Ben Lorentzen is among the very few who are constantly reinventing themselves yet staying true their core. The truth what shines through Ben‘ albums and personality are rooted in his integrity and constant soul-search. I’ve seen him at large concert halls and he had really a great stage presence. Once he invited me over to his house and played a few songs for like 12 people – and he was mesmerizing, authentic. And that’s what we all need, that very personal connection, that interconnectedness for what humans have been waiting throughout the known history. Artists like Ben Lorentzen have a great blessing at their hands and an incredible responsibility to make this world a better place todays and for tomorrows. Here is our latest conversation below. Worthy to read.
And while you are at it, listen to one of my Ben Lorentzen’s collaboration (and reading you’ll find his great documentary, too):
Music Authentic: At Music Authentic, I like beginning with this question: How did you sleep last night?
Ben Lorentzen: Fairly well thank you. We are moving these days and that is always a pain. But we are in a year of transition globally and so to be moving ourselves feels strangely right… I need less sleep as I’m getting older, and that might be the universe saying: you have less time left here on this earth but we are going to give you some extra time by you needing less sleep.
Music Authentic: You are an amazing person, living an extraordinary life – being an ambassador of peace, in certain times and situations a travelling diplomat, a musical poet and of course you are a family man. Where do you usually gain strength during these changing and challenging times? Have you started to feel “it’s too much”?
Ben Lorentzen: Those are very kind words. I have been extremely fortunate and I have an amazing family. After failing at my first marriage I spent 12 years working with delinquent youth. I immersed myself in it, got some education and went to therapy myself. In hindsight I think the universe was setting me up to meet the right people to take my life to the next level. The most important being my wife. There is no way I would have met her and had the maturity that she would find interesting without those experiences. The sense that my life is heading in the right direction and my wife gives me hope and strength to keep going.
Music Authentic: A lot of people are afraid of the future and I know, you have a vast knowledge of different philosophies and religious teachings as well as first hand experiences with youth drifted to the edge of societies. Without going down in a rabbit hole, how do you think your life will be in a few years from now on? Are you more hopeful than earlier?
Ben Lorentzen: I am more hopeful on a long term level. But first I think we are in for a “shit storm”. Democracy is being challenged and might actually fall. We are in for chaos politically, financially, culturally. We are already at a point where people have different truths while claiming that their own version of this truth is the correct one. While pollution is evident to some, species going extinct etc, others claim there is no such thing as environmental problems. I fear that the predictions UN (and my father in law) has signaled is at our doorstep: a famine due to pollution like we have never seen. So, rough times ahead. But I think that this will further down the road create a shift in peoples mentality and people around the globe will be more open to go beyond nationalism and create platforms of unity where we can solve our problems and create a better future for all.
Music Authentic: What’s your take on Machine Learning and the upcoming actual AI? Will musicians, artists ever be obsolete?
Ben Lorentzen: I am all for technology giving us access to an easier life. But I often think about a deep lesson I learnt from reading Goldstein and his work with delinquent youth. In the 60’s he started teaching social skills to kids who had problems adapting to society. He thought that if he taught them social skills they would adapt to society in a healthy way. He then discovered that social skills did not fix their emotional problems. So he introduced emotional management into his teaching. But he then discovered that with social skills and emotional management the kids were getting worse! Why? Because with skills and management without a moral internal compass they were now better at being bad. It was harder to catch them. They were better at planning and scheming. Algorithm can tell you what is trending. But it cannot tell you why it is trending. It cannot tell you that a song will move you deeply. The point here being that much of what we deem valuable in life comes from a deeper place than learning skills, putting things together or taking them apart. Management is not life! Life is a deep spiritual experience, for better or for worse, and machines will never reach that depth. But please machines, manage all you can, so I don’t have to.
Music Authentic: Do you consider yourself an artist or a musician? Is there any, can there be any difference at all?
Ben Lorentzen: Hmmm, never really thought about it. I guess an artist is someone who thinks of himself as a creator using their imagination. A musician practices skills too express that creativity. Looking at it from that angel I am a bit of both, but I spend 80% of my time with the creative. I have no desire to play or sing better just to be better. I do not have to belt a high C in every song even though I can, with warm ups and breathing techniques. There is only one goal for me: surprise myself and be deeply moved by it. From there I hope to surprise and move others. When I talk to myself I never use the words musician or artist. They are irrelevant to me.
Music Authentic: A lot of artists are struggling with wearing more and more hats just to get to the surface of recognition. Has it ever been an issue for you?
Ben Lorentzen: Yes, I was also caught up with some kind of a romantic image of what it meant to be doing creative work. That you focus on the creative aspect alone and have others do everything else. Looking back at history this was possible for only a very short amount of time. Maybe 60 to 80. With the internet taking over in the 90’s this way of thinking about doing creative work faded fast. Mozart had subscribers that he played concerts to, Beethoven had patrons that supported him. They constantly looked for income sources. Both of them teaching, for example. This has caught up with us. I am happy there are ways now available to us outside the narrow gates of major labels, or labels at all. We can create numerous income sources. It has never really been “easier” to be a songwriter. And really, what’s wrong with learning new skills?
Music Authentic: Nowadays streaming is owned by the very same industry which had doormen at radios and tv-s earlier, putting indie artists into an impossible situation. Have you ever felt promoting your music become almost like a door-to-door selling?
Ben Lorentzen: No, I don’t see it that way. We now are far less subdued to the ocean of trends. We can create our own niche and tribe of people who feel the way we feel, our own trends. I remember what it was like before. I had a record deal, I wrote “hits”, I was in the game. Until one day I wasn’t. Our record label representative stepped away and we (my band at the time) had nowhere to go. Releasing music on your own was seen as a “loser bag”. No one thinks of it like that anymore. Releasing on your own is cool, or normal now. The streaming experience can be hairy but if you think about it, the longevity of a song is completely different. A song doesn’t have to die after 6 weeks on hit 40. The potential to expand the lifetime of a song as it floats around on playlists will be a huge source of income for songwriters. You don’t have to write hits anymore. Just your damn best.
Music Authentic: I have had a very interesting conversation with Sami Chohfi, and we agreed that nowadays’ music is way too simplistic and especially lyrics are more of a poison to the soul, dumbing listeners down. Just like the fake food people tend to eat these days. The real creativity and extra miles putting into it, with the healthy self-doubts seem to be mementos from another millennia. How do you see this?
Ben Lorentzen: What time period was not simplistic? I am skeptical to broad strokes labeling of music. Especially when we are discussing lyrical content. If there was a bad period for simplistic lyrical content in popular music it must have been the 50’s. But then again I love so many of those songs. I sang opera for a year. Have you ever read the lyrics for Mozarts “The Magic Flute”? It’s not high poetry. Lennon or Dylan both had their periods where they “reached” lyrically. It is more interesting than moving. Same with the prog area with “Yes” and “Floyd” and that sort. Some of it is good, most of it garbage. He he. I don’t like the phase we are in right now in popular culture where drug & sex references is the new cutting edge. It is not very creative. But we have been here before, it will fade. The feedback I am getting to my own stuff is that the more topical I am, the more people seem to like it. It might be a thirst for a deeper lyrical content now. That makes me feel good.
Music Authentic: Let’s have some lighter tone questions! Would you rather live on the Earth in 20 years or be the part of the first Mars colony?
Ben Lorentzen: He he, I will be alright down here. But send me some pictures.
Music Authentic: If you had a chance to play a superhero character in a movie or a series, whom would you choose?
Ben Lorentzen: Would Aragorn count?
Music Authentic: Whose story had a great effect on your life?
Ben Lorentzen: My father in law. Sun Myung Moon. Yes, the cult leader. It contains everything. Love, tragedy, crime, passion, spirituality, courage, vision, predictions, philosophy. It goes on and on. he came from a different world and in his lifetime managed to paint an image of a new future. I am extremely inspired by his vision.
Music Authentic: Which artist do you recommend to listen to from the past or the contemporary era and why?
Ben Lorentzen: That is a huge question. Want to be a tunesmith? STUDY: Beatles. BeeGees. Beach Boys. I know you have heard them. But study them, it’s a different world.
Newer stuff I listened to: Tal Wilkenfeld, The Dear Hunter, Anthony Green, Dermot Kennedy,
Music Authentic: Some argues concept albums are over, others insist storytelling is still important. You have been making exceptionally unique, deep, personal and raw, versatile albums lately. What’s your take?
Ben Lorentzen: Again, very kind words! I learnt this from stand up comics: Failing is so necessary! So why fear? There is nothing to fear. The comedic community calls failing “bombing”. Early on Jim Carrey decided as a work out for himself to go on stage with NOTHING prepared. Just completely wing it for 3 months or so. Apparently it involved the impersonation of a coach roach being attacked that lasted for 15 minutes. And every night he asked himself: “what do they want, what do they want”. His answer became “a moment of release from their own lives”. So he came up with a character called Ace Ventura, a huge success that came from a period of self inflicted failure. I want to go to that deep place every time. Rid myself of myself, become ego less in every regards to “how I will be seen”. When i decided to release solo records after many band experiences I found myself writing rather dark stuff. I labeled it Suburban Pop Noir. I was living in New Jersey and I sensed a dark horizon. Now the dark horizon is very near and much lighter things have started to emerge in my writing. I would have sidestepped those songs just a few years back. Now I am ready for them. Now I feel like celebrating my wife, happiness, love, empathy. It is SO HARD to step away from concepts and be pure and honest to the creative calling. Excellent practice!
Music Authentic: Nowadays, the frames of so-called „traditional” values are falling apart in families, relationships, business… What characteristics should be valid to them? Are there missing things and unnecessary ones?
Ben Lorentzen: I don’ like the term traditional values. Human traditions is mostly war, death, darkness. I don’t say throw it all away, but very, very few has any reason to brag about the past. There ares some good lessons, some good thoughts, some valuable traditions. I think we are at the frontier of discovering our own conscience. I made a documentary for my latest record where I basically argue that connected to our conscience we do not need religion or even a dogmatic god anymore. All those concepts are external. We need to find ourselves. It is deep, deep within ourselves we find the answers. Discover how cool it is to be happy and how uncool it it is to be cool. You could say that marriage is a traditional value. Alright. But when 90 % of our problems come from distorted relationships I don’t think we can simply say marriage is the answer. Floating around is of course not an answer either, so we are caught at the middle point. How do we create a good relationship to ourselves. How do we create good relationships to people around us. In short I have found that the answer is in focusing on our conscience. Our mind needs to be trained to this type of focus, and our bodies needs to be trained to follow such a mind. It is hard work. It is not easy. Shortest way to gain this knowledge is to work with people, do activities that involves relating to others while you keep razor sharp focus on what is going on inside yourself. You relate to others in order to relate to yourself.
Music Authentic: What do you think the hardest challenges in society are these days?
Ben Lorentzen: Right now it is to overcome tribalism and nationalism. COVID has taught us that seeing life such narrow lenses as tribalism and nationalism is not sufficient to overcome our problems. Like I mentioned earlier I think we have far bigger challenges ahead of us than viruses. We are in for a famine due to polluting this earth. We need leaders who can build trust to their own people and among people of the world. Without this in place future will be very very grim.
Music Authentic: What things have been the greatest achievements for you through your art so far and what else would you like to accomplish?
Ben Lorentzen: I have written songs I am really happy with. That is the best ever, work wise. I would love to have them recognized a little more, no doubt. But I cannot control those things. It will happen when it is meant to happen.
Music Authentic: Let’s wrap our interview up with a positive vibe: Any important project you are working on these days? What makes it precious for you?
Ben Lorentzen: My wife and I have a few hot irons, we always do. She runs a ballet school, and is involved in developing it into a performing arts school. It involves China, North Korea, and building bridges where there are few. We might be making an album together, as she is a great songwriter in her own right, and I have 20-30 new songs I want to finish and release. So there is a lot in the making.
Music Authentic: How do you like spending your free time, what can really refresh you?
Ben Lorentzen: Films, films films. Me and my youngest just sat through the entire saga of Bilbo and Lord of the Rings. I see it once a year, from top to bottom. I am part Finish so maybe that is why. The saga of course is lifted by Tolkien from a Finish poem.
Music Authentic: What is your message to encourage others?
Ben Lorentzen: Again, a huge question. History is created by small movements. Your move can be a great small movement.