Ben Schuller's new single, Pact Ink, is out now! We chat to the musician about the song, his upcoming record and so much more.
Singer, songwriter and producer Ben Schuller recently dropped the fifth single from his upcoming studio album, New Roaring 20’s. The track comments on the extreme lengths we’re willing to go for fame, set to an eerie and shadowed soundscape. Pact Ink uses vivid imagery intwined within its lyricism to paint the picture, with the musician defiantly insisting on doing what it takes to reach these unrealistic expectations.
New Roaring 20’s is set to explore the relationship society has with the internet, commenting on the dark side and effects social media and the internet can have on our mental health. With the writing process serving as a form of therapy, the record expresses Schuller’s own relationship with the internet. Whilst his success goes hand in hand with online culture, the pressures and effects also took their toll.
Schuller began his career recording acoustic covers of modern hits on YouTube, whilst working on his compositions. The musician is also a member of the YouTube-based music group, NerdOut. With over 500M views across platforms, Schuller fanbase grew tenfold, prompting the musician to release music under his own name.
Pact Ink is out now! Read our interview with Ben Schuller below.
Could you tell us about your musical background and how you began your musical journey…
I grew up always playing music. I was singing and making music from an early age, I kind of had a knack for the production side. So I was always recording my own music even when it sounded like trash back in grade school! At the same time the internet was becoming big for independent artists and I was able to find an avenue through YouTube and other ways online to reach an audience that wasn’t necessarily possible in pervious eras. I kept going from there and I moved to Nashville in 2014 and that’s been great for just expanding my skills and being able to collaborate with more people. Pretty much between finding an audience on the internet and growing from there and doing a lot of YouTube covers and all that stuff, here we are now!
Your new single Pact Ink, comments on the extreme lengths some people are willing to go to for fame. Could you tell us about the song and the story that is playing out within the track?
So Pact Ink is the fifth single from this album I’m doing right now which is essentially all about how as great as the internet has been for us to be able to connect and reach people, it also has this dark side that’s negative. It impacts on us as well when we start to see it take over how we interact with each other and what we prioritise. Each song on this album has kind of been another chapter into looking at the negative impacts of social media on our mental health. This new single was looking at this emotional that you feel once you’ve tried everything and you’re basically like “I don’t care anymore, I have these goals, I have this vision, I need to get to the top and I’ll do whatever it takes, it doesn’t matter anymore whether I’m staying true to who I am, it doesn’t matter if I’m selling my soul to the devil” per say. That was kind of the emotion that was coming out of that track. There’s definitely times where you find yourself in these moments where you let your ambitions get the better of you and you might be damaging who you are on the inside for this moment of fame that doesn’t really exist.
It kind of juxtaposes your last single, Be Somebody Else, which looks at social media addiction leading to self-doubt and a warped view of the world. There are some thematic connections there. What inspired you to explore these themes?
The internet has been huge for me. Pretty much all my success I can relate back to the way that we’re able to connect with fans and build an audience using the internet. Over the years, you don’t really realise but I think I probably have based so much of my self off of the internet and about what strangers think of me online. I think about six months ago the idea for this record came about, because I found myself at this rock bottom moment where I had all these things that I thought I wanted and was getting further in my career and doing all these things as a musician. But I wasn’t happy and I couldn’t figure out why and I kept coming back to basing my self work off of the internet essentially. Starting to write this album was kind of a therapy from that, being able to express how I was feeling through these different songs.
The music video is quite symbolic, depicting yourself walking across a bed of hot coals to represent the willingness to go through anything to get the validation we crave. How did you conceptualise the video and land on the visual narrative explored?
Pretty much all the songs on this album, the videos have kind of come along side by side where I’ll be coming up with the imagery at the same as the lyrical themes. This one, because it had so much to do with this idea of making a deal with the devil, this symbolic theme that we’ve seen in movies or songs even over the years about selling your soul to get fame. I was thinking about, obviously fire and that vibe goes with the symbolism, but what was something that to the extreme that would be putting ourselves through harm but we were willing to do it anyway to get where we wanted to go. And I felt like walking through fire was a good way to portray the themes that I wanted to get across.
What was the filming process like?
It was a lot of practical effects, I wasn’t actually burning my feet every time walking over coals. But it was a very DIY project. Me and a couple of friends built the set over the course of a few weeks and built on site that day for a couple of hours. All the filming was about an hour, an hour and a half. We did maybe ten takes where I walked over this whole thing and then spliced that together with a couple of other clips and we had the video.
You mentioned earlier that you moved to Nashville in 2014. How much if an impact do you think that move has had on your musical practice?
I think a lot! Even though as much as the internet has made it possible for musicians to connect with people around the world, just being surrounded physically by other talented and passionate people who are pursuing the same thing as you it just takes what you’re doing to another level. Nashville is one of those places where you’re getting the most passionate and most talented people from all of their respective cities across the country and they’re coming to this one spot to do the same thing. There’s something inspiring about being able to go to a show on a random Tuesday night (pre-COVID of course) and seeing talented musicians that you never would have had the chance to be around in your home town, a little small town in Michigan. I think it’s just been great for making me a better artist, giving me new ideas and always striving to be better because of the talent level in this town.
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process when writing and recording songs?
I can’t say there’s one process that it’s always been. On this album specifically I’ve been working with Matt Geroux who is a great producer in town. A to of the songs would start from me and him coming up with a beat and we’d work with a couple of beats over the course of a day and then I would go home and listen to what we made and come up with lyrics and melodies on top of them. This album in particular I wanted to get away from the co-writing thing and really get out my vision on a lot of these songs. I’m pretty much writing everything from either my bedroom or car or wherever I happen to be when the ides come. So there’s not really one specific way.
What has been the most challenging part about creating music during the COVID-19 pandemic?
That’s an interesting question because it came a time where I was just about starting on this album anyway. So at first it was like, looking for a silver lining, I had nothing else to do except hole up in my house and write music. At first I definitely found the positives, but as any musician, as anyone in any industry can attest to, it’s just been draining over the course of this year. I had a tour that was about to be announced, and never even got announced because everything was cancelled. It was more of a mental toll as time goes on. I haven’t been able to get away, usually I’ll be able to go all around the world at least a little bit to do music things and this year was the first time I was stuck here with nothing else to do but make music. I guess it’s a double edged sword. In some ways it was good that there’s no other distractions really. But at the same time, you need that break to be able to get out and be inspired.
The current pandemic has obviously put a halt to touring and performing live, what are your touring plans post pandemic? If any, what can people expect from one of your live show?
No one knows when the world will be able to open up as much as we need it to, so it’s hard to plan anything. We tried rescheduling at first for a little bit, and then it was like ok there’s no point trying to guess when venues will be more open. I don’t have any concrete plans but I definitely want to tour once this album is released and be able to play all of these songs and kind of bring alot of the themes and the vibes of this album to a live show. Because I think there’s a lot of possibilities to make something really cool and meaningful. But as to when that’s going to happen I don’t know. I hope soon though!
It changes! At this exact moment, maybe The Weeknd. It will probably change tomorrow.
Ryan Tedder, he was a huge influence on me for wanting to get into producing.
Album that has had the most impact on you?
I’ve gotta go with my boys the Backstreet Boys Millennium album. That was on replay when mum was driving us to school and I was like “I wanna be a popstar”!
If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which one would it be?
Honestly, I think it would be dope to do something with Christopher Nolan. I’d love to do this epic vibe of all the Hans Zimmer scores that are always in his movies. It’s really inspiring hearing the soundtracks of his films.
The most memorable show you’ve ever performed?
I think at Cairo in Egypt last year. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people that were there that know our songs and it was a one of a kind experience.
Best concert you have been to?
I saw Coldplay in 2012, that was probably my favourite one.
If you could support any artist on tour, who would it be?
I think Post Malone would be pretty fun to go on tour with. That sounds like a party all the time.
The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
Malone I really think it comes back to the driving to school with mum in the morning when I was a kid. I don’t know why the Backstreet Boys was the cassette tape they got us for Christmas but I remember listening to that on the way to school and being like “I wanna make songs, I wanna make music”. Of all the things, that was it!