Radio BurgerFuel

Interview: Dub FX

Posted by Eleanor Newnham

The Introduction

Dub FX has come a long way since he started street performing with a loop pedal 15 years ago. We chat with Ben about how the original viral YouTube video launched him into music and how times have changed since then.

For almost 20 years, he's been doing his thing on the streets, clubs, and at festivals worldwide. He is about to drop his fourth studio album, and make a couple of appearances right here in New Zealand. He is Mr. Benjamin Stanford, better known to the world as Dub FX.



"We're so focused on ourselves that we're not looking to the outside world, which is why we've got so many issues"

RADIO BURGERFUEL: Ben, how are you going? You're living in Melbourne, right?

Ben: I'm really good. I've just done my morning routine and getting ready for the day. Yeah. I'm just at home in Olinda, Melbourne. It's about 45 minutes from the city in a rain forest. It's super green, super lush, beautiful air. It's like a little sanctuary.

Have you guys been affected by the fires - the rain, the wind, everything?

Only the smoke. I mean, the smoke has to come from New South Wales 500 kilometers away. No fires around where I am. In fact, there's never been a recorded fire in history in the zone that I'm in. It's such a damp, wet place. That means we're probably due, to be honest. Who knows?

Hopefully everybody else stays safe over there. I guess that's all we can ask for, right?


One of the tracks off your new album Roots, I think, the first single that you released last year, called Fire Everyday. What's this about? Is it about literal fire or is it kind of like a fire inside you?

It's more about kind of the idea that society's sort of burning, you know what I mean? Society's going down the drain. It's lighting up in the way that social media, narcissism, & individualism is starting to basically ruin our society.  We're so focused on ourselves that we're not looking to the outside world, which is why we've got so many issues environmentally, why there's so much corruption in corporations and the government, politics, all of that sort of stuff. I don't know, I'm pointing my guns at how we're too obsessed with ourselves. Therefore, we can't seem to make a change outwardly. I'm really bad at explaining my own songs. I guess, you've just got to let the lyrics speak for themselves. That's actually my best way to express myself. I'm not very good at talking haha.


"The stuff that I really loved was the Roots-y,afro beat, jazzy, reggae dub-y stuff that I was doing."

Let's talk about your new album Roots, can you tell me about it?

This album is very different from any of the other stuff I've done. I've called it Roots because it's kind of a throwback to my roots. Before Dub FX, I was in loads of different bands. I always had this FX pedal that I'd put over my buckles, throwing dub delays, and reverbs and pitch, shifting my voice, making my voice sound like a bass, to take a bass solo, things like that. I was in jazz bands. I was in a metal band. I was doing kind of hip hop, soul stuff. I was singing over house and sort of breakbeat with DJs... I was immersing myself in lots of music. The stuff that I really loved was the Roots-y,afro beat, jazzy, reggae dub-y stuff that I was doing.

This album is a throwback to that. It's why it's my roots, but it's also a roots genre of music. There's a little beatboxing on this album. However, I'm simultaneously bringing out another project called Branches to compliment Roots, which is basically me branching out into other stuff, things that I've never done before also. I mean, there's a bit of drum and bass in there, which I've done quite a bit of, but there's glitch-hop in there, there's also some house stuff. There's an acoustic ballad. There's a lot of different ideas. I mean, I run a lot of different songs. Sometimes they have no place to be. That's why I came up with the concept of Branches to go along with Roots. Roots is coming out on the 31st with a comic book, and then Branches will come out once that's been released.

Was that always the idea, once you started writing Roots you thought "I need Branches, the opposite to that, to round it out"?

Actually, I just went into the studio, and I just wrote a bunch of tunes. I came up with 15/16 tracks. Then, I realized that they didn't all go well together. In the past, I've done lots of really eclectic albums, but then I figured this particular one, there were about nine tracks that seem to really gel together really well. Then, the other songs were a bit all over the place. Rather than putting a 15 track album (plus people don't tend to listen to that many songs anymore on an album, you know?) I thought, "Make it a smaller album". I mean, then that's kind of cool. I thought, "Why don't I just put nine tracks together that work really well, make that the album, put a comic book out with that album, and then do the other one as a digital release". The other ones are a bit more club. Some of them are proper club, heavy drum & bass traction. I just thought, "Why not just split it up a bit, have two releases".

Yeah. The comic book you're talking about, how involved have you been in that? How much of that is you?

Well, I can't draw to save my life. I've been an avid comic fan since I was about 20. I got into it late, I guess you could say. I've never been into the superhero Marvel shit. I was more into the more very adult kind of..there's some really intense graphic novels out there, which would be too hard to turn into films. It's this beautiful medium where you can express things in a way that feels better when you see the art on the page. Then, you have some captions there. It might not necessarily make much sense, but it's very, I don't know, ambiguous and cool. I liked that kind of art-y comic book stuff.

I always wanted to write a comic book. Then, when I was putting Roots together, I thought, "Well, I always wanted to do it. Why not?" Rather than making a music video for the singles, I should just make a comic book - almost a glorified lyric booklet. The lyrics are the only captions within the comic. Then, I have a storyline with pictures to go along with it.

Basically, it was just this concept. I thought, "Well, I've never seen that before. I've never done anything like that. Why not do something different for the fans, and just maybe to get people excited about the physical product". People are so used to streaming now, I thought, "Why not instigate a way that people can have something else?". If you buy the CD or the vinyl, you're going to get a paperback, 60 page comic book, which has got a short story comic for each song on the album. Each story has its own theme, which draws from the song itself, if that makes any sense.

Oh, that's awesome. Is the comic book going to be available separately as well? Or just with the album purchase at this stage?

For now it's basically a free giveaway with the vinyl and the CD. The cost of the CD or the vinyl is the same as it normally is, then, you also get the comic. I haven't made the comic separately available yet. We might do, depending if people start requesting it. It also comes down to orders. We're going to have to order that separately. We might end up ordering extra comic books, and then put them up online and see what happens.

"I'm super, super proud of this one"

Talking about your new albums, Roots and Branches. I know it's been, what, four years since you released Thinking Clear?

Yeah, it was. It's probably three and a half years. It doesn't feel as long as that but it's been a while. I mean, the great thing about this album compared to all my other releases is I really rushed all my albums. I kind of cringe when I listened back to the other ones. I put a lot of time and effort into the production. Then, when it came to singing my vocal lines, I didn't really switch my brain over to the right hemisphere where the artistic soul comes from. I just went into the booth and sang the songs without much love, which is completely the polar opposite of how I am on stage...When I'm performing live I put a lot of soul in. There's a lot of emotion that goes into my songs. When I'm in the studio and I'm just in the technical brain, I forget about that. Then, I just think, "What sound is the tightest and what sound is the most in tune", and I don't really... Anyway, for this particular album, I had so much time because I didn't give myself a deadline. After listening back to it I was able to go, "Oh, actually, let me just go back and redo those vocals, and do them the way they should sound, how I would do them live".

I'm super, super proud of this one. Whenever I listened back to over the last 6 months, I'm still super proud of it. Normally as soon as it comes out I'm like, "What have I done?". In this case, yeah, this is probably the best version of myself that I've ever been able to capture. I'm super proud and happy of this one.

You said it's been finished for six months, so how long have you actually been working on this project?

I probably started at the end of 2018. Then, basically all of 2019, I had a nice six months break, which I hadn't had for a while. I had my second daughter. I specifically took a lot of time off to be at home and be with the misses. Because I've got a home studio, I could go into the studio and crank out six hours of work, and then get back inside and look after the misses again. I don't know, I probably spent a good chunk of 2019 working on it, but then I was done by about June. Since June last year, I was making comic books, and sort of going back in, and tweaking things, to just be super, super happy with everything. I've never had that experience at all. I would usually make and finished an album within three months and done a crappy thing.

Oh, that's funny. Is that why you'd like to work again now? You've gone through that, and seen the results, and you're like, "Actually, hang on, I should be doing this all the time."?

Totally. I mean, I think I could actually do it in a much faster way now. What happened was I was able to take a step back and really analyze, "What is it that's missing from my vocal when I record my vocals?". I do it all by myself. I didn't have anyone there helping me. I'm making all the beats, I'm writing the songs, I'm recording it, I'm producing my own vocals, and it's a bit of a head F-U-C, if you know what I'm saying?

"I wish I did music from the get-go the whole time, but at the same time, without that early stuff, I wouldn't be in the position I am now to be able to do it the way I am doing it, so I'm thankful for that."

You mentioned you weren't really doing videos for it, but I know you've got one up on your YouTube page of a live performance of Fire Everyday that you did over in a Brixton, in London?

Correct. Yeah. I did a live version of that one, a studio live video. Also, what we've done is we've animated the comic book and made some lyric videos out of it. I mean, they're not proper cartoons or anything like that, but we've just taken the pictures, and chopped them up, and animated them a bit, and put the lyrics over there. You can sort of see the comic book in that regard as well. I've got a couple more live videos coming out now. I've released three singles now - Fire Everyday was the first one. The second one was There With Me, then, the third one we just put out a couple of days ago called Pull Up, which features my wife's Sahida Apsara.

I saw in the video for Fire Everyday that Mr. Woodnote was on their too. Is he on the recording of that song as well?

Yeah, he features on that track. He features all over the album. I mean, I've got the horn players that I work with as well, but he's on that. He'll be coming with me to New Zealand as well, to come and play with Fat Freddy in a couple of weeks. He'll be with me. We've been working together for... I mean, I started in 2006, so 14 years ago. Yeah, he's all over this album. There's loads of his solos.

As you start to play live, over the years, has your live show changed much? Obviously there's new technology now. Does it make it different, or better, or easier for you to play live?

Absolutely. I mean, I'm constantly upgrading my gear. When I started out I had a very basic loop station and the basic effects pedal. Then, a couple of years later I bought a much better loop station and effects pedal. I constantly updated when the new versions of that same effects pedal come out. I went for the GT6, to the GT8, to the GT10. Now, I've still got the GT10, and I've upgraded the loop station from an akai head rush pedal to a RC50, and now I've got the RC505. Now the GT10 and RT505, that's been my looping vocal setup for about the last four or five years. I've also integrated drum machines along the way.

Beatboxing and looping, it works for about 30/40 minutes in front of the crowd. Then, it can get a bit boring and grading on the ears, because you get it. You're like, "All right, sweet. Yeah, we get it. You're great. You're building up these layers. Let's just see the song now". For me, I'm more of a songwriter than a soundscape sort of guy. There's a lot of loopers & beatboxers out there who are like, "All right. Now I'm going to do this beat, now I'm going to do this thing". It works really well for them. I'm more about writing songs, and singing a song. The meaning itself doesn't really make a difference. I mean, I could get on stage and just sing of all of the songs with a guitar. It would have the same impact. It's just that with beatboxing and looping it can sound a bit fatter. I integrate drum machines as well, so that I can make tracks start a lot quicker. You don't have to watch me build up a track for a minute and a half, which you've already seen me maybe do four or five times. You've got that bit, "All right, let's move on. Let's do some drum and bass". I'm going to be bringing a guitar along as well. I do some songs with the guitar. Then, for the new record, because the new record Roots, there's no beatboxing at all on that record. In fact, it's all pretty much live with the band. I mean, I've just figured out some different ways to play that live, without having a beatbox and loop. I want to reveal exactly what I'm doing with that. There are some cool little ways to perform those new tracks. Check that out.


"When I started traveling, YouTube became my radio, and Myspace and Facebook became my record label. It was this new thing and no one really understood it."

I know you've had a bit of time off, but touring all around the world, playing festivals all through Europe like you've been doing... do you feel like it's in a different place from when you started?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, socially. When I first started in 2006, I remember YouTube had just started. Facebook wasn't even around yet. It was Myspace, right. Twitter didn't exist yet. Instagram didn't exist yet. Phones were still shit. It just wasn't what the current world is now. It was a bit more old school.

I caught that very first wave of viral videos. My first video that went viral in 2008, that was one of the first viral music videos. I didn't realize that at the time, but I've been told by YouTube, by people in the industry, that was one of the first videos where people saw an artist, and it would probably help the fact that it was shot on the street. It made it even more visceral of, "This is a guy who's completely independent, by himself. There are no camera tricks. It's one shot." It was one of the first videos where it was just a one-shot window into a performance with a loop station. I think, because it was so different to what anyone had ever seen before, and I was also street performing four or five days a week all over Europe, doing my band, traveling around, people were kind of like, "Oh, you've going to see this guy that I saw on a street". They'd go to YouTube later, "Maybe he's on YouTube". They'd type it in, Dub FX, and sure enough, there's my video. Then, they would share it with their mates. It ended up being on the front page of Reddit at one point. They played it on NBC news, like look at this guy, honestly. Something about that video just sort of connected with so many people, I guess, lyrically, and the fact that it was just different to whatever

So yeah, I caught this first ever wave of viral videos. Basically, without even meaning to, it kick-started my career. I was just happy being a street performer, traveling around and meeting people. I thought that at the end of my trip I was going to go home and be inspired to write an album, then maybe I could get a record deal and win a Grammy. That was where my brain was at. Back in the day it was all about record labels, radios, publicists, becoming famous and winning a Grammy. That was the only choice, that or become a wedding singer. When I started traveling, YouTube became my radio, and Myspace and Facebook became my record label. It was this new thing and no one really understood it.

All of a sudden I started getting booked to play festivals. I built up these relationships with the festival promoters. Every time I'd go I'd smashed these shows. I'd do my best, and try and do everything I could to blow audiences away. I was practicing on the street every day, my chops were strong. Over the years I've just built up this fan base, and this following with promoters and the public. I'm still going strong. I can't complain. Everything works. It was just this weird thing that kind of fell together.

When you look back at that and think, you wanted that record deal and everything, now when you're thinking about it, are you happy that you're still independent, still doing it all yourself?

Yeah. I mean, look, absolutely. There's pros and cons to both of those scenarios. You know what I mean?

I mean, some of my favorite bands ever, like Rage Against the Machine, they were completely anti establishment. They were signed by a big record labels, part of the machine itself. You know what I mean? There's nothing wrong with being in that commercial world. It's definitely, there's a lot more red tape. Your hands are tied a lot more. A lot of artists who want to go on tour can't going on tour, because the label says no, or they've got a banging new tune that, they would have collaboration. Apparently, there's all kinds of amazing collaborations with... There's one I heard with Lord and Skrillex that's never been released, because there's too much red tape.

You know what I mean? Things like that. When you're in that commercial world, not everything goes. I've got the opportunity to do whatever I want. Obviously, as a result I make way less money, but I have total control of what I do. Sometimes it's great.

I go to these festivals. I'll look around and I look at the bill. I'll look at who's playing the same stage I'm on, and it's Ed Sheeran, Die Antwood, Skrillex, and whoever. I'm the only artist that's completely independent. Yes, I'm definitely not getting paid $150,000 like these guys are, but I mean, it's like, I'm there. I'm super lucky, so I don't know. I've got a great life. I pay the bills, and I've got two daughters, and I've got a beautiful wife. I get to travel the world, and make music, and do everything the way I want to do it. I don't know, I got no complaints. Life is awesome.

"I don't get paid to perform. I get paid to spend hours and hours in hotels, and airplanes, and airports, and long bus rides, and no sleep. That's what I get paid for. The getting on stage and performing my art, I do that bit for free."

So you've got two daughters now, has that changed your lifestyle and how you tour?

Yeah, totally. I mean, I've been touring for 14 years. It's not like I'm having any new experiences. It's not like I'm itching to go on the road. If anything I'm itching to come home. I mean, the performing side of it isdefinitely my favorite bit. I always tell people, "I don't get paid to perform. I get paid to spend hours and hours in hotels, and airplanes, and airports, and long bus rides, and no sleep. That's what I get paid for. The getting on stage and performing my art, I do that bit for free."

 I definitely structure my tours. I used to go for nine months around the world. I had nothing to hold me back. Now I go off for six weeks, which seems to be my limit away from my family, which is still really tough. You can't just go to Europe for a couple of weeks and come back to Australia. It's too expensive. I go over there, get on the bus, travel around for six weeks, make some money for half the year or whatever, then come home. Then, the whole family goes to Europe for June, July, August. We get an apartment somewhere in London. Then, that's all festival gigs on the weekends. I fly out on the weekends, do those shows, come home mid-week with the fam-a-lam. I get to spend at least three days a week with the family all through the summer in Europe. Then, we all come home.

Sometimes I'll go back on the road for another six week tour, for October, November time, come home, and that's my year. I'll do that one year, and then the next year I'll spend six months in the studio, and then do a bit of touring. Next year again, three big tours. It juggles around. I get booked a year and a half in advance these days. My whole life seems to be programs far in advance. I just kind of run with it

Thank you so much for chatting with us, and looking forward to seeing you here in a couple of weeks with Fat Freddy's.

Yeah, yeah. I'm really looking forward to that. I can't wait to hear the new stuff they've got. I've listened to the album. It sounds great.