Grave Concerns: Greetings Tim, it’s so nice to make your acquaintance. How are you doing?
Hi there Lynda. I doing well thanks :)
Grave Concerns: I have to tell you how much I am digging the songs heard on your MySpace music profile for your debut album “Diaries of Love and War”, and am so honored that I’ll be reviewing it soon for you on Grave Concerns E-zine. I already know it’s going to be smashing!
Hehe - you're too kind! Thanks for taking the time.
Grave Concerns: Are you planning on touring? I live close to Boston, MA (;
I get this question a lot - I never really expected people to like my music so originally it didn't really occur to me. Up until now, Benign has been a studio project. I live for the songwriting. I'm working on a new set of songs at the moment, so I don't really want to get ahead of that for now. But yeah, I'm giving thought to a touring band after that to promote the new songs. And of course I'd love to get over to the US and play there! Touring would be a great challenge. And truthfully, as the music industry stands, it is the only real way to promote and sell records.
Grave Concerns: Roses are one of my favorite flowers---I really like the one you have as your album cover for “Diaries of Love and War”; a black rose, where in the center it’s illuminated in blue and white. How did the concept for it come to be?
I go through phases of doing a lot of photography and flora always seems to feature heavily. Flora and grafitti and factories. But there is something about flora that is compelling through a lense. The album cover photo came about that way, with some creative photoshop abuse. It just stuck. That happened very early in the process of making the album and the image became a sort of muse to me. I just loved the classical rose / love imagery but kinda inverted - it somehow became a more powerful and complex image that way.
Grave Concerns: On your album “Diaries of Love and War”, which song was most difficult for you to express the emotions felt?
To be honest the emotional side of it really didn't present a problem. The real problem was a work/life balance issue that dragged the process out and kept getting in the way, draining my emotional energy sometimes to an unacceptable degree. I have yet to find the answer to that. I wrote Ana as part of the process of trying to figure that out. Some of the songs came together over a long period of time (e.g. Protocol) and others just kinda fell out very quickly (like Odysseus). But I never felt that I had to work to find the underlying emotion - it was just an honest representation of where I was in that period.
Grave Concerns: Have you ever thought about illustrating books…perhaps writing and illustrating your own? If so, what kinds of books would you like to pursue? I see a lot of whimsy and fantasy...remarkable places that your paintings could find a lovely home in the field of children’s books.
Haha - no I've not thought about it. In my younger years I thought of becoming a fiction writer. It occurred to me then that the writers I loved were all in their middle years - put simply, at that time I just hadn't lived enough. Music is kinda the opposite - it draws heavily from the experiences and passions of youth. But who knows what I'll do in the future! Illustrated books would be fun.
Grave Concerns: You’ve traveled extensively…been to Russia, Chile, Sweden, New Zealand…to name a few of those places visited. What have been the highlights of your time spent in those and other countries, and where else would you like to go?
You know, people are awesome wherever you go. I'm fascinated by anything that's different to what I know. And I'm fascinated by the things that are the same. Travelling is really wonderful for challenging your basic cultural assumptions. You learn quickly that a lot of what you're told has no basis, and you learn that actually your own culture is often far from perfect. I love that side of travelling. I haven't been anywhere that I haven't loved. Mongolia and Bolivia were particularly great experiences. I expected very little from both countries and was wrong in both cases. Both countries are quite "poor" (in a monetary sense) - and the people were warm, friendly, smart, and funny, and lived in beautiful parts of the planet. I came away humbled in both cases, thinking a lot about western materialism. I travel a lot around Europe too - particularly France, less as a tourist now, as someone who is going over to spend time with my friends there.
As for where else... Everywhere really - I can't get enough. I have a nagging desire to visit the Middle East. Get stuck into the Axis of Evil :) Seriously I do want to get to Iran while it is still possible - so much amazing history, culture and I've heard lots of great tourist reports. If I can get some money together I'll probably get to Turkey or Morocco before too long.
Grave Concerns: You like learning new languages…how is that going? Which ones have you’ve been able to pick up on more easily?
It is going ok. It is a lot of work, and I tend to do it on a need basis. So when I'm going somewhere new I try to learn at least a little. One thing that frustrates me when travelling is seeing English-speaking tourists expecting the locals to accommodate them in English (and often being quite rude about it). I didn't want to be like that. At the very least I try to learn some niceties, and when I can I try to get to a conversational level. That adds a lot to travelling - you can learn a lot more about the people when you can communicate with them. And generally, people will be more helpful and friendly if you at least try. It started really with French - admittedly I had the usual young man's reasons for starting to learn French :) But it's such a beautiful language and I've worked more at that than any other. Italian and Spanish both I find really easy to pick up, and even easier to forget. Put me in amongst speakers of either language and within a couple of days I'm communicating again. Mostly the European languages have a lot of commonality with English, and actually you learn a lot about the English language by learning languages like French and German. English is a very peculiar language when you look at it from the outside - a product of a lot of strange mixings. Mandarin Chinese was a completely different matter - foreign in almost every way. I only learned a little - enough to be polite - but several Beijingers complimented my on my pronunciation so that was nice :) I'm fascinated by the little things - like why some things are easy to express in one language but not another - and what that hints to about their cultures. Meaningful communication is something that is very important to me - something I think that is fundamentally missing in the world at the moment. This is one of the central themes of the new music I am working on.
Grave Concerns: You mention Bertrand Russell, a Philosopher, a man whose work you’ve been reading about…a man who inspires you through his beliefs and his writings. Tell us more about who this man was, and the impact he’s made on you.
Ah. Russell. He's become a sort of defacto mentor to me. He was one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. He made significant contributions to philosophy, logic, and mathematics. He wrote about anything and everything - there are tens of thousands of pages that he has written on topics ranging from religion to politics to morality to science to education. He had many radical ideas on many things - some of which seem like common-sense today, and others whose time has yet to come. I got into him through a desire to learn about general philosophy - I dragged his "History of Western Philosophy" half way around the world, reading it on trains in Russia and China. It is a wonderful introduction to the topic up until the start of the 20th century. It is rare in that it is actually quite witty as well, not dry like so many books on the subject can be. So I became attracted to his writing style immediately. And then reading more of his work I felt a real affinity for the way he thought and approached problems. He was a committed rationalist, an agnostic and a pacifist, and was not afraid to challenge people's views on these things. Nor was he afraid to change his stance on things if the evidence warranted it. He was imprisoned during WWI for opposing the war. He was pretty much persecuted by elements of the religious world a number of times for his views on Christianity. He along with Einstein and others were active in protesting nuclear proliferation. I often wonder what he'd make of the current world. I suspect he'd be a little disappointed, some things improved, some deteriated. But a lot of his writing suggests that he saw what the shape of things to come would be. I wish he were with us now.
Grave Concerns: I see you’re a collector of instruments, and have collected some on your trip to South America. Please, tell us about them and your interest in them.
I think most musicians are "collectors" - often to the detriment of making music :) We call it "Gear-lust" or "Gear Aquisition Syndrome" (GAS). I moved away from collecting conventional instruments and started picking up all sorts of things on my travels. I'm always looking for different sounds, and I'm also learning to love the "real thing" as opposed to samples or recordings. Much of what I have picked up has been percussion instruments. I just love drums! But they make great souvenirs as well as being very useful when recording. Lately I’ve been picking up a lot of African drums here in London. I just love them. I'd really like to get more Middle-Eastern and Asian instruments.
Grave Concerns: Are there other things you like to collect? I love antiques and enjoy going to stores and flea markets. I have since I was a teenager. There is such a rush of the unknown toward what may be found.
Most of my collections are pretty conventional. I live for books and surround myself with them. Likewise for CDs - I'll miss them when they are gone. One peculiar collection I have is copies of "The Hobbit" in different languages. I try to pick a copy up every time I go somewhere with a new (to me) language. You haven't lived until you've tried to find a book in a Chinese bookstore lol. I also have a nice little collection of a dozen or so Venetian masks. They're beautiful.
Grave Concerns: Besides the obvious necessities of life, what are six things that you can’t be without?
Music. Books. Intelligent, informed, rational people. Diversity. Opportunities to learn something new. Time - this isn't usually classed as a necessity of life but I think it should be - it is maybe the most valuable thing to me at the moment, and the main unrenewable resource.
Grave Concerns: Which bands and/or artist do you feel should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next?
That's tough question. I listen to hundreds of bands and artists, and I love finding new ones. Who's currently in the Hall of Fame? lol. I may as well mention some that are unlikely to get there - Ani Difranco, Einsturzende Neubauten, Nick Cave. They're all doing their own thing and I love it. If Trent Reznor doesn't get into a hall of fame that would be a crime, although probably a crime he'd approve of. Martin Gore and Peter Gabriel.
Grave Concerns: Being such a seasoned traveler, you must have experienced some delectable meals and desserts, fruits, vegetables, breads and wines... all kinds of unusual and amazing food combinations. What stands out as some of your favorites? And while we’re on the subject, do you like to cook?
Food is one of the best things about travelling. That's one of the reasons I go to France so often! One creme brulée and I'm anyones :) I'm not squeamish about food - if the locals eat it, despite my own cultural prejudices, it's obviously ok to eat, and I'll try it. I've had all manner of French food - I love snails. When I was in Peru we went to a place that served up a (clearly identifiable) roast hamster. Unfortunately I recovering from some nasty dysentery at the time or I would have tried it :) Russian food was great - a good borsh is surprisingly wholesome. Most places have a local alcohol that they swear by. It is invariably awful. I'm never sure whether they are just having a bit of a joke with the tourists. In Mongolia they had a vodka and a type of yoghurt made from mare's milk. I smiled politely after trying it and got on with my life.
I live on my own so I don't cook often, but enjoy cooking for others. I do a mean crepe.
Grave Concerns: How do you differentiate a real good song, from a classic? In other words, what really makes a song stand out and last? And with your music, which song or songs do you feel have met that challenge, have come close to it, or are you currently just enjoying the creative bliss?
I don't know. There are many reasons for loving a song. Some songs just resonate with you because of an emotional association with a particular point in your life. Some songs are natural classics in their own right - and are proven by the test of time. I couldn't tell you my favourite song - it's just to complex a question. As for my own songs, I'm really too close to them to say. I wrote them for me, and in that respect they work. But I believe any piece of art has three components - the artist and their intent, the art in its own right, and the consumer and the relationship they form with the art. So in a way the art (song in this case) has its own existence and the important thing is whether people do form a meaningful relationship with it. People have been very kind about my songs, which I am grateful for. And I think at least a few people have found that special relationship with my music.
Grave Concerns: Have you ever had a music dream? And if so, were you able to remember it enough to write down the melody?
Not as such. My song "Sound" came pretty much directly from a nightmare I had a few years back. I more or less just wrote down what happened in the dream and that became the lyrics. That was the only time that has happened though. Mostly the songs come from long pondering, or unexpected stimuli collisions - books that I am reading, or films, with themes, history, and current events.
Grave Concerns: Being a member of MySpace, how has it helped, or hindered your musical endeavors? And which countries do you feel have embraced your music the most?
I'd have to say it has helped. It has let me reach a good number of people that wouldn't otherwise have heard my music. On the other hand, it is a strange time to be a musician - it is easier to reach an audience in that respect, but this is weighed against this implicit expectation that music should be free. I think all musicians are still working through figuring that out at the moment.
Grave Concerns: I’m giving you 13 letters to choose from, in any order; you only have to use 6 of them (you can use more if you want, but not less than 6) and you have to make up a phrase describing your ideal place of peacefulness. But only with these letters...MCVNSALJGDOUY.
What?! Ok then :) I could really use some Rs and Es here! And Ts...
No gods, only us,
No mondays, only joy.
...Vous, sans mal.
Grave Concerns: You’ve been asked to create a new word defining your style of music. What is that word?
Benign :) You did ask...
Grave Concerns: As a musician, how does the music in movies affect you? And if you were asked to compose a song for a soundtrack, which genera would that be in? Now let me take that question even further---actually backward; if you were to go back to the past, with your current music in hand, and were asked that same question, would any of your songs stand out as a good fit? If so, which song and movie would it have been?
I've had a lot of people say that my music has a cinematic quality to it. And that's not an accident - I am heavily influenced by soundtrack music, both orchestral and contemporary. I was aware at a very early age how much a soundtrack added to a film - I remember watching all those films as a kid with the big John Williams scores. I was impressed at how they embellished the films, and also how well the music stood on its own when listened to in isolation. The answer would really depend on the film - the music should obviously support the film so the answer would vary. I assume if someone asked me it would be for a film with a dark tone. I would probably go with the quasi orchestral / electronic hybrid that I have used in songs like Protocol. That also answers the second part of the question. Which film? I don't know - something by Wim Wenders maybe.
Grave Concerns: I love ghost stories, dark beings, magical creatures, and unexplained occurrences; what kind of unusual and wonderful stories have you heard about Australia and London? And do you believe them?
Australia has a long history of what you could call ghost stories in amongst the Aboriginal mythology. I should explore them more - there would be lots of great song inspiration in the tales of the dreamtime. London I'm sure has many ghost stories although I don't know any specifics to be honest - Charles Dickens would be a great place to start :) Do I believe them? Not really - I'm a devout sceptic, which is to say I don't disbelieve but the available evidence points against it...
Grave Concerns: If you had the power to live the life of any character in a movie for one-week after the end credits rolled, who would you choose and why?
Tyler Durden in Fight Club - I really want to know what happens to him after all those buildings are destroyed! Or maybe Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth lol.
Grave Concerns: When it comes to writing new material, which do you feel comes first in the creative process---the lyrics or the music, or doesn’t it matter?
They generally come around the same time. Usually the lyrics start to coalesce first but don't really take firm form unless I also have some idea of where the tune is going in general. Normally I'll have some theme or idea I want to develop so that's where I'll start.
Grave Concerns: How did you come up with the name Benign?
I honestly don't know. I reached a point where I started wanting to run early versions of my songs past other people which meant I had to put them on the web somewhere. So I needed a name. I pondered it for several weeks. "Benign" came up fairly early and wouldn't go away. I'm not sure why it came up. But I like the irony and ambiguity of it and it stuck.
Grave Concerns: If you were able to put on a concert for charity, which one/s would you be supporting, and which artists would you like to headline?
Good question. Anything that made it possible for people in poorer countries to self-determine would interest me. Whether they needed food, or infrastructure or whatever. I sponsor couple of children in 3rd world development programs. I think this is important. As long as it is structured to develop self-support and doesn't involve any sort of religious or ideological indoctrination in exchange - help people to figure their own way through, not someone else's idea of their own idea. There are a few good organizations that do this and I wouldn't want to suggest any one over any other. Of course, Benign would headline ;) But Peter Gabriel, Sarah McLachlan, and NIN would all make great support acts :)
Grave Concerns: What would a typical day be like for you? I just love knowing little things like, do you make coffee first thing in the morning…do you even drink coffee? What do you eat for breakfast? Do you have any nasty habits you’d like to break? Do you have a favorite news/radio station you listen to? Does a telephone in London really sound like it does in the movies…and have you found yourself picking up on the mannerisms of being a resident in London? Or do you still have your Australian accent?
My typical day will vary depending on whether I'm working, time of the year, levels of motivation etc.
Coffee is a must. Breakfast is very inconsistent - when I'm being good it'll be sultana bran or something like that. When I'm not being good I’ll indulge my weakness for the "English Breakfast". I am a serious smoker and I'd like to quit - or rather I'd like to want to quit. I don't listen to radio these days - it annoys me. Always the same small set of bands. I have over 1000 albums on my iPod, so shuffling is my own personalised radio station. I do miss my radio station from back in Aus - Triple J. Telephones sound pretty much the same (which is to say varied) everywhere you go. I don't think there are too many mannerisms that you could say are true for all of London - it is such a diverse city. There are local things, like in the east saying "i'nnit" at the end of sentences and sometimes I do that for fun. My Australian accent comes and goes. I found I had to temper it a bit just in order to not have to repeat everything I say lol.
Grave Concerns: I’m quite obsessed with things British, and truly believe I’ve lived a past life somewhere in Europe. And when I look for teacups at the flea markets and antique stores, they have to be “Made in England”…or around there. (: I also love the movies of James Ivory, and can’t wait (but of course I have to) to see Tim Burton’s new movie “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. So by now you’re probably wondering where your question is…so, where would you recommend a first-time traveler to go?
You should live a current life in Europe! It's great here :) Burton is doing Sweeny Todd? Cool! Burton and Depp are the dream team.
First time traveller... London of course - so much to see here. Make sure you get to Camden Markets - it’s a brilliant melting pot of subcultures and you can get some great things there. You'd probably be disappointed by Fleet Street :) London has some wonderful parks - Greenwich, St James Park, Regents Park are all beautiful. Outside of England, Paris is a must. Paris je t'aime! Beyond that the difficulty is in choosing between so many wonderful places. Amsterdam is great. Vienna if you're a musician - it is Mecca. Venice is surreal. Prague is beautiful. Berlin is electric.
Grave Concerns: Write whatever comes to your mind after reading the following:
1. A warm breeze, and the smells of Lilacs…
2. Walking along the cobble stone road reminded me…
3. As I looked up at the fiery horizon…
another day passes. Mortality.
4. It was in this room…
with the lights out.
5. I was seated among…
a million faceless people, and me alone.
Grave Concerns: Have you had the opportunity of meeting Depeche Mode? They are amazing…are you looking forward to Dave Gahan’s second solo album “Hourglass”?
Hehe I'm not nearly famous enough (yet) to meet DM. I'd love to. I've seen them live a few times but not gotten any closer. I just got Hourglass. I've got about 30 albums on my current rotation and only get time to listen to a couple a day. So I've only listened to it once so far. But I really enjoyed it. It seems a bit harder than the first album, a bit nastier. I think it’s a keeper.
Grave Concerns: Have you thought about covering a song of Depeche Mode’s? If so, which one, and why?
I don't really think too much about covers - I don't have enough time to do my own songs, let alone covers. But it would be fun to do. As for which one, that's really tough - choosing from a couple of hundred songs. The short list would be In Your Room, Blasphemous Rumours, Rush, Waiting For The Night, and Never Let Me Down.
Grave Concerns: Anything else you care to share about yourself and/or your music? I’d…we’d love to know! (;
I think I've rambled enough for now :) And my head hurts from the 13 letter game! I hope people will come and check out my music - have a look at my MySpace page and watch my Blog there for news and clues. And drop by to say "Hi".
Grave Concerns: Tim, it’s a wonderfully bright pleasure to know you, learn more about your other creative interests, and of course, your music. We here at Grave Concerns wish your debut album “Diaries of Love and War” to be a success. Tim, you are a fascinating person…please keep in touch. Cheers!
Thanks Lynda. It's been my pleasure to run free with these great questions!
For more information on “Benign” check out www.benignmusic.com, www.myspace.com/benignbandmusic, www.soundclick.com/benign and www.timgoodacre.plus.com
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