Benjamin Forbes loves his art. Since strapping on a guitar as a kid to fronting five-piece outfit Little Casino, he has meticulously worked on his craft as a singer-songwriter. It was while travelling around the world armed only with a travel guitar that he would find his musical self. Stripped to the basics, his musical skills met the challenges of the soul-searching troubadour to emerge as Banff. With tranquil textures offset by ambient guitar, profoundly coated with shades of ambient soul, folk and pop, the Banff sound is uniquely mild and serene hovering around vintage characters with a contemporary edge.
Since gaining rotation across triple j, he has continued to explore his solo sound, culminating in his debut EP Future Self. A solo project that delves into cross roads – particularly adulthood – and the decisions that are made from there, his debut EP has been well met throughout the industry, fuelled by a performance scheduled at BIGSOUND Liveas one of the emerging Australian artists to watch. With his East Coast Future Self tour culminating in his hometown of Brisbane at Black Bear Lodge, we chat the origins behind the Banff name, what he continues to learn from his challenges and how his unique sound and skills provoke the traditional expression of the singer-songwriter. Where does the name Banff come from? When I embarked on the solo project, it was essentially about just becoming a better songwriter and being really proud of what I was writing, recording and sharing with people. I reflected on the time I actually began writing songs – it happened to be on a train from Vancouver to Banff. I had packed a little travel guitar when I was on holiday in America and I bought this little guitar in New York, then creeped up to Canada and Vancouver with a train ride through the Canadian Rockies. I felt really empowered and inspired by that journey and what I could do as a songwriter at that point. The town Banff reminds me why I started writing music and what it actually means to me.
You have quite a unique sound – what would you describe it as? It’s many things. I’ve got so many different influences. When I get down to writing my music I listen to stuff that’s sort of traditional, indie, folk style with inspiration from Beck as well. It’s a slightly unconventional style in instrumentation and arrangement of music. I would sit in the indie-folk genre.
As a singer-songwriter and adjusting to our contemporary world with technology, what are you learning about yourself as an artist? The biggest thing I’m learning is I’ll always be learning. It’s really something that, as an artist, you feel like you never quite master. You churn out the latest releases then start thinking about new stuff with a challenge to explore new sonic territory or build new song-writing methods.
So what would you say is your greatest challenge? Being genuinely content with what I’ve written. It’s a personal exploration when writing music. At times, it can feel like quite a revealing experience laying out some particular lyric content that might be personal. Or I might want to share something – the latest type of sonic explorations I might have. The biggest challenge is backing an idea I’ve written. As I’ve grown as an artist, I’m understanding my style and have gradually become more content with my writing.
You’ve been on tour for the last few weeks. How is that going? I’m launching my debut EP Future Self. We started the tour at the Grace Darling Hotel in Melbourne, played the Oxford Art Factory in Sydney, and we’ll wrap the tour up at Black Bear Lodge.
How did your EP come about? What were you drawing from in terms of inspiration and what were you trying to achieve? When I was writing Future Self, I was – from a lyrical perspective – drawing on that period and transitioning into adulthood and all the challenges you get thrown into when you’re moving into that point in your life. A lot of the theming around the EP revolves around thinking about the decisions you make at a certain point and how they can affect you down the line – not that each song specifically talks about that notion. From a music perspective, the project is about becoming a better songwriter and challenging my traditions of songwriters while pushing the boundaries in something I feel comfortable doing at the time. That’s what makes the project so rewarding.
Where was Future Self recorded? The EP was recorded in Fitzroy Melbourne at a studio called Mixed Business. It’s a a studio that’s run and operated by the members of the Pieater record label and they’ve cleverly transformed an old milk bar in Fitzroy into a really lovely homely studio space. I was lucky enough to be able to record in there. Every time I hear songs from the record, I’m reminded of that cool setting – you can definitely hear it in the music as a nice reference of the room I recorded in.
You’ll be playing at BIGSOUND Live soon, how do you feel about that? Being invited to play at Australia’s biggest industry of music showcase is a great opportunity and I’m really excited about that. I’m really proud to be alongside some of the greatest emerging artists in in Australia at the moment. It’s great from a performance perspective to be able to perform to industry professionals from around the country and also to perform in a new setting in a slightly unconventional sort of set up. I’m looking forward to that experience. I’m truly excited to be held in the same regard as my favourite emerging artists in Australia at the moment.
You’ve got your EP released and BIGSOUND coming up: what else are you looking forward to? After that, I’ve got a few shows lined up but mostly, the end of 2015 will be primarily focussed on getting back into writing phase and preparing for another release in early 2016.