A CONVERSATION WITH: Ben Caplan
Ben Caplan has recently graced Toronto with his presence as he flew into town for a private showcase during CAPACOA. The showcase which happened at The Rivoli featured Ben, LeE HARVeY OsMOND and a special Trews acoustic set. While in the city, Ben did an interview with Jian Ghomeshi at the CBC studios and that’s where I was lucky enough to catch up with him to discuss his upcoming East Coast Tour as well as why Halifax feels like home to him.
For any of our readers who may not be familiar with you, can you explain how you got your start, and tell us how you would describe your music?
Sure. Well, I was born and bred in Hamilton, Ontario and after a little bit of travel I found myself on the East coast and I’ve been there for 7 or 8 years now. When I was growing up I was always interested in the performing arts; Theatre was always appealing to me, and that eventually turned into musical theatre, then just music. I’ve been doing it as a full time thing for a couple of years now. Released my first album in October 2011 and have been touring pretty much non-stop since then. How would I describe my music? Geez, I guess I’ve been calling it ‘Folk Rock meets Gypsy Soul’.
I read that on your website and thought that that was a pretty accurate description of what you’re all about. I get the pleasure of talking to you while you’re still on your high from your interview on the Q with Jian Ghomeshi! How did it go?
It went really well!
I noticed on Twitter that there was widespread excitement from fans and from the CBC as well about the interview you just did. You yourself described it as as milestone in your career. What was going through your head when you first got asked to do it, and leading up to it?
You know, it’s funny; I’ve done a lot of interviews this past year and it’s just become one of those things. You get up you have a cup of coffee, maybe take a shower, then you do the interview, then you do a bit of office work. This one though, I definitely had some butterflies last night. One of those lying in bed going to sleep pretty excited kind of nights. Once I was in the studio, and heard Jian’s voice, (whispers) it sounds just like it does on the radio when you hear it in person. I don’t know why I’m whispering (laughs). It was cool. It also felt very relaxed and natural. I have a great amount of respect for Jian, but we’re all just people doing our jobs, so we were just two people having a conversation.
Even though you’re on the East Coast, will Hamilton/Toronto, on some level ever still feel like home?
Halifax feels like home now. I’ve been living there for most of my adult life. It’s my community. It’s where I know my neighbours. Most of the people that I knew in Hamilton have moved to different places, or are in different stages of their life, I really do feel a sense of community in Halifax. I know the vendors at the farmers market, that kind of thing. That’s important to me.
How do Toronto audiences compare to Halifax audiences? And feel free to be brutally honest.
Absolutely. Everybody loves to talk about how Toronto audiences like to stand with their arms crossed and silently judge. My experiences haven’t been that bad. I’ve had very few instances where Toronto audiences hang back, they’ve all relaxed pretty quickly. Even early shows; when I first played The Horseshoe Tavern maybe two thirds of the audience were at the back with their arms crossed checking to see if we were cool. But I’ve always been lucky enough to have a good chunk of the audience up front showing me some love. And that’s only getting better as things go which is great.
You’re on the verge of a fairly extensive tour. Is there anything you would do to prepare yourself either mentally or physically before you embark on something that involved?
My first long distance running tour, if you want to call it that, started in January 2012 where I left home and knew that I was going to be gone for a solid 3 months, with maybe a visit here or there, and I brought way too much stuff with me. I moved a lot of my stuff into a storage locker and I brought my guitar, my banjo, a big fat suitcase with an iron so I could look sharp on stage. I brought too much stuff. I brought all these books, because I love reading, but I can’t read off one of those electronic things, so I brought too many books. Now, I’ll bring one book and if I need another one, I’ll just buy one. I’ve got a couple of notebooks and that kind of stuff. With regards to preparing myself mentally and physically, I’ve been trying to do yoga, trying to eat better, I’m learning about foods that I prepare for myself and bring on the road. That’s the other thing too; cooking for yourself while you’re on the road and making delicious food is a good thing to be prepared to do.
I noticed that you’re active on Twitter, Facebook, and you update your website regularly. What’s your take on how involved social media has become as a networking tool in the industry? Do you like using it?
It’s funny, I relish in winning at Twitter. It’s just a game for me really. To be frank, it’s like a video game. If I get a lot of re-tweets, it’s like I’m getting points and it’s awesome. I don’t take it too seriously, but I do think that it is useful. It’s not inherently good or evil. It’s what you do with it. I think that it’s very important for people to take time and be alone in their heads. And I think that that’s something that this iPhone culture is losing. Where do we find the time to just think about your day? Where you want to be? What you want to do? Now we’re just on Twitter all the time. Now, I don’t think that needs to be the case, I don’t think Twitter is evil, I just think that we need to be cautious.
That makes perfect sense. Congratulations on your East Coast Music Award nominations! How does it feel to be nominated?
It feels great!
Where were you when you heard about the nominations?
I was actually in Halifax at the Press Conference where they announced the nominations. They had asked me to come in and play a few tunes. So I was right there.
Do you have a favourite Toronto Venue?
Yeah, I love The Hummingbird Centre. Or, I guess it’s called something else now….
The Sony Centre?
Yeah, that’s the one. I like that one it’s nice. I’d love to play there, that’d be a gas. Massey Hall is great too. As for bars and clubs, The Horseshoe is nice. Rivoli too. I like Sneaky Dee’s, it has a lot of charm.
Speaking of the Rivoli you’re playing a pretty awesome sounding showcase there tonight. How does it feel to be sharing the stage with those artists?
It’s exciting. I’m playing with a bunch of artists that I have a great amount of respect for. I’m really looking forward to sharing the stage, maybe knocking some elbows backstage, knocking some glasses front of house. (laughs).
Is there any artist at all that you would like to share the stage with one day?
Geez. There’s lots. I’m really into these instrumental horn bands from like Western Europe that play Eastern European music. They all went to Jazz school and are geeking out about it. I’m trying to think of famous pop artists that I would want to work with. Tony Bennett! Fuck, he’s amazing, I’d love to meet Tony Bennett and see him play.
It doesn’t have to be a popular artist. It can be anyone!
I’m really into a band called La Fanfare du Belgistan.
What are they like?
They’re uhhh, I don’t even know where to start. They’re pretty fucked up.
What influences your writing and your musicianship the most?
What kind of reading?
Anything. Anything and everything.
You mentioned that you used to have heavy involvement in theatre. Do you still read plays or anything?
No, it’s been a while since I read a play. I used to read plays. I used to direct plays as well. And as a producer I read a lot too. But lately, I haven’t.
Last question; can you offer any advice to any artist that’s trying to do what you’re doing?
No one owes you shit. Work your ass off.
Great closing remarks. Thanks for sitting down with us!
No problem. Thank you for coming down.