88. Ben Stewart

23 Jul

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Having benefited from music mentorship from a young age, the lead singer of Slowly Slowly Ben Stewart is a strong believer in giving back to the community.

Ben said he had an infatuation with music from a young age, starting on the drum kit at the age of 10. And while motivation and drive came naturally to him, he said the industry could be difficult to navigate at first, which was why he believed it was “just part of the job” to help up and coming musicians.

“I feel like I spent so long wondering around in the dark, and I don’t want that for the same sort of people who have the same drive as me. It’s really frustrating when you have someone who’s really obsessive and driven with music but who’s in a schooling system that’s not catering to them,” he said.

Ben’s involvement in the local music industry started when he did a Youth Advisory Group traineeship in Croydon when he was 15, which he said was very similar to the Jets program in Banyule.

“You can get certificates in lighting and sound and the running of events. I put together the Maroondah Festival one year, with a line up of my favourite bands; that was a huge foot in the door for me,” he said.

About four years ago, Ben also joined the Banyule youth team, helping out with events and outreach.

He said he really clicked with a lot of the young people involved and he eventually moved his way up to be in a role where he was co-facilitating or facilitating events or programs. One of those was Band Jam, a program where young people could come together to make music and share tips and tricks from the industry.

Soon enough, Ben’s own project – Slowly Slowly – started to gain momentum and most of his time was put into the band. The band consists of four members, Ben as lead singer and guitarist, Alex Quayle on bass guitar, Albert Doan on guitar and Patrick Murphy on drums.

Ben said despite going to different high schools, he and Alex were good friends throughout. After school finished, they began jamming together and eventually formed Slowly Slowly with Patrick and Albert coming on board.

“Every member came from a different band, and they were the stand out members. If you were watching Pat’s old band, you wouldn’t have been able to take your eyes off him,” he said.

The band released their first single in mid-2015, and five years later, have big hits under their belt like Alchemy and Ten Leaf Clover, and Hottest 100 favourite Jellyfish.

Reflecting on how far they have come in a short time, Ben said it was a really nice feeling to have an audience who was watching every move they made.

“You definitely feel it through the live shows, you’ve got people singing along and it’s very different to playing to no one at an old bar on a Saturday night. And it’s been a huge source of confidence. It’s allowed me to be a little bit more artistic and to take some risks that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said.

But he said he and the band have stayed very grounded throughout their rise to fame, including in the process of making music, which has remained the same from the start.

Ben is the songwriter of Slowly Slowly too, and he said songs come to the band 95% complete.

“I’ll write the entire arrangement, and of course everything’s up for discussion and every decision is made for the better of the band. The biggest reason Slowly Slowly has been so successful is there’s no egos in the band, we’re all in it to have some fun and to make some cool music,” he said.

Over the years, songwriting has been almost like a therapy for Ben but he said he writes music from a few different places now.

“It used to simply be like an outlet, a lot of it was done in secret, it was almost like a valve to let off, but after doing it for a while it became a craft, and muscles you build up. I draw a lot of inspiration from my life but it doesn’t always have to be autobiographical, sometimes I draw from other art forms,” he said.

Ben said COVID-19 has put a pause on Slowly Slowly’s “biggest touring year yet” but it gave them the opportunity to focus on writing and “setting ourselves up for a few good years of music”.

“We were supposed to head out on the Groovin’ The Moo tour, and it was shaping up to be the biggest year of our careers, until the rug got pulled from under us. But rather than sitting around licking our wounds, we used it as an opportunity to bank some material. We tried really hard to make the most of this time, and have been really, really busy in the studio,” he said.

He said while he’s looking forward to what’s to come for Slowly Slowly, he plans to keep working with young people too.

“I want to provide a service for young people that is really relevant to the industry. It’s rare to find that passion in young people and I think that’s what fuels our arts industry and I don’t want that to go to waste, so that’s what drives my work with youth,” he said.

Words: Joely Mitchell

Photo: Michelle Pitris

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