I'm not sure how many people know about Cloudkicker or it's mastermind Ben Sharp. I think that's mostly because he's avoided the usual routes for releasing music, and in fact avoided many of the reasons people write music and join bands in the first place. He releases music when he feels like he's done with it, sometimes a few songs, sometimes a dozen. He writes, records, plays, and programs everything himself. It's all instrumental, but not anything like Joe Satriani or Planet X. The music gets often lumped in with the Djent music movement, but I think that sells it short. There is a lot more melody and atmosphere here than I think your typical djent band puts out.
Cloudkicker releases are available for free download via the Cloudkicker bandcamp site. Yes, everything really is free, but throw the guy a few bucks anyway. We need more music like this. Ben was kind enough to answer a few questions via email. I got some insight into the Cloudkicker process, and found out what airline cockpit voice recordings have to do with metal music. Ben also dispensed with probably the only advice you need to live a good life. Want to know more? Read on…
SoT: How long does it take to write and record a typical Cloudkicker song?
Ben: It really depends. I've written songs in hours and over the course of weeks.
SoT: Do you write one part (like a guitar part) all the way through, or do the different instruments leap frog each other as you go?
Ben: I write from the beginning to the end, usually starting with a guitar riff or idea, and then I just doodle around until I find what I think should come next, and so on until I feel like I have something that I can call "finished".
SoT: I checked out your equipment blog post. Even though you are working "in the box" you use a Vox Tonelab rather than guitar plug ins. Any particular reason?
Ben: No not really. It works, that's about all the reason I have.
SoT: Your equipment list doesn't include any synths either. Do you use any, or is everything guitar generated?
Ben: I've used a piano synth in maybe one or two songs, but 99% of everything is guitar generated.
SoT: The song titles on Beacons seem to tell a story. At least they do to me. Was that intentional?
Ben: They're all excerpts from airliner cockpit voice recorder tapes.
SoT: Your releases vary in length from just a few song to what most people would call a full album. How do you know when you're done writing and it's time to put it out there?
Ben: If I have a handful of songs and I put them in some order and listen to it all the way through and feel like it works, then I'll do it. If not, I'll hold off until I think it does. Not very scientific, I know. With Beacons, I set out to make something more along the lines of a full-length from the start, so I knew that's where I was trying to go with it.
SoT: How do you go about making the art for each release?
Ben: For everything before Beacons, I tried to make something that I felt represented the music well. I'm not very good at making art like that though, so on Beacons I had a friend of mine do the layout...sort of. He came up with the idea but then didn't do anything and I ended up doing it anyway.
SoT: Everything has been instrumental so far, any desire to add vocals in the future?
Ben: Meh, not really.
SoT: You've always posted your music online for free, basically relying on the kindness of strangers for any monetary support. Was this an easy decision when you started Cloudkicker?
Ben: Yeah, that's how Cloudkicker started. I never expected to make any money off this, so it's really surprising that I have.
SoT: What do you think about file sharing and the future of music in general?
Ben: Don't care. People are going to do it anyway. I personally haven't bought a CD since 2004, and I think it's bogus that somewhere, sometime, someone would say to themselves "I wish I could listen to this music, but I don't have enough money." That's just me though. As for the MUSIC INDUSTRY, well, lots of industries are struggling right now, either they'll figure out how to adapt or they won't, I don't see it as that big of a deal.
SoT: What's next for Cloudkicker?
Ben: I'm working on an EP at the moment. I'm aiming for somewhere around 25-30 minutes and I'm almost there, so maybe in November or December you'll see something.
SoT: Any new music you're listening to these days?
Ben: Yeah kind of. I've been rediscovering some older stuff that I had sitting dormant in my itunes library. Like the album El Cielo by Dredg. So, so good, but that's probably almost 10 years old. I've been pretty outspoken about my enjoyment of the newest Sufjan Stevens album The Age of Adz, and I was listening to that exclusively for basically the entire month of April. I've been dabbling in Radiohead, El Ten Eleven, Pinback, The Appleseed Cast, and lots of other random things that pop up on Pandora and shuffle. When I get to the end stages of making an album or EP or whatever, I tend to listen to that a lot, making notes and generally being critical, so I'm not really "into" any one thing right now.
SoT: Anything else you want to add?
Ben: Don't be a jerk! Not you, just in general.
SoT: Good advice, thanks Ben!