Ben Ely – The Collapse Board Interview
When you first started making music what was your biggest dream for it?
I guess I felt like, what is it all about? Why are we here? Why is the world structured the way it is? Like why do I have to go get a job and fit into this kind of thing? I always just thought why can’t I just do what I want to do? What appealed about music was the freedom to just enjoy your life and being alive, to just be myself. Being able to live off it is appealing and a nice idea too. It’s a bit of a funny question for me because I always just think I have always had this drive to create and make noise [laughs]. It does feel like a crazy world and it doesn’t make sense sometimes and it feels good to scream about it — it makes complete sense to do that, don’t you reckon?
Especially when you’re growing up and you’re a teenager and you’re finding out that Ronald Reagan is in power and he’s got all these nuclear bombs and there could be a nuclear war and the whole world could be blown up! When you find that out when you’re a kid you’re like “Whoa that’s really heavy!” You want to get angry about it, that’s why punk was so appealing to me and my friends at the time in high school. We used to play in hardcore bands and stuff like that. That was fun!
What memories do you associate with the beginnings of Pangaea?
Well, with Pangaea I was always searching for new ways to create new sounds. I tried a lot of things: I tried playing in punk bands, metal bands, and rockabilly bands — all these different genre specific styles. One band was a blues-based punk band and it broke up and my friend Glenn Brady who played in Fat said, “You should meet this guy Martin Lee he’s a really great drummer, you can start a band with him”. He gave me his number – he was the first drummer in Regurgitator. He just got back from L.A. and he had been playing with a guy that just got out of the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles where they learn to be like a guitar god [laughs]. They needed a bass player so I played with them for a while, that’s when I heard this new sound he’d brought back from America, this real technical playing. It was quite different to what was going on in Brisbane at the time.
I was a bit feral and living in squats. I was a bit of a loser getting drunk a lot. I wasn’t looking after myself very well. I wasn’t being very professional. They fired me. I really liked that kind of music though and I wanted to keep going because I felt like it was new. Dave Atkins [Resin Dogs, Wolfmother] and Jim Sinclair — who are in Pangaea — I knew them from high school and they were really great musicians into a lot of punk and heavy metal but they were also great jazz improvise players. I thought I could start a band with them. At the time I was also doing a lot of acid as well and I was getting into this whole cosmic trip of thinking … I felt like I grew up in this sheltered environment and when I started taking acid I got this feeling like I finally had stepped out into the world. I felt like, oh wow I’m a part of this whole ecosystem and this universe, I’m like this little speck but I also feel like a god at the same time [laughs]. I felt like I needed to express some of these maybe ridiculous ideas. I also felt quite strongly about some of them. Pangaea was a really exploratory thing where I was trying to be conscious to try and do something really different. I wanted to push the craziness as far as we could go. With guys like Jim and Dave who are really quite intense personalities …
You know them?
Yeah. I went to Europe with Resin Dogs a few years back. I met Jimi via my blog I write. He wrote me a message saying that something I had wrote had inspired him in a super positive way. That meant a lot to me because I’ve always thought he was awesome.
That’s so cool he did that. Out of everyone I have known in my musical life … Jimi is such an amazing guitarist! He should be playing with Axl Rose or Ozzy Osbourne. He’s of a world-class standard.
He’s one of my favourite guitarists and such a lovely person.
He’s one talented, talented man!
At the time you started Pangaea what was the music community like in Brisbane?
It was still a pretty tough guy community, at least the community I was working in with all the punk guys. There was a lot of violence. Bands like The Dreamkillers where around and it was pretty do or die. It was pretty hard, especially if you’re sensitive and little and skinny like me. You’d go to a gig and get punched in the face. Custard were around but they may as well have been living in Perth they were so different. The people that I somehow fell in with were a pretty heavy kind of people.
All the misfits!
Yeah. There was a lot of the skater crowd. That’s why when I met Quan I kind of felt – you know how you were telling me about how you met Jhonny, it was like that – when you meet someone who is really nice and really kind. The first time I met Quan I was like I want to play in a fucking band with him! It’d be so nice because he’s such a darling kind of great dude [laughs].
Totally! It’s like their loveliness is so inspiring. It inspires you to be more that way.
Yeah just that calmness and that really focused quality, that’s what I really like about him.
Jhonny’s like a Zen master! I’ve never seen him get angry. He once had this girl we know come up to him after a show and tell him to his face “You shouldn’t be up there singing”. I mean who actually says that to someone?
Oh man that is so rude! So he didn’t take it to heart?
He just let her finish what she was saying and then went about his business. I wish I could be more like that, to not let things bother me.
That is amazing! What a great dude.
I know. It’s only one person’s opinion after all. He often gets people trying to tell him how he should make his music, kind of like what I have experienced that I was telling you about earlier. It’s cool to offer suggestions but you know it’s like what makes people think they know what’s best for your creativity or your music. He is such an inspiration, he just keeps on doing his thing how he wants. He puts out more music and art than anyone else I know. He just creates to create, that’s when I believe the best music and art happens.
I want to hear all his albums!