Interview: Ben Ely + The Colourful Writer Take A Trip Down ‘The Golden Path’

Words/Interview by Shannon-Lee Sloane {The Colourful Writer}

I have a long list of musicians and bands who have made an impact on me in this lifetime. There are a special few though, who have really found and cemented a place in my music loving heart. One of those is the multitalented Ben Ely. From the first moment I discovered bands like Pangaea and Regurgitator and the myriad of other bands Ben has played in, I knew his creative and musical vibe was one I could relate to, resonate with and respect.

Any 90’s teen in Brisbane who was into alternative music and got up early on weekends to watch Rage and Recovery and saved their pocket money to buy tickets to 4ZZZ Market Day, Livid Festival and Big Day Out, who spent weekends at Rocking Horse and Skinny’s buying CD’s, band shirts and the like, knew who Regurgitator and Pangaea were and more than likely loved them as much as I did/do. Fast forward a few years and Ben started releasing his solo music as well.

On Friday the 16th of July 2021, Ben released his third solo album – ‘The Golden Path’ – an eclectic mix of sounds, feelings, emotions, vibes and music that all together creates a journey down a golden path of positivity and reflection. At a time where the world as we know it is so full of uncertainty, fear and a global pandemic, an album such as this is a true blessing and a welcomed distraction from all of the unknown.

With songs that stood our for me like My Dog Is A Table, Breathe In The Sunshine, Fade Away and Barefoot Life, featuring a mixture of synths, guitars, soundscapes such as birds chirping, there is layer upon layer of different energies throughout each song. I get glimmers of Beck, Paul Kelly, INXS, Tex Perkins vibes ringing through in various tracks and of course spurts of Regurgitator and Pangaea even in there too. But overall, I get an honest truth and colourful display of Ben’s inner musical mind and it’s a thing of true beauty.

I had the complete honour and pleasure of chatting with Ben about his journey on ‘The Golden Path’ of his musical career to date.

So there’s heaps of things I would love to chat to you about, but the most recent and exciting thing for you and your music is your latest solo album, ‘The Golden Path’ which was released just over a week ago. How do you feel about this new release? What was the inspiration behind this one? 

“I feel good about it. It is a pretty strange record but I feel happy about it. It is kind of funny how it came about. It is quite an involved story. I had this tool shed where I used to do a lot of artwork in my garden. But over the summer time it got eaten by white ants. I got a mate of mine who is the set builder at La Boite Theatre and he and his mate helped me rebuild it, cos they weren’t doing any work because of the theatre closing down. We did it over lockdown in 2020 and as we were building it my mate said ‘oh you know, you should make this a music studio, a little music room.’ So we got heavy duty materials to make it slightly soundproofed and turned it into a music room and then he turned out to be a really good drummer. I didn’t even know he was a drummer! he was an ex metal guy. So he plays in my band and he is really great. We have been jamming a lot.

Then through Covid a lot of gigs were being cancelled so I kind of went oh I think I will use my little studio a lot! and I think I should make a record that is something that you couldn’t really play live, with heaps of instruments and synths and stack up the layers. My previous solo records are just a guitar and a voice; a minimal ensemble so I could do it live by myself. But with this one I wanted to chuck in heaps of stuff so it was really fun and free and not being tied to an ensemble. Then I was working on this artwork, for the album cover that was quite dark and really heavy, dark kind of vibes and subject matter. But because of Covid and losing all the gigs, doing dark, gothic music was really bumming me out. So then I kind of went, I think I should kind of brighten it up a little bit and then I kind of accidentally wrote ‘The Golden Path’. I tried to make it upbeat to try and cheer myself up through the pandemic. So that is kind of the story of the record.” 

So it kind of went full circle from where it started and became something much more light and positive from where it began?

“I guess ‘The Golden Path’ is kind of like this idea that you know, to do art or music for a living, even if it is not financially rewarding, I guess especially during the pandemic, it still feels like a rich kind of existence because it is quite rewarding working in the arts. To me, making things feels really satisfying. So that’s what that song is about. I was trying to remain positive. A friend of mine, James, offered me a show at The Powerhouse with the band and he said ‘do you want to play with the band?’ So I got my mate Milsey who helped build the studio with me and Steph who plays in a band called JERM. She plays synthesizers and Jim use to play in The Quickening on bass, it is funny I have got a lot of metal dudes playing in my band but it is kind if pretty mellow stuff. So then we put the band together and we are half way through writing a new record as well. It is really nice to keep busy if I can’t play in Regurgitator at the moment. Which is hard because Quan lives in Melbourne and Pete, our drummer lives in Sydney. We haven’t played for over a year and a half.”

‘The Golden Path’, for me, is a very emotive album. I have been listening to it on my way to work over the last week or so and it seems to make me really stop and reflect on my life and life as we know it right now. Is it a personal reflection kind of album for you? 

“Yeah I mean all my solo stuff is really personal, it is all really a kind of different avenue that I couldn’t kind of really do with Regurgitator, because Regurgitator has always been kind of cynical and we kind of have a really different lyrical vibe, it is a very different approach. That band has never really been about your personal kind of way in the world. It is more about how fucked up the world is *laughs*. That is why I do like doing the solo thing because it is a very different process to what I am used to.”

I was researching this interview the other night and watching some old interviews with you and I was watching one you and Quan did with Dylan (Recovery) not to long ago and Quan talks about I Piss Alone – so that is kind of a personal song!? *laughs* 

“*laughs* oh yeah yeah yeah, well there is that one yeah but it’s about having a piss in the toilet. Quan is always like that, he is never able to pee in front of me. You know we have gone skinny dipping in the ocean but he wont pee in front of me cos he is too shy and it’s like what is going on with that? That is kind of weird. But kind of more social observations with that kind of lyrical content where as it is kind if an external kind of observation rather than an internal one.”

There is a song on your new album called My Dog Is A Table, which gave me some kind of Beck vibes! I really love that track, can you tell me about it?

“Oh cool, thanks! I did a songwriting workshop with Emma Bosworth, she runs this thing called Wild Mountain Songs and it is held annually up in the mountains in the hinterland outside the Gold Coast. It’s a songwriting retreat. It was really awesome. You spend a whole weekend working with two different songwriters and then you perform and record the songs you write together to the other musicians. After we did that, we did a group where we did songwriting where you would spend an hour a week with a prompt (like for example ‘coffee’) and then it will spur you on to write a song and then you share it with each other and everyone listens to each others music. So My Dog Is A Table and there is about three or four other songs from this record that came out of that songwriting workshop. You just don’t have any pre meditated ideas and you just kind of chuck together an idea really quickly and when you do that, I don’t know, stuff kind of comes out that is pretty genuine I think. It doesn’t have a premeditated vibe.”

And that’s interesting that I was getting Beck vibes from that track because I think a lot of his music comes from that kind of place too, like he just pours it all out without overthinking it, especially with his earlier music…

“Yeah I really like that kind of music and that kind of art as well. I find that even with drawing or a visual art, the less you think about what you are going to do, the more you kind of hone your own style and your real subconscious comes out rather than an idea that you think you want to show everybody, it is more of a true version.” 

This is your third solo album, do you listen back on your previous solo releases much?

“Not a lot. I don’t really listen to older music that I have made full stop really. I mean, occasionally, I mean Regurgitator had a 25th Anniversary tour for ‘Unit,’ before the pandemic hit. We were going through our back catalogue and we put together this really long show with four different shows in one show. It is kind of weird when you do listen to it back because music really does have that ability to teleport you through time and space. It really takes you back to a place in time doesn’t it?”

It absolutely does, that is why I was wondering with your other solo albums, do you recall what was happening at that time in your life? 

“When I did the first one, it was when my mother died. She had cancer for like 8 years and it was really brutal and I think I just wanted to be really quiet and calm. A lot of those songs were written when she had this little wooden cabin in her garden and I used to…oh that’s funny that’s another cabin in the garden vibe! ..But I wrote a lot of the songs on that record just with an acoustic guitar when I was with her. That is kind of why I am in Brisbane because I was living in Melbourne and then I came up here to look after her because she couldn’t really look after herself. So I was coming up for months at a time when I wasn’t touring. I was trying to play and write really quietly, so every time I hear stuff off that record I just remember that quite intense time. But it was a cool time in some ways too.” 

So going back even further. So as a teen in the 90’s who was obsessed with music, I loved to watch Recovery… I did mention Dylan before…

“How good was Recovery!?”

How good was Recovery!? That is literally what I have got written in front of me “How good was Recovery!?”  

“*laughing* Recovery was amazing. I love Dylan. It is funny because when we did that interview you were talking about with Dylan, when we did that he was like “Ohhh I go to all your shows when you come to Melbourne.” We were like Dude, you come to our shows, why the fuck are you buying tickets man, like I will get you a ticket and you can come back stage” and he was like “Oh really!?” and we were like dude, we love you, we love Recovery. And then at the last gig we did in Melbourne, he came backstage and I don’t know, he is such an awesome dude, I love him.” 

I used to watch Dylan and Jane Gazzo and think ‘that’s what I want to do, I want to interview bands and all that kind of thing, I want to work with music in that capacity..

“That’s so rad Shannon! You are such a better interviewer than Dylan. He was so funny doing interviews hey *laughs* He would always be really awkward and ask a question that was kind of hard to answer. You know what I mean?”

*laughs* Oh my gosh, what a complement! But I think there is a difference to when you are interviewing face to face and when you are on the phone too though, I think that if I was face to face I would probably be a little but more nervous and awkward. I mean, I still get nervous with all interviews no matter if they are over the phone or in person. I think Dylan was saying that in that interview too, he was saying that even though he has done this before, he still gets a bit anxious about it because of the love and respect he has for the musicians he is interviewing and I am most definitely with him on that, I am the same.

“That is cool, yeah. Recovery was so cool, you would always do Recovery when you would go to Melbourne to play a show, and then you know, you’d do a show and then have about 3 or 4 hours sleep or no sleep and then go and do Recovery. You would go there and it was always so chaotic! they would have the big sets they would put a lot of effort into and there was a whole crowd of screaming kids and you had to do a gig and it was just kind of like really crazy but you really loved it at the same time. I remember really enjoying it but also being kind of tripped out cos you were so tired.” 

You must have been interviewed so many times with all the bands you’ve been in and with your solo music too. Do you recall any that really stand out in your memory? Like the most bizarre or the most amusing? 

“*laughs* Oh yeah, we used to tour Japan atleast once a year. For years we did that, we have been there so many times. We kind of started off playing in bomb shelters in the capital cities and old punk clubs and stuff until we eventually played Fuji Rock. But we became friends with this big kind if intellectual music magazine in Japan called Snoozer. They would do interviews with us and they would talk for literally four hours about a record. They would kind of talk about every line and what every word meant and they had a Japanese translator so it took even longer. They had a team of interviewers, like three or four guys. The editor of the magazine loved Quan and loved Quan’s lyrics. They were like, ‘we are going to put you on the cover of the magazine’ *laughs* and then they said, ‘we want to do this photo shoot with you guys’. They took us to this Japanese bath house and made us strip down naked. We were in the bath house nude and they are photographing us naked with all these other Japanese dudes around and they just gave us like this little face washer to cover our genitals with *laughs*. It was just kind of like, you know you’d do this 4 or 5 hour long interview, pulling apart your record and talking about every little detail of everything and then we had to go and get naked in a bath house and the thing was, the hot tubs were really hot so your skin was kind of red raw as well. I have got the magazine here and the photo is a centerfold of us standing there naked with these little face washers burnt red from the hot water.”

 *laughing* No wonder that one stands out in your memory!

“It was the strangest day and the whole day was just one big interview. Yeah *laughs* it was really weird and I have a magazine to prove it!” 

So speaking of reflecting, I miss the 90’s so much. The whole vibe of the music scene in Brisbane back then was just something else, something I don’t think anyone can truly appreciate unless they were there living it, like we were. I remember seeing Pangaea playing at Livid ‘97. Do you recall that one? 

“Yeah they were great. I think the Livid Festival for me was like what Recovery was for you because I mean when I went to the second Livid Festival ever, that was with Mudhoney and Tism and The Clouds and it was really cool. Mudhoney were just amazing. They had a lot of performance artists roaming around and a lot of visual art everywhere and it just actually changed my whole brain and made it think in a whole different way to what it was thinking before. Like it was like, there was this kind if point where it was just a fork in the road, it was the Livid Festival.” 

They were amazing and I think although people have tried to recreate that vibe with music festivals, nothing can compare…

“They are not as strange though, they are not as crazy…”

There is not as much freedom, there are so many more rules…

“Exactly! You know what, that’s it, there’s so many more rules like with stage diving… and I remember Regurgitator played at a Livid Festival and we were in this performance art piece where we stripped down to our underpants and then we had stockings on our heads and garbage can lids and crowbars and we were a hunting party chasing this girl on a motorbike, riding a motorbike with a wetsuit with all these like 6 inch nails sticking out of the suit! So her whole body was covered in nails and I remember ripping her off the bike and she was like ‘yeah, set my bike on fire!’ *laughs* it was pretty crazy! like there is no way that would go now would it? *laughs* Like lighting people on fire and chasing each other through the…and we were kind of threatening the crowd with crowbars and banging garbage ban lids – it was crazy. I remember walking home the next day and I was going to the pool for a swim and I was carrying an American mail bag with all these crow bars and stocking masks and I just had a pair of pants on and the cops pulled me over and searched me, they searched my bag and they went, ‘What have you been doing?’ and said Oh I did a performance art piece at the Livid Festival and they were like, yeah right and then my house got raided the next day by the police because they thought I had robbed somebody!” 

So flash forward again to the present moment. You’ve got a gig coming up for your album launch. At The Zoo. Great venue. Tell me about your album launch? 

“Yes, every other rgig has been cancelled except that one. I have always loved The Zoo, when I was very young, our neighbours were these girls we kind of befriended, these hippy punk chicks and they were the ones who kind of started The Zoo, so I guess it has always been a kind of go to venue.”

You’ve got The Stress Of Leisure and JERM supporting, how did you choose them? I think you were saying before one of the members of JERM plays with you as well? 

“Yeah she plays synthesizers and sings with me. She put out this really amazing record and I was like, oh why don’t you play with us on that night, she is a friend. Shane Rudkin who also plays synth in that band also used to play in Regurgitator as well. Then The Stress Of Leisure, they did our 25th Anniversary tour with Shonen Knife. I just love that band so much and they are good friends of ours. They are such a beautiful fusion of kind of interesting fresh creativity with kind of dance vibes or something, I don’t know, they are really good. It’s also the night that 4ZZZ are launching their Radiothon. 4ZZZ is incredible.”

Ok, flash back again – to some Gurge moments. One of my all time fave music videos, even though it’s quite simplistic – is the clip for Couldn’t Do It. I mean, I love the track, but the clip just always makes me smile. Do you remember making that one? 

“Oh ok, *laughs* yeah I do. So we signed to Warner Brothers at that time. So that was a first video that Warner Brothers paid for us to get made. So I guess we were very excited because we were from Brisbane and we got signed to this major record company and we went to Sydney to make videos. We were also kind of young and a bit stupid as well *laughs*. The guy who was our A&R guy at Warner Brothers… and we were used to operating on a low budget with our band, so he found this filmmaker who had this idea to shoot two film clips in one day. So in the morning he found those steps down near the opera house I think to shoot Couldn’t Do it and then in the afternoon we went into a studio and shot the Blubber Boy film clip. So we shot two clips in one day. So it was kind of like two clips for the price of one. But he was like ‘You see those concrete stairs? I want you guys to muck around and sing and be on the stairs and we were like ‘Ok, what are we gonna do?’ *laughs* and I guess with Regurgitator… like you must have a friend who when you are with them you kind of like revert to a five year old again and you just kind if get a bit childish and silly? So I guess that has kind of always been Regurgitator.” 

I think that energy that comes through from the Gurge is something that made you guys, and continues to make you guys so popular, that fun vibe…

“I think it is kind of funny you know, because music always seems to be taken, like some musicians take themselves so seriously and I think it is kind of funny because if you do take yourself too seriously, it kind of takes the fun out of it. Life is so short, we should just be enjoying our lives and having fun with our existence. You know, the more you are kind of really super serious about it, I feel like you are living a little less or something. There should be lots of laughs and enjoy your life, you know what I mean?”

Absolutely, I agree 100% and I think your latest solo album touches on that as well. I feel like some of the songs are touching on that as well, like just living your life and doing things that make you happy and following that Golden Path!

“Sure that’s it , that’s it Shannon, for sure. Nice one, I like that, you should be my press agent. *laughs*I don’t think I have ever had one, I should definitely get you to do it though because that sounds good.” 

*laughs* I would love that! So, speaking of music videos, do you have any plans to make some music videos for some tracks from ‘The Golden Path’? 

“Yeah, I am sort of planning a couple. I probably should have had them done by now but I don’t know, it is a bit funnier, I feel older, well I am older, I am 50. But what is kind of stopping me is, I don’t know, I feel like I could do some animation or a performance style clip and do something a bit arty. But I am not sure if it sort of takes away form the music too. I think if you are going to extend yourself to do a music video it would have to be pretty special.”

Of all the songs you’ve ever written, either with a band or solo, do you have one absolute favourite or is that like picking a favourite child?

“Well it is funny, my teenager asked me that me in the car when we were driving to school yesterday, she said that to me and I said to her well I guess you are old enough for me to play it to you, and I said play 7’10” off the ‘New’ EP from Regurgitator and just listen to the lyrics on that song. Yeah I would have to say that one, it is probably my favourite Regurgitator song. Because I love the meaning of it. We went to do a show with Front End Loader and The Hard Ons at the Metro and it was a really cool show but it was very male testosterone-y. Quan got on the bus and there was these dudes in Regurgitator shirts harassing women on the bus and he felt really awful and then went and wrote 7’10” and the whole premise of 7’10” is that he goes “If I was seven foot ten, built like a bulls end..” the idea is that he is this really huge guy with even huger friends who go around sexually harass men who sexually harass women and it is just such an intense song. Lyrically and the meaning of it and the story behind it, the back story as well as to how that song came about and the sound of the song is very strange and I am very proud of that song for all those reasons.” 

Who are some of your biggest influences in music? /Who are you listening to a lot at the moment? 

“I collect a lot of records and I do a lot of visual art as well, so I like to play a lot of 60’s psychedelic rock. I really love it because at that time people were really trying to push the envelope and be really experimental and go as far out as they could. What influences me probably a lot is, well I mean, it depends which band I am playing in, but I think who I find the most influential is kind of outsider stuff like The Shaggs or the first Velvet Underground record. When I heard that when I was 16, it just totally broke my brain as well.  This friend of mine, who was like this goth guy, we wagged school and went over to his house for lunch one day and he played me Heroin by The Velvet Underground and he was like “this is what music can be too” It was his older brothers records collection. I have always loved Lou Reid and Velvet Underground and outsider stuff like Daniel Johnson or The Shaggs or Wesley Willis or really super wacked out stuff where people are just doing their thing and not giving a fuck as to what people think about it. They are my favourite kind of people. It is not a preconceived kind of idea.” 

You’ve had an amazing career in music, you’ve been in so many bands, you’ve toured the world, you’ve shared stages with so many amazing bands and artists, you’ve been responsible for making music that has helped people through rough times, through good times, you’ve made people laugh, cry, reflect. How does it feel to have done all of that? 

“It feels really cool. It is funny because when we catch up as a band now, not that we have recently, but pre pandemic when we have, we just seem to really enjoy it and really appreciate each other and have a lot of gratitude for what we have been given. Like through the people who love our music and buy our records and come to our shows, I kind of feel like the older I get, the more I appreciate those people for granting me the kind of experience in life that I have had, it has just been really really great.” 

Final question. Did you choose music or did music choose you? 

“I think music chose me. I wanted to be an artist, like a visual artist. I tried to get into art school and I got denied, I didn’t get into art school. Then I was working in a fruit shop and kind of bumming around and this guy I knew was in a rockabilly psychobilly band and his bass player left and he said ‘hey do you wanna’ join our band?’ and I said I don’t really play bass and he said ‘oh it is not really hard,  bass is really cool, you know Gene Simmons spits blood and breathes fire, bass is pretty awesome!’ and I went oh yeah Kiss are pretty cool. So it was all these little footsteps along the way that led that way I guess. So I didn’t really choose it no, I think it chose me.” 

Tune in/Purchase ‘The Golden Path’ HERE

4ZZZ radiothon launch party and Valve presents
The Golden Path album launch
and JERM

THE ZOO Brisbane

Tickets from the

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With thanks to Consume/Valve

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