Ben Jelen Gets Real

Thursday, July 05, 2007
By Abbey Khan

Ben Jelen returns to the music scene after a three year absence with his new album Ex-Sensitive. Don’t expect to see traces of his debut album on this record, Ex-Sensitive marks the rebirth of Ben Jelen on a musical and spiritual level.

ben_jelen.jpg FUSN: It’s been three years since the release of your last album, were you working on Ex-Sensitive all that time?
BJ: It’s been a crazy three years for me – it’s been a while, but I’m so excited about this album. We decided that I would do a new album and I started writing and then went through a breakup with Maverick and met Linda Perry and started recording with her and my sister suddenly died. It put a rift in the whole thing, I went home for a while and it sort of took a year all together for everything to come back after that. I’m so excited because it was so much work and it means so much to me now that this goes well, but I’m getting a really good response to it.

FUSN: The album is really different from what’s out there today – it actually seems to have some kind of a Celtic influence to it?
BJ: Yeah, I like Celtic music. I was born in Scotland, not that I was really influenced back when I was born, and I play violin.
FUSN: Okay, so you answered one of my other questions, you don’t just do vocals, you do play musical instruments.
BJ: Oh yeah, on the album, I played the piano, the violin, and I played the guitar too.

FUSN: You were born in Scotland, but you don’t have a Scottish accent or any trace of it.
BJ: Yeah, I was raised in England, moved to Texas when I was 11, and then we moved to New Jersey when I was about 16.
FUSN: Then shouldn’t you have an English accent since that’s where you spent your first years?
BJ: That’s the Texas part, they beat it out of you really quick.

FUSN: Do you have a favorite song on this album?
BJ: My personal favorite to listen to is the first one, Pulse. It was one of the first tracks we came up with and then one of the lasts we finished. I just like the tone of it and I like the production with all these cool instruments.

FUSN: Ok, so we all know what the word insensitive means, but you call your album and the third track Ex-Sensitive, how did you come up with that title?
BJ: It’s kind of a word that we conjured up to deal with the idea of how we use to be so much more sensitive to issues and things going on and then we’ve kind of been overexposed in this flashy somewhat materialistic world, so that’s what that word deals with, a lot of us are ex-sensitive.


FUSN: I love the cover art, but I have no idea what it means or where it’s coming from, can you give us some insight into this?
BJ: The monkey and baby is a thought provoking image of evolution, to get people thinking about where we come from. The tv’s unplugged and still working, that’s trying to deal with my idea of alternate energy and one day we won’t need to be plugged in and we’ll just have things work on alternate energy.

FUSN: This is a tough business, one day you’re on top and the next day, no one’s returning your calls, have you ever considered another career?
BJ: Not so much, I really love being in the studio, I love touring, I love playing with my band. I have a biology degree but I’m hoping I won’t ever have to fall back on that, but at the same time I’m pretty concerned about the environment and global warming which I still talk about a lot on shows or blogs and in my songs too.

FUSN: How is this album different from your debut album?
BJ: Give It All Away were songs that I wrote from the age of 16 to early 20-something and the themes were much more about love, loss, breaking up, and loss of innocence. On this new record, I thought much more about the world, globalization and those kind of issues, and there are also songs about materialism and the way we live and what will fulfill us and what won’t, that kind of life and death ideas.

FUSN: You said you went with a breakup with Maverick and now you’re on Linda Perry’s label – what was it like working with Linda?
BJ: With the first album I really had to struggle to get creative freedom, it was a constant battle and this album was the polar opposite of that. Linda was absolutely amazing. When I met Linda, I think we could both tell about each other exactly what we wanted to do. I just have to giver her kudos, she never pushed anything on me and always wanted to go with what I wanted. I have to say that’s been rare in my experience with producers, so I’m extremely thankful for that and she was great, so production-wise, rather than having a hodgepodge album like Give It All Away was with 12 different producers and throwing these songs together on the record and calling it an album, this one really is a record. It has a constant sound to it, we did it all in one place, all with one producer, and all with the same band. It sounds much more like a cohesive album than Give It All The Way did.

FUSN: Is there someone you’re dying to work with musically – another band, singer or performer?
BJ: There are so many people I admire such as Imogen Heap of Frou Frou. I got to write with Matt Scannell of Vertical Horizon – that was really cool and something I really got excited about and that song made the album which is called Counting Down. There are so many people I’d like to work with given the opportunity.

FUSN: What are your musical influences, past or present? You said you play the violin, so do you like classical music as well?
BJ: I do like classical music. I listened to it a lot when I was a kid and that definitely did have an influence on me, but I think the influences for this album were probably more of the 60’s and 70’s bands like Pink Floyd and The Beatles – we revisited all of the catalogs. I listened to a lot more of that music than I did before. Also, Jackson Browne. I get weird comparisons to Jackson Browne all the time, I think it’s the long hair.

FUSN: Can you tell me a little more about your charities, I know you’re involved in quite a bit.
BJ: Something I’ve been involved in for quite a while is the NRDC – that stands for Natural Resources Defense Council. I had a big chunk of money through publishing and I had this personal commitment to give it away to something I believe in. I was looking around at environmental groups and I decided that political groups is what was going to do the most and I think I’ve been right. They have consistently been on the Bush administration and not letting them get away with complete murder and really protecting America and its resources, and more people should definitely appreciate what they do. What I did most recently with them is a video for Pulse, which is coming out on my website in a week or two. The Pulse video is a statement. It’s about the environment and warns people about what can happen and the effects of environmental collapse like war and famine and what drought can lead to. That video will also be on, which is their new website to get younger people involved in the environmental movement.

FUSN: Do you think this album will garner any Grammy or American Music Award nominations?
BJ: That would be quite an amazing honor for me, but one step at a time, that would be incredible as somewhat of a new artist if I was recognized like that. I’ve been to the Grammy’s, I think The White Stripes were playing and Christina Aguilera was singing and I was thinking how incredible it would be to play to this

Ex-Sensitive will be available in stores nationwide on July 17th. Check out the following sites to learn more about Ben Jelen’s summer tour with Pete Yorn:

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