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Benjamin Stewart: Gender, Soundscapes & Lucid Dreams
Episode 329th March 2022 • Gay Music: In the Key of Q • Dan Hall
00:00:00 00:34:13

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Welcome to In the Key of Q the weekly podcast where I chat with inspiring Queer musicians from around the world as they share stories, inspirations and of course their music.

Benjamin Stewart has been making music for over 10 years and has written and recorded since the age of 12. They define as non-binary. Living an authentic life in America's Mississippi state.

In November 2021 they released the album 'Spaces', a dystopian electronic eight-track instrumental work.

Benjamin is constantly inspired by the everyday, accidental rhythms around them such as the weekly fire alarm test in their complex. These lead to the creation of their long, complex instrumental pieces that are both edgy and relaxing. Listen with headphones! The music will take you into another world.

Further inspiration is taken from within as Benjamin talks about lucid dreaming and the remarkable way that they have managed to teach themselves the skill to regularly achieve it. It's all about habit, hands and a candle! And tied in with this is Benjamin's celebration of rest, and a plea to the world to allow itself time-out.

Narrow definitions of gender are very much not their bag. Benjamin talks about their own journey, delighting in the freedom granted by being freed from gender expectations.

Additional Material

If you enjoyed this episode why not take a listen to Dhorin Fireheart.

In the Key of Q is a weekly 30-40 minute podcast publishing every Tuesday. I’m your host Dan Hall, and in each episode, I chat candidly with a gay/bi musician about their life and music. 

Access exclusive interview content and support the production of this podcast by heading over to Petreon and making a small donation.

Enjoy the music of previous guests by listening to these playlists with tracks selected by the artists themselves.

Credits

  • The podcast can be reached on email and on social media at Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The podcast’s forever home can be found here.
  • Theme tune is by Paul Leonidou.
  • Press & PR by Paul Smith.
  • Many thanks to Kaj and Moray for their continued support.
  • In the Key of Q is presented and produced by Dan Hall and made at Pup Media. Dan has recently produced the landmark BBC film, "Freddie Mercury: The Final Act" (dir. James Rogan) and is the producer of the podcast series Been There Done That. For audio or video production inquiries Dan can be reached here or at Talent Manager.

Would you like to appear on the show? Or have an artist you'd like to recommend, please tell them to get in touch via email.

Transcripts

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Dan

This is In the Key of Q featuring musicians from around the world who inspire my queer identity. Everybody is welcomed to the conversation, whatever beautiful identity pleases you. Music helps us feel connected and know that we are not alone.

This program is made possible thanks to the financial support of listeners like you over at patreon.com/inthekeyofq. And remember to subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts.

I'm Dan Hall. Tune in. And be heard.

ssissippi state. In November,:

Benjamin

At the apartment complex that I live at, um, every Wednesday around noon, it's, it's a very soft alarm, but the frequencies that which it travels gives it this very soothing, natural virbrato as it travels around the complex. Um, and some Wednesdays around that time I will specifically go out on the patio or if I have headphones on, take them off to try to listen to this alarm, just cause I find the like a one slow, simple sound, just very haunting and pretty at the same time.

And I think I feel like that's a, that's a pretty good way to, to describe, um, the, the sort of energy that, um, comes from this album.

Dan

Most of our guests Benjamin have produced songs with lyrics, but however yours have gone down a purely instrumental route. What is it about the instrumental type of music that really appeals to you?

Benjamin

Sitting somewhere putting headphones on and listening to music and doing nothing else, um, that having that space for your own words to come into your mind, as you're listening to the song can just create so many different kinds of experiences. And I think that, um, everyone can have their own very complicated, hard to explain definition of an instrumental song.

Dan

Benjamin, do you think it's fair to say that your music is event listening, say it say as opposed to a pop song where you can easily listen in the shower or while doing something else. It feels like with your material, it demands some attention to be paid to it, quiet listening with headphones and that sort of thing.

Benjamin

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there there's a song on there that is, um, called 'Snowing' that's 15 minutes long, um, which, yeah, definitely. So I think that, yeah, in order to get the most out of it, I feel like lying down with headphones on maybe closing your eyes. Um, at least that that's a way that I like to dive into, um, a lot of my favorite records when I can make the time for it and I feel like you can really, especially out of instrumental music, um, go through a wonderful meditative experience.

I do what still, like the idea of someone, uh, putting it on while, while they're taking a shower or while they're cooking. Um, I guess it can kind of redefine the space you're in. Um, but in order to like pick up on all the subtleties and all the movement and all the sound and being able to like, get the, the full experience yeah. I would definitely recommend a sit down, headphone on listen.

Dan

You talk about calmness there and your music is calm and very meditative. But what I like about it, and one of the reasons I wanted you on this show was that you managed to avoid making meditative music that feels sort of really annoying and whale musicy and a bit Pollyannaish. Your material has a dirtier grittier feel a kind of dystopian atmosphere to it, as well as the elements of relaxation.

Benjamin

lieve, but, um, especially in:

Dan

How do you dream lucidly? It it's something as a child I could do easily, but now as an adult, my, my dreams just slipped through my fingers as soon as I wake up, they're gone. So how do you keep yours?

Benjamin

Um, my personal technique is I hold out my hands. And I picture a candle with no candle holder, just like a wax candle. Um, the candle is lit in my hand. Um, cause in no context in the waking world, would I be holding a candle with no holder under the wax that is lit in my hand. And so if I look at my hand and I see a candle that is lit, then I know that I am dreaming.

And so I just get in the practice of while I'm awake, I'm looking at my hand and picturing a candle there. And, um, you know, most of the time the result is there's no candle. Um, and I know I'm awake, but just having that be a habit, having that be something that you subconsciously do, you will begin to do it in your dreams as well. And so if I see a candle, I know I'm dreaming.

Dan

You know, thinking again, I'm not sure I'd want to remember all my dreams. I think they're often spaces where my paranoia and anxiety sits and works itself out. So maybe, maybe it's best they're forgotten.

So do you find that your dreams inspire you?

Benjamin

Definitely. And, um, at times too, in lucid dreams, when I've given myself that awareness and given that space I've like come up with melodies or come up with like, or picture a certain sound that, um, I ended up really liking. And if I can remember that sound or that melody, when I wake up, I try to recreate it.

Dan

But how on earth can you do that? Because sound is so abstract. I know from working with the theme tune composer of this podcast, that describing sound it's very difficult. It is such an abstract thing. And so when you awake from your dreams and you have these inspirations, how do you go about turning what has been a really abstract idea into a manifestation of a sound?

Benjamin

If it's a sound that I keep at the back of my mind and remind myself of often, or, you know, keep dreaming about it, then it'll be something that I'm looking out for. Then, if I hear something that has anything similar to it, I'll go, oh, right there at weight. And then I sit down and try to add on any effects or mixing that'll bring it closer to the sound that I was, that I was looking for.

Um, I was born in Austin, Texas, and then when I was two around two years old, um, I moved to France and then moved to North Carolina when I was six years old, Kentucky when I was seven, Plano, Texas, when I was eight and nine. Uh, back in France, um, in like the CECI area, when I was, um, from ages 10 to 16.

Dan

And how do you feel that somewhat nomadic existence affected you?

Benjamin

As an adult? I also ended up moving all the time. It just became a very natural thing to do just because I had grown up that way. And so yeah. I've only been in adult for about three years now and I've lived in four or five different places.

Dan

A lot of our guests have talked about having a sense of otherness, of not belonging in the places where they grew up. Do you feel that you were more nomadic existence helps you avoid these feelings, but just by feeling like a constant traveler all the time, maybe you are stronger and more aware.

Benjamin

That's a good question. Moving around so much to where you're not like, you know, in one place where everyone around you, you've known forever. I feel like that can be very freeing and open your mind to exploring all the different parts of yourself.

Dan

With this podcast, Benjamin, I really wanted to help address the balance that I felt as a teenager of never hearing my own queer identity back at me in music.

But I'm aware that there's an age gap between us. I'm 48 and you're in your early twenties. So the life experience has maybe been very, very different for you. I'd be interested to know what has your queer life been like? What have your experiences been?

Benjamin

I don't like, um, a lot of rules that don't really make a lot of practical sense. And I think really any rules surrounding gender, um, are very unpractical and don't make sense. And so, um, I think that, you know, as a as a kid and as an adult, like I've always just been very fluid, um, in my gender identity, um, it's gone through a few different phases and, um, it's very difficult to define for a while because, um, my knowledge of, um, the existence of being non-binary, um, did not come up until a little bit later in my life. And so if, you know, for a very long time, I was confused because, um, you know, I felt like there were so many rules and expectations that fell into place with either being a boy or a girl. And, um, it just didn't seem like I wanted either of those things to define me in any way. Um, but that there was a lot of beauty that comes out of people.

You know, living in different places. It's so interesting to see, um, the different, um, ways different communities, uh, respond to queerness.

Dan

You've spoken about not wishing to conform, to rigid expectations of gender. How does this express itself in your everyday life?

Benjamin

Well, I feel like it also has to do with just like a lack of any sort of personal definition. Cause when you're, when you're talking to people and everyone has names, like you are seeing them as a character and you were like setting up, you know, as you build. Uh, connection with someone you're like setting up expectations, um,

Dan

By names do you mean labels?

Benjamin

Yeah. Like pronouns names, you know, just anything around identifying a person. Um, I feel like most people naturally like build up like a character resume in their head of everybody. Um, but the truth is just like, we're not TV show characters and there are so many parts of the self, um, and so many different ways to express how you're feeling.

Um, and I, I feel like art and music is a really powerful way to do that.

Dan

Benjamin, could you share with us please? Some of your positive journey towards gender non identity?

Benjamin

Um, it was definitely a very slow process before it was something that I was, you know, publicly open about. Um, yeah, it wasn't until the spring of last year where, um, I felt comfortable enough, um, in my environment to say, all right, this is, uh, I want to be referred to they them pronouns. I don't want to hear any other pronouns anymore. Just like having people respect that is just a very wonderful and freeing.

Dan

But what would you say to those people who say things like, oh, I don't see why that Benjamin is making such a big deal about it. And I mean, it's, if I just call him at him instead of a they I mean, they is ridiculous. I can't use that at a sentence. You know, what do you say to those types of people?

Benjamin

I don't know. Maybe that they're missing out, missing out on having connections with so many people. That's really all they're doing. Um, because like, if, if someone like very openly says that they do not care or like, want to respect my or someone else's pronouns, like I, I'm not going to really be able to connect with that person. Maybe like, I'll be able to work around them in a professional environment, but like that makes it impossible. It's not a light word. Um, but yeah, like impossible to like really have a connection.

Dan

And also I didn't understand in the first place, why people have such a problem. Just say the word, just say the words you've been asked to say, it's really not complicated. It's not like you're saying to them, can you run a 26 mile marathon and then use the pronoun?

Just use the pronoun that you've been asked to use!

Benjamin

Now. It's really not.

Dan

How old are you now?

Benjamin

Um, I'm 21 years old.

Dan

Okay. Say, and you get all of these people who are like, oh, he's only 21. He can't make the decision himself. He has no idea what he's doing. He's just whipped up into a state of frenzy by a fad, by a fashion.

And he's just grabbing onto the coattails and just trying to be in with a crowd. What do you say to those people?

Benjamin

Let me get caught up in the mood of it all. I feel so comfortable in this mood of it all.

Dan

Benjamin. I really want the artist to appear in this podcast to be able to use it as a platform, to have their voices heard. Now, as with most podcasts, a little bit of editing is done on this after our recording to nip and tuck here and there. But for the next two minutes, there will be no editing. I will guarantee you a totally free platform without any editor's citizens coming out.

And you can use this to talk about whatever you. The clock starts as soon as you start talking.

Benjamin

Rest is really important. Um, I guess if I have two minutes to say whatever I want on the internet, it's give yourself some time to rest today. Take at least 10 minutes and do absolutely nothing. Don't don't even listen to music. Don't even watch TV or have anything going on, just, just sit down for 10 minutes and do absolutely nothing.

And if that, that, that gets scary and uncomfortable, then, you know, do whatever you need to do to be comfortable. And, but just allow yourself to rest. Take some time off. You don't have to be productive 100% of the time.

It's only going to slow you down and make you less productive in the long run. And drink, drink, drink a glass of water. Water is great.

Um, and know that you are, that, that, you know, being alive and being here makes you already whole, and there's nothing missing. So just take a break.

Dan

Should we be listening to queer artists, seeking them out and seeking out their music? Or is that all a bit old school and ghettoizing of our culture, is it really relevant?

Benjamin

Um, I think it definitely does matter cause um, you know, like it can be hardest to make living, especially as an artist and especially as a queer artist. So I think it's very important to go out of your way, um, at times to, you know, support, um, queer artists and, you know, at times go out of your way to, you know, maybe only listen to music by women or listen to music, um, by, you know, non-binary people. I just think it's important to you know, support everyone, but, you know, support all artists, but especially support, um, you know, queer artists because it's, it's not always easy making a living.

Dan

So where can people find you online then and, and help you make that living?

Benjamin

Um, I just made, um, a website that serves as sort of a musical resume. Um, it's threeblueskies.com, three spelled like the word. And yeah, the music is pretty much on all of the main streaming sites, um, Bandcamp, that, and Apple are going to have the best sound quality. Um, but it's anywhere where you're comfy listening.

Dan

If there's anyone listening to this podcast, Benjamin, who feels that they have their own questions about gender, their own gender, about, about binary natures, or nonbinary natures, or frankly are feeling a little bit ignored about what questions they do have, what advice would you have for them?

Benjamin

Find a, this isn't homework. It's not a task, but find a creative medium, but something that you have a lot of fun doing it so it's not homework. Um, just find some sort of way to express yourself in whatever form that is, and that will help bring you, um, validation within yourself, which can help boost your confidence when you can't always depend on others.

Um, and it really doesn't have to be like, you know, like a traditional commercial, creative project. Like, I dunno, you could be like organizing a desk. That that is, that's a creative project right there. Um, and one you know that I find a lot of value in myself. Um, so yeah, your project, it can be anything, but just find some sort of comforting, creative thing to do. Some sort of way to express yourself to yourself, have a conversation with yourself.

Dan

We've been listening to clips of your music all the way through this episode. But I do like to think that we saved the best until last. And with that in mind, can you suggest please a gateway song that we could listen to now that will help lead us properly into your catalog and will be an excellent introduction to everything that you have to offer?

Benjamin

I picked the song 'Pools' um, because the whole, the album explores. Um, I feel like there are two different energies that are fighting in the album for, um, from the different songs. And one of them is the heavy distortion, um, glitchy, um, loud, heavy noise. And then the other is a very calm, still heavy, but calm. Um, and soft noise and 'Pools' captures both of those energies really well by splitting up the song into two sections, the first, um, being it's just like calm, orchestral piano in ambient noise.

And then the second half is, um, the, uh, so, um, Sam from Project Records um, asked me, cause I for 'Pools' I just had the first calming piano part. Um, When I was submitting it, um, and Sam asked to make an extension of it with the sort of fuzzed out, witchy distorted, um, sound space that I have in other parts of the album, like television static.

And so, um, I just took the same song that pools was so far. Um, and then pasted it right next to it, but reverse the whole thing and then started to like incorporate, um, all of these other sounds and like these, these heavier, um, fuzzed out noise. Um, so it, it sort of creates a auditory image of starting above water and then going underwater, looking at the surface from the opposite direction.

And so like the song plays reversed and, um, is a lot heavier and has a lot, you know, like a lot more noise and a lot more stuff going on. Um, so that when the listener starts the album, you know, um, It's a perfect way of like saying, Hey, this is a nice calm ambient album, but it's also going to get very intense.

Dan

A bit of a killer question to end with, Benjamin. Why on earth did you get up at crazy time in Mississippi to jump on this call and do this podcast?

Benjamin

When I was, you know, in just discussion with, um, my manager about, uh, you guys reaching out, I, I did, uh, you know, uh, Um, research on y'all on Apple podcasts and just listen to different, um, a couple of clips from different episodes.

And just, this just seems like a really cool show. Um, and you know, supporting queer artists is so important. And I think that just what you guys doing are really awesome. And especially the thing about like giving someone the space to talk about whatever they want for two minutes, that that is really cool.

Dan

Thank you so much for coming on In the Key of Q and sharing your story with us. And of course your wonderful dystopian hypnotic music.

Benjamin

Yeah. Thank you. It's very kind of you for having me on

Dan

Thanks for listening to this episode, you can support In the Key of Q via Patreon. The link is in the shownotes.

Theme music is by Paul Leonidou at unstoppablemonsters.com. With press and PR by Paul Smith.

Help others discover new queer musicians by rating and reviewing In the Key of Q, wherever you find podcasts.

Thanks to Kaj and Moray for their continued support and to you for subscribing.

The show was made at Pup Media. I'm Dan Hall. Go listen to some music and I'll see you next Quesday!