Please give our readers a little into of you who are. How did you guys meet? Who came up with the band name?
I’m Benji Tranter, and with me (in spirit) are Ailsa Tully (bass), and Jovis Lane (drums). Jovis and I met at Goldsmiths university where we were studying music together - we just kind of gravitated towards each other, and have helped each other out musically ever since. Ailsa actually grew up near me on the Welsh border, but we didn’t really know each other back then - she came to Goldsmiths a couple of years after me and Joe, and I’ve been following her music career since. When I needed somebody to take up bass duties I knew who to call! Her background is on the cello, so she has a unique approach to the bass. It’s just like that scene in School of Rock really! Also they’re both great singers which is lucky because I love a good BV.
The band name was chosen because it’s fun to say, it looks good, and the view from the top is amazing (probably).
Question for Benji..why did you leave the beautiful Welsh borders to live in Croydon? That must be quite an adjustment not being able to venture into nature and calm?!
Well as you now know, I moved to London to study music and never left. But the duality stays with you - you can’t just rub out the first 18 years of your life. The funny thing is since writing Portal, I have discovered so many amazing green spaces in and around Croydon. In so many ways it’s a perfect place to live - a quick train ride from city centre, and a stones throw from beautiful parks, commons and downs.
Tell me about the recent single– What's it about? What was the process for writing and producing it? What was it inspired by?
Portal is like a movement break for your mind. It’s about wishing you could escape from your surroundings. Writing and singing the song was a way for me to do that with my imagination. I like songs with strong visual imagery.
The process of writing it… haha okay don’t laugh. This is one of a bunch of songs a wrote after a bit creative hiatus. The process which allowed me to write freely again was as follows.
Step 1: something which I call “3 in 10” which is where I sit down and write three unrelated paragraphs in the space of ten minutes and then stop.
Step 2: sit in a dark cupboard with my mustang, and just play and sing what I wrote down until something sticks. I usually record it all on my phone in case I forget what I did.
Step 3 is to take it to the band and let them work their magic!
Musically the song is definitely inspired by The Vaselines, which I came to through the Nirvana’s covers of Molly’s Lips and Son of a Gun on the compilation album Incesticide. Perfection! I really needed somebody to remind me that music doesn’t need to be complicated to be good. Jonathan Richman always does that for me too.
Do you have any hobbies that you turn to to rejuvenate your creativity?
Hmm I think right now songwriting is working like a self charging battery for my creativity. But your question was about hobbies - walking and running have been invaluable during the pandemic. Sometimes I try a trick I learned from Benjamin Zephaniah (not personally, I might add) - which is to write a song in my head while I’m out, using the rhythm of my footsteps as a beat. Whatever I can remember when I get home, I write down or record. I also find yoga (with Adriene) really helpful when my mind is really busy. And her dog has the same name as me, so that’s a win (I think!?)
There has been quite some time between the release of the debut in 2019 and the second single in 2021. What have you guys been up to?
It was never meant to be so long - maybe 6 months at the most. But when the pandemic hit, I think a lot of bands took a rain check on their releases while trying to best assess the situation. And then weeks became months, and months became a year. The first few months of the pandemic I took a bit of a nosedive mentally and productivity/creativity took a backseat. More recently I have been very productive again. The recording of this song was pretty much wrapped up prior to the pandemic, and luckily Patrick Fitzroy was available to produce it remotely. I used the summer to record and edit the music video, and the artwork came together more recently thanks to Cameron West, who also did the wonderful press shots. We were in a bit of a bind with getting press shots done because we’re in separate bubbles, so Cameron came up with this cool collage thing. We’d be lost without him! In the first months of 2021 I’ve been writing prolifically, so there’s plenty more Ski Lift songs coming your way!
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
Sexism. It’s still there. There will be many more revelations and shocking stories to be shared down the line I’m sure. But also representation on festival lineups is still so imbalanced (looking at Reading/Leeds in particular.) Solidarity to all the women out there in the industry persevering through all the crap. You’re amazing!
Also, more openness and transparency. It can feel very much like a private, gated community at times, and so much of it is shrouded in secrecy. Thankfully there are some wonderful resources out there, from places like Fresh on the Net, for example. But I think quite often bands and artists want to keep a shiny veneer on everything they do, like all things on social media - we choose to look our best at all times of course. I’m personally planning to create more ‘how-to’ content, such as how I go about songwriting, what equipment I use for home recording - hopefully things that can help the next generation of independent artists to get started.
What’s the best/worst advice you ever received?
I definitely think that all advice should be taken with a pinch of salt. Any advice is just the opinion of one person with a limited experience of life. You do have to go with your instinct a lot of the time - nobody else knows what you’re aiming for, and there has never been another you. As much as you might want to be the next [insert icon here], it ain’t gonna happen so you have to tread your own path.
Having said that, Tom Robinson told me to write a hundred songs before expecting any of them to be good. I’ve passed that tally and I’m still waiting! But seriously that was helpful.
Can’t think of any bad advice, but I did once trip into the crowd after I tried to put my foot up on the monitor and missed. So that’s a word to the wise - never try to be cool!
Little insider tip – best thing to do in Croydon/London?
Hmmmmmmm Croydon… the borough is huge - down in the south you can go walking on Farthing Downs, for example - you’re almost in the Surrey Hills down there. But if you’re looking for something a little more metropolitan, you can’t go wrong with Matthews Yard, a wonderful locally owned cafe / community hub. They recently moved to a new location right by the West Croydon station, so very easy to find. They used to run live music and theatre, and I’m hopeful that will start up again once ‘normality’ resumes! Also the Oval Tavern is a cool pub, as featured in Peep Show.
If we were to look at the artists you are listening to, who would be on your playlist?
Haha oh god. I really wish I was cool. Okay, I’m currently reading War and Peace (just to prove to myself that I can), so I’m actually exploring Russian composers of the 19th century, such as Glinka and Tchaikovsky. I can’t read while listening to music with lyrics, so that works well as long as I skip any opera singing!! When I go out running, I’m currently listening exclusively to PJ Harvey’s back catalogue, chronologically. So far I’m up to ‘Is This Desire?’ Aside from that, Spotify tells me I have recently been listening to Gold Baby (fantastic London indie band), The Decemberists, and The Hold Steady.
What's next? What are your plans for 2021?
2021 is looking exciting! We have two more singles coming very soon, and then plans for at least one EP before the year is out - maybe two. We have to make up for lost time, so there is a barrage of new material coming. In terms of live shows, that’s a little bit less clear right now - gigging again is going to be so weird! A couple of festivals in the late summer would be nice though…