Q+A with Dudley Benson

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Dudley Benson, performer and composer

Olivia Lacey caught up with Dudley Benson to find out what music means to him and asked a few questions about what he’ll be bringing to Tuatara Open Late and Matariki Wellington celebrations.

Olivia: Can you tell us a little bit about where your passion for composing and performing came from and how that’s led you to where you are today?

I don’t entirely know. My parents loved music but weren’t particularly musical, but my grandmother was a pianist, so I guess there may’ve been a generation skip. Without a doubt though I was influenced by my older sister who was a teenager when I was a four. Her Kylie obsession became a shared thing, so much so that when I lost my first tooth I made a deal with the tooth fairy which, in summary, gave her each and every future tooth on the premise that she hooked me up with the Kylie poster I’d just seen at the St Martins bookshop. Luckily she delivered, and I still remember those hoop earrings… So pop was there from a young age. I loved singing, and before long joined the school choir, and eventually became soloist in the Christchurch Cathedral Choir – a very Chinese circus sort of choral training. I suppose those two worlds – pop and choral music – are the two nutrients that feed what I do now.

Olivia: Both locally and internationally, who or what are some of your major musical influences?

Rather than other music and musicians, I find more and more that I’m influenced by visual and performance art, books, conversations, and social and poitical dynamics. Over the past couple of years I’ve been preparing music that has big overarching themes, so certain novels have been really helpful in me forming the narrative of this music: Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy come to mind. I’ve also been trying to absorb a better understanding of the natural world – Aotearoa’s geological history and our night’s sky in particular – and trying to mutate that knowledge into musical ideas. I sort of started doing that with birds for my Forest album, but I’m interested in thinking about a wider ecosystem and how we relate to it, through pop music.

Olivia: We’re delighted to have you perform at Tuatara Open Late, what can we expect to hear?

I always think it’s good not to expect anything... But as it’s Matariki (in my personal top three times of year) for this show I’m interested in performing songs that satellite around the themes of Pakeha identity, and Maori world view – through my white, male, gay, Leo Pig filter anyway. I’ll also be singing a couple of new songs.

Olivia: Reviewers and music critics have sung your praises – which do you think best sum up your work?

I liked a comment Nick Bollinger made about my Forest record, that it was “utterly indigenous”. It’s an interesting one, and in fact has the potential to be quite confusing, because it could be read in several different ways. One interpretation could be that as the creator of that album, I’m an indigenous musician – which I’m not – while another, and the one I think Nick is trying to get across, is that the music on that album could only be found in Aotearoa. But when you throw into the mix the fact that my role on that album was to reinterpret waiata by Hirini Melbourne, a Maori artist, your brain then has to deal with the possibility that maybe this music, despite it’s Pakeha producer, is indigenous in an ethnic sense too. I think it’s really important in New Zealand that we keeping thinking about and discussing these sorts of circular ideas about identity, because identity is always changing.

Olivia: What was the most memorable musical experience you've had over the last year?

Ergh I’ve been such a hermit over the past year and haven’t seen much at all of live music. That being said Matmos’ recent show at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery was mindblowing, and I really enjoyed a set by Dunedin’s Murderbike at last year’s Puaka Matariki festival.

Olivia: We’ve asked you a little about past and present, so what does the future hold for Dudley Benson?

It’s been pretty heads-down for me for the past two years, working on new music and the odd bit of performance. It’s taken much longer than I thought to make a new album, but I’m getting there, and the jigsaw is coming together. Before that though, I have something new that’s kind of in post-production now, and ready for later this year – a collaborative project which I’m so excited about sharing, and which develops the discussion that Forest got into, but in more of a global sense.

Dudley will be performing at City Gallery Wellington on Thursday 3 July, 8.30pm
Doors for Open Late are from 5pm
For more details on Dudley's performance at City Gallery's Tuatara Open Late - click here