Exclusive Interview: Ben Pearce
You should all be well aware of Ben Pearce, the Manchester-based artist who exploded on to the scene with one of the biggest tracks in recent times, ‘What I Might Do’, which was so big that Tesco snapped it up for one of their television advertisements. Of course, he is not a one-hit wonder nor is he one of those producer-turned-DJ types who can’t really handle a set of decks. Ben has been DJing for a long while, for five years before he made it big in fact, and he runs his own label, Purp & Soul, as well as having releases and remixes on his own label, MTA Records and Ninja Tune to name but a few. With a hectic touring schedule, he’s a difficult man to pin down but we recently grabbed a quick phone call with him…
How’s 2014 been for you so far?
It’s been really good, I haven’t released as much as I would have liked to because I’ve been so busy touring. The backlash of having that first year has carried over and I’ve been really busy. It’s only over the last two weeks when I’ve had a bit more free time to get back in the studio, which has been amazing because the first part of the year was like, “Ahhhhh”, so busy. But’s it a lot different to working in a call centre or a bank or whatever. It was difficult to adjust at first but now I feel like I’m limbered up and stretched ready for the marathon weekends, so I’m not getting as tired nowadays.
How long did it take you to get used to it?
Ages, I guess I’m still adjusting now. It’s difficult to gauge, especially when you’re touring on your own – being sat at an airport going, ‘Urrrgggh!’ and wondering if everyone feels the same when they’re in that position. I feel a lot better this year, a bit more excited and positive about the weekends instead of being overwhelmed by it all.
Did you have any down moments where it really felt too much?
Not really any bad moments, just the pressure of trying to perform well and not have a bad gig or a bad review. I have really bad self-esteem anyway so those kind of things really got to me for a while, but I’m building up a thicker skin now – the pressure it still there, like it is with any job really.
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I saw the video of you playing the Main Room at Space in Ibiza, that must be quite an experience!
Yeahhh, that was weird. It was almost like an out-of-body experience, looking down on myself dancing in the booth. I don’t usually dance, I’m usually deadpan! That was amazing, really really amazing. When I’ve been to Space in the past, as a punter, I’d never really been in that room – I always spent time in the Terrace – actually DJing in that room is insane, the crowd is ridiculous.
It is indeed. How has being on the road so much fed back into your DJing and production?
With production, it’s juggling my time between being on the road and working on music in the studio. It’s having the discipline to sit down and not want to go off and do something else, because being on the road is so hectic and energetic, while producing is largely sitting there for eight hours or more. It’s hard to get back into it on a Monday or Tuesday when you’re back from touring. DJing has changed too, not so much in terms of confidence, I was a DJ for five years before that track came out so I don’t have a problem with confidence – it’s changed the way I prepare for sets now. In the first year I didn’t know what people in Holland liked, or people in Italy, but now I can sit down and get a playlist together for where I’m going. It’s less hectic when you can gauge roughly what the crowd wants.
What about the effect that all the touring has had on your personal life?
I never really think about it, I just get back home and get on with it. Up north it’s a lot more difficult to lose yourself, if you get an ego people will shoot down… quickly! I just keep them separate, I played golf this morning which was like meditation for me, now I’m at mine cooking for my mates. If you’re always full-on with music, thinking about it and working all the time you burn yourself out. You need to give yourself time and space away from it, too and do other things… like stressing yourself out cooking for friends!
What are you actually working on at the moment?
No releases pending, but I’m working with a few vocalists on a few different tracks. I’ve worked with a couple of other producers recently as well. I’m just in the dry patch where there’s nothing pending but I’m getting stuff together ready to put out there later down the line.
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What’s happening with the label as well?
It’s going really well, we just had our 11th release with Cy Humphreys. That’s gone down really well and the next one’s from Harry Wolfman, then Jouhl. I’m enjoying plodding along with that, it’s not something I want to use to get tracks in the charts or anything like that it’s just nice to have this family of artists who are all doing well.
Yeah, that’s what I was going to say, it seems as though from the beginning it’s been a family-orientated type of label…
It happened naturally, it was never planned. It gives it a real strong sense of camaraderie. Lately we’ve been quite busy, all of us, and we’ve not been able to put as much into it as we want to. But we give it time when we can – we all got together at Secret Garden Party as we had a stage there and that was incredible.
Speaking of Secret Garden Party. That’s an event that DJs always look forward to, but are there any other festivals or locations you really get excited about going to?
I always enjoy playing in Holland, I’ve never had a bad gig there. Clubs like fabric and Sub Club are always ones that, when the booking comes through, you’re like, ‘Yes! This is going to be awesome!’. I’m playing fabric again in October actually, and it’s my birthday too so I’m really looking forward to that one. That’s going to be fun. Festival-wise, Secret Garden Party is always amazing… it’s a clichéd answer but, so far, all the festivals I’ve played at have been really good. I don’t think I’ve played at enough of them to have a favourite.
Are you still listening to other music besides house?
Oh yeah, of course. I got really excited when I was booked to play Reading and Leeds because Blink182 are headlining, I definitely want to go and see them. I’ve wanted to see them for ages. I know it sounds bad but I don’t usually listen to house music, if I’m going about my business with my headphones in or whatever, I won’t have it on.
That’s not bad at all, it’s a good way to be. It gives you a fresher perspective on things… Is there anything in particular you’re really enjoying outside of house at the moment?
Yeah, Wild Beasts and Future Islands. I’ve been listening to lots of City and Colour lately, I won’t listen to them for ages and then I’ll just binge on them for about a month.
Lastly, in your opinion, what defines ‘deep house’?
It’s really hard isn’t it? I guess it’s minor chords, atmospherics… nothing too banging. My pinnicle of it would be Larry Heard. I don’t think much of the stuff that’s called deep house these days is actually deep house. Genres are best kept for record stores and Beatport, just make music that’s good and if you like it, then that’s all that counts. That’s always been my take on it. These days people are too tied up on defining music, but you can get too caught up in that and not enjoy it.
Ben Pearce will be at The Social Festival on the 13th September more info below…
Line-up: Âme | Art Department | Ben Pearce | Carl Cox | Craig Richards | Dixon | Gorgon City | Guy Gerber | Mark Fanciulli | Nic Fanciulli | Nina Kraviz | Oliver $ | Rob Cockerton | Route 94 | Secondcity | Seth Troxler | Simon Dunmore | Shadow Child | Subb-an | tINI | Tristan Ingram and more…