With the release of SAFIA’s new hit, Freakin’ Out, Tayla Sudall chats with lead vocalist Ben Woolner to hear how the bands been doing, how the new single is travelling, the possibility of a new album on the horizon and of course, SAFIA’s upcoming shows at brand spankin’ new Aussie festival, The Drop Festival.
RR: Hey Ben, how’s it going? Thanks for taking the time to chat to us today. We’ll start off with talking about your new single Freakin’ Out, so how’s everything been going with the release of that one?
BW: Yeah! Pretty good I think! It’s always hard to gauge these days. With the ol’ internet, but um, but no the response has been great um, seems like people across the board have been enjoying it ah, it’s a bit harp back to something maybe they’re a bit more familiar with, with some of our older stuff but um, no it’s been a great, great response so far, couldn’t really ask for more
RR: That’s awesome! I really love the song, it’s really energetic and catchy
BW: That’s awesome, thank you!
RR: I read that you guys ah, had this one up your sleeve for a little while, it was the first song you wrote after the release of Internal um, so what went into writing Freakin’ Out and why did you delay the release of it?
BW: I dunno, ah well, I suppose mainly because we wrote it the first thing after the… and when I mean first thing, it was like a week or two after we put out the album –laughs- so, um, just because we were keen to write again ‘cause we had been working on those album songs for so long
BW: So keen to just write something new and I suppose, obviously we were never gonna plan to put out anything within a year of putting out the album so that’s probably why it sat around longer, because it was there longer we also wrote a lot of other ideas and experimented a lot of other things and then you know, a year down the track we went back to it and we were like, aw, this is actually really good we should probably use this –laughs- um, so, that’s kind of how that was delayed, but um, the fact that it stayed with us for that long was a, a testament to the song I think
RR: Yeah, that’s cool and so of course you guys released ah, the single Cellophane Rainbow in October last year, and I dunno, the songs just like, it’s just kind of, makes me feel like I’m floating around in space or something –laughs-
BW: Aw that’s awesome! That’s exactly what we intended –laughs-
RR: That’s good so I’m on the right path then –laughs-
BW: That’s yeah, that’s great!
RR: Could you tell me about, Cellophane Rainbow and what it’s actually about?
BW: Yeah Cellophane Rainbow is ah, I love that song, it’s um, it’s a bit more expansive and we’re, we wanted to get, you know, ah, expand our sound and really see what we could do and it’s more like an indicator of the more experimental sides which will marry or work with some of the more familiar sounds that people know from us. Um, but that song yeah, firstly, sonically it’s probably the most expansive, we did most of it live in the studio and then most of it to tape, so it’s not um, hugely electronic like the other ones and yeah, the song kind of delves into, it’s a bit outward looking so it kind of delves into how we’ve used technology um and how it’s kind of created almost a mono-culture in a way, not, not really, but when you know, when things like the internet and stuff came around everyone, you know, all the critics would say aw this is great, everyone, this will expand the conversation, this will you know, everyone has access to this amazing amount of information that no one’s had before in all of humanity and you know, and that mumbo jumbo and stuff like that and instead it’s kind of in fact narrowed it down to these little cliques that all kind of think the same way, and so that’s kind of what the song explores but in a, yeah, in a broad kind of theme
RR: Yeah, cool, it’s like a fun with a super deep meaning –laughs-
BW: Yeah it’s super deep but again it’s still like, ambiguous and I don’t usually like to expand on what it means a whole lot because you still want people to interpret their own way, because once you give you know your art or, art –laughs-
BW: For music I’ll say entertainment, [once you give it] away, it becomes you know, you no longer own it and it becomes the ah, whoevers listening ownership, so you know they can derive whatever meaning that they like which is a good thing about music
RR: Mm, that’s cool, so like you were saying um Cellophane Rainbow and Freakin’ Out are kind of ah, going kind of back to the old familiar sounds from your band, but how do you guys think, do you guys think you’ve changed much like with these two new singles compared to Internal? Do you guys think you’ve changed much as a band?
BW: Yeah, I think we definitely have um, I think we’re embracing more of just being a band um, definitely moving away, like we were never really part of the electronic scene, but people liked to group us in there, um, but yeah, I think we’re definitely less afraid to just kind of, not that we were before, but to try new things and just get weirder and be more unique and not worry too much about trying to fit in anywhere in particular and just kind of try and make music that’s at least just trying to be unique and different from the norm, I think that’s what, kind of we’ve been striving to do um and offer something else to the landscape or the narrative so, yeah
RR: That’s cool and you guys really do have a unique sound and vibe
BW: Oh, thank you –laughs-
RR: -laughs- but where would you guys say you draw inspiration from for your music?
BW: Aw, everywhere! Um, anything good I think –laughs- like, it’s not necessarily music, um, locations can inspire us, a lot of songs have been inspired by films that we like. For me I write very visually, so you know, sometimes if I see a film I really like and I can imagine a song within that vibe or that paints the picture of one of the scenes sometimes we try and work around that vibe or sometimes um, but yeah in terms of music anything inspires us that you know, that comes from a cool, unique, honest place from um our contemporaries around us to you know even classical music, jazz and all of that. I can’t really name any particular artist off the top of my head like contemporary artists, I’m not sure how much they inspired us but I’m sure subconsciously its got in there, you know we’ve got a lot of respect for people like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper and James Blake and um, you know those artists who really are artists in all sense of the word, um, so I think you know, a lot of those kind of contemporary artists inspire us but yeah, it doesn’t really, if it’s good music we’ll take it on board
RR: Yeah –laughs- that’s cool, it’s interesting! And so, with your two new singles, can we expect to see these two songs making up a new album from you guys?
BW: Yes, I’d say so, I’m not gonna confirm anything these days
BW: Just with all the mumbo jumbo of the music industry but um, yes, no that’s the plan and we’ve been writing a lot of songs um, whether that’s this year or next year but um, we will be putting at least a few more songs this year that’s for sure
RR: Oh awesome!
BW: Yeah, these are all intended to be part of a body of work so
BW: Hopefully it all works out –laughs-
RR: That’s great! And so, ah, going back to your 2016 debut album Internal, it ended up at number 2 on the ARIA Album Charts and number 1 on the iTunes Chart, and it received a bunch of nominations as well, and so that would’ve been amazing obviously for you guys, but was there ever a point where you guys kind of felt overwhelmed by it all, or like you weren’t really ready?
BW: I wouldn’t say necessarily felt overwhelmed, living in Canberra we kind of miss everything –laughs- we saw you know, we saw, obviously it’s amazing and saw the ah the charting and people responding to it but you know, being in Canberra there’s not a lot of industry there and that’s why we like it or, I think we might’ve even been down the coast um so, we kind of were like a bit isolated from all of it so it just felt like normal life with some really good news so probably just feeling extra happy than usual, um, but I think it’s when we came ‘round to doing the actual album tour which um, started like a week or so afterwards and started seeing the actual, like, the crowds and the um people responding
RR: Yeah, ‘cause it was sold out wasn’t it?
BW: Yeah and venues which we definitely didn’t think we could do and when our agent was booking them we’re like “man, you’re gonna have half empty venues, what are you doing?” –laughs-
RR: Aww –laughs-
BW: Um and to see so many people come out and you know so into not only the singles but all the album songs and just the whole set, I think that’s when it kind of got overwhelming and yeah, we have very fond memories from that tour so can’t wait to hopefully get back on the road soon!
RR: Yeah, and so I mean, it’s obviously a tough time for any band or musician trying to break into the music industry
BW: -laughs- aw yeah
RR: And like you said, you know, Canberra didn’t have much of a scene so what was it like for you guys um, you know, building your band and getting to push it over the edge to make it what it is today?
BW: Yeah well, I suppose we just went, we really didn’t know what we were doing, we still don’t
BW: But um, we were just going song by song, we didn’t really have, we didn’t think much of it the first time so we put up just a song on Unearthed um, didn’t think much of it, kind of reserved to the fact that we’ve been trying in bands from Canberra forever and especially trying like, five to seven years previous when the internet wasn’t kind of as useful as it was when we started kind of breaking through so you know we kind of always expected, aw okay we’ll have to go to Melbourne or Sydney and that kind of thing which we weren’t sure if we were gonna do, and then so yeah we just put it up without thinking much of it and then I think, I remember Triple J playing, this was an old song called Stretched and Faded and I remember Triple J playing that and I think that kind of was like, so unexpected, it came out of the blue, it was up there for like three months before it ever, anyone even looked at it, and that was like oh wow okay um, it was the first time that’s ever happened and we’d been trying in lots of bands previously so we were like okay well maybe we’re onto something, we just did the next one and then that was Listen to Soul, Listen to Blues ahh, and we got the Groovin’ the Moo sponno and we were like oh okay, and basically did one song at a time, we had no label, we had like a ahh, a friend who was a manager and we were just kind of making it up as we went and just putting a song out at a time –laughs- and putting what little personal money we had all into the project and I suppose everything just kind of luckily for us kept growing exponentially on that gradual, gradual incline um and luckily it hasn’t really slowed down so –laughs- it’s yeah, I dunno, I think it’s just kind of one of those things that’s a bit of luck, bit of timing ahh
RR: Yeah, bit of talent obiously
BW: Yeah thank you –laughs- I didn’t wanna say it myself –laughs-
RR: -laughs- you can’t be too modest
RR: So like, most bands seem to have their own little processes and methods for writing and recording music, so do you guys have any unique little methods that you use for writing and recording your songs?
BW: Yeah well we’re always trying to um, we’re always trying to expand that and um, always trying to challenge ourselves and always keep ourselves slightly ah, not very comfortable. In terms of writing we approach it in lots of different ways, the initial spark could be a sound, it could be like a melody I’ve written, a chord or ahh a beat Michael or Harry’s written, um and then when it comes to doing the song we tend to like go back and forward and I’ll record like all the vocal before the songs actually properly finished so we can always kind of change the song and like the production around the vocals so you know, underneath it all you’ve still got the core structure of like a well written either pop song or soul song or R’n’B kind’a track, um but then you can kind of get wonkier and weirder and interesting with the ah, the production that kind’a hugs it but yeah lately we’ve been experimenting with um a whole lot of different techniques um so, I’ve been using a lot of tape machines and recording all the stuff onto tape and even doing the electronic stuff out of the computer onto tape back in and doing stuff that’s completely unnecessary and takes so much more time –laughs- but you know, just trying to keep things interesting
RR: Ah that’s good, that’s awesome! I remember years ago hearing Paranoia, Ghosts and Other Sounds and I fell in love with your band straight away, um, so do you guys think you’ve ah, changed much as a band like with your writing and recording process since then?
BW: Yeee-not much, um, yeah obviously we’ve got experience and become better, well hopefully we’ve become better producers and writers –laughs- um, I think the one thing that’s different is we’re having to write more songs at once, back in those early days it was one song at a time, um and so I think we did five different versions of that song Paranoia before we got it there
BW: That’s why it sounds so detailed because it’s just like a mish-mash of all those five versions um so I, but I’m not sure how much we’ve changed, we still like trying to keep it as basic as possible while still you know, having all the tools we need, um, but no we still write very much in the same manner I think
RR: And so you guys were ah super busy touring around on various line-ups in 2017, you played sets on the Listen Out Tour, a set at the Oh Yes! Festival and had a headline spot on the Yours & Owls line-up, so now you’re set to go play at Let Go Fest, Mountain Sounds Festival and The Drop Fest early this year, so how are you guys feeling about all of that?
BW: Oh pretty good! We just did the first two (Let Go Fest & Mountain Sounds Festival) and they were really good shows, we hadn’t played in like, since Listen Out since um, oh five months off so we’re going a bit crazy not knowing what to do, even though we were, you know, meant to be writing which we were most of the time
BW: Um but, ah yeah those shows was yeah, interesting to see it was like oh we haven’t played in a while, we haven’t put out you know, we hadn’t even toured the Cellophane [Rainbow] um which was the first time we put out a song and didn’t tour it ah, and so yeah but then the crowds were incredibly receptive and you know, they were really, really good shows so I think we’re all pretty excited to do The Drop shows and hopefully a bunch more this year
RR: Yeah! Um, and Drop Fest is a brand new festival kicking off in March this year ah and it’s said that the festival will appeal to surfing and music fans alike, as it coincides with the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro, so um, have you guys ever gone out and done any surfing or anything like that? Are you into surfing?
BW: Well Harry… Harry is a surfer, his Dad grew up down the coast and has always been very closely involved with um the surfing community, and ah, myself and Michael, not so much, I took lessons for a week once but I’d probably be terrible but I love it, I do, I love the ocean, I love the beach, I’m actually down the beach at the moment
RR: Oh true!
BW: Trying to clear the mind and write while looking at the ocean
RR: Yeah nice, getting some inspiration
BW: -laughs- yeah! Um, but yeah, I think that Harry’s a bit of a surfer but ahh, no for all of us it’ll be a kind of, bit of a new crowd I think um and hopefully a lot of people who haven’t maybe seen us or haven’t got into our music before will hopefully be able to catch us there
RR: Yeah, that’d be great. So, the locations for Drop Fest aren’t in standard cities, you’ll be heading to Tweed Heads in New South Wales, Torquay, south-west of Melbourne and Margaret River which is south of Perth in Western Australia, so it’s a bit of a roadtrip festival, where are you guys most excited to be heading too?
BW: Oh, they’re all like, kind of looked at all of them, they all look beautiful, we’ve been to Margaret River a few times um, we enjoy our wine so we’ll probably make use of the wineries around there and… you can’t really complain when you’re getting to play festivals right next to amazing beaches so, feel pretty lucky to be able to go to all of them and play to a bunch of people there
RR: Yeah, do you think you’ll spend any extra time at any of the places?
BW: I think so, I think we’re aiming to at least get in a day before everywhere, and hang around and make the most of what we call work –laughs-
RR: Yeah –laughs- that’s great! Alright well The Drop Fest kicks off on the 17th of March at Ebenezer Park in Tweed Heads before heading off to Torquay and Margaret River, so best of luck to you guys and I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2018 has in store for you all
BW: Oh awesome thanks for the chat!
RR: Thanks so much I hope you have a good day and good luck with the writing!
THE DROP FESTIVAL DATES
EBENEZER PARK – TWEED HEADS
SATURDAY, 17TH MARCH
TORQUAY COMMON – TORQUAY
SATURDAY 31ST MARCH
3 OCEANS WINERY-MARGARET RIVER
SATURDAY 14TH APRIL