Ben Montero, best known for his surreal, technicolor comic illustrations debuts his glamorous, arena-ready psychedelic pop palette on Performer, out tomorrow on Chapter Music.
How does your visual art intersect with your music songwriting? Are there commonalities in your motivations and inspirations? Does one influence the other?
They're only recently starting to intersect in some "official" way but pairing them together is not something I'd thought about presenting as a package. If anything, I was shying away from that. They're just the two things I do in this world so I'm not sure how to analyze it, but the commonalities must be there for others to see. I'm not sure how they influence each other but maybe they do.
Your work has been used for merch and album covers for bands such as GUM, Pond, and Kurt Vile to name a few. Are you more comfortable working on commissioned pieces for others or for your own work? Do you feel more pressure creating art to represent another person's creative identity or desires?
I feel more pleasure creating what I want to create without having to think about it. So it's just a reflex. If I have to start thinking about someone else and their expectations, then that's when insecurities can creep in and I can fear not living up to what they want. Then I feel like I'm in the real world again. But I do like making things for people that make them happy.
You lived with Jay Watson of Pond/GUM/Tame Impala. How did your time with Jay impact your personal creativity? Did you guys collaborate and use each other as resources during your time under the same roof?
Yeah for sure. I made the Pond album cover. He recorded my old band Early Woman. We swapped songs and talked about creative stuff. He had so many interesting stories about what he's experienced in music that was another world to me.
The new Montero record, Performer, is out Feb 2 on Chapter Music. How was writing and recording the record compared to envisioning and creating an art piece? Do you prefer one process over the other?
They're all completely different head spaces. Or maybe they're not? I'm not sure. The writing of the songs happened well before the actual recording and a lot had gone on in between those two periods. Then the mixing happened over another stage of time. Then the release at a much later point. So it's all very fragmented but somehow unified in my brain and I still feel the same as I did in each stage. I've done no growing up in the meantime. An art piece rarely comes out like you envision it but that's OK. You get something, whatever it is, to show for it at the end.
I enjoy all the processes.
You wrote the songs for Performer years ago. Why was 2018 the year to get it wrapped up and ready for release? What was keeping you from letting it loose all this time?
What's the rush? Things always take time and I haven't been in some music business timeline cycle until recently. People helping with the record behind the scenes etc... Plus, I was traveling and drawing and thinking and hiking and sleeping.
Performer has a glamorous aesthetic from the music itself to the cover artwork, however, you've mentioned that some level of personal emptiness and dispiriting life happenings were occurring during the writing of the record. Was this project a response to those feelings or more of a way to hide out from discouraging feelings you were experiencing? Or were you able to insulate yourself from those things impacting your art and music?
Those feelings are still there and I can never insulate myself from them. It's not like, "Hey it was a real sad time in my life so I wrote some songs." I always feel like this and it's probably been the worst it's ever been over this last holiday period. Also, I never sit down and write songs consciously. I just feel things out and sing whatever pops out as working lyrics then I just end up keeping the working lyrics in the end. Down the track I might realize what something is about and it all seems very obvious.
You recorded the record with members of Pond and Tame Impala in Mark Ronson's studio. Had you worked in an environment like that before? Does having high value equipment at your disposal make recording more challenging at all? Were there early takes or demos recorded with lower budget equipment? How were the songs reworked due to the access to Ronson's studio?
Just Jay and Ricardo Damian. I've never worked in such a fancy place. Very nice mood lighting! Having amazing equipment, players and engineers made recording a breeze for me.
I'd been sending demos of the songs I'd made on GarageBand to Jay over the previous year so we'd been working on sequencing, arrangements and even concepts for a while before we went in. We laid down all the basic tracks with me on piano and Jay on drums and then built them up from there.