One of the highlights from this year’s Refract:18 festival is the set by Minute Taker. Alternative singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist – aka Ben McGarvey – is one of those artists that often people rave about and critics pine for. He’s released two critically acclaimed albums and has composed several soundtracks for stage. Caught In The Act managed to grab some time with him and wax lyrical about stage names, independent artists doing it for themselves and our mutual love of all things Kate Bush.
What’s the story behind the name Minute Taker?
Originally I was using my christian name (Ben McGarvey) and I put my first album out under that. I didn’t like using my own name, it felt that I wanted a little bit of distinction between that kind of myself and my day to day self. I used to work in a lot of offices to support myself as I was building up my music and at one point I was working as a minute taker, taking minutes in meetings. I was searching for a name and I was looking at the word minute taker and I thought ‘I quite like that’, it sounds simultaneously mundane and fantastic at the same time.
So, tell us a little a bit what we can expect from your show at Refract:18?
I’m doing a selection of my own songs from my albums that I have released, some new songs from an album I’m working on at the moment. I’m also doing some cover versions, some songs from a concept album that I’m planning on developing, so it’s a bit of a mixture.
Your show is billed as an immersive experience for the audience, exactly how immersive is it going to be?
I do a lot of engaging with the audience, I tell little stories in between, ask a few questions – I think the music itself is quite immersive. I use loops to build up soundscapes and I think also it’s the space its in and the chamber, it is going to sound really acoustic and atmospheric.
Why have you chosen to play ReFract:18?
They approached me to do it! I hadn’t heard about it if I am being honest. I’ve never played at Waterside before. They must have found me – I do a lot of facebook advertising and I did a tour earlier this year that I was advertising. They were probably looking for local artists, probably experimental and doing slightly interesting stuff. They approached me and I thought it sounded great and I really liked the idea of doing an experimental arts festival.
What do you think of the whole festival culture as a musician?
Surprisingly I don’t play that many festivals. I don’t feel like I’m in the loop, I feel like I work outside of the music industry and that I’m self contained. When I’ve done collaborations with other artists in other mediums I manage to perform in a lot of art festivals, but not played that many music festivals as just me.
You’re an artist that has indulged in other mediums, theatre, audio visual, you’ve worked with animators, what do you see yourself as?
I like the using the word artist as it encompasses all of that. If I have to narrow it down then I’d class myself primarily as as a singer songwriter, and then obviously I collaborate with other people, sometimes visual artists, sometimes do soundtracks for theatre, but really the singer songwriter, actual writing songs, recording them and performing them is my main thing and then other things surround that.
I like how people term the stuff you do is folktronica, how would do you describe your music and more importantly your approach to the creative process?
I don’t consciously write songs, I tend to just play about on the piano or be rehearsing something. I’ll have an idea for a song that just pops out, or sometimes I’ll be walking down the street and I’ll have an idea of concept of lyrics or a line of a lyric. I’ll record it on my phone, then every so often I go through them. I surprise myself sometimes how I’ve forgotten about all these snippets that I have on my phone and they sort of gradually find their way into my songs. That’s sort of how it starts and then I’ll start recording it, kind of building it up into different layers, experimenting, putting in beats and all that kinds of stuff into it.
It’s refreshing to see such talented artists as yourself “make it” in an X Factor/The Voice era where new talent sometimes falls by the way side, is it important that independent artists are still relevant in the digital era?
It’s important that independent artists still matter, there is such a lot of contrived manufactured music – it’s actually celebrated in our culture in X Factor and shows like that, where it sometimes seems to be all about the entertainment than the music. So I definitely think it’s important for independent artists in doing their thing.
I’m an 80s kid and I love the fact you love Kate Bush, what is it about her that inspires you?
I like a lot of 80s music. I like a lot of alternative singer songwriters like Tori Amos, Bjork, David Bowie and Gary Numan. Kate Bush’s music for me is just so escapist, I like music that I can disappear into, that takes me into another little world for a few minutes – especially if it’s an album. I’m very much an album person and Kate’s music definitely does that. That’s what I look for in a lot of artists I listen to, just music that takes me away, that makes me feel like I’m exploring a slightly different world or something, and that is what I try to do with my songs as well.