“I firmly believe Ben Salter to be one of the world's great singers, and if I weren't so goddamn competitive, one of its great songwriters."
2011 was a big year for Ben Salter. His debut album The Cat was released to glowing reviews including four stars in Rolling Stone and a 9/10 in J Mag, who said:
“Ben Salter has assembled a true masterpiece with these twelve tracks.. (they) display an amazing grasp of musical and lyrical wrangling. ...There’s an abundance of gems.. Cheery, teary and damn impressive.” - J Mag - 9/10
Produced by the Drones’ Gareth Liddiard, The Cat was a clean break from Salter’s previous work in acts such as Giants of Science, The Gin Club and The Wilson Pickers. A blend of avant-garde pop, folk and rock, it was at once conventional but also delightfully skewed. Salter toured the country several times in support of the album as well as supporting Cat Power, Paul Dempsey, J. Mascis and many others. He was awarded the “Most Popular Artist” and “Album Of The Year” at the Queensland Music Awards; performed a duet with Kimbra on SBS's Rockwiz program; and relocated to Melbourne for six months, playing every residency and bar show he could manage to fit into an already busy schedule.
Then in early 2012 Salter was awarded a New Work Grant from the Australia Council, his stated project to spend five months in Europe collaborating with as many songwriters and artists as possible.
Although he started with the modest aim of ten or so collaborations and perhaps an album's worth of material, Salter ended up writing nearly forty new compositions with twenty five different collaborators across England, Ireland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Italy, Spain and France. He also had a few adventures along the way - climbing a mountain in remote northern Iceland; spending a week travelling through France playing tambourine for Brisbane-based rock band HITS; performing at the Australian High Commission in London during the Jubilee celebrations; playing at an all-night dance party on Italy's Adriatic coast; and getting a guided tour of Madrid’s night life by old friend Bernard Fanning.
Salter has not stopped. He has criss-crossed the country several times - supporting Something For Kate, undertaking his own co-headlining tour with Mike Noga, and more recently completing his own "House Music" tour, performing in sheds, loungerooms, verandahs and back yards from Rockhampton to Fremantle. He's also taking part in this year's DARK MOFO festival in Hobart as part of the Vandemonian Lags project, a collaboration with Mick Thomas, Darren Hanlon, Tim Rogers and others for which he has written a number of songs.
But in between all this activity he has been racking up hours at Nowhere Audio, a small studio in Brisbane's West End, embellishing and polishing the tracks he recorded on a rudimentary portable studio whilst on his travels. The European Vacation EP is the first fruit of these endeavours.
As sonically and thematically varied as its inception suggests; the European Vacation EP flits between genres as steadily as Salter moved from country to country on his travels. There's the atmospheric, harmony drenched pop weirdness of first single “Semi-Pro Gamer”, written and recorded in Berlin with an expatriate Australian physicist, Tom Oates; the ambient electro duet “Tremulous”, recorded in London with German/Australian chanteuse Christa Vi; “The Prophetess”, a paranoid psychedelic rock epic about a 10th Century Icelandic witch (written of course in Reykjavik); and one of the dark fingerstyle folk tunes that Salter has become renowned for in the plaintive “Not Today”, recorded in a Paris apartment after a long night out, and featuring a stunning saxophone solo courtesy of philosophy student Pierre Thevenin, whom Salter met through a mutual friend.
That’s not to mention the slow burning indie rock tune “Dark Forces”, co-written with Gin Club bandmate Ola Karlsson in Stockholm; the instrumental “All The Things”, which was conceived entirely in a friend's flat in Dublin; and the eight minute sound-art meditation of “Lecce” which captures the beautiful scorched desolation of the southern Italian town where it was recorded.
So the theme of the EP is the journey itself – roaming unexplored territory looking for inspiration and finding it in some unexpected places.
Salter toured around Australia in support of his first release through his newly-signed deal with ABC Music, the European Vacation EP.
The Cat (2011)
European Vacation EP (2013)