Late last year I reviewed Let Yourself Be Huge, the latest release from solo artist Ben Sharp aka Cloudkicker. I’ve been following Sharp’s career for some time now, and was happy to take the opportunity to use CVLT Nation as a means to share his music with people who may not have heard of him. I recently had a chance to ask Cloudkicker a few questions regarding his new album, working as a solo artist, and the future.
Hello Ben, how are things in the Cloudkicker camp?
Things are as awesome as they have ever been and they seem to just be getting more awesome.
What were the events that led up to the conception and recording of LYBH? You’ve hinted you might be going in this direction on some of the songs from Beacons, but it’s such a decidedly non-metal record. Is this part of Cloudkicker’s progression and it was just a matter of time before you made an album like this, or was there something specific that made you want to create a more mellow record?
I think it is in large part a response to Beacons and a response to the expectations of what Cloudkicker is or should be, for me as much as any other interested parties. I am really proud of what Beacons is, and the crazy reaction that it received from the great deciding body of The Internet, and how that leaked into my real non-internet life is really a testament that the feelings I feel about it are valid. But it was really hard for me to try and get out of that shadow and overcome the desire to “top Beacons” because I just don’t think it’s going to happen in the classic, linear sense.
So I kind of had a “ah screw it” moment or moments and decided to do something totally and completely different, which of course ended up being the Let Yourself Be Huge/Loop conglomerate. It was really fun for me to write with the mentality of “well what wouldn’t I do here” and then do that. And if you listen to all of the releases in chronological order, I feel like Huge&Loop fit in as much as anything else. I’m a big believer in the give and take, push and pull, tension and release of life. It makes things interesting.
Read the full interview after the jump!
The songs all have a similar mood and vibe to them, it’s almost nostalgic. What are some of the themes of the record, if any?
The biggest to me is the idea embodied in the title of the record, of letting yourself realize how much of your self there actually is. Without going too far down the spirituality rabbit hole, there is a lot more to what “you” are than what seems to be intuitive and all it takes is a simple conversation or simple realizations at the right time to start to understand and conceptualize that. In a way I’m trying to facilitate something like that in other people, to plant some idea, big or small.
The album title sounds like it’s about finding confidence and realizing your full potential. Was there anything holding you back when you were trying to make this record?
As I touched on earlier, the expectations that I had for what I was “supposed to do” were definitely there–even if I was just imagining or projecting them. So the writing process was unusual because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do until I was almost done with what ended up being on the release. Usually I at least have some sort of “vision” that defines the writing process and allows some kind of way to discern whether what I’m writing will make the grade.
This is the first Cloudkicker album on which you played drums. How do you like using the electronic drumkit as opposed to programming them? Do you have a background in drumming or was there some learning you had to do? If you decide to do a more metal-oriented record again, will you switch back to programmed drums?
Yeah it was pretty fun. I enjoyed coming up with beats in a very organic way and it helped add to the feeling of doing something totally new, not getting stuck in a rut. I have a very basic drum skill set but I think I could be pretty ok if I was able to spend some time on it or play with people.
I have started writing and it’s back to manually programming. I think I got it out of my system.
The last song on LYBH features some vocals. Is that you singing, and can we expect more vocals on future Cloudkicker releases?
Yes that’s me. I don’t know if there will be more, I didn’t know there would be on that song when I started writing it either!
The new record was released simultaneously with a companion record called Loop which consisted of 16 short looped tracks. Were these potential song ideas that never got fleshed out, or was the idea to make a release of these quick impressions of songs?
No the idea was just to get even more bare-bones and to go even more past the expectations of both myself and others. Are the tracks even songs? If so then what constitutes a song? People can freak out when they don’t know how to define something, and that’s Loop. It’s just music, and if you like it then you like it, if not then you don’t. Don’t worry about how to describe it.
Will any of the melodies on Loop make it into a full Cloudkicker song? Which is your favorite loop on Loop?
I really like them the way they are. I made almost half of them in a day or two, and it was really fun to just come up with ideas knowing that that’s all they were going to be. It was a lot more hands on also, because I recorded them primarily with an acoustic guitar, a delay pedal, and a loop pedal, and I didn’t have to worry about reproducing the sounds ever again so I just kind of went nuts and twisted a bunch of dials around to see what would happen. I really like 3 and 15, but they all remind me of something pleasant.
LYBH features a lot of beautiful acoustic guitar work. Have you ever considered doing a full record of just acoustic tracks?
I did! It’s called Let Yourself Be Huge!
No I know what you mean. But I think I’ve taken care of the acoustic bug for a little while. We’ll see.
Cloudkicker songs are usually very densely layered. How do you know when the song has enough guitar tracks? As a solo musician, do you ever find yourself getting carried away and having to edit yourself in terms of how many guitar tracks you put into a song?
At this point I am much more conscious and deliberate about how songs are layered. I actually try to do as few as possible, unless I’m purposely trying to create that incredibly dense sound. I know things may not sound too different, but back on some of the earlier songs I would just keep adding layers and layers and not even really think about what each specific layer was doing, as long as it fit sonically.
Just out of my own personal curiosity, my favorite release of yours is probably the ‘]]][[[' EP. How did this release come about and what was inspiring you at the time? You re-released it without distortion on the bass and it totally changed the feel of the EP. I prefer the distorted version, what led you to do this?
Well there's not distortion on the first bass part on the first song, but it's still there on the other parts. I was always critical of that first track because I thought the intro was too dense and didn't really go anywhere so I gave it a little more direction when I re-did it. I know that totally goes against my established "what's done is done" ethos, but I did it anyway.
That album was kind of like Huge because it was also sort of a response to older things, and it explored some new territory, but it is a total oddball. I wrote those three songs and then I started writing what would become Beacons, and the songs just didn't really seem like they fit together very well. Beacons has a much more brooding, eerie vibe than ]]][[[, so I decided to just put them out by themselves and continue writing for Beacons as a separate entity.
Cloudkicker has a dedicated and generous fanbase. You’ve always made your music available for free, but now with bandcamp and you releasing physical formats of your music fans have the option to pay for it and have. Beacons sold well and was able to fund the recording of the new album. Have people been as receptive to LYBH? Is it doing as well as Beacons?
It has done better than Beacons! The response has been exponential, which is totally mind-blowing. So whatever comes next will totally be funded with that money, and hopefully the cycle will repeat.
What can we expect from Cloudkicker in 2012?
I’ve gotten pretty far into the “next thing” that I anticipate will be done sometime in the second half of the year, but don’t hold me to anything. It’s definitely a return to familiar ground, but incorporating a wide variety of new influences that I hope will continue to help me evolve and keep things interesting.