As a one-man band, Ben Higgins has faced countless challenges and fought to keep his dream alive. An instructor, the guitar player has transferred his vast knowledge of technique and metal music to his first full-length, Defining Armageddon, which features Rob Lundgren on vocals. The Metal Advisor talks to Ben via e-mail to see what's up on his end of the music world.
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions, Ben!
Ben: My pleasure! Thanks for asking them!
Eight years of unstable and drastic line-up changes have helped you realize one thing: The Reckoning is a creative force run by one man. Did your role as a guitar instructor have anything to do with that?
Ben: Not really, no. Being a guitar instructor was something that happened on the side, much later after the band was already going and had endured several line-up changes by that point. I would say it was more down to circumstances where everything came to a head with disagreements between me and band members. It's not an easy situation for anyone if you have a solid vision and a load of material written which already has an established identity. People come into a band, wanting and expecting to jam and write music, have their say about musical direction & general band decisions.
That's understandable, of course, but in a situation like mine where I had a load of songs written, that had already been gigged with older line-ups, it can breed resentment to new people coming in who were expecting more of an input. The trouble is, I could choose to please everybody, but then you end up diluting the music and your overall vision just for the sake of keeping people happy. And, to me, damaging your art and your vision just to please people is a complete waste of your life.
It was never an intention of mine to build up a catalogue of material and be a band leader. It just happened by accident and so I've had to adapt to that and approach it a different way to the more "traditional" band scenario. All the experience of disagreements and resentments over the years had led me to a firm belief, which is this: I will do everything I can myself until I meet somebody who can do that particular job better than I can and when that happens, I will happily let them do it. And with that philosophy, I resolved to finally record the debut album as the only thing that I couldn't do was sing!
Well, you’re almost a one-man band. How did you meet your vocalist, Rob, and what made bonding so easy? Did you just share similar taste in music?
Ben: Well, Rob isn't actually in the band. He did it as a session thing, so I guess I'm downgraded back to being a one-man band again! I found a video of Rob singing some Judas Priest on YouTube, and I thought, "This guy's incredible. I'd love a voice like that for the music." And so I got in touch. He's the real deal, a Swede who actually looks like a Viking. Plus, he was a pleasure to work with, a total gentleman and a pro, which was a refreshing change. It was like, "Wow, he can do that?" And I'd ask him, "I don't suppose you could...?" And, yes, he could!
How does it feel to finally have a stable line-up to back the dream you’ve had for nearly a decade?
Ben: See above! I'll let you know when I find it !!
I have to ask, though, have you ever tried singing yourself? Or was a dedicated vocalist more suited for the job? A little bird told me you’re talented with various instruments.
Ben: I don't sing myself, no. I don't think it's something that needs to be heard by the world! It did cross my mind because I was so frustrated with dealing with other people letting me down, but I just knew deep down that it wasn't the way to go. I knew that the kind of voice I'd imagined for the songs was more in line with the great vocalists of the '80s--Halford, Dickinson, etc, and I did doubt many times that I'd ever find that, but finding Rob silenced the doubts, no problem!
Your debut record, Defining Armageddon, features you and Rob in full force and is your first foray into the metal world. How are you promoting it? Is the album spreading outside guitar circles?
Ben: Just getting reviews and interviews together and keeping up a presence online. I'm trying to work towards that ideal situation where your official website becomes the most interesting place for people to check you out, rather than the social media sites because if you rely on them too much, you're subject to their changes. I think they're necessary and definitely beneficial because I've met loads of great people through them, but your official sites become the one place where you can craft the overall experience and give something unique which they can't get on Facebook, etc.
Anyone who goes to the official site will see artwork inspired by the songs, which I've drawn personally along with a bit of background story, as well as an entire short graphic novel inspired by one of the songs. Although it's not sophisticated and not had as much money thrown at it as other bands, it's all 100% me.
The people who know me as a guitar instructor have been incredibly supportive in spreading the word of The Reckoning and some of my YouTube videos have brought people to it, too. Twitter's been great too, I have to say. There's some brilliant people on there that I wouldn't have met any other way and they've gone nuts hearing the songs.
Are your students begging to learn your licks and riffs?
Ben: I have had quite a few requests to dissect the riffs, yes! Who knows? I might make some videos and go through some of them one day.
How did you and Rob work around the distance issue? —online interaction and sending tracks back and forth via e-mail?
Ben: Yes, just online as you said. It was surprisingly smooth and Rob's such a great vocalist and a patient man, so there weren't many times where I needed to get him to do things again. The only difficult thing to get over when working like this is uploading files--that's what takes so long. And if your internet connection is as crappy as mine is, there can be many moments of frustration!
Ben: Probably the same challenges most other bands and musicians face. It's one thing finding people who are good at what they do, it's another thing entirely to find people who are good at what they do, are decent people, want the same things as you, and are prepared to work as hard as you to get it. Finding all those things in one person and doing it four more times is a very rare thing. So, I'm sure my experiences and stories will be similar to any other band in that regard.
By far, the biggest challenge is self-belief. When you've got other people questioning your judgement and pointing fingers at you it can be hard not to lose faith and start believing the naysayers, but it's all part of the challenge. Even working alone you still have the question of belief, possibly even more so because you're not cushioned by having a gang of people in the same boat as you. Either way, it's the thing that can make the difference between giving up or refusing to give up, no matter how hard it gets.
I also know there's a lot of people who think I'm crazy to be doing things this way, as one man. They don't think I can do it, or that I shouldn't do it. But I am doing it. Black Sabbath's path wasn't the same as Iron Maiden's path, which wasn't the same as Metallica's path, which isn't the same as my path. Every situation is unique. There is no rule book for this stuff. If you listen to people who tell you that you can't do something then you'll never do anything.
Lay out a typical writing session for me. Do you have any specific place you pull inspiration from or do you play to your heart’s content until you create the basis of a song?
Ben: Most of the riffs just came out of nowhere whilst jamming away on my own, but a few of the earlier riffs came out by accident whilst jamming with a drummer way back in the beginning. Once I've got one good riff happening, I just keep cycling it and allowing it to take me to another section when it does. I usually just pull threads of ideas out of the air and follow them wherever they go. I don't plan songs. I just let them happen naturally. I also find it quite natural to play riffs in weird timings. To me, it's just like walking and talking. We don't always talk at the same pace, yet we find it easy... music is no different.
Occasionally, I'll be inspired to create a song from an idea like an image or a story. But a lot of the time, the music happens first.
Was there any specific sound you were going for or is the record a collection of your musical musings from across a span of eight years?
Ben: All these songs were written near the beginning of The Reckoning's formation. The only exception is "Vigilante," which was written in late 2011, so they're old songs, really. Since then, I've written over two more albums worth of material. However, I am glad that time has allowed me to make improvements and tweaks to the arrangements of the songs from Defining Armageddon, as I think they're much better now than they ever were.
One of my main issues with the album is the lack of a drummer and a very plastic, inorganic drum sound. Despite the unstable line-ups in the past, do you have any intention of seeking out a real player?
Ben: That's a fair comment. From my point of view, I'd rather have programmed drums that are playing everything like it should be and give the songs the right consistency, tempo, and articulation than have a real drummer who wasn't doing it justice. In this case, it really was more beneficial to go back to the original demos I recorded for the songs and use the original tempo maps and grooves because no matter what the line-up was, the songs never managed to sound as coherent and consistent as those early demos I did. Everyone who's heard the album has said the songs sound better than ever, including my friend who's a drummer!
It is a compromise, for sure, but there are bands out there with real drummers and their albums have an even less human sound than this one, so I'm not too worried about it. I do intend to work with more musicians in the future, but only if the situation is right. It's not worth me trying to gather a band of local musicians right now as I'll just repeat the same problems as before. I'll wait until I'm in the position to offer some serious musicians a touring wage or something like that because, from my experience, people aren't happy to join a band and play someone else's material unless they're getting something from it, and I've got two more albums written that I want to work through next, so I've got to be realistic about it. There might be people out there who just want to be part of something and enjoy playing great music but they're rare.
Do you have any plans for another release? Maybe a few in-progress songs that didn’t make the first album?
Ben: Ah, see above! I'm working on the second right now. It's got more dimensions than the first album, and I think it's really going to surprise people.
Any shoutouts or last words? Thanks for a great interview, Ben!
Find Ben and The Reckoning here:
Official - http://www.thereckoning.net/
YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/user/TheReckoningOfficial
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/TheReckoningOfficial?fref=ts
Twitter - http://twitter.com/_The_Reckoning_