In the second instalment of our MC series, we sit down with another iconic individual whose link with the underground community dates back to the mid 2000’s with appearances on drum & bass labels such as Vision, Renegade and his very own Crunch Recordings. His production credits feature alongside the likes of SP:MC, Noisia and D-Bridge, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. From 2010, solo efforts shifted towards dubstep with two crucial records landing on N-Type’s legendary Wheel & Deal imprint, as well as a double appearance on Crunch, the second featuring close peers Youngsta and LX One on “Different Way”. All of the aforementioned however, were out-shadowed by his central involvement with one of the biggest and unstoppable drum & bass acts in the world, Pendulum. As the band’s official tour and DJ set MC, Ben Verse found himself right at the focal of the electronic music world, performing non-stop all over the world, while still championing his involvement in the UK underground. Rapper, DJ, record producer, record label owner, and Pendulum’s MC arguably makes Ben one of the hardest working individuals in the music business. If that wasn’t enough, Ben has now launched his own publishing company, Versatile Publishing, alongside a new studio space, Black Swan Studios. With his highly anticipated debut album, “The Maze” on the horizon, I caught up with Ben to discuss all things music and how he manages to run such a busy schedule.
TRUSIK: Yes Ben, glad to finally have you on here brother, how are things?
BEN VERSE: Hey, yeah all good! Thanks a lot for this interview. I’m a big fan of your blog.
TRUSIK: You’re a very diverse hard working individual (MC, DJ, producer, label owner) and consequently a very busy man. I have to ask, how do you successfully juggle building an album and managing Crunch, in between your Pendulum world tours with El Hornet, as well as finding time for your family and social life? It’s quite impressive.
BEN VERSE: Thanks mate. I’ve been working in music for 15 years now and I appreciate that I’m still rolling. Sometimes it’s knackering and stressful, but I wouldn’t want to live any other way.
TRUSIK: I think it’s fair to say that your hectic lifestyle has affected your work schedule for Crunch Recordings. Announcements such as the Crunch Tribe series, CRUNCH015, and of course your album, “The Maze” have been put on hold for a while. Are there any current developments for these projects?
BEN VERSE: Yeah. I would love to put more time into making more music and running my label. I often find that I come up with a concept for Crunch and a new direction then before I know it, the tidal wave of Pendulum takes up a lot my time. Because of this, I’ve managed to get some help in the general admin side of running Crunch and that’s really helping. Cyall who runs Barcode Recordings has helped me restructure the way we’re releasing the music and using Bandcamp as my only distribution source is working out really well. The unfortunate demise of ST Holdings has actually been a blessing in disguise for my relatively small label. Paying artists royalties via PayPal, not waiting for quarterly statements etc, and making sure people get paid regularly is working well.
“The Maze” is going to be released in levels. Level 1 is out now on Bandcamp and I’m drip releasing it track by track. I thought it would be more interesting for the heads buying the music to release it in the “Levels” format rather than just as “The Maze 1”, “The Maze 2” etc. Next year, I’m planing something big with Asylum. Andrew has been a good friend of mine for a long time and I’m really looking forward to promoting and pushing him through as an artist. From my experience with Pendulum, I realise that getting your artists out there touring is really important as that’s where the majority of the regular and consistent money comes from in this business. However, being able to pay royalties weekly through PayPal will also help out. “Your statement is on the way”, “we’re waiting for iTunes to pay us” is not a conversation that I want to have anymore. If someone is into your music, they can as easily go onto the Bandcamp app / site as the they can the Apple Store. The profit margins are much more favourable for the individual artist and the time factor is of course a bonus. Label owners have a responsibility to take care of their artists as well as themselves. I’m fortunate in that my work with Pendulum I can use my label to push new talent and not use it as a platform for self promotion.
TRUSIK: “Undiluted” is the first single off the album featuring yourself, Youngsta, Hallmark, and Zinc. How on earth did you manage to get that lot in the studio with you at the same time, and what was it like working with them?
BEN VERSE: They’re all good friends. Zinc helped with mixing the vocals and the others I usually see 3 times a week anyway. I’m glad we managed to put our heads together and get something finished. Expect more collabs with these guys in the future.
TRUSIK: You have worked on a number of collaborations in the past alongside Youngsta, LX One, Darrison and more recently with Asylum. Can we expect further collaborations and other vocal appearances on “The Maze”? How are you deciding who is going to feature and who best represents the concept of the LP?
BEN VERSE: I just want to work with good people who bring a good vibe in the studio and that represent what I’m about. In addition to these, I’m looking forward to getting back in the studio with SP:MC on some new vocal projects.
TRUSIK: We’ve heard a number of tracks which you aired exclusively on Rinse, and they’re sounding fresh. However, from the collection you have so far, is there a personal favourite which you consider to be your most accomplished production to date, whether it’s one which naturally built itself or represents what you set out to achieve with this project?
BEN VERSE: Not so much any favourites. We use Youngsta’s show as a testing ground standardly. A point I want to make is that if you hear a tune on his show, it doesn’t mean it’s definitely coming out. There’s probably about 50-60 tracks on my computer that are playable but I’m really selective with what actually goes on sale.
TRUSIK: What would you say has been the most difficult part of the entire album building process? Mix downs, perfectionism, final track selection?
BEN VERSE: For sure the mix downs. You never stop learning when making computer generated music. I also think the constant development of new software always has, and always will keep you on your toes. I’ve found in my experience that nobody works in exactly the same kinda way. Like painting a picture, there’s no right or wrong way.
TRUSIK: You mentioned earlier the collapse of ST Holdings, which has changed the way the majority of labels finance the pressing and distribution of vinyl. Where does this currently leave Crunch? Releasing “The Maze” via Bandcamp has its advantageous reasons but can we expect vinyl to be an integral format for the label again in the future?
BEN VERSE: I salute the vinyl purists because that’s the world I came from; hanging out at Music House, attending vinyl cuts at Heathmans and being part of Renegade Hardware was amazing schooling. Vinyl sales are having a resurgence and sales globally are increasing. Releasing everything on vinyl though has challenges, despite the good sales vinyl has been experiencing lately. A small label like Crunch often finds itself in a position where any profits from digital sales can quickly be consumed by a release that hasn’t performed as well on vinyl. In the long run this can mean you’re either paying for the vinyl out of your own pocket, or at best, using the revenue from the digital sales to pay for it. Artists end up not being paid what they could have been were the release digital only, which is the big drawback as far as I’m concerned. Vinyl is obviously still relevant. I think the way I would like to release vinyl going forward is to make vinyl releases into more limited edition packages, with more care for art and packaging etc, maybe in more limited numbers but with a view to creating a collectors item.
TRUSIK: Something else I wanted to touch on, is your current involvement with Pendulum. There’s been talk of a new Pendulum album on the horizon, can you confirm this? I gather live shows have been ruled out, but will you be contributing to the project production-wise given that you’re quite an experienced producer now?
BEN VERSE: It’s not for me to discuss this new album but, if and when Rob makes it, it will fuck the planet up there’s no doubt of that.
TRUSIK: The Pendulum legacy has been carried on by yourself and El Hornet performing DJ sets all over the world, which has proved to be quite a success. Touring certainly has its moments along with its crazy adventures, do you have a favourite anecdote you would be willing to share with the readers?
BEN VERSE: Every weekend is an adventure. Hornet sat next to Bryan Adams (100 million albums sold) on a flight last week and just chatted to him about Aussie rules football for 2 hours without realising it was him. When we got off the plane and onto the bus to the terminal, he asked him what he did for a living (laughs).
TRUSIK: So what can we expect from you in 2015, is there any forthcoming material, interesting projects, or up and coming music gigs you can inform the readers on?
BEN VERSE: Yeah loads in the pipeline. You’re gonna love what’s coming on Crunch, not just dubstep but more d&b as that’s where I’ve come from. Also my new studio project called Black Swan Studios is really gathering momentum. Producing and pitching tracks to more commercial artists is a whole new world and a challenge that I’m relishing.
TRUSIK: Thank you for your time Ben, I hope the album is well received by your fans, you deserve it. Are there any final comments / shout outs you wanna share to wrap things up?
BEN VERSE: Thanks to everyone for their patience and support. Onwards and upwards. Please send demos as Soundcloud links to firstname.lastname@example.org. I listen to everything!
The Maze: Level One is now available from the Crunch Recordings Bandcamp Store.