My name is Ben Salter and I am a musician/performer based ostensibly in Brisbane although I am only really here for one week out of four or so. I perform solo as well as in a number of different groups, namely (in chronological order) Giants of Science, The Gin Club, Megafauna, The Young Liberals, The Wilson Pickers, and Anigozanthos. Between all of these bands I have basically played with everyone, ever; but solo I have performed with Paul Dempsey and Something For Kate, Gareth Liddiard, Cat Power, J Mascis, Felix Riebl and many others. My debut solo album The Cat was released in 2011 and I am about to release the follow up, the European Vacation EP on July 12. I am about to tour Australia in support of it.

Congratulations on your new EP, European Vacation! We might be going out on a bit of a limb here, but we’re guessing the EP was a little bit inspired from your recent five month trek across Europe. Is that true?

Yes, that is a true fact. In early 2012 I was awarded a “New Work” grant from the Arts Council of Australia, my stated purpose being to go to Europe and write songs with people. So I did; I also wrote a lot of songs by myself. The EP is a collection of some of those songs.

We heard you played at a venue that was used as the set of Gringott’s Bank in Harry Potter… incredible. What were some other highlights from your trip?

Well the fact that the venue was in a Harry Potter movie is sort of secondary to the fact that the venue was the Australian High Commission in London, and I played there on QLD Day in front of our Governor General and a bunch of assembled dignitaries.. which doesn’t really need any veneer of Potter to make it cool. Although it helps. Other highlights too numerous to mention. Let’s just say I had a terrible time, which is why I am going back again this year.

Recently you played at the inaugural DARK MOFO in Tasmania where you performed your project with Mick Thomas, Vandemonian Lags. How did that collaboration come about, and what drew you to focus on the history of Tasmanian convicts?

The project started life as an online resource or web portal called Founders & Survivors.  It was a project developed by Mick’s brother Stephen’s company ROAR Film Tasmania. Basically they put all the records of convict transportation to Tasmania into a searchable online database, and then went into a lot more detail with seventeen individual stories, mapping out where these people had come from and where their progeny had ended up. As part of that fleshing out process, Stephen asked Mick to write a song for each of the stories; he then roped in a bunch of musicians to perform those songs and even got a few of us to write some of them. When Mick and I went down to perform at the presentation of the website last year, MoNA sent along one of their creative directors Leigh Carmichael who approached Mick about turning the whole thing into a sort of staged song cycle to present at DARK MOFO. And so we did! Seemed to go alright.

And didn’t you recently find out you have blood ties with a convict? Is that the definition of a coincidence or what?

My father was born in Burnie on the Tasmanian north east coast, and so when it came to do this project I said “Hey Dad, send me some information about your life because I don’t know anything”, which is sort of how it sometimes goes in our family. So he sent me some basic memories of growing up in Burnie and wrote “oh I have attached some documents which you might find interesting” and it was a complete family tree going back to Isaac Salter who was transported to Launceston in 1836 for deserting from the Grenadier Guards. He was a very bad prisoner and did two years hard labour in Port Arthur, amongst lots of other things. Every generation of my family on my father’s side has been born in Tasmania ever since, except me.

You’ve been a solo artist for a couple of years now after a decade in outfits such as The Gin Club, Giants of Science and the Wilson Pickers. Have you enjoyed branching out on your own, or do you ever miss the dynamic of being in a band?

Well all those other bands you mentioned are still going concerns, so I get the best of both worlds. We probably don’t play as much as we used to but I still get to play in bands fairly regularly.

What’s your earliest memory of performing and who inspired you to start?

My earliest memories of performing are probably of band competitions in Townsville, where I was born and later went to high school. My band The Drowners (try being a Suede fan in Townsville) performed “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at our High School Rock Awards in 1994 and two people got knocked out in the mosh pit. We were pretty happy. Not long after that the I wrote my only ever fan letter, to Tim Rogers and You Am I, in praise of their single “Cathy’s Clown”; I also implored them to come to Townsville on their next tour. A few months later I received a hand written reply from Tim saying thanks and promising to try and come up and play soon. I double checked the handwriting against the hand written lyrics to “Handwasher” printed inside “Hi Fi Way”. They didn’t end up coming to Townsville for another few years, but I had already moved to Brisbane and anyway, I was already a fan for life by then.

More about your success – you’ve been hailed as “one of the world’s greatest songwriters” by Tim Rogers, not to mention countless critics. This praise must be great to hear, but does it add any pressure to live up to these heights when you’re recording new material?

Not really. I’m my own biggest fan and also my own harshest critic, probably more the latter. My main policy these days is to just try not to think about it all too much. I love music and I love making it but I realise it a real honour and privilege to be able to live and work in a place where I can try and make a living out of it. So I try to have fun and just enjoy it.. I think that’s my main responsibility.

In the past you’ve supported the likes of Cat Power, Something For Kate and Paul Dempsey. If you could open for anyone in the world – or have someone open for you – who would you pick and why?

Oh I would really love to see Mark Hollis and/or Talk Talk play. Or Charles Mingus! That would be cool. But I have been really lucky, performed with a lot of my fave bands already – You Am I, The Drones, HITS, Dollar Bar. It sort of blows my mind a bit. Joel Silbersher, Tom Lyngcoln and all of The Drones played on my solo album; Tim Rogers sang on a Gin Club album; and I play tambourine for my favourite local band, HITS. I think wishing for any more would be foolhardy.

What’s on heavy rotation on your iPod at the moment?

I don’t have an iPod. And to be honest I am a bit shit at listening to stuff. I have been listening to a lot of the mixes of the new HITS album; it is going to rule. Also some of the new stuff by my friend Harley Young, that is amazing. The Crash Hot album, High In The Friendly Sky, is pretty amazing.

You’re embarking on a national tour on July 12, the same day you release European Vacation. For those who haven’t made it to one of your shows before, what would you tell them to expect?

Well, me, for a start. I will be there. I’ll be playing some music. Probably just on my own, with an acoustic guitar and a tambourine, cause all that other business gets tiresome. I’m thinking about buying some sort of loop pedal but I don’t know. What do you reckon?

Lastly, what’s on the schedule for the rest of 2013 after the national tour?

Well I am heading back overseas for three months which is exciting, to Europe again. Then I think we’re going to do a Gin Club tour when I get back. It’s our ten year anniversary this year. That’s terrifying.

European Vacation is out 12th July through ABC Music

Ben Salter 2013  Tour Dates

Friday 12 July  @ Spotted Cow, Toowoomba QLD

Thursday 18 July  @ Café Le Monde, Noosa QLD

Friday 19 July  @ Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane QLD

Saturday 20 July @ The Metro, Adelaide SA

Sunday 21 July  @ Mojo’s Bar, Perth WA

Thursday 25 July @ Worker’s Club, Melbourne VIC

Friday 26 July @  Petersham Bowls Club, Sydney NSW

Saturday 27 July @ Front Gallery, Canberra ACT

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