Ben Hudson has quickly emerged as the one of the brightest newcomers within the American music scene. Having already experienced success with his band Mr. Hudson and The Library, the British musician’s fame rose to new heights this year with his introduction into Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. music label, a collaboration on the track Supernova, and an appearance on Jay-Z’s “Forever Young” from the recent #1 album, The Blueprint 3. Preparing for the launch of his debut solo album, Straight No Chaser, we caught up with Mr. Hudson in New York City. As humble and down to earth as anyone we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, Ben gave us a bit of insight into his new found celebrity status and taste for all things American.
Interview: L. Ruano
Photography: Stephen Wordie
Interview with Mr. Hudson
Ben, very nice meeting you. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got to where you are now?
I’m just a fairly typical kid from the suburbs, but I’ve always had a taste for American stuff. I was always obsessed by Back to the Future and I loved American sports because I was rubbish at British ones. I wasn’t good at soccer or anything. I got okay at basketball and tried American football as well. Surely enough it served me well when I arrived in Hawaii and Kanye and the guys were surprised that an Englishman could do a decent layup. I guess it’s just a funny story how I ended up here.
Most people actually think that your connection with Kanye developed overnight, but from what I understand, it actually took some time, no?
The thing is it took me a long time to figure out my sound because I always wanted to showcase the best of both worlds. I wanted to be a songwriter and didn’t want to neglect that part of my craft. I also wanted to learn about production. I started getting into stuff like J Dilla, Kanye West and Outkast, those might be some of the most obvious places to start, but you know, being an Englishmen, it’s not like being in New York. I didn’t necessarily have everything available to me. It took me awhile to fuse those 2 things, songwriting and a what we call urban production. Then I made that first album, A Tale of Two Cities, which actually never came out here (America), just in the UK, which is where Kanye heard it and thought it was good music.
How long did it take to begin working on your album?
We were working on The Blueprint 3 in Hawaii and also started doing 808’s and Heartbreaks before we finally got around to my record this year. Here we are, Summer 2009. Its been a long grind, its be a long time coming for me to be on whatever floor of this building, talking to people on the phone about the album. You know, it’s crazy.
It definitely is. I was reading about your journey in various overseas interviews and it’s been a wild one.
Yes, I’m the new kid on the block.
So Mr. Hudson began as a band correct, not just a solo project, but rather Mr. Hudson and The Library?
Yea, I mean it’s one of those things that’s hard to do on a project like this, perhaps. It’s kind of like Prince, where he has a band and it’s important to him, but he still remains just Prince.
I can understand. So will Straight No Chaser follow a sound familiar to that of your new single, Supernova, or will it be more geared towards the sound of A Tale of Two Cities?
It’s bigger, it’s wider and it’s louder. It’s more future human arts basically.
Is Kanye producing the entire album?
It’s more of a collaboration. His role was that of an executive producer. I tried not to make too many demands at the time because he’s got a huge amount of people asking him for beats and vocals. He would basically be involved when he could and when he wanted to, that way it would be more of an experience and not an obligation.
Straight No Chaser. Can you give us some detail behind the meaning of the title?
I guess it was approached with directness, like kicking it in the nuts. I didn’t want to have all the intros and outros and make it too indulgent. I wanted it to be more straightforward, not shallow but to have a lot of weight behind the punch. It was still like Bam!, a knockout with one punch… you know what I mean? When you listen to the record your gonna know what your listening to, it’s not just background music.
That’s one of the characteristics that makes Kanye so original. He doesn’t hold back. You know it’s his sound when you hear it.
While listening to A Tale of Two Cities, I can draw so many musical influences. What artists/music did you listen to growing up?
I was into everything. When I was a kid I was into American Pop, acts like Paula Abdul, MJ, the New Kids on the Block, and Madonna. But in my teens I was into very metal stuff because my brothers were into that and I was in my big brother’s band playing drums. I was into Helmet and Metallica, stuff like that. Later, I kind of got into the Lemonheads and more of the Guns style. I kind of fell out of love with new music. When everyone else was listening to this trippy acoustic stuff I thought that mainstream was a bit brainless, not really brainless but no one had anything to say anymore, this was about 10 years ago after Brit Pop. I wasn’t excited by new music, so I went back and started listening to Bowie, Neil Young and Marvin Gaye, getting back and back into the older days. Then I suddenly realized in about 2003-2004 that maybe I should see what hot new music is out there and that is when I got into Hip-Hop and R&B. I started listening to old soul records like Bobby Womack and stuff, and that’s when I was ready to appreciate music from Kanye and Outkast.
A lot of people feel there was a void in Hip-Hop until maybe about a few years ago. When Kanye burst onto the scene, it was a breath of fresh air. People felt “Hip-Hop was dead”, yet I think overall its a really good time for music right now.
Definitely. What Hip-Hop needed to realize was that it was part of the mainstream and that it was actually Pop music. As soon as people stopped denying that, they said “lets have fun, lets start entertaining people and start selling some records and just make sure everyone is having a great time.” Its not just being moody in your bedroom smoking anymore, but just about having some fun. It’s what Hip-Hop was about originally anyways, “let’s get on the corner and entertain each other.”
I completely agreed with you. It’s exciting to see Hip-Hop take on a new stage with musicians like Kid Cudi, who himself, like you, blew up quite rapidly.
Yea, it sort of happened at a similar time. In Hawaii, he (Kanye) was like “this guy is Kid Cudi and this is Mr. Hudson” and within seconds of meeting each other, we were already writing a chorus together.
That’s exciting to hear. It’s the beginning of a new movement.
Getting back onto Straight No Chaser, will the album incorporate autotune?
I only use it maybe 30-40% of the time. Only when I think it adds value to the track and brings the emotion out. I want to give people value for their money but I’m not going to take it off just cause people feel it should be off, I’m using it as a tool to make things sound cool. If the song doesn’t need it, I wont use it. Like I said before, I think it adds a lot of emotion to the track, so the important thing is to avoid picturing why everyone is putting it on for the sake of it.
That’s the current “hype” at the moment. Everyone using autotune.
Definitely. When you look at Jimi Hendrix, he wasn’t using the wah wah (pedal) on every song. He just liked to bring it in and out to have that effect.
We’ve been talking a lot about music, which of course is your expertise, but how much are you into fashion?
I could never afford to be into fashion because I just didn’t have the budget. It was more like charity shop chic and hand-me-downs from my big brothers. 3 big brothers and my dad, so a lot of hand-me-down stuff. I would kind of just make it work, I’d wait until things came back into fashion. But you know, hanging out with Kanye and the guys, they’re really into their clothes, so I have been learning a lot from them. I just got flown out to Paris for fashion week, so its been amazing. I’m learning fast.
Its kind of funny though because a lot of “fashionistas” nowadays are paying the big amounts for vintage/thrift shop clothing rather than the new goods.
Yep, I’m always wearing the right stuff at the wrong time.
I was dressing like the Strokes in 1999.
Speaking of gear, how did you feel about Kanye naming that Louis Vuitton sneaker after you?
It’s nuts. That’s the kind of thing that happens in my crazy new life. It wasn’t a massive surprise, kind of like “yup, that’s the kind of thing Kanye does.” It was a massive compliment you know, but I still haven’t gotten a pair.
Yea, a lot of people didn’t get a pair. They were a bit pricey.
They were like $1,000 or something.
I know you’ve had an unbelievable crazy schedule. What are your plans for the rest of the year and heading into 2010?
We’re going to tour this record here (America) and around the world. I’m just looking forward to seeing more of the world, you know? I’ve never been to South America, I’ve never been to Australia, I’ve never been to Japan. That’s the part of the tour that I love, and I’m definitely looking forward to that. I’m also trying to get my production work off the ground which I’ve been working with Estelle and another couple of UK acts on. Just popping in the studio when I’m not jumping around, it’s my only little time to get some work done.
Ben, its been a pleasure chatting. Thanks so much for taking the time out of your day to chat with HYPEBEAST. Any last words?
No, thanks for your time. No last words, just please check out the album, there’s a lot of depth to the record and lots of different sounds, so yea come see one of our shows. We play every show like it’s our last!