A Talk With Beshken and Bedroom Hijinks
by Liam Thomas
Beshken is the alias of Brooklyn-based electronic music producer and vocalist Ben Shirken, currently touring the country with Gus Dapperton. Supporting Ben on the keys on tour is Jose Benjamin Escobar, a Virginia native who produces music under the moniker Bedroom Hijinks. I caught up with the two of them after their show with Dapperton at the Sinclair on October 30th.
So one of the first songs Gus ever released was a collaboration with you, how does it feel to be touring with him only two years later?
I’m honestly really grateful. Gus and I have been boys for a while; Back when I was doing a bunch of shows in New York, Gus would sometimes open for me, so I’m just super grateful for the opportunity to tour with him. We’ve been working together for a while, so the whole thing feels pretty surreal. I’m definitely learning a lot.
Its also been about two years since you lost all your gear and music when you were abroad in Rome, forcing a completely fresh start music-wise. Has your approach to producing music changed or evolved in any way since then?
Yeah definitely. That was right around when I started singing on tracks. Like, producing the song for my voice, not just as its own piece. I think this makes everything a lot more organic. When I got back from Rome, all I really had were field recordings of a bunch of random sounds, and those became the basis of an EP I released shortly after. Just different organic sounds, stuff like church bells, coins, coffee cups clinking. Building from something this organic really helped me get a new perspective on how I personally produce music and allowed me to start using my voice in different ways.
What compels you to take such an organic approach to producing your music?
Well, I have a lot of experience and training with jazz guitar, but I also really love the repetitive looping of electronic music. I just really want to merge the two together the best I can. With a lot of electronic music, like Kraftwerk for example, the beat is really cool but it's missing a human element. That’s what I want to incorporate into my music, to kind of infuse a human element into electronica. Acoustic electronica, I guess. Nah, never mind. That’s not a genre.
You’ve said that the unplanned limitations this experience placed upon you helped you create more cohesive art. Do you believe that limiting yourself creatively still helps you create a more cohesive piece? To what extent is this true?
Yeah, I think setting limitations on yourself is a really good strategy if you keep it under control. It's almost like a form of minimalism. Like with my gear, If I’m working on a project, I’ll use the same gear for the entire time until I’m done. Using same synths, same sounds, you know, the same concepts across the length of an entire project, it makes for more cohesive art. Like, when you think about it, the internet gives us producers access to literally everything, and that’s pretty daunting. I think you gotta set limits on yourself so long as they don’t get in your way. Because then you’re just gonna go crazy.
The music you make takes influence both from your days as a jazz guitarist and your time DJing in the LA club scene. Can you name any other artists that are effectively mixing jazz influences into modernized music?
Oh man yeah, there are a bunch. Arca is definitely one right off the top. Yves Tumor is also really exceptional, she’s been putting out some great stuff recently. Oneohtrix Point Never too. Also, when it comes to this stuff, nobody does it better than Flying Lotus.
Final question, you once tweeted one of my favorite sentences of all time: “literally a giraffe could make better music than Post Malone.” Could you elaborate on this?
Oh Jeez. Yeah, I guess I probably tweeted that at one point. Twitter is just where I put whatever I’m thinking at that exact moment in time. I was probably just listening to Post Malone like, what the fuck is this. Literally, a giraffe could do this. Honestly, I feel like there are a lot of musicians out there that a giraffe could make better music than. Fuck, I’m probably one of them. A giraffe probably could make better music than me.
So you’ve been putting out some really excellent music under the name Bedroom Hijinks for a while now, what can we expect to see next from this project?
Yeah man, it’s cool that you know about that. I just moved up to Brooklyn and finally got my studio set up, so I’m gonna start working on a new project soon. Recently I’ve just been teaching piano around the city, just trying to eat, so I’m excited to finally focus on music for a while. I’ve really been trying to approach my music in terms of songwriting first, and when I have an idea that works musically, I try to produce around it. Kinda how Quincy Jones approaches his music. So yeah, I’d say expect a new project by 2019, although I don’t know if its gonna be under the Bedroom Hijinks name. I’ve been thinking about releasing music under my own name recently, but I don’t know yet.
So you mentioned Quincy Jones, but I’d like to know who are some of the biggest contemporary influences on your music?
Oh, definitely Benny Sings. I kinda rip a lot of my stuff from him. He actually went to school for really technical music production classes, but he dropped out after he realized he just wanted to make feel-good pop music. Other than that, I really love Frank Ocean’s songwriting. Mndsgn, Dj Harrison, and this artist Liv.e are really great as well. Also, this producer named Dink that used to work with me at this music store in Vienna, Virginia. He pretty much taught me everything I know about music production. Super great guy.
I know you incorporate your training as a classical pianist into your music, how do you go about mixing classical stylings with the sounds of modern music?
If I’m gonna be honest, I try to keep them separate for the most part. I mean, I’ve been taking piano lessons since I was four, and I learned from the Russian school of piano playing, which is really rigid and classical. I really appreciate this classical training because it's kinda gotten me to the point where I can bang out pretty much anything on the piano. But I think all music has a certain context attached to it. There’s a time and a place for everything. Like, if I wanted to get you to dance, I would play Salsa music. It's not, y’know, the most intellectually stimulating kind of music, but it fits the context. So with the music, I’m working on now, I don’t wanna incorporate a whole lot of classical stylings into it, because it doesn’t really fit the tone. But I’m still really thankful for all the classical training I did. I got me to where I am.
What is it like touring with other rising acts like Gus Dapperton and Beshken? How does it inform your own personal art?
I don’t really know how to answer that, because I feel like we’re all learning from each other. I’m definitely seeing a side of the music industry that I didn’t learn about in school, but its a process for everyone. I forget the exact quote, but there’s this excellent saying that goes something like “It’s not when you start the journey, but where the journey takes you.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that. We’re all in the process of learning from each other.
I know before your (excellent, may I add) Boston show, you played a show in DC at the U-street music hall. How did it feel to be touring so close to your hometown?
Oh man, it was wild. The first place I ever told a girl I loved her was U-street music hall. I always knew I’d be playing a show in my hometown, but I never expected it to be this soon. I saw a bunch of people from my high school, my parents were there…honestly, it was just surreal. And it was a great show too.
Speaking of your high school days, I really want to talk about Mixed Nuts, your iconic high school band.
We don’t have to if you don’t want to
Nah, let’s get it over with.
Can you talk about how you guys came together? Maybe describe your artistic process in those days and describe the ways its changed over the years?
Yeah man, it was me and a couple other kids who lived in the same neighborhood and all played different instruments. We were all just kinda bored and looking to make music. I remember I was pretty strict about meeting once every week for rehearsals, even though it was mostly just me doing all the work. That’s the weird thing about Nova, is that it doesn’t really have a music scene. There are plenty of people making music, but there’s no real community of artists that you can share your music with like there is in Brooklyn. Until I met that guy Dink, I was pretty much doing everything by myself. The other guys in the band, they all had different ideas of what they wanted to do with their careers, and they’re all super smart dudes, so we all ended up going in separate directions to study different things. But I’ve definitely stopped trying to do everything myself since then. God, those songs were trash. I look back on them and genuinely cringe.
I honestly really like them. That being said, What’s your personal favorite track on the debut mixed nuts album Welcome to Southside? Mine’s Recuerdame.
Hah, yeah Recuardame is a good one. All that Spanish and shit. I don’t know, for some reason, whenever I get sentimental I always sing in Spanish. So it’d either be that one or…jeez I can’t even remember the song titles… or Claire De Lune, that one wasn’t too bad. Although that’s mainly because I ripped the groove straight out of an Eminem song. But whatever, I was in high school.
Interestingly enough, both of us are from the same town: Vienna, Virginia. For anyone who hasn’t been, could you give me a quick description of the best places to visit?
Oh man. Caffe Amouri is a great spot, there’s a ton of hookah shops that don’t card so I suppose that’s something to do, also stay the fuck away from Tysons Mall. Oh and Pie Gourmet, great service, friendly people, and pie. Also, the town Greene isn’t too bad.
Alright, thank you for your time man!