Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Often shrouded in a haze of mystery, Fryars has been releasing tracks lately that are each incredibly dynamic and beautiful in their own right, showing the artist’s various dimensions, from the elegant and emotionally charged drops of Love So Cold to the bright up-tempo of his most recent release Cool Like Me. His use of vocals gracefully melts over the production work, and there's a clear focus on purposeful lyrics that weave a story beneath the movement of the sound itself.
Fryars has a dynamic music career producing and working with pop projects as well as his own (he is currently working with Lily Allen on her new album). When it comes to his own work, he takes an extremely particular approach from his songwriting to the live presentation. He's collaborating on his upcoming tour with illusionist and visual artist Simon Drake, who has previously worked on Kate Bush’s 1979 tour as well as performances ranging from The Royal Ballet to The Witches of Eastwick.
We spoke with the Londoner, otherwise known as Benjamin Garrett, to get an idea of his creative process, how he’s reinventing the live experience, and what’s next.
Hey Ben, how’s it going?
Good thank you. Busy, writing.
What is your writing environment like?
I write where I live, but it’s a very comprehensive set up. It’s depressing that a day can take place in a small square footage… I’m actually thinking of changing it. I need to separate work and play, for my health. I don’t think it’ll improve the work but it’ll make my life better.
What is the dynamic like producing tracks for other artists?
I do a fair bit of work on pop projects. I prefer it when there’s no specific brief and the artist is interested in what it is that I do. I tend to only work with people that are open to bigger ideas.
Part of the appeal of working with others is that there is an audience waiting to hear what it is that you’re making. That’s a luxury I'll have to work towards with my own stuff.
"I’m working on my patter. Last time I toured, I peppered the sets with dreadful in-jokes." – Fryars
Do you enjoy pop? What do you think separates mainstream from more leftfield production?
I don’t listen to any one thing. Genre wise, hip hop feels like it’s having the most fun with itself at the moment and pushing boundaries… So I’m listening to a lot of that. No matter how leftfield something is, I always think the best music has a wider, more universal appeal (not necessarily mainstream). It’s good to see things like Joanna Newsom , which so many people found/find impossibly abrasive, or Dirty Projectors finally reaching a wide audience and playing big shows.
Where do you see Fryars existing in the space of the music landscape? What do you want to get out of it?
I want to be able to dabble.
I need to find a way to make the music I want to make and balance that with getting it heard. And hopefully building a community around that.
I don’t want to spend too much time on tour or outweigh the actual demand for a live show in the first place.
"I spoke to Simon [Drake] at a Christmas party and sent him some music as a result of our conversation. He replied saying that while listening he’d reached highs that were only achievable through crack cocaine – definitely an exaggeration." – Fryars
What does your live show currently involve?
It’s a sound and light show effectively. Involving several small projections. Hopefully taking place in beautiful, comfortable venues. It’s sounding great.
I’m working on my patter. Last time I toured, I peppered the sets with dreadful in-jokes. A show would end up being 90% stand up and 10% playing. That’s just a terrible thing to do. I live tweeted the last London gig. That felt more natural.
I enjoy it when the artist has something intangible and mysterious about them. It frames the music and allows the audience to be fully engaged in the experience. I’m trying not to ruin that.
You’ve struck up a friendship with Simon Drake, how is he going to fit into the Fryars experience?
I spoke to Simon at a Christmas party and sent him some music as a result of our conversation. He replied saying that while listening he’d reached highs that were only achievable through crack cocaine – definitely an exaggeration. So I went to visit him to discuss plans he’d drawn up based on hearing the music; he’s got this amazing magic house, like a small Disney land, in a converted pub in Kennington. There’s a haunted cellar, pictures move from the walls, things jump out at you.
He created visuals for Kate Bush’s only live tour and would perform on stage with her. We’re gradually designing new elements for my live show, together.
What’s next for Fryars?
The album is due early next year. So the focus is building up towards that. In the meantime, I’ll be writing and recording as per usual.
The latest Fryars single, Cool Like Me, is out now.