Catching Up with Vibe Street at Counterpoint [Interview]
During this year’s Counterpoint Music and Arts Festival, I was fortunate enough to find time to speak with Ben Davis of Vibe Street, one of the festival’s highly-anticipated artists who wasted no time in ascending to the top of the game and has truly developed a home-grown sound of his own. Generating his style through combining a multitude of genres such as hip-hop, soul and funky glitch – but adding his own mastermind twists with the influences of bluegrass and folk that sets him apart from the mainstream. Currently residing in Denver, this Connecticut-born producer who has fittingly deemed the genre “Grass-Hop/Future-Folk,” was more than eager to give us a little insight about how he has arrived at this musical standpoint and what Vibe Street really means to him.
Sensible Reason: So for starters, I just have to let you know that I appreciate your music and the culmination of genres that it implores. It really is something different.
Ben Davis: Thank you, I really appreciate that you enjoy it.
SR: Also, your name is perfectly fitting and self-explanatory at that – whenever I hear your music I can literally visualize myself just cruisin’ and vibin’ down the street, surrounded by a very serene, soulful environment that is just beautiful.
BD: That’s really cool, yeah I came up with the name when I was going by something else, I was just going to do a summer mix series when I didn’t even have enough music to play on my own yet, it was just stuff I had been listening to – a lot of Pretty Lights and Michal Menert and stuff like that – all of the stuff that I was inspired by at the time, and was going to do this mix series where every week I’d put out 30 minutes of stuff for people vibe out to during the summer. I was gonna call them the “walk down vibe street mixes”, and that just kinda came out because I felt like thats the kinda thing I’d be listening to if I was just walking down the street under the sunset with my headphones in, and wanted it to transition nicely into some other cool stuff. Then I went onto SoundCloud and typed that in and realized that the name didn’t exist, and that was about two years ago. So after I got the name it was kind of like a fresh start, I started releasing a lot of new music.
SR: I wanted to talk to you about Euphoria Music Festival in Austin that you recently performed at because I listened to your “Road to Euphoria” mix, and that seemed like a really highly-anticipated set for you.
BD: Yeah, it was for me, as far as being on the main stage the same day that Pretty Lights plays the main stage goes, that was something that I wanted to do since I first started making music. So that experience was really cool because I was given the chance to play to so many people who just happened to be walking by a hundred yards out and see waht’s going on so, I feel like that was a really great opportunity to blast my music, I mean that was the loudest my music has ever been played. And then we got to do the nighttime set too, and I really got to showcase both sides of my sound, so we got to play like two hours and fifty minutes of music on that day.
SR: That’s really awesome that you had that experience and were able to express your music in that environment, especially when you’re performing alongside some of your first influences. So you mentioned Gramatik, PL, and a couple of other electro-soul and funk artists that moved you as an artist, are there any other influences that have really stuck with you a lot of the way?
BD: Pretty Lights, Gramatik, and Opiou pretty much make up the core of who I try to emulate my sound after. Also, Break Science is definitely in there as well, just a little bit different because they have the live elements, but getting a chance to tour with them this past spring was a really cool experience as well. They’re awesome guys. But as far as production goes, definitely Break Science and kind of the overall sound and vibes of bands like STS9, even The Talking Heads and a lot of stuff that I pretty much grew up on, and then I started listening to String Cheese, Railroad Earth, The Grateful Dead, and that all kinda comes through blending with stuff that really just makes me want to go crazy.
SR: Whenever I first heard your music, I immediately linked it with some of your influences that you named, especially when I heard the Road to Euphoria stuff you came out with. It was like you really encompassed your sound from all angles into one compressed form.
BD: That was a really good opportunity to put my music out there, I had forty minutes and I really had to decide what I wanna play that will make people understand my music and what I want them to hear. I felt like I had a nice selection of music. I threw in a “Maybe Tomorrow” remix that went into a Railroad Earth remix of sorts and I had never really thought to do anything like that, but with only forty minutes to fit everything in I feel like it worked.
SR: It definitely worked. So when talking about your bluegrass/folk influences, who were some of those artists that played a part in developing your sound?
BD: My bluegrass influences are a lot less extravagant. I feel like I’m almost afraid to offend the jam scene people sometimes because I went to Bonnaroo in 2009 and that’s where I first really got into the festival scene and started listening to The Dead and jam music and got really into that. The next year I saw Bassnectar and started getting into electronic music. The only real bluegrass music I had listened to before that was this CD by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman that my dad used to play in the car when I was a little kid called Shady Grove. My dad didn’t really listen to a lot of bluegrass and folk music but he just had this CD, and that got mixed with a bunch of classic rock like Dave Matthews Band. I remember a year or two before I ever thought of grass-hop, when I was still a beginnger at making music, I started messing with a sample from Shady Grove, just because I love that song and it was so funky.
Looking back, that was the first glimpse of what I would ultimately do and how I would develop my production style. Then I had a little more time to think about it and that’s when I started the Railroad Earth remix and was able to get some feedback on it. The reactions from people when I played it were clearly so different from what I was playing or what anyone else was playing, and it made me realize that there was a whole new world of music to be explored.
I feel like I spent a really long time worrying about what kind of music to sample and who to emulate my sound after, and then after a while I realized you can do whatever the hell you want. There’s no limits, obviously you can run into issues but in the meantime, I’m just going to incorporate sounds to make stuff that I like listening to and that people haven’t heard, which is why when it comes to the jam scene, the fact that I wasn’t like a total bluegrass jam head gave me the ability to see that kind of music transform into a different way, where I can take these sounds and turn them into something else.
SR: What were some of the first festivals you attended that influenced you and your career as an artist?
BD: Well, Bonnaroo was my first one in 2009. Pretty Lights was playing and I’m pretty sure I was laying on a blanket somewhere during Ben Harper, not even really knowing who PL was at the time. I look back on that time and think “how did I not go to that set?” And I’m pretty sure I only went to like one set that weekend to see Snoop Dogg. I was just so encapsulated by everything going on at the festival and the environment. It was the summer after my freshman year of college so my mind was kinda blown, and then the year after that was when I really started listening to jam stuff like the Grateful Dead and other bands and started learning about that culture. Then I went back to Bonnaroo the next year and some friends dragged me to see Bassnectar, and I had never really heard electronic music before. So I got home after that trip and started looking up how to make music. Pretty Lights to me was a sound that made no sense at first, but was beautiful. I couldn’t pick out what the bassline was or the synths or samples, and so I was totally training myself to listen to it differently. Before I got good at making any music, I was just hearing all these sounds, but I got to the point where I could translate the sounds and make it into something of my own and make it totally worthwhile, and going to shows from that point on enabled me to really appreciate what makes the shows that I really get into go off in that way. Whether it’s a live band or a computer, what they’re doing to take advantage of being on this pedestal in front of all these people whose minds are ready to go, you have this opportunity to play whatever you want and people are literally waiting for you when you come out. It’s cool to have this perspective. Like when I was waiting for Excision to come out and play, it’s just like “what are you going to do? What are you going to play?” and you never really know. That’s the kind of perspective I want to have as far as playing shows goes cause you’re doing it all for the people who are coming out to watch.
SR: I know you’ve played lots and lots of shows and festivals, but what is one that really sticks out for you and got you a lot of exposure more so than others?
BD: In the beginning, the Snowball Music and Arts Festival contest was a big one. It was basically the first time I really got out there and into the social media side of it. There were like 60 friends out there and then like 15 kids who had never seen me perform. The month leading up to it was really hyped up cause we had won this contest to play at the festival, you could say it started a snowball effect [laughs]. As far as actual shows, I’d say Art Outside, cause that’s where I met this guy right here [points to Andrew, his manager], a little manager shout-out right now. Anyway Art Outside in Texas cause that was one the first shows that wasn’t booked through friends in any way. They booked me and gave me a legit spot at sunset during night one in their giant Geodome, and it was a pretty full crowd by the end of the set. That was what really made me feel like I’m actually doing this. It was a big deal ’cause I felt like I got to really open up the festival with the sunset time slot, and [Andrew] stumbled upon it and that’s when we started working together. From there, he took something that had a lot of potential and turned it into something that was actually legitimate, and that goes a long way as far as getting into really legitimate festivals like this one. As far as future shows goes, Danny Duncan here is my all around lights and production specialist, so we invested in a whole new light rig setup with lasers and he’s been at home in Tennessee setting this all up so we’re excited to show that off.
SR: A lot of the electro-soul scene I feel like originates from Colorado. There’s so much good music with funky styles that is produced in CO, and that certain genres similar to yours are staples in the CO music scene. How do you feel you’ve been influenced by being there?
BD: Yeah, it definitely is. When I moved to Colorado from Wisconsin, there really wasn’t much opportunity for me in Wisconsin anymore and I had a chance to move 6 months before my lease was up. I was on the electro-bluegrass thing at the time, and from what I knew about Colorado from my friends that lived there and the music scene there made me realize there was no better place to try to come up in the music scene. There was the rave electronic dubstep scene and the funk scene – pretty much everything – and the jam band scene was crazy too. I knew people would understand the crossroads of genres from the start, so I knew it was the place for me. I knew Colorado had a lot of potential for me to do something cool, and the confidence in that put me in a place where I knew I could really take off with my music and the whole adventure that comes with it.
SR: The crowd in Colorado is a lot different too, very fitting for your vibes.
BD: The people are really the biggest part. Most of my friends that lived out there weren’t from Colorado so it was like this massive summer camp where everyone came from different places. But the family that grew around me right when I got there was incredible. I had this core group of like fifty people, and if we had just met at a festival we would’ve just been festy homies, but we lived in the same city and we were hanging out, going to eat, going to shows all the time and it became this really tight-knit crew of friends. I had never had that kind of experience.
When I was in college, I had a group of friends like that but this was like ‘we’re all adults, we’re all here on our own because we wanted to be here.’ So one of my very first shows in Colorado when nobody even really knew who I was there was already like fifty people at the show, and that’s usually the hardest part; getting fifty people to come out to the show in the first place. And once other people saw everyone coming out and having a good time, they joined. I would go back to the Northeast and play shows and the way the festival family extended out there through Pretty Lights family and Facebook groups and everyone being connected, they automatically felt so connected to this project because they saw it as it’s not just some dude who had cool music, it’s our home.
So my festival family was literally one degree away from Andrew’s. We had like five mutual friends on Facebook. We were pretty much one show away from being introduced to one another, and when he contacted me after a festival asking questions about my management situation and we actually started talking; it was such a weird universe thing, like it was meant to happen. In the future we have some stuff that’s not really announced yet but I’m really excited about it tour-wise, which should give me a chance to headline smaller venues where we can experiment with our new light displays. Because I’m just a guy with a computer, and I can dance around all I want, but you gotta have the production to make it really entertaining, so that’s something that I’m really beginning to focus on and really get excited about that.
SR: Well I’m sure all of your family, friends and fans are very excited as well, myself included. Can’t wait to see what you have in store for upcoming shows.