How does an artist discover a path for inspiration? If you're Ben Jelen, you head East – a direction that no one except Ben saw coming. From his family in England, to his global humanitarian efforts and travels through India, inspiration for the 26 year-old British-born, multi-instrumental musician began with a journal of new songs and a leap of faith.
Although his debut album in '04 entered Billboard's Top Heatseeker's Chart at # 1, it portrayed a very young Jelen. Written by the artist while still in his teens, his songs earnestly pondered life and love from a young man's perspective. The album served as a template; but beneath the surface, a far more complex artist was steeping.
When Jelen found his inspiration, he resolved to make his next album independently. It might have been easier to shop for a new label, but Ben had a different idea…and a name.
"Anyone who gets to make music for a living is lucky. And I've had that chance, but I had this certain concept in mind for my next record. I knew I could do it, but I knew it would take someone like Linda Perry to help me see it through."
It's one thing to want to work with Perry – a producer who has wisely guided Christina Aguilera, Pink, Gwen Stefani, and James Blunt – and quite another to show up on her doorstep with a bunch of songs and no label. The idea is simple – yes, work with Linda Perry – but would Linda Perry want to work with Ben Jelen?
"When Ben Jelen was brought to my attention, I felt that his first CD ‘Give it All Away’ was too polished in production, though I could hear that he had lyrical depth." She agreed to a meeting and the two met the next day.
After a late evening playing music at the studio, "Mr. Philosopher" was born, and a relationship formed. Linda and Ben set a schedule, and set to work.
Locked in with the knobs and levers; the blips, reverb, and feedback loops; with his piano, violin, and guitar, he was in heaven. "That's something Linda and I have in common. We live for the process, and we're both searching for the perfect song. She has an amazing instinct, knew how to push me in the right direction."
Perry continues, "Ben Jelen is a very inventive songwriter. Lyrically and melodically his perspective is creative, visual and beautifully stated. He's the type of artist that will continue to grow because nothing will ever be good enough and in my book, that's what makes a true, genuine artist.”
In a matter of weeks the two had put off all other obligations and were working at a furious pace. On "What Have We Done?," Linda sings a soft, subtle backing vocal. "I had to talk her into that one," Ben explains. "At first she felt we would find someone else for that, but it just fit the song perfectly."
Midway through, recording came to a halt when Ben was called home to England. His younger sister had inexplicably passed away. When he returned to Linda's studio weeks later, "We sat down and jammed, and I was mumbling away, there were no words to explain what I was going through; they just didn't suffice." What emerged was "Pulse," an almost wordless song of cascading layers that pick up where lyrics would fail.
"It's funny," he says. "’Pulse’ is the only song that addresses what I went through, but I can hear my sister over this entire album – I hear her in there."
What's "in there" is beyond expectations. Simpler, less polished, more direct, inherently intimate, East is a Todd Rungren-esque piano driven pop record that recalls a different side of the pop spectrum. "Where Do We Go?" reflects Paul McCartney; "A Balance" calls Ben Folds to mind; "Counting Down" could have been orchestrated by Beck, if Beck had Jelen's pipes.
Playing his many instruments, Ben crafts an album that is as open as it is elusive: from the mournful "Pulse," to the stranded-at-his-piano feel of
"A Balance;" "Ex-Sensitive" is theatrically playful, while "Counting Down" and "Other Side" are endearingly sentimental.
East relocates Ben on the pop map, delicately celebrating the breath and complexity of human experience. After all, it's the album of a 26-year-old with a firmer grasp of what he's gone through, and a firmer idea of where he would like to head.
Ben is currently working with Linda Perry and her boutique label Custard, putting the final touches on East, and taking the new material on the road during an early-summer ’06 tour.
When you find yourself at a single point, sure of what you want to accomplish, but not sure how to get there, follow your inspiration. Write some new songs. Head to Linda Perry's. Knock on her door. Make an album. Head East.