Ben Draiman was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and has been a singer-songwriter as well as a pianist from the young age of 13 years old. Heavily influenced by a wide variety of music and styles, his music can best be described as powerful, emotional, melodic rock, fusing the softness of the piano along side the intensity and roughness of electric guitar. His performances as well as his music’s unique intensely emotional and authentic style has set him apart from many other artists and has continued to draw larger audiences over the years all across the age demographic. His single “Soon Enough” which was released in 2011 in anticipation of his 6-Track EP, released this year, garnered considerable worldwide interest, making it onto several online blogs and magazines, and was on regular rotation on 94X in British Columbia, placing number 91 of the top 94 songs of 2011, It has also been featured several times on Rock 108 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and has been on quite a few local stations and online stations. In October, he released a cover of “Stricken”, the popular single from the Hard Rock group “Disturbed”, via Youtube — a band in which his brother is the lead vocalist. It went viral, generating a powerful buzz about his work. Reviews replete with praise came from such notable people in the music industry as Lzzy Hale from Halestorm, multi-platinum award-winning producer David Bendeth, and many others. But without question the best praise came from Disturbed fans themselves, many of which expressed preferring it to the original. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Ben Draiman to discuss his musical roots, the creation of ‘The Past Is Not Far Behind’ and much more!
I wanted to go back to the beginning and have you tell us a little about your first memories of music and how it came into your life?
I used to ALWAYS be singing or writing something. The teachers would get annoyed sometimes because of my incessant banging on my desk. Pretty much everything could be turned into a drum set. It was my Mom that helped me get my first piano lessons. She’d take me once a week and wait patiently outside the music studio, which was in this really huge and interesting Church, while I had my lesson. I was about 13 years old at the time. One of the first songs I learned to play, though much of it turned out to be by ear because I was so familiar with it, was Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”.
Who do you cite as your biggest influences — musicians you look to for inspiration or even a mentor of some sort?
It really is so hard to say since I was exposed to so much. Everything from Peter Gabriel and Depeche Mode to Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Guns N’ Roses. That was the stuff that I’d listen to non-stop growing up. Anything with really catchy hooks I that I could find myself singing in the shower was pretty much blasting from my stereo at all times.
For the fans that haven’t had a chance to hear the band, what can they expect from your music sonically?
Intensely emotional and melodic rock that fuses the softness of the piano with the roughness and power of electric guitar.
You recently released “The Past Is Not Far Behind.” When heading into the studio for this release, what were your goals of expectations?
Well it started out as simply a single, “Soon Enough”, which was released separately in 2011. I honestly didn’t believe that music could be very commercial. They were so deeply personal. Orson Scott Card, one of my favorite authors, once said “Fiction, because it is not about somebody who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about ourselves.” Because NONE of what I write is fiction and is more often than not about my own personal experiences, I couldn’t imagine that others could relate to it. I was pleasantly surprised that I was very wrong.
What does the title mean to you personally?
In my music I reconnect with experiences of the past in the present. They can become so real and almost tangible that all of the emotions surrounding that experience that I’m writing about can come back at that very moment. However far we think our past experiences are and the impact that they have on our present, they are really never that far behind. We are always dealing with the past in the present, and the music simply makes us even more aware of how much that is the case.
Can you tell us a little about your typical songwriting process and how you typically bring a song to life?
I always write the music first. It is at first in a very malleable form, undefined, though with some basic structure so that I can take it into various directions. I’ll keep working at it, sometimes leaving it and coming back to it, over a long period of time until it feels right. Then I need to find out what it’s about. I at times could have several pieces of music that are left in such a state for a while. I wait for the experiences that inspire me. Normally they are the ones that are often the most intense and ones that I feel I need help sorting through. I almost NEVER actively choose the content. It sort of chooses itself for me in a strange kind of way and when the fit feels right in the song, that’s what stays.
As an artist, what was the biggest challenge in putting the EP together?
I honestly think the biggest challenge was a financial one. Being a solo project without any help whatsoever in terms of financing I was terrified about spending so much money on a project. But recording music is sort of an addiction and making your first single is almost like the gateway drug into that addiction. It’s kind of hard to stop once you get going.
What other musicians did you work with on this release and what did they bring to the mix?
I’m so glad you asked this, as not enough people ask! I’m incredibly grateful to the extremely talented people I worked with. The EP was recorded in two different studios with 2 different sets of people. The first studio, Keoss, had two brothers Rom Gov on drums and Kfir Gov on guitar, along with additional guitar work, bass, and programming done by the genius that is Daniel Strosberg. All of them are in a band themselves called Seek Irony. The second half of the EP was recorded at Nyquist, where I had the amazing talents of Raz Klinghoffer and Avi Shabat both on instruments and production. Each of them really brought out the rock aspects of the music and created the powerful and intense mixes that I was looking for. They also helped me cut down the length of my songs considerably, making them a bit more commercial friendly.
Is there are particular part of the creative or recording process you are most fond of?
It’s got to be when the different tracks are being recorded and the song begins to come to life. There is usually a basic guide track with the vocals so early on you can already hear where the song is going. When the engineer throws on some effects and puts together a rough mix rather quickly I’m always dumbstruck at what’s been produced. The process is nothing short of magical.
You recently released a cover of Disturbed’s “Stricken.” This is a terrific cover! What was it about this song in particular that spoke to you?
Thank you so much! The idea first came about when I was discussing successful covers with my friend and producer, Raz Klinghoffer, who had just released a cover of his own with his project “Earlyrise”. He had said that some of the best covers are ones that change the song 180 degrees and that if I was going to do a slow cover best to choose a fast paced song. I honestly didn’t think it would work. “Stricken” has long been one of my favorites, something about the hooks and the lyrics that resonate well with me. In fact, from a lyrical standpoint it was exactly the sort of thing I myself would write so it was VERY easy to connect to. So that very night I went to the piano and tried it. I play by ear so it didn’t take me long to come up with a basic arrangement. It became instantly clear that the lyrics and the melody lent themselves well to a ballad and I was immediately hooked.
Any plans on a return to the studio in the near future?
I’m already in the studio working hard on my next project, most likely a full length album, with my partner Raz Klinghoffer. It’ll most likely be a bit heavier than what I’ve done so far, which I’m hoping should satisfy the growing number of Hard Rock and Metal fans I’ve accumulated over the years, but it will not depart too far from where I have been till now, only a few steps perhaps.
The live performance is a huge part of what you do. What do you hope that people come away with after seeing your live show?
Well first of all one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten after a show is that I sound much better live than I do on the recording! I’m pretty sure every vocalist wants to hear that. After all, the live show is where you really prove yourself as most people can sound fairly decent in the studio. I’d also like for them to share in the fully intense and emotional experience that my music often is for me.
What has kept you inspired throughout the years as an artist and fueled your creative fire?
Well I’ll always love music and continue making it regardless. It’s my own personal form of therapy, though the jury is still out as to which is more expensive. But honestly the path I’m currently on has been primarily fueled by the fans. I’ve been blown away by the stories of how much the music has actually helped people and become an important part of their lives. Some of my fans, even before the EP was released, decided to get tattoos done with the lyrics from a few of the songs. I featured them in the album art, and their tattoos comprise most of the album art in fact, which was a great way to make them part of the process that were already such an integral part of. Musicians will experience an enormous amount of setbacks and rejection during their career, but the constant feedback and the stories that are shared by fans that care a great deal make it all worthwhile and then some.
You were born and raised in Chicago, Illinois but are currently based in Jerusalem. How has that city played into your life musically?
I honestly don’t think there is a place in the world where it is harder to promote your music than out here. The market is tiny. No radio stations support local music, and you pretty much have to do EVERYTHING on your own. Even bigger more established bands aren’t so inclined to give you a break by opening up their shows for them. I’m certain that this is the best school there is for getting one’s music out there, because if I can be successful here, I’m reasonably confident I can be successful anywhere. It’s taught me to be as independent as I can be and not to look for any shortcuts.
What are some of the artists, both old and new, that you are finding exciting these days?
I recently got the new Alter Bridge album, which has been on repeat on my Itunes ever since. Such amazing work! I’m also very much into local music. One band in particular out here is called Bronze Honey. I helped them a bit with their lyrics and we’ve been friends ever since. They recently released their album “Free” and it’s one of the better albums I’ve heard in a while, period. There is something about independent music that breathes a breath of fresh air into the music scene. They very skillfully combine elements from Queen, Evanescence, and even bits of epic material that can often be heard in a Rock Opera. It’s especially exciting when you know the artists personally!
How do you feel you have evolved as a musician along the way?
Well the past year I’ve taken voice training for the first time in my life and that has definitely improved my vocals a lot. I have a lot more control and I know how to approach songs much better than I used to. Looking back on my lyrics over the years I’d certainly like to believe that they’ve become a bit more sophisticated. Collaborations with other musicians have also allowed me to broaden my perspective and step out of my comfort zone.
In your opinion, what can we expect to hear from you in the future?
I actually have a few things that I’m currently working on. Nina Vouraki and Yuval Kramer, with whom I recorded “Stricken”, will be doing another single with me, this time one of mine. Our chemistry was really so magical that it was an obvious move on our part. I will also be doing a video for and officially releasing “Taken for Granted” at some point in the future together with the editor for “Avalanche”, Roy Kanevsky, who will be directing this one in its entirety. In addition, I will be doing a project with my friend and producer Raz Klinghoffer in the form of a band under a different name. We have begun work on a full-length album that will be far more rock and a little heavier than what I’ve done till now which I hope will satisfy the growing number of rock and metal fans I’ve accumulated over the years. It will take at least a year before that is even close to ready, though. Lastly, I am planning on doing a few more shows in the US in late January or early February. We are still working out the details.
Anything you want to tell your fans before I let you go?
Your feedback and the stories you share about the impact my music has had on you mean the world to me! I read every word of your comments on my facebook page and I do my best to respond to every tweet! Please keep in touch! It’s the reason I do this!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.