Music Q&A: Hello Cosmos

Ben Robinson is the founder of Kendal Calling and Bluedot festival but now he’s on the other side of the stage, fronting this new Manchester collective

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What informs your music and songwriting?
I spent a lot of years writing songs on acoustic guitar and developing lyrics, verse and chorus, around the chord structures of tracks as one piece. What always frustrated me was always settling on a similar mood of song. Basically sitting by yourself with an acoustic brings out a sombre side and that gets reflected in the tracks you end up with. It also makes you prone to writer’s block as you are putting yourself under pressure to write something good in that moment.

I started making notes on my phone of one liners and thoughts I had while out and about, sometimes while watching a gig, sometimes on the train or bus or just as and when a good line or idea came to mind. This way round I ended up with an abundance of good ideas that I could go back to and cherry-pick the good bits. Also I find I come up with stream of consciousness thoughts while drunk that fit pretty well in tracks. Often I’ll be more bold than if I’d sat down and really thought about what I wanted to say.

The Hello Cosmos project developed in the studio. No tracks were planned in advance. The start to each track was the drum and bass grooves that me and my brother Simon put down. That left good foundations for the collaborators to jam over and experiment with. It wasn’t until all the parts were down and arranged that I looked at any lyrics.

I printed off all the notes from my phone from about a three-year period, went into the vocal booth and just ran the track and delivered them on the spot, testing out different styles of vocal along the way. The Greenmount Studios guys then chopped up the better takes and suddenly they were full tracks. It felt a little like cheating because at no point did I have to sit down and think, right, I have to write some songs and lyrics and they need to be good. It took away that pressure and has made the album much more energetic and playful as a result.

What are you up to currently artistically?
At the moment I’m pulling together all the creative parts of the Hello Cosmos project that aren’t the recording. The album is done and is sounding really strong. What I didn’t realise would be so challenging is making the artwork, videos and remixes to accompany it. They all need to work in sync with the album so they complement it but the power a video or piece of artwork has to change the message or feel of a song is massive. It’s fun as with people sending back remixes it’s like the project just keeps evolving and developing each week. Aside from that I have my usual notes on my phone which are getting to the point where a new recording session is on the cards. I’ve just visited a studio in the countryside near Prague. That might be the place to record next – that way it can be a little holiday at the same time!

What is your most embarrassing or surreal moment?
The last band I toured with before Hello Cosmos was a circus rave band called Slamboree. We headlined Boomtown with a show involving over 20 performers coming on and off stage. Beans on Toast joined us for a track and had the crowd going wild. He looked out over Boomtown. The incredible Mad Max immersive scene in front of us on stage was epic. He shouted out to the crowd “This isn’t Boomtown, this is England”. Seeing thousands of people from alternative culture all together like that, so beautifully dressed up and so far from the high streets, the daily newspapers and the 24-hour news channels had a real impact. It made me immensely proud of the modern festival family that runs up and down the country and across the world with like minded people coming together as a community in the fields.

The surreal bit was actually in the moment I realised that I was trying to play a perfect set as we were recording it while I had make-up pouring into my eyes, blinding me along with the strobe lights giving me little chance to see. As I opened my eyes I was having to lean back into the drums to make sure the fire performers had room to spin round without igniting my beard! I thought, wow, I really don’t make things easy on myself sometimes, but what a rush to be immersed in a moment fighting to hit that bass grove and jump around in sync with the show.

What song do you wish you’d written?
To be totally honest I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been able to create the music that I have. There are lots of amazing tracks out there that really resonate with me but they tend to make me want to write something influenced by them with my own twist. That’s what I find fascinating about making music – you become like a melting point of all the music you have loved over the years pushed through the filter of your own life experience.

Saying all that I’d love to have written the bassline to Hip Hop by Dead Prez. That thumps out of sound systems like nothing else I’ve ever heard.

What’s on your rider?
Not much right now as we are just putting it together. Punk IPA, Dr Pepper and Sensations crisps seem top of the list! As I know what it’s like to be running around after people with big riders I try and keep them simple.

What’s your worst lyric?
“I sleep tonight like a thousand hungry chickens” from Tonight, Tonight, Tonight, Tonight, the B-bide to Raise the Dawn. I found it on my phone and have no idea what I was thinking about when I wrote it!

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