When you think about the type of music currently saturating the Perth music scene, you could be forgiven for not instantly identifying that alt-country/blues was a heavy part of that mass. In fact, let’s be honest, there isn’t a heck of a lot of artist’s currently sporting this genre at all… But luckily for us and the diversity of the Perth scene, Ralway Bell is here to rectify this sonic injustice. Following the release of his latest single ‘Whale Bone’ we caught up with Ben Wilson (aka Ralway Bell) to chat about his music, writing and what the future holds.
Well first things first, where did the name Ralway Bell come from?
“The guy who helped me record these tracks has been a good mate since pre-school. When we were kids he’d bring his pushbike out to my place and mum would let us ride a couples of kilometres down the road “but only as far as the railway bells” she would say. Sounds like nothing but it was a huge adventure to us back then. So we initially decided on Railway Bell however as I was going to be doing these songs solo, I changed the spelling to Ralway Bell because it sounded like it could be someone’s name, similar to Richmond Fontaine or Grant Lee Buffalo.”
In a seriously tight race, you were runner up in the Space Ship News Band Of The Month competition – did you ever think you were going to score as many votes as you did?
“No Way! I was really overwhelmed that so many people voted. I’ve got some great supporters out there who I really appreciate.”
Your alt country/blues sound is pretty unique. In a sea of rock and indie, there aren’t many artists in Perth doing what you’re doing – is this something that you consciously thought of as a niche or is your music something that happened more organically?
“Actually, for the first time I feel really comfortable with what I’m doing musically. I think in previous bands I’ve been trying to force a sound, or genre to try and fit in to the scene. I think my time spent growing up on a farm in country NSW has significantly influenced my style, and living in Sydney with a live audio engineer for five years has had a big impact on my sound. When writing I prefer the songs to be pretty organic, the more I think about lyrics and structures, usually the worse it gets, but when it comes to recording time I really like to make sure we have the right sounds and tones carry the song where it needs to go. The right tone and texture can paint a far better landscape than I can fit into lyrics in just four minutes.”
Your latest single Whale Bone is a raw and thickly layered number – when writing do you usually start off with a simple chord progression and build upon it, or do you always picture it as the atmospheric landscape we hear at the end?
“It changes a lot! Some songs are literally just chords and lyrics when I go to record and we add other parts on the fly. For Whale Bone, I had the main riff initially and the rest of it came to me while surfing at Leighton’s Beach one rainy winter’s day. When you’re surfing alone the ocean has the ability to make you feel very, very, small (especially on a grey day!). I knew the song would have to build and swell quite a lot to get all that across.”
How do you find playing around the Perth scene? Are there any favourite gig venues you really like to sink your teeth into?
“I’ve done The Bird a few times now, largely thanks to the Fat Shan’s Open Mic comp and I love that venue. The sound in there is fantastic and it’s just a cool joint. Playing The Rosemount as part of the Space Ship News night was a pretty cool thing too! I usually like to catch bands at venues like Mojo’s, The Bakery, Clancy’s Freo and Norfolk Basement. If all goes well hopefully I’ll get a chance to grace the stage at some of these venues this year.”
Any pre-show rituals we should be aware of?
“Tuning… I find that helps… and wearing a big hat!”
Hypothetical: you’re booking a dream local show with you and four other bands. Who do you choose, where do you play and why?
“You have no idea how often I ponder this! I think I’d hold it at the Bakery so we could have a decent size crowd without the riff raff, easy bar access and so the crowd could cycle between stage and beer garden for the various acts. The lineup I’ve chosen purely for the reason that you’d never have these acts all on the same bill (except at a festival maybe???) Ralway Bell would start the night off so I could kick back and enjoy everyone else. Then I’d have, Runner, Ruby Boots, 6s and 7s and finally The Kill Devil Hills to bring it all home.”
As a solo act, it must be tough to continue to be creative. Where do you usually get your inspiration to write from?
“As far as writing goes, I think I get inspiration from listening to other artists. When I hear a good track or see a good show, and it makes me think something different or feel something different, I’m inspired to try and make music that has that effect on others also. For the solo stuff I’ve been using a loop station and my Nord keyboard to create more interesting layers and textures. I generally start off with an acoustic guitar rhythm, then add keys or electric guitar over the top. Being able to add these different parts and sounds keeps the process new and exciting for me.”
What’s happening with future recordings? Is there an EP or an album in the works?
“I’ve actually started putting a band together. We now have pedal steel player, an electric guitarist, and a drummer. Just need to lock in the bass and maybe someone on keyboards and we’re done. I’m hoping to record an EP by mid 2013, I’ve begun the ever important demo process and there’s a few tracks shaping up nicely. The other recordings were done in forest huts, bedrooms and rehearsal rooms, but I think I want to do these next recordings in a studio… just for something different.”
A New Year, what do you hope to achieve in 2013?
“I’m really excited to be playing in a band again, the solo thing has been good and there’s no arguments but I can’t quite do these songs justice alone. As mentioned I want to get that EP recorded but other than that I really just want to gig my ass of this year! I’m really stoked to be playing at Nannup Festival in March so hopefully I can build some momentum from there and just keep rolling on for the rest of the year!”
You can check out Ralway Bell’s latest single Whale Bone here – ralwaybell.bandcamp.com/ and stay tuned for upcoming gigs in 2013.