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SPOTLIGHT ON CONGRATS

Congrats' new single, Lobotomy, is out now! We chat to the musician about his music and more.

Image: Supplied


In 2019, Slowly Slowly frontman Ben Stewart revealed his solo project, Congrats. Swapping out instruments for more synthesised and electronic sounds, the Melbourne singer-songwriter entered a whole new soundscape.

On his latest release, Lobotomy, Stewart navigates the feeling of losing a piece of yourself post-breakup, almost celebrating the void and numbness that acts as respite. Whilst the track has modern production, incorporating trap beats, there is a classic quality to it that encompasses passion and sincerity, providing a more candid lyrical note on the song.


With his solo-project, Stewart wanted to re-route his creative energy and explore avenues that differed from the usual territory his music existed within. Moving away from punk, rock and hardcore, the project is influenced by Stewart’s continuing love and appreciation with pop and hip-hop. On the releases, the musicians instantly recognisable and charismatic vocals continue to shine. This time over sleek production that ushers in a new era of Stewart’s career.


With a handful of releases under his belt, Stewart has spent the majority of the year working on his debut EP. Set for release later this year, the EP will be released with new label partner and Australian indie stalwarts, Dew Process.


Lobotomy is out now! Read our full interview with Congrats below!




Tell us a bit how you started your musical journey…


I learnt drums in primary school, that was the initial spark, but over the years it has weaved into other areas of music that peaked my interest. I only realised later on that it was songwriting I was obsessed with, not so much performance or becoming an accomplished musician.

The sounds present on your solo project incorporate trap beats, swapping out instruments for more synthesised and electronic sounds and entering a whole new soundscape. What prompted you to explore this new avenue of sounds and undertake this solo project?

I listen to a variety of music & draw inspiration from sometimes conflicting genres. I’m not a rock’n’roll purist by any means, so I wanted to push myself into some uncomfortable territory. Lift the lid on what I was becoming accustomed to creating and I think it has had nothing but a positive impact on my writing. I wanted to write pop music because over the years I have garnered such respect for good pop song writing. It’s hard to insert honesty and sincerity into a song that you can also dance to.

Congratulations on your new release, we’re loving the track! Your new single Lobotomy navigates the feeling of losing a piece of yourself post-breakup and a feeling of numbness. Could you tell us about the song and the importance of exploring these themes?


Thank you so much. I wanted a devastating song, that if played on a piano and sung a little differently could be heartbreaking - but I wanted to house it in something tongue in cheek. I wanted the song to portray a void of feeling as almost a celebration - a toast to numbness as respite from everything preceding it.

Whilst the track has modern production, there is a classic quality to it that encompasses passion and sincerity. How important to you was it having these two worlds collide to create your own unique soundscape that has been present on the releases?

I didn’t start this project to just pump out anything cookie cutter or forgettable. It has always been at the forefront of all of my writing to maintain the common thread of sincerity. You can only run so far from yourself so I know people that are familiar with my other work will sense that familiarity whether I try to or not, but I guess writing to these more modern backdrops allows me to be a little more candid with my writing - I don’t have the confines of a genre like bumper lanes to keep me in check. This project has very little creative ceiling for me & that’s exciting.

How did you land on the name ‘Congrats’ for this solo project?


There was a folder on my desktop that I wanted 10 demos in, I named it CONGRATS, as a note to myself. It just kind of stuck. I like the word as it is so menial, banal & throwaway. It’s like a subtle jab at pop music and at achievement. I don’t know, this is all retrospectively now. It just fit.

Congrats has a very different visual aesthetic to Slowly Slowly. How important are the visuals (both stills and videos) to you when it comes to conveying the story and meaning present on the track? And how involved you are when it comes to planning the visuals?


I am really involved with it all, it’s an aspect I take a lot of joy in. That was another reason to explore new territory as I enjoy portraying that darker, less serious side to myself. I just want to create as much as possible before I get shipped off to the great big tip in the sky and Congrats is a vehicle that allows me to channel some other facets of myself. I get to play a character, write from other perspectives - it’s less autobiographical.

Could you tell us a bit about your creative process when writing and recording songs?


It’s always different and it’s something I’m always trying to perfect the recipe on, but no matter how many times you refine there is always some fluctuation in the variables. For this particular release, I drank a lot of red wine and wrote Russian Roulette & Lobotomy in the same day. I felt like Russian Roulette had warmed me up so I was kind of emotionally limber - I could take some risks, take myself less seriously whilst playing with subject matter that I felt deeply. I don’t know. Maybe it was the energy in the room as I wrote it with Kon Kersting & Sam Phay - they instilled me with confidence and followed me into the dark.

How do you find it differs writing and recording in a band environment vs solo where you’re completely in charge of the process and outcome?

To be honest I am a bit of a control freak and with all my projects. I kind of outline how I want the narrative and arrangements to unfold. They both operate quite similarly in the writing process in that I use others as sounding boards, but ultimately follow intuition. I think this allows for less dilution in the final product, too many cooks etc. Some people work great handing over the creative reigns, but for me, especially with vocals and lyrics, I want to sing my own stories.

What has been the most challenging part about creating music during the COVID-19 pandemic?


I have been working really hard throughout the entire lockdown period. The most challenging part for me was more the loss of face to face interaction with people, I put my head down and run and then like to come up for air and some celebration - not having the latter really got to me, but I won’t let COVID get the better of me. I’m determined to just keep learning and improving.

You’re set to release a larger body of work later this year. What can fans expect from the full-length release?


It is pretty varied and sounds really great turned up loud in a Mitsubishi lancer whether the sub is distorting. Also some really cool features, I got to work with some absolute weapons.

The current pandemic has obviously put a half to touring and performing live. Do you have any post-pandemic touring plans? And what can audiences expect from a Congrats live show.


Nothing in the pipe yet, just waiting for lockdown to end at the moment, but rehearsals should resume again soon. The live show is pretty bombastic, I have a live drummer and guitarist so the songs get reimagined. I guess that’s the part of myself I couldn’t shy away from, no matter the production, I’m not going to operate with just a USB stick and a microphone - you have to put on a show for people.

RAPID FIRE


Biggest influences?

Yung Lean, Roddy Ricch, Brakence


Dream collaboration?

Halsey, Chillinit, Chino Moreno

Album that has had the most impact on you? Grace by Jeff Buckley


How do you define your musical style in 3 words?

Keeps You Guessing

Best song of 2020?

What’s Popping by Jack Harlow


If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which one would it be?

Drive


Album you would listen to on repeat on a road trip?

White Pony - Deftones

Best concert you have been to?

Anchors at Bang (lol)


Guilty music pleasure?

I never feel guilty listening to music!


An artist you think has had the most influence on the music industry?

Kanye, surely

What advice would you give yourself a year from now?

Don’t compare yourself to others.

The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?

When I heard the wordplay of Californication in my cousins bedroom.

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