Exclusive: interview with Cloudkicker


got-djent.com has conducted an exclusive interview with Ben Sharp, AKA Cloudkicker, featuring questions from our users. Read the interview below. Because of the overwhelming response, we weren't able to use all the questions, but we have tried to include as many as possible. Questions about gear and equipment were left out since he recently posted a bulletin which details what he used for all of his releases.

Also check out the radio interview Ben Sharp did with WDUB, a college radio station. A recording is available for download.

Where does the name Cloudkicker come from? Why did you choose it? - Visions of Reservoir

Cloudkicker is a reference to Kit Cloudkicker from the old Disney cartoon Tale Spin that I used to watch every day after school when I was a kid. If anyone remembers the show, he was a pretty awesome dude who would regularly do this thing where he would wakeboard in the sky which is pretty badass. It was between Cloudkicker and Whistlestop Jackson, I opted for the former in favor of brevity and in retrospect it has become very fitting.

When did you decide to undertake this solo project and what were your motivations? - Samuraipai

I've never really laid out any plans for this so my motivation has always been to simply make music. It's crazy how that simple goal has morphed into what Cloudkicker has become today and it makes me excited to see where it will take me in the future.

Where do you get your inspiration from, and what gave you the idea to combine ambiance with Meshuggah-influenced riffage? - StervendeWens, Visions of Reservoir

Even before I discovered Meshuggah I had a penchant for ambient music and layered, orchestral-type compositions. I think hearing Explosions in the Sky for the first time really turned me on to the possibility that instrumental music could be an end in and of itself and after that I really started to explore that aspect of songwriting.

I was pretty well comfortable with creating ambient music by the time I started to understand and appreciate what Meshuggah were doing so really the only changes I made were to add distortion and start working with some funky time signatures, which provided me with a whole new avenue to explore musically. If you go back and listen to the very first songs I put up on the old "musicistight" page and continue chronologically all the way up to Beacons there is a very palpable evolution that ties everything together.

There also seem to be some minimalist influences in your music (particularly the opening guitar phrase on the first track of ]]][[[), was this a conscious decision? - cyrusf

Although Meshuggah have been influential in providing a backbone or springboard for what Cloudkicker started off as, my taste in music varies so wildly with whatever mood I'm in that tons of influences pop in and out pretty frequently. I don't recall exactly what I was listening to when I wrote the part in question but I've definitely been influenced by the likes of Steve Reich and Philip Glass at various points while writing music.

The cover art of 'Beacons', Cloudkicker's most recent release.

People were getting very excited about the teasers for 'Beacons' that you posted on your Bandcamp page in the weeks prior to its release. How is it being received, and how does this compare to your other releases? - cyrusf

With each release the volume of downloads has been building on itself. The pattern has definitely continued with Beacons with the major difference that this time there is money coming in. The first few days were pretty crazy in that regard, but even now almost a month after I put it up the volume of traffic to Bandcamp is way more daily than it was before and it seems to be slowly increasing. It's interesting to watch.

As far as the reception goes, all told it has been pretty overwhelmingly positive. I already knew that people who want rehashed versions of "The Discovery" over and over again were going to be disappointed so to hear them complain was no big deal. But to hear people who are truly connecting with it on the level that I did as I was putting it together is really amazing.

This kind of music is definitely something you have to be in the right mood to listen to and it needs your attention way more than just having the radio playing in the background while you chat with friends--so I understand when people write it off as boring or repetitive, because if you're not in that specific place it really is. But all that just makes it more confounding that there are folks out there who really dig it.

Judging from the song titles, there seems to be a concept underlying 'Beacons'. Some of them are apparently taken from cockpit voice recordings of crashing planes (such as http://www.planecrashinfo.com/cvr950821.htm). Could you tell us a bit more about this?

I was impressed at the detective work that dug up that website so quickly after I put Beacons up, but the titles actually came from a book called "The Black Box" that I've had on my bookshelf since I was 12 or 13. It's a collection of cockpit voice recorder transcripts from airliner accidents mostly, the song titles are for the most part the last words on the tape or close to them. There are some exceptions to that but I'll leave that to inquisitive minds.

I've always been intrigued and amazed by aviation and I knew that I was going to call the album "Beacons" when I started writing it. I remember when I was a kid sitting in this one spot outside our house at night watching airplanes leave Los Angeles and all you could see was their flashing beacons and I tried to capture that feeling when I was writing these songs. There is definitely a sense of unease at some parts and some sort of unidentified emotion running through the entire thing that culminates with the ending of "Amy, I love you." and I thought titling the songs in that way put a context to it.

Some other artwork that accompanied one of the teaser tracks for 'Beacons'.

Do any of your other releases have such underlying concepts? - ma7erick

Portmanteau does. All the titles on that are portmanteaus themselves (i.e. Modulator/Demodulator = Modem, Smoke + Fog = Smog) and I thought that was a pretty good analogy for what Cloudkicker is. Other than that no, not really. Before Portmanteau I would just name the songs after I wrote them based on what I was thinking about at the time. Like "States" was written right before I moved from California to Ohio, and "Ever Thus to Deadbeats" is a line from The Big Lebowski. On ]]][[[ I was just tired of coming up with song names.

Who did the artwork for the album?

That's kind of a funny story. I solicited a friend of mine to do the artwork at the end of July with the intent of having it done in mid August. He came up with the idea for the cover and I really liked it, but I guess his work schedule got in the way and he left to go on tour with his band before he ever sent me anything that I could use. So the cover was his idea, I just had to redo it from scratch along with designing the rest of the packaging. How do you even credit someone for that?

More 'Beacons' artwork.

This is the first time physical copies of your work are available, and also the first time you're accepting donations. What made you decide to do this?

People asking me to do it non-stop since 2008.

Have you ever thought about a carreer in music? Would you ever consider signing with a label or putting a live band together? - ma7erick, blinding_light

I thought about it a lot when I was 16 and 17. Not so much anymore. I don't like touring and I don't want to have to pay the bills by making music, that would suck all the fun out of it for me. At this point I'm not sure a label could offer me anything I can't already do for myself, and other people seem to be perfectly happy to promote Cloudkicker on their own, so that seems like it would be pointless. It would be super fun to get a band together but I'd prefer to do it with people I know and that doesn't look like it's going to be a possibility for a while.

You released some more reserved, less metal-influenced music under the moniker 'BM sharp' a while ago. Are you planning to do any more of these albums? Do you have / have you had any other projects? - Crown of Thieves

I think anything I do from this point on will happen under the Cloudkicker banner if for no other reason than it's way more well known.

Does Cloudkicker have an expiration date, or are you planning to continue the project for the foreseeable future? Do you have any plans yet for your next release? - InvocationTom

As long as music is fun I'll be making it. You know how after a night of hard drinking you wake up in the morning and say "Well that's it then I'm never drinking another beer in my life" and then that very night you go out and do it again? That's kind of how I feel every time I put an album up for people to download, just in a good way. I always go back and write more stuff though. I just wrote a minute of something yesterday--I don't know if it will turn into anything but it might, and then I'll be on my way to another album or EP or something.

How would you describe your writing process? - JakIsDead

I generally write a song in order, as in from the beginning to the end. Sometimes I go back and take parts out or move them around but the basic structure pretty much stays the same. Beacons was great because I had about two months to go back and tweak things while I was waiting for the artwork to be done, so I was able to listen to it a BUNCH of times very objectively and change basically everything I didn't like into something I did like, which made me way more confident that it was up to snuff by the time it was sent to be pressed. That was a good lesson for the future.

The drums on your releases are programmed. Do you have any plans to record real drums, for past or future releases? - pival

Hah! I saw who asked this on your message board. I'll record real drums when a) people stop asking me who my drummer is and b) the guy who asked this question writes me a check for the studio costs and the money I would lose by not going to work.

Do you have any advice for other self-producing musicians to make their mixes sound good? - ma7erick

Just always be comparing your stuff to mixes you like and try to really figure out why stuff sounds the way it sounds. Be curious about it, the internet is awesome because it's filled with tons of great advice on how to mix if you are curious enough about it--but it's also filled with tons of crappy advice so learn how to detect BS. http://www.benvesco.com/blog/ has some good info on mixing drums.

Even though you don't play live, do you ever just load up the bass and drum tracks to jam along with on guitar? - cyrusf

Of course.

As you are probably aware, your music is often tagged as 'djent', and it's very popular in the djent community. What's your take on this?

I didn't even know that djent was a thing until recently, and I'm still not entirely sure what it means. But it's definitely fun to see people get heated about who is and who isn't though.

Have any Cloudkicker fans approached you in real life? Has anyone recognized you from photos or realized from your name that you're the guy behind Cloudkicker? - cyrusf

No but that would be pretty crazy. I don't think that I am in very many places where that would happen though. I haven't been going to many shows recently.

Some supposed pictures of yourself have been circulating for some time now. You seem to have caused some confusion about what you really look like. Is this intentional? Are you actually in any of the pictures? - Ellen Djenteres

Well I haven't caused any confusion. That damned bald dude just decided that he was me one day and uploaded his dumb picture to last.fm. Every site that has asked for a picture of me has gotten a picture of me and I'm clearly not him.

Not Cloudkicker.

What is your day job? - blinding_light

That's classified information.

What music has blown your mind recently? - blinding_light

I've been listening to Sagarmatha by The Appleseed Cast pretty much nonstop for the past two weeks, I'm super into them right now. I recently discovered Souvlaki by Slowdive and that made my jaw drop. I seem to be drawn to 1990s shoegaze type stuff right now, so don't be surprised if the next thing I make is like 180 degrees away from stuff I've done before.

P.S. I just saw Intronaut live for the first time tonight and they blew my head off. I bought their new album on vinyl as fast as I could and I'm psyched to listen to it.

What is your favourite food? - J.C. Bryant

Boy that really depends. I'm as moody with food as I am with music. There's a really good Thai place down the street from us and I only ever get the pad thai because it's just that good. This bar around the corner does a kickass Cajun meatloaf sandwich that I'm pretty consistently in the mood for. It took a little bit but we found an awesome sushi place run by real Japanese people here in Columbus so that's always an option. But sometimes I'm very utilitarian about my food intake and treat it like putting gas in my car. I try not to eat bullshit though so not a lot of fast food.

Are you a computer? If yes, what are your specs? - Klonere

If I am a computer then I'm the worst computer ever. It takes me forever to do math and I have a short attention span. And who wants a computer that poops?

Is this Cloudkicker? Who knows.

Thanks to Ben Sharp for subjecting himself to our questions, and thanks to our users for asking them!

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If it's true that you have to be in the right mood to listen to Cloudkicker, then I'm always in the same mood

I'm glad you're around to make music different and more I'm a huge fan and I can't wait to hear more songs.

He amazes me.. He's honestly the only musician that I've ever been so interested in and one of the only musicians I doubt i'll ever get sick of. I still find it amazing that everything he puts out is something I want to hear right at that moment and I've never gotten sick of it.

Mad props Ben Sharp, never stop making music!

Very fucking cool. Ben's a great dude and a talented musician.

This is great, it's really interesting hearing this from such a mysterious guy xD

awesome interview <3