Ben Provest’s room is a chaotic cross between an organised study bedroom and a messy music studio. His desk is peppered with sheets of loose-leaf paper, with a well-loved keyboard and an expensive set of speakers sitting on top. Across the room rests a mini conch shell nestled between two framed photographs of his beloved Queensland beaches.
He politely offers me wine, beer, mineral water – “Anything?!” – as he settles down in front of me with a contagious grin.
Ben is an artist making a break with his musical past. Ditching the formulaic style of pet project Benny and the Dukes, Ben is instead diving headfirst into new musical territory, intrigued by the potential of the pop-synth scene. In his own words,
“It’s all the same music, it’s just orchestrated in a different way that could be more relevant to today’s audience.”
Ben praises the work of pop artists such as Megan Washington, Sahara Beck and in particular Lorde, who he believes is a pioneer for her unique sense of pop musicality. Ben keeps his finger on the pulse of contemporary pop styles, a skill he attributes to studying at the VCA. He admits that before the VCA he didn’t know how to arrange or orchestrate bands, a task that he had previously done by ear, which for Ben was,”organic, but also limiting”.
I imagined that studying the intricacies of music and having these conversations in a classroom would be a dream for Ben. But Ben notes that the business elements, such as the marketing and publicity of his image that are essential for ‘contemporary music success’, are not taught at the VCA. Rather it has taken a back seat for the greater purpose of continuing to grow as an academic musician.
We think back on the hits of the past year in music. I list a few and ask what sort of song is more attractive to the pop audience – a song with a narrative like ‘Someone Like You’ or ones more like ‘Anaconda’.
“It’s the only thing that separates songs now” he explains, “harmonically, music is so similar… it’s always in the four-four time signature… they follow a very similar formula… so the narrative is the distinguishing factor.” To Ben, “if you write great poetry, it’s very easy to write a melody.”
Ben found great difficulty in expressing his desire to study music to his very non-musical family. Ben elaborated how his family were dubious about his decision, constantly possessing a “Oh great, you like music, but what’s your day job?” mentality. Ben later admits he had considered going down the investment-banking path to assuage his family’s concerns. But I’m sure glad he didn’t.