Ben Hannah, The Organworks And Basement Studio Bands
When he’s not playing bass and singing with Leeds‘ sharp suited Garage punks Nosebleed, Ben Hannah is busy making waves as producer in the UK punk scene at his studio ‘The Organworks‘. With highly regarded albums by the likes of Haest, Knife Club and Casual Nausea to his name, Ben is fast becoming one of the most respected producers around. We caught up with Ben to ask him about his role as a producer.
TNS: How long have you been working as a producer?
Ben: I have been into recording since I was a teenager and recorded my first band when I was 16 through a mini mixer and a hifi tape-deck. It sounded awful but that when I caught the bug. When I left uni in 2007 I bought a new computer and started experimenting in Garageband recorded a couple of bands for free. I then went on to buy better gear and software and recorded my old band Acid Drop’s EP “Full Deck” in 2011 and the album the following year. Things picked up from there really and after a while I was able to start making an income from it. But I’ve only really been doing it full-time for the past three years after taking a year out to study for a masters degree in Music Production in 18/19.
TNS: Do you work exclusively within the punk scene?
Ben: That really wasn’t my intention but I’ve been around the punk scene for half my life so I have a lot of friends within it. The majority of work I do is with punk bands but I have worked with indie bands and on some pop stuff. I think my studio set-up lends itself to punk because it’s in the cellar of my house and was built up with quite a DIY ethic. Over the last few years I’ve been working with independent wrestlers, writing their entrance music. That really could be any genre. It’s dead fun to step outside of my comfort zone every now and then.
TNS: Do you have a particular favourite record you have worked on?
Ben: I don’t really like to choose favourites but the record that is the most important to me is probably Casual Nausea’s album ‘Demons‘. I’d just taken a massive risk and quit my full time job working on IT projects in the NHS. That was the first album I recorded as a full time producer. They were supposed to be coming up to Leeds to record but their van broke a few days before. We were absolutely insistent we could make it work so I packed all my gear into my car and drove to Ipswich, they hired a bunker on an abandoned air field for the week and we set up the studio inside it. We locked ourselves away until it was finished. It was a really eventful weekend that involved hospital trips due to Zoe stabbing herself in the hand whilst trying to separate two frozen burgers with a knife and significant bowel movements in a field from Matt. But we all got through it and I’m really proud of that record. Was a great journey!
TNS: Are there any particular challenges in your work that you could highlight here?
Ben: As with any job there are always challenges. I went through a long period of imposter syndrome feeling like I was faking it and wouldn’t ever be good enough to do it as a full time job. I kept on going and now that imposter syndrome has been replaced with an acceptance that I will always be learning to be better at what I do and the job of becoming better at it will never be complete. I like to think that people come to me because they trust my opinion. I will always be honest with the people I work with, even if that opinion isn’t always popular! I suppose the democratisation of recording could be seen as a challenge, now that everyone has access recording equipment at a relatively affordable price. On the flip side, I have found that to have been a huge benefit for me because I wouldn’t have been able to afford to get into the position I am in now had I not had access to some of that gear in the earlier days.
TNS: Do you feel that the user friendly production software available these creates problems for professionals such as yourself?
Ben: Not really, if anything it’s been a huge benefit. Bands have been able to come to me with a sonic vision and demos that they have recorded themselves. It’s important to mention that just having access to recording equipment doesn’t make you a producer. There are so many other skillsets that are required, such as project management, decision making and creative input, to name a few. You get that experience working with a producer. It’s the main reason why I don’t record the Nosebleed records. We work with Andy Hawkins at Nave in Leeds. Having external influence is hugely important to me and it means that we can just focus on playing the music and writing songs. I think the end product is always better with someone who is experienced working on the production side.
TNS: Would you say the pandemic has impacted your work a great deal?
Ben: The first two lockdowns were great in terms of work for me. People seemed to be to be inspired to create. I was working with a lot of people on solo projects, doing some collaborations and lockdown projects. I was the busiest I’ve ever been. Obviously I had to adapt and work remotely but those obstacles were swiftly hurdled using Zoom and modern technology. I think the third lockdown in January has left people feeling a little burnt out and jaded, myself included. It’s been a very difficult time to run a business for everyone so I don’t think I’m particularly special. I’ve got myself some work at Merch Stall screen printers to pay the bills in the meantime. Hopefully things will return to normal soon!
TNS: What other producers do you admire the work of?
Ben: That’s a massive question! There are so many producers I admire for different reasons. Sylvia Massey and Steve Albini in terms of rock/metal/punk production and engineering. Finneas O’Connell’s work with Billie Eilish is insane. I really liked Max Martin’s work with The Weeknd. Ollie Sykes has been doing some really interesting cool stuff with Bring Me the Horizon. There’s so so many great pop producers at the moment. More locally I’d say Andy Hawkins at Nave studio in Leeds has had a huge personal influence on me. I’ve been able to sit in on a fair few sessions there providing big mugs of tea. Kurt Wood has been producing some stellar work at his new studio The Corner House in Keighley. I popped over when lockdown was relaxed in summer and he’s got a great setup.
TNS: Could you define your working methods or is this something that changes according to the artist you’re working with?
Ben: It really depends on who I’m working with. Some bands just want to set up and play and I’ll try to capture what they sound like live. Other bands want more creative input. Some of the work I’ve done with solo artists involves a lot more writing and performance work from me. I might write and play some guitar lines, bass, vocals or keys and help with the arrangement of the songs or book additional musicians. Every project is different really. I try to be as flexible as possible but I will always try to get an honest sound from the artist.
TNS: Tell us about your Studio.
Ben: My studio “The Organworks” is based in Bramley, Leeds. It is essentially built in a couple of rooms in the basement of my house. That set-up has worked out really well because bands who are travelling long distances can stay over (pre-pandemic). There’s also plenty of space to take breaks and chill out upstairs when people aren’t recording their bits. It’s a pretty informal sort of set-up but I think that seems to put people at ease and tends to lend itself to capturing good performances.
TNS: What’s next on the agenda or is it a secret?
Ben: I’m currently working on the next Plot 32 record which has been great fun. In March I’m going over to Blackpool and working with The Barstool Preachers on their next album. The plan is to set up a studio in a pub to work on pre-production and potentially some singles. I’ve always really enjoyed their music so I’m super excited to be involved in that record.
Thanks Pud! Check out The Organworks and get in touch with Ben on Facebook HERE.