Described as a ‘dreamy urban peace track’, Ben Horlock‘s newly released single & video The One You Love, is indeed about global peace, acceptance and fighting the bad energy in the world, according to the 17-year old singer-songwriter. Growing up in Dunedin, Ben taught himself guitar at 12 and has been writing songs pretty much since. A unique mix of influences that include Hendrix, Harry Styles and Bruno Mars, have created this prodigious talent whose first acoustic video released soon got 40,000 Youtube views, his second 45,000 views, earning him a dedicated online following across more than 30 countries. He apparently has an album of teen anthems good to go, but first let’s talk about the big heart and even bigger ideals behind The One You Love.
You say in the PR for The One You Love, “I wrote it to spread positivity and hope to everyone affected by poverty and politics…” But it’s a love song right?
Yeah, so I wrote the song with my own story in mind to begin with and I had this verse right… and it was about my situation you could say, haha. Then I went back home and wrote this hook, the lyrics were; ‘Take the hands of the one you love.’ And it kind of hit me harder than just a love song! It was at the time when everyone in USA were rioting and going crazy… and so after writing those words into my phone at 1:00 in the morning the song kind of changed its course. But yeah it’s my story and thoughts of the world framed into a love story. But it didn’t hurt having the producer Abe [Kunin], and his wife who had just come off from releasing an album with the Dalai Lama! All that good health and peaceful conversation kind of stuck with me you know…
You’re young (in age and career) to be taking on musical agendas as vast as world peace. Is it not enough for you to be creating songs of more simple and personal meaning?
I get what you mean man, but like online and social media is such a big game-changer in today’s world I reckon! I don’t wanna try sound wise and mature because I am not, haha, I’m still a kid… but kids can see so much online these days and we can find out all the news and going-ons by ourselves. It’s just as easy for a kid to go to the news on their phones as their parents to go to the paper or the TV news! For me to see all this craziness online and see how harmful people can be, just really makes me feel a certain way! But yeah I am young, and most of them are a simpler story… but for this one it was a little special to me.
Harry Styles is one of the artists you’ve uploaded bedroom acoustic Youtube covers of – and clearly a fave of yours. What is it about his music?
Well, I just remember when he came out of 1D and released his own album. Which is amazing by the way. And me and my brother would listen to Sign of the Times, on the way to school. I really took a liking to how powerful his voice was and how his sound was just slightly off centre from the mainstream music! Then when he put out Lights Up I just happened to be up at like 1am when it dropped on YouTube, and ended up being one of like the first 500 viewers or something crazy like that! I just completely fell in love with his sound!
I love how he’s bringing back that kind of classic rockstar vibe! And I like how it doesn’t feel like he’s trying so hard to be the biggest star in the world… you know what I mean? It doesn’t feel like he’s putting the music through this big commercial factory… it feels like it’s him, and then it just happens to blow the world open, haha.
Do you have a stack of such cover videos that are just awaiting their chance to go online?
I have some right now… Generally, I like to record day by day, but then sometimes I get in a vibe where I just wanna record a bunch and have them there ready!
Do you think that doing those bedroom videos help you when it comes to performing live on stage?
As weird as it sounds, yes! Like I use to be a little weird, well not weird, just different… and would sit in my room in Dunedin and write songs and record me singing and would just picture myself on stage singing to thousands! And now that I’m playing live and essentially doing what I dreamt of… it weirdly helped! It made me want it more but also expect it is well, you know?
Your first two bedroom video releases each very impressively got more than 40,000 Youtube views. What were the songs and where’s your fan base centred?
We recorded and released a budget video around nine months ago for One More Time for Love, and it did pretty well on Youtube, around 45,000 plays. But we delisted it a few weeks ago! Too much has changed since then it didn’t feel like it represented me any more, so we pulled it. The other song still online is an acoustic unplugged track, Written in My Hand. My fan base is split evenly between NZ and worldwide on my Instagram.
I like that you are happy to be singing on that raggedy extreme edge of your voice in much of the song.
Yeah, when I started singing I would sing with so much growl! Me and my mates would call it “the growl”, haha. But then I realised I was overdoing it, so I toned it down a little… but it was always a natural thing for me. I would always sing with a little more edge. I think that’s why I really like Mr Styles’ voice! Because it’s got power.
Where was The One You Love recorded and how was the session? Did it feel like you’d bagged a hit?
It was produced by Abraham Kunin, who’s such a nice dude! So chill. We made that track in I think two days at his studio in Te Atatu, and yeah… something like that. When writing it I don’t think I was thinking, ‘Yes yes! This is a hit!’ Maybe more along the lines of, ‘Wow this is special to me, and I want people to hear this because I think they may feel the same way!’ There were no session players, just me and Abe. I played guitar & dropped the vocals. Abe played bass & piano and we tracked the rest the rest of the sounds through Ableton
And similarly for the video. How was the shoot for you and how do you rate the result?
Yeah, the video was super fun for me! We had a bunch of locations scouted and three days of shooting! It was all arranged by my management team. I really like the end result and I like the urban feel the video captures. Really goes with the vibe of the song!
I’m intrigued that you have an album on the way, because you are a ‘new’ artist and also of a generation that mostly decries the album concept as ‘old fashioned’.
I have always loved albums! I like to download albums and listen to them from start to finish while we are on the road and travelling! I like the thought of making the record a journey through all the tracks and making it flow. So when it comes out it will definitely be a journey and an album. I think we have around 10 tracks that were recorded at Roundhead and Parachute, just need to work them together a bit more to get the album done.
You’re from Dunedin but have obviously been up in Auckland for all that recording. Is it frustrating that Dunedin doesn’t offer the same opportunities?
Yeah, the recordings and everything really has been up here in the north. But the answer about Dunedin is… no, I don’t mind leaving because at the end of the day, I’m like a really obsessive dude. So I needed to move cities to make my dream come true… so at the start of the year, that’s what I did. I have been living in Auckland since January.
I left school a few months ago. They were really cool this year and let me kind of do my thing up here! But only recently mom called up and officially signed me out… so I guess this is it dude. This is what I am doing now!
What aspirations do you have for the album? How will you measure its success?
It would be nice to see some recognition out there. The songs are pretty cool, we worked on them with the best session players, producers and studios – so hopefully it all goes well.