The Evolution of the BANFF Sound

When an artist follows a trajectory like that of Brisbane based Benjamin Forbes, aka BANFF, it is customary to insert comments about their “whirlwind year” or their “dizzying rise to stardom.” It was less than six months ago when we last caught up with Ben, his debut EP Future Self had just dropped and everything was starting to pick up pace like the heavy build of a nightclub anthem around midnight. Support slots for stellar artists were stacking up, not to mention a sold out headlining tour, a set at BigSound, and the EP was receiving the kind of airplay that firmly engrains a release in memories of a season. When I think back to winter, it is unmistakably fused with the lilting melody of Stand In Line, the morose hooks of All Again, the catchy chorus of Anyone Else, and the rich soundscapes of The Great Unknown.

We recently took the time to catch up with Ben again to look back over his journey so far and find out what the future has in store.

“I’m super chuffed to be honest. I didn’t expect the project to do anywhere near as well as it has done,” he says. “Just to have the tour that I did, to have the east coast sell out, was just an amazing moment. And to recognise so many people had heard of the BANFF project and liked it enough to buy a ticket to the show! I’m really looking forward to sharing more music next year, playing more shows and getting around to more fans.”

And it is already looking like 2016 is going to be another big year, kicking off with an appearance at Falls Festival in Byron Bay over New Years. It was recently announced that the easygoing troubadour scored the Triple J Unearthed spot on the bill, and he is unsurprisingly pretty excited to be appearing alongside a long list of established and notable artists including Fleetwood Mac, Wavves, Bloc Party and Courtney Barnett to name a very few.

“I can’t believe it, I’m stoked,” he tells me. I ask him who he is most excited about seeing and he doesn’t miss a beat before answering. “Kurt Vile… I was really inspired by his records when I was writing my EP so I will probably have a fan boy moment. I will probably lose my shit,” he laughs. There is a definite an element of the Pennsylvanian singer songwriter weaved into Gibbard’s own gentle tapestry. The influences across his sound are vast and continue to grow as he looks forward to new material and that ever contentious second record.

“It’s really exciting and also a bit daunting, not daunting, difficult to comprehend at the same time. I developed a bit of a sound out of the Future Self record and in many ways I want to continue to nurture that because I feel it encapsulates what BANFF is all about, but to take a step forward or a step outside of that zone is always a bit of an uncomfortable thing for any artist so I think I’ve got to try new things, and trust the fact that when I get into the studio and work with Tom (Iansek) and some of the other guys who are going to play on the record, that everything is going to work out the way it’s meant to, and we’ll have something new to share.”

Productor mastermind and fellow musician Tom Iansek (#1 Dads, Big Scary) made an undeniable mark on the EP, recorded at his Mixed Business studios in Melbourne and it is exciting to hear that the pair will team up again. I ask Ben if he has officially started writing for the project and he sounds excited by what has been put down so far, despite it being extremely fresh.

“Yeah, I sort of began officially writing for my next release yesterday,” he tells me, “I’m working on a lot of stuff and demoing lots of ideas I’ve had since recording the last EP. Hopefully early next year I will be back in the studio and recording with Tom and seeing what comes out of those sessions and how the BANFF sound has evolved.”

While it is still amorphous and emerging, I try to conjure an image of what that evolution looks like so far, and he elaborates as best he can.

“I’m sort of experimenting with a bit more electronic production,” he starts, “But it’s so early in the demo phases, you know. I write on the couch at home, so I am trying to keep the simplicity of that process in tact so that I don’t lose what I feel is the strength in writing for me… In the demo process I am definitely experimenting with different loops and different techniques to see how that goes. Tom exposed me to a lot of that stuff when I was working on Future Self so that’s something I am keen to explore, then jump into the studio and see how we can adapt it to where I want to take the sound.”

I recall that last time we spoke Ben was somehow managing to hold down a day job as well as juggling all the fanfare that comes with a debut release. I find out that that’s still the case, and ask how he possibly fits it all in while maintaining a semblance of sanity.

“Yeah, it’s completely ridiculous,” he laughs, “Last time my answer was something like organised chaos. There’s a lot more on the cards now. I am learning a lot about time management and just making sure when I dedicate my time to what I want to do with music I am making myself really accountable for what I get out of that time. Particularly with the writing stuff, I have created a little space for myself to go into every couple of days where I can hibernate and lock myself away from everything else so I can devote every ounce of my energy to writing my next record. I guess I’ll just work through it. I have learnt a lot and it seems a little bit simpler now to be honest. Hopefully I can focus more on the writing and creative output rather than just the general chaos going on around it.”

There is a real sense of focus and it is a great chat with an artist who has come a long way in a few short months and is revelling in every moment of his creative journey. We look forward to watching from the sidelines as the evolution takes place and his sound continues to morph and take on an array of shapes and textures.

Be sure to grab tickets to Falls Festival here (we have all our fingers crossed for some of that new material).