My Autumn Empire is Ben Holton otherwise known as a member of epic45, his new album ‘The Visitation’ is a woozy otherworldly bedroom pop gem. Resplendent with sighing bittersweet melodies that weave their way through these intricate at times ramshackle reverb drenched pop songs bringing pleasingly to mind the sounds produced by Sparklehorse, Oooberman and Grandaddy..We caught up with Ben for a peek behind the curtain of My Autumn Empire…
Hi how are you?
Hello, I’m very well thank you!
What was your first musical memory?
It’s near impossible to pinpoint but it would probably be my mum playing her guitar and singing. In particular her rendition of Matty Groves by Fairport Convention which was regularly
echoing around the house as a child…
Can you tell us a bit about your musical history, and why you decided to strike out solo?
As I mentioned, my mum played guitar and sang, as did my dad so I was around music from birth. As well as this they had great records I could sit and listen to as well, Beatles, Incredible String Band, Leonard Cohen etc and later my older brothers’ music filtered through also. Ever since I can remember I’ve been fascinated with recording sounds and playing them back or messing about with them. As a kid I had a broken double cassette recorder which, as a result, allowed me to layer sounds on top of each other which kept me absorbed for hours on end.
After finally learning the guitar in the mid 90s and having studied my brother as he made drum and bass on his Commodore Amiga, I started making music myself. I mostly make music in solitude so it was no great departure to ‘go solo’ it’s just it was an outlet for my other ideas.
Why the name My Autumn Empire.?
I was slipped some LSD and went wandering into the fields alone, I was found several hours later sheltering in a barn, roaring ‘I am the king of Autumn!’ and the idea kind of stuck. In truth though, I actually can’t for the life of me remember why I settled on it, although Autumn is definitely my favourite season.
Does working under a moniker give you more creative freedom different from epic45?
It does and it doesn’t. I have total creative freedom with epic45 but have set myself a few conscious and probably subconscious parameters within which to stay. Also, with My Autumn Empire I have allowed myself to indulge some of my interests in more established musical forms whereas epic45 music usually starts from an abstract point rather than a ‘song idea’ as such.
How did your previous recordings shape the approach you took for The Visitation?
I suppose inasmuch as I try to play everything myself usually up to the point of the drums where I fall down on my capability a little. My previous album ‘II’ was where I started to play around with how I actually wrote songs though, adding in the layered harmonies, key changes and things like that.
How long have the songs that make up The Visitation been around your head?
They were all mainly written about 18 months ago, though fragments of some of the melodies have probably been swimming around my head for a lot longer.
Apparently The Visitation is inspired by a episode of Doctor Who from the 80s where an Alien crashlands to earth, so is it a concept album and does that concept extend throughout the
album or take detours ?
It was more of a starting point really, a framing device from which to diverge. It kind of begins and ends the album and in between I visit a couple of other themes.
Who is your favourite doctor who and why?
I always find myself stuck between Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee. I love the bleak feel to the early, earth based, Pertwee stories and his heroic, militaristic portrayal of the Doctor but then
when I watch Tom Baker and am mesmorised by his total immersion into alienness and idiosyncrasy. Genius really…
Do you think working within a theme can allow you metaphorical space to explore other emotions and feelings?
I think it can, yes. With The Visitation and the stuff I’m currently working on, I feel I’m starting to turn a corner in terms of songwriting. I’m giving my imagination free reign and having a lot of fun with it.
Where did you record the album?
It was the last set of recordings I did in my old family home in Wheaton Aston, Staffordshire. In many ways The Visitation signals the end of something and a number of possible new beginnings.
I have read you wanted to make a pop album on a budget do you think there’s an art to that?What examples can you give of this?
I think it can be more of a challenge to create something in the ‘traditional’ sense in a home studio and make it sound like a professional studio recording as opposed to making purely electronic/ambient/noise music (of which I make a lot of myself too). It’s an idea that inspired my last album ‘II’ and I continued with The Visitation. Whether I’ll try and keep that up I don’t know.
Did you self produce the album or were there other hands involved, there are some interesting sound affects at work that give it a otherworldly feel was that your aim ?
I produced it all myself as usual yes, and did go for a more narrative approach with the synths and effects. I’d actually love to produce some other artists, as the work I did with the band
Avrocar on their last album was really enjoyable.
Why did you chose Blue Coat as a single?
It’s always hard to chose something to represent an album but I felt Blue Coat was a decent summation of the overall feel. It just fits the bill as a pop single too I reckon! It was also a great deal of fun filming and producing the video, which also had me co-directing with my friend Mark Cartwright and featured, in the starring role, my childhood friend John Wolverson. Ended up with quite an M R James feel I like to think…
I hear the likes of Sparklehorse and Grandaddy as influences upon your sound but what were you listening too at the time…
I had been listening to Grandaddy’s The Sophtware Slump around the time, more the b-sides actually, so they were definitely in my head. A lot ELO too, especially their 80s output which is
a hidden repository of beautiful synth sounds and soaring pop. I was also listening to a hell of a lot of The Fall…
I have read that you are a big ELO fan what is it about their songwriting that impresses you?
I just love the melodies and the unashamedness of it all. Sometimes I just need to listen to something devoid of irony and knowingness, that just revels in the magic of pop. I think the outlandish concepts behind their albums are fun too, something that definitely informed The Visitation.
Do you have any shows planned or is this a recording project only?
I do have some shows planned yeah, and I’m interested in developing My Autumn Empire further in that respect. I’ve got a really great band together at the moment featuring Rob Glover, Mike Rowley (who also plays in the epic45 live band) and Matt Pinfield from the band Drakelow. However, I’m also going to be playing solo and/or with whoever can join me which is an exciting prospect as I’m not quite sure how I’ll do it from gig to gig. I’m playing a solo show at the Sunflower Lounge , Birmingham on the 19th April, full band show at the Union Chapel, London on 3rd May and then heading to France to play a festival on the 4th July.
Are there any current artists you think people should be looking out for?
Well obviously I must take this opportunity to make you aware of the artists on the Wayside & Woodland label that I co-run: Rob Glover’s electro-pop project Field Harmonics,
Component#4 (Mike from the My Autumn Empire/epic45 live band) and E L Heath who has played in both epic45 and My Autumn Empire, they are all making really great stuff. Also the band Surfacing who we have worked with too, they have a great line in immense, dark techno and ambient which is pretty thrilling. Other than that I’m really enjoying the music coming from the Tri-Angle label such as Holy Other, Evian Christ, Vessel and Balam Acab, all of them creating this murky, dreamlike electronica which I find very appealing indeed.
What are your future plans?
Just to continue writing and recording and developing the live thing. I started to record some folk songs that I grew up listening to as a child last year, so I’d like to finish them off at some point. I keep finding recordings on my hard drive and on old cassette tapes that appear to have been made by someone called Charles Vaughan too, I’ve compiled two album’s worth of his stuff which will be released in the coming months. I feel I’ve almost done what I set out to achieve with ‘II’ and ‘The Visitation’ which was to pay homage to some of the other styles of
music that don’t don’t get referenced in epic45 so I might leave that area alone for a bit. The thing is though I still feel there are so many possibilities with music and I’m still really driven to challenge myself and that’s the most exciting part!
My Autumn Empire’s new single ‘Blue Coat’ is available here;