilt. It’s all stitched together; because of those guys who really helped the album mesh, like Tom and Scott and Dave – they were probably the main guys who played from start to finish on a lot of the songs. Those little elements are what makes the whole album…you know, it’s got that common thread that tightens it all up and makes it sound like it’s a rocking band that’s been playing together for 10 or 20 years, you know?
I noticed on Twitter especially, the amount of Ben Gillies fan pages who utterly adore you and are keen supporters of your solo effort; it must be a nice feeling to know you already had a decent army of supporters even before any Diamond Days material was released!
Definitely; one of my fears was not a backlash, but the reaction from Silverchair fans, whether or not they’d take it onboard and when I put “Diamond Days” out and launched the whole project, the reaction from media and fans has been really uplifting and positive. It’s amazing and I feel very privileged that people have embraced it the way they have. It’s just been great and we’ll just keep going and at the end of the day, it’s just about good music, you know? It’s not too complicated – if you do good music and you’re not an asshole, usually things go okay! The thing is, the Bento project, it’s my baby and you know, I see it as, if I’m not doing Silverchair, this is my main focus. Silverchair and Bento for me now is like a parallel existence and it’s just about being true to myself and making good music; if people want to come along for the ride, that’s fantastic.
It’s probably very early days yet, but are there plans for launch shows?
I’m doing a launch in Sydney on the 23rd of October; I’m just getting a lot of people who worked on the record along, but apart from that, there’s no real plans. I’m just focusing on getting the record out, getting the Bento audience out there as much as I can and if I do any touring, I’d say it’ll be in the new year. We’ll hopefully get out there and do some shows.
Sweet news – definitely looking forward to seeing how some of this stuff will go down live.
Awesome, yeah it’ll be damn fun.
Well thanks for the interview man, you’ve been on my bucket list of people to chat with, so thanks for your time!
Oh thank you, I’m sure we’ll talk again in the future!
Have a great day Ben, we’ll catch up with you soon!
Same to you, take care!