Ben Jelen’s latest CD speaks of his growth as an artist, songwriter and human being. “I feel like I have lived a bit more, I know who I am right now and I feel we captured that on the album,” he says. Jelen also dedicates a significant portion of his time to working with organizations and charities (United Nations, Natural Resources Defense Council, Live For Darfur, Amnesty International, Rock The Vote, among others) that he feels are affecting change in a positive and meaningful way, a common theme throughout Ex-Sensitive. Jelen’s career has given him the opportunity to work closely with such organizations and as a result, Jelen has developed a strong ethos for using his voice not only to express himself, but also to speak out on behalf of others.
You actually graduated with a biology degree from Rutgers University. At what moment did you decide that music is what you ultimately wanted to pursue with your life instead of biology?
I’ve only had a handful of those life-changing turns in my life and knowing that music was overtaking biology was one of them. In the middle of a degree with my Dad a doctor and Mum a nurse, it was quite a turn for me. During early college, I spent a summer in London as an intern at Battery Studios in Willesden green. I was extremely enthusiastic and arrived very early on the first day. One of the technicians gave me a quick tour of the place. The moment happened when I was in one of the control rooms, feeling the quiet in there, looking at the glowing lights and knowing that the feeling in my stomach had to be listened to. I wanted to be a part of that world in any way. Sure I finished my degree, but after that summer things weren’t the same.
For you, what is music about? And even more specifically, what is your music about?
Music is culture, entertainment, expression, communication, art. My music is about purpose, karma, love, death, life, what we’re facing as humankind and the increasingly materialistic world we’re living in.
I read that you took some time in India and the UK to re-discover yourself. What did you do and do you feel it has helped you from an artistic standpoint?
My direct family all still live in the UK, so I’m over there to see them when I can. A year ago I spent a month in India with my girlfriend traveling. It wasn’t nearly long enough – we journeyed up to Jaipur in the north, to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and then down to Kerala to see how southern India compared. I got to hear amazing Indian classical music when we saw Zakir Hussein in Mumbai. I came back with instruments and sampled tanpura drones to play my violin to. Its been a fun ride and I wasn’t expecting it. Its that their music is so different yet so similar which shows that music is all from the same origin.
You mentioned that you listed to Jet, The Beatles, and Sigur Ros during this period. Were there certain songs that you found had a greater impact on you than others?
Come together, and all of Abbey road was listened to a lot to during my first rest after a summer of touring. The whole () Sigur Ros album is so spiritual so me. So is seeing them live. And Jet’s “Are you gonna be my girl.” I love the way Paul screams out “Oh Darling” and Get Born reminded me of that.
Is there a certain song from Ex-Sensitive that you feel is the most personal or that you are perhaps the most pleased with?
I like “Pulse” and “What have we done” Pulse has a full sound with electric violin and drums while “What Have We Done” carries a similar but more subdued message about war and its effects.
You’ve had song placement on shows such as Smallville and One Tree Hill and in movies such as Finding Neverland. Have you ever watched any of these and heard your music? And if so, was that a weird feeling?
Actually, I’ve still never randomly heard my music unless my friends are throwing a gag and playing a slow song of mine at a hip-hop club off the mp3 machine. I usually have to duck out in those situations.
You also appeared on an episode of House. How was that experience as a whole? And what was it like appearing along side of Hugh Laurie?
House was fascinating for me to be a part of – they basically have a whole hospital built in a big warehouse! Hugh Laurie was in character the whole time, and I got to chat with Robert Sean Leonard. I’m a dead poet’s society fan.
You play the piano, the guitar, and the violin. When you’re writing songs, which of these do you normally use? And do you have one that you prefer over another?
I play guitar more and more, but I think that’s because of availability when I’m being nomadic which is a lot of my time. The violin is fun to play but difficult to write a song with. And the piano I’ve played for longer so its easier for me to figure out where I am and what I’m doing at the keyboard.
What are your thoughts on the music industry today?
The music industry is as volatile as I’ve ever seen it. I know that I like the availability and connectivity of the internet. I like that artists have their creative power, whatever it is they want to create. I hope that people always love music shows and festivals, because it’s the culture being alive that’s important. The industry will settle as the changes slow down.
What’s the future plan for you?
Future plans? Lots of touring and a green future with an administration that helps us all face up to obvious challenges.
Interview By: Emma Loggins
– Ben Jelen Official Site