INTERVIEW // Ben Gillies On: Breathe in Breathe Out, Growing Up In Newcastle, Silverchair and the Impact of Music

IMAGE BY Maclay Heriot
WORDS BY TARA CAMPBELL

T: It’s lovely to virtually meet you! How are you? How are you finding isolation as a musician?

B: I’m great thank you! It’s been a really strange time honestly.  I think for musos it’s not really the worst thing though. It’s a change of pace, and its slowed everything down which I think we all needed. I’ve been writing and recording and just engulfing myself in that process which has been nice.

I remember after starting lockdown there was one day where we, my wife Jackie and I, went out for a drive and we hadn’t been out for literally ages and we were  driving down the street and there were trees and I can’t say I’ve ever appreciated treed before, but I remember looking at them with Jackie and just saying “How nice to those trees”. I think this whole situation has made us appreciate all the little things a lot more.

T: We continue chatting about isolation for a bit more, and Ben states:

B: I think it’s great that we have the Internet and social media is a platform so we can still continue to you know- having chatting like this- or whatever like it’s pretty awesome. But never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be living through a pandemic.

T: So you’ve got your first release as a solo artist, and your first release in quite some time coming out. What can you tell us about this?

B: Honestly, I’m nervous, but it feels really nice to be putting some music into the world again. I don’t really have any expectations around it either, I’m kind of just putting in the work,  chatting to nice people like yourself.  I’ve got a really amazing team around me that are helping me with it all to give it the best chance it can to be successful, but that’s not what it’s about for me.  

I love what I do, music, it’s the soul juice that kind of keeps me going. I’m really excited to connect with fans again and yeah no expectations, I’m just putting it out there and doing what I can.

T: What has the journey been like for Breathe In Breathe Out?

B: This song actually it’s in came to life pretty quickly. I remember I was at my Jackie’s parent’s house for like dinner or something,  and I was sitting in Jackie’s childhood room with a guitar. I just started kind of playing around with the chords and just started humming the verse melody.

I had a session booked in with a lovely gentleman by the name of Jordan Power and I went out to Byron Bay  and we didn’t really have a plan. I said “hey look I’ve got this idea I think might have the magic juice” – I don’t even know why I keep mentioning this magic juice? I showed him and started singing the chorus line “just breathe” and that was it. He just turned around and said that’s it, that’s the one. We finished the song about two days. It’s really funny how some tracks that you can sit on for weeks on end, and some just come together so naturally.

T: We have a signature question here at Temporary Dreamer- if Breathe In Breathe out was a colour, what would it be and why?

B: Hmmmm… I think it would be the colour of the artwork. Blue but like it a nice really light blue. And it’s because it feels like the song is that blue in like a beaker and then you imagine you just pour over yourself and that’s what it would feel like. Oh and it’s warm, yeah, let’s say it’s warm it’s warm blue liquid but you pour over yourself in a beaker.

T: What inspired you to finally release this track? Was there a moment that you felt like it just had to be released?  

B: I probably finished Breathe In Breathe Out  maybe six months ago. I just wanted to be in a position that I had enough to be able to put out a string of a string of singles and feel really good about it. I think music at the moment is- it’s just very fast paced- so I think a lot of music almost misses out on getting heard.

It’s just about reconnecting and you know getting getting back out there. It just felt like it was the right time.

T: What was it like growing up in Newcastle? I’m sure it’s very different now

B: Yeah it’s very different, it was definitely a steel city when I was when I was young. A bit more rough around the edges, and I think the reputation of Newcastle as well when I was younger was a bit like, if you go out here at night you might get in a fight that wasn’t far from the truth either. It was just a bit more unrefined. Nowadays I think Newy is getting a much cooler reputation, people are starting to kind of clue into it, and for locals- I don’t know if that’s something that we like. You know it’s good to get people here and check it out but you know then you can move along and leave it to us to maintain.  

T: Almost like, come and visit- say hi, listen to some live music and then leave please

B: Yeah yeah yeah. We don’t want to let you in on the secret.

But yeah, it was rough around the edges but that was the charm. You could go to the beach and the Castle or Fannys’. It was good to music because- you know there was no social media- that’s  why for me music was so important. That’s what you did. If you weren’t  hanging out with your friends or going to beach, you were doing music and that was probably most of the time.

I love Newy, it’s a funny place. Like some of the some social media accounts like FKN_newy or there was this awesome another one also called Bakery Watch– maybe use Temporary Dreamer to just ask bakery watch to come back online.  For those little reasons as well I just love it. You know, I’m so glad that grew up here.

T: How do you think the music industry had changed since the good old ‘Silverchair’ days?

B: Honestly, I don’t really go to that many shows anymore, so I’m not a as plugged in now. Growing up it was great though- it was pretty punk rock and quite rough around the edges. You know sometimes the stage would be on milk crates- it would be public liability nightmare nowadays, but I guess in the 90s it was just rock and roll baby. It’s nice to see the young music industry coming back in Newcastle though. I think you know, it takes people like you with the drive to do it. There’s always those people that get out there and make stuff happen so on that note- whatever doing, keep doing i.

T: We begin to discuss a bit of Silverchair stuff, and I mention to Ben the influence the band has had on my music, and my passion for it. We start chatting about some of their first shows, particularly one they played at my High School (many years before I went there), in the ‘bini’.

B: I remember that gig, the one in massive dome building?

T: Yeah! The Bini  got knocked down though.

B: What?! That was such a cool building. They shouldn’t have done that it, should have turned into a music venue or something. But yeah, I remember a high school friend coming in but he was like my ‘Drum tech’ and we thought we were shit hot. It’s pretty funny looking back at that gig, it was one of our first shows we played.

T: Are there any moments that really stick out in your music career?

B: There’s one memory that will stick with me forever from when we [Silverchair] played a show in Rio called ‘Rock in Rio’.

It was crazy, we played to 250,000 people and we were second headlining to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers- pretty cool for a bunch of boys from Newy- In the newspaper the next day it basically said that Silverchair blew the Chilli Peppers off the stage. It was just crazy having that amount of people watching you, it’s pretty bizarre. I always think that when you play your best music is when you’re not thinking; when you’re completely devoid of any thought, you’re almost just running off of pure instinct.

I like to get in YouTube holes and watch that stuff on science and the planets and all that. One of the things I saw I think is if you cool atoms down far enough, they start acting like a wave. That’s what happens with that many people in the crowd, it looks like it becomes one living organism. It’s just- it’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever laid my own eyes on and just went holy shit. I’m actually witnessing this for myself. I was like 21 at the time which is insane to think about how long ago that memory was

T: How did it feel to be part of something so pivotal to the Australian music industry- Silverchair was so much to so many people, and even now people like myself, who weren’t even around when the band was formed, still are influenced by what you guys did.

B: It’s incredible. You know with a bit of perspective in hindsight, it is a really sweet part of the Silverchair story; to be able to be a part of such pivotal moments in people’s lives without even knowing.

We’ve had people meet because of the band and get married and have families- god it’s giving me goosebumps thinking about it- it’s really sweet. To affect people’s lives in a really positive way, it’s really rewarding. With all music and all bands and all kind of movements there’s a community that goes around with it and I think it’s great that we could all experience something so new and special. It’s something I’ll never take for granted

T: What advice would you give some of the up-and-coming local bands/ musicians?

B: I think with Silverchair we lucky when we started. Out first album ‘Frogstomp’ came out and we we just loved making music. We loved the sounds and we loved playing and we were very passionate about what we did. The  fame or album sales or money or all the other stuff that came with it wasn’t the driving factor. All the extra stuff was just extras.

I think as long as the driving factor, if you’re in a band or you’re a musician, is because you love what you’re doing and that it’s your passion, then you can’t go wrong. Then it doesn’t matter about any of those byproducts because if you’re doing what you love you are always gonna win.

I really really love it. I’ve had some moments in my life where I’ve been called in other directions and I haven’t been able to do music as much as I want to and I’ve actually noticed how much it affects me. You start getting and that’s not who I am. I wasn’t doing the thing that feeds my soul.

So for young artists, find that place where you’re just so stoked to be doing whatever it is that you love doing, then you know that whatever happens you’ll still have that same core feeling about it. You’ll just freaking love every moment.

Ben Gillies Music Recommendations:

  • Methyl Ethyl (Because he loves it when bands do something super different and he really loves how talented the members of the band are)
  • The 1975 (Because it’s 80s influenced and he loves the transition the band has made)

T: If you could recommend a song that everyone should listen to, what would it be?

B: Kashmir – Led Zeppelin

T: Thank you so much for having a chat to me today.

B: No, thank you! That was very enjoyable. It was lovely to chat to someone who understands Newcastle. I look forward to reading this interview when it goes up.  

*Edited for Clarity and Length

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