INTERVIEW: Amateur Trepanning | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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While most of us longed for any degree of normalcy throughout the pandemic, local musician Ben Lowes-Smith was delving deep into a decidedly different pastime: Kosmische music. This niche interest in avant-garde German electronic music was inspiration enough to venture outside his comfort zone for this new project, the exquisitely named Amateur Trepanning.

It’s a little phrase I had knocking around for a while that I thought was quite funny, because it implies the existence of professional trepanning. When I started recording in the bleak winter, the process felt like a release of pressure… Kosmische music is German electronic rock music from the 1970s; I wanted to get completely out of my head and listen to something exotic and futuristic. Listening to other contemporary DIY artists made me think ‘I can have a go at this’.”

Amateur Trepanning is decidedly different from Ben’s other work in indie pop band Slow Decades. “I distinctly wanted to do something different from what I’d normally be associated with, so I really put myself out of my comfort zone. I can’t really play keyboard or synthesizer, but I got cheap ones and messed about. Just put your fingers where it sounds nice, just mess about and have fun, and never lose that sense of play.”

I wanted to get completely out of my head and listen to something exotic and futuristic. Listening to other contemporary DIY artists made me think ‘I can have a go at this’

The resultant record is an interesting and unique ride. Lo-fi melodies overlap and build to create intricate experimental soundscapes that undoubtedly take a couple spins to click, but once they do it makes for an enlightening experience. Ben had a simple aim with this music, which further imbues it with a detached, ethereal quality. “When you’re younger, you think of ‘the song’ as this untouchable thing that you really have to strive for. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided – with the way my mind works – to make it effortless and to just do it as a matter of course. Obviously there are certain preoccupations on the record – gentrification, the way cities work and reading around that a bit – but with all the words on this, I didn’t think about them too hard, and put down how I was feeling, and seeing what I could piece together.”

Amateur Trepanning was largely born out of necessity: lockdown and restrictions has made it difficult for traditional, group music-making activities – hence this solo work born and bred in the spare room of a pent up musician. So, while any future project along these lines isn’t set in stone, it’s likely that any sequel may take a very different form.

This thing was easy and fun to make, so that’s gonna make me inclined to do it again. My wife Rachel Brook (@PlaceHolderVisualArt) is in the process of making three music videos for the record, and has been very supportive through this whole process substantiating my music with her visual art. And I couldn’t have done any of this without Tim Head at Win Big Records, either… Would it sound different? It would probably be another experiment in me learning to do something different. Maybe I’ll want to learn how to play a nylon string guitar, and make a record like a Leonard Cohen album. I set myself very definite parameters with time and tools. And I think that’s the modus operandi with this project: short amount of time, basic stuff, and let your imagination run wild within these constraints.”

Amateur Trepanning releases his self-titled album via Win Big Records on 16th July

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