Liverpool based producer Ben Thomas, aka L’Étranger, made an encouraging start to his career with the first of his French flavour releases on London based label, La Bombe. Along with his debut EP ‘1997’ hitting the top spot on Beatport, a raft of remixes and compilation appearances, he’s had a bumper 12 months.
But instead of resting on his laurels, Mr Thomas is not only in the throes of releasing his new EP ‘Don’t Ever Change’, he’s also kick started his own label, ‘Thomorrow Records’, which will form an outlet for the many B-sides and collaborations he creates along the way.
So in light of all that we were lucky to tie Ben down for our introducing series, where we get to talk studio gear, influences and what the future holds for L’Étranger.
HBF: Why L’Etranger? Any connection with the book?
My dad introduced me to the novel by Albert Camus when I was 14. My father is a playwright, poet, and author and has been a great influence on my lyric writing. L’Étranger meaning ‘The Outsider’ is something I’ve always felt. When I started creating primarily French influenced music, as an Englishman I felt I was ‘L’Étranger’ – a foreigner creating French music.
HBF: What got you into producing?
Since I was 4 or 5 I’ve been recording music. The need to be able to listen back to my own compositions has always been with me. I used to have 2 cassette recorders; I’d record a part on guitar, then play it back whilst recording a piano part using another cassette deck, and so on and so forth. Took me until I was around 10 to realise that what I was doing was the basic principle of recording.
I’m primarily a musician. I’ve been in numerous musical projects from jazz-fusion, baroque-pop, garage-rock, braindance to shoe-gaze from the age of 13. I’ve been recording, producing and working with artists since I was an adolescent.
HBF: How did you end up on La Bombe?
I got in touch with Sharooz, the owner of La Bombe. I thought 1997 would fit well on La Bombe, and he loved the record.
HBF: You have some great artwork, almost Daliesque – is this something you’ve developed with the artist?
I’ve been working with a graphic designer called ‘Jack Crossing’ for 3 years now. He’s an amazing artist and has done some high profile work for Nike, Wired and countless other clients. Jack is the visual embodiment of my music. I’m very lucky to have found such perfect ying to my yang. I like to think L’Étranger is 50% audio 50% visual.
HBF: You’ve mentioned Brian Wilson and My Bloody Valentine as influences – Do you get inspiration from film, TV or any other medium?
My main musical influences are Vaughan Williams, Beethoven, Weather Report, the Bee Gees, the Beach Boys, MBV, Richard D. James. When I was 16 I was introduced to avant-garde music, composers like Stockhausen, Schoenberg, Berg, Vebern, Varese totally changed my perspective on music and sound. I’m a massive Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam fan. Paddy Considine is my favourite actor. These musical influences, film, and my childhood growing up in the Lake District have had the most profound effect on my music.
HBF: How did the Sam Lee remix come about?
My manager knows Sam, and thought I could do something special with the stems. Same goes with the Stornoway remix. It’s so refreshing working with such nicely recorded stems of such interesting folk instrumentation. Two pieces of remix work which were a joy to do.
HBF: What can a newbie expect from a L’Étranger DJ set?
A high-octane performance. I’ve always been the lead singer/guitarist in the bands I’ve been in, and giving a performance is something that comes very naturally to me. I act. My stage persona is nothing like the real me. I’m very over the top, very theatrical. I’m obsessed with the ‘record’ as a concept, and I try create the feel of a perfect record running start to finish with each set I do.
HBF: If you had a 16 second ad on primetime TV what would you do?
I’d look directly into the camera for 15 seconds of it, and the final second would be an old tube television powering off. It wouldn’t advertise anything in particular, just my face. I don’t think television would be an effective means of promotion for me.
HBF: What’s your most precious piece of studio kit and why?
I couldn’t choose one. Although I never sit down at the studio without having my mind and ears with me, always the most powerful tools. I have a vast collection of guitars, basses, amps and FX (rack, pedals) and a cracking pair of Yamaha HS 80s. Fender Jazzmaster is my most loved piece of studio kit, I compose almost all my tracks entirely on this guitar before sitting down in Ableton and culminating the track.
HBF: 2012 was a good year for L’Étranger- is there any new material in the pipeline? An album maybe?
2013 will see the release of ‘1997’ Club Mixes, the club-friendly embodiment of my 1997 EP. ‘Son’, will be the follow up EP to ‘1997’. ‘Son’ will be recorded straight onto cassette then each track fed straight back into my DAW. ‘Son’ will explore my roots and childhood. There will be no sampling. 100% live instrumentation, and will sound like the music I was creating back when I was 19. It won’t be electronic music.
‘1997’ and Son will conclude in the ‘heartbeat’ tour. This will consist of 3 UK dates at the 3 most significant geographical locations of my upbringing: Liverpool, Kendal & Manchester. I will then go on to tour internationally before sitting down to start the L’Étranger debut album next year.
Written by James Trigo.