The band was born just one year ago in London out of frontman Andrew Major, Johnny Healey, Simon Wilson and Benjamin Ward, and they seem to have caught lightning in a bottle.
The rest is history. Benjamin was nice enough to share some words with me about Ideals; past and future, their many influences, the story of the song that began my slight obsession and when they're coming to tear the roof off of the U.S.
Kristina Villarini: What was the motivation to start a band? Does that still motivate you today?
Benjamin Ward: Andrew and I have been in various bands ever since we were 15. We used to just mess around at our friend's house on his dad's equipment, jamming little things and covering songs by bands like The Buzzcocks. It was great. We always looked up to the bands we loved, and I guess we realized that we could do the same thing if we kept it up. So it really was just a love of music and respect for other artists that motivated us to do this properly. Personally, local artists from the little town where we lived gave me more inspiration than some of the bigger bands. You can taste and touch local gigs, really feel them, it’s an organic experience. When you are younger, they just about seem within reach whereas big budget music videos and people in magazines are another world. They are presented as products that are as valuable as any Hollywood movie-star. We used to go to shows in Ipswich and see local bands like Making Eyes At Elvis and Rosalita. Everyone would be going nuts and I would just dream of being on that stage with my friends affecting people with my music in the same way those guys were. We just realized that it’s what we want to do, so we did it.
It does still motivate me, and local bands we play with still serve as a huge inspiration. A band that started around the same time as us called The Cads are a good example, we are two of the only indie bands in Ipswich and we have created a nice little scene. They have grown up and evolved musically with us right from when we were 15 years old. Playing shows with them is always great.
KV: Did you ever have an idea of what kind of audience you wanted to listen to your music?
BW: I suppose realistically, there must be a certain type of audience that listens to Ideals but I don’t mind who! Anyone who enjoys the music, I guess. I like a vast array of genres, as do many other people. An Ideals fan's other favorite artist could be Justin Beiber for all I care, I’m just thankful they like us. Any support is appreciated from the bottom of our hearts.
KV: Who or what inspires you?
BW: Everything inspires us. We are all very close friends, so any emotional experience one member has is shared with everyone. I think when you are writing a song as a group, this is reflected in the music. Experiences we have together, things we see in real life and in the media and of course, the music we listen to. The lyrical content is often very metaphorical and tricky to decipher, it's never literal. All of the lyrics are Andrew's and we don't often discuss what some of the songs are about exactly because they are very personal and often quite dark lyrics, but I think it's safe to say they are mostly about a girl that he was in love with.
KV: With that said, my favorite Ideals song is “Significant Other.” What can you tell me about that song?
BW: From what Andrew has told me, it's about being with someone you love, in spirit but not physically. It's about the ghosts of a relationship still dwelling in your head. A part of that person belongs to you and you belong to them, in some ways forever.
KV: What are the challenges of making music in 2011? Would you rather stay indie or get signed by a massive label?
BW: The challenge of being in an indie band now is that people are obsessed with brands and labels being attached to things to make them in some way legitimate. This 'designer' mentality is as true for music as it is for something like fashion; people want a gig to be endorsed by some huge company or for a band to be associated with gigantic publications or labels, it's simple superficiality, that in many people's minds creates authenticity. People seem more and more reluctant to just go to a show and enjoy a band that have traveled miles and miles to play their hearts out on stage for an audience's entertainment. It's awful. People would rather go hear songs they heard on the radio ten minutes ago blasted out by some ‘DJ’ in an expensive club filled with expensive alcohol and cheap people. That is the hardest challenge of being in a band: getting people to care at a genuine level.
Of course, I would not mind being signed to a major, as long as they did not completely mess with the music. It’s a simple ladder that means we would have money to play with and more people would hear our music. It's just a sad fact that with this type of music, it means getting caught up in that “machine.” I'm sure eventually it will be Ideals being blasted in that nameless club I just referred to. [Laughs]
KV: If you weren't a musician, you would be...
BW: A student, which I already am anyway. I study Sociology/Media at Goldsmiths University in London.
KV: Are there any bands you try to replicate, in style or musicality? Are there any bands you hope to be “as good as?”
BW: You never really view your music as ‘as good as’ anyone else, it's always open to criticism because it is your own. You know every part, how it evolved and when listening back, I never hear a whole song, just different parts. Of course, there are many bands we take inspiration from. Some examples are Interpol, Joy Division, The Cure, The Strokes, At the Drive In, and The Dandy Warhols. These are all bands we love, and we would never want to replicate them or anyone. We just look up to them and admire their musicianship. This really doesn’t just apply to bands in the same genre as Ideals like the ones I just named. Andrew and I are currently listening to the Beastie Boys new album, and it's dope.
KV: How did Ideals begin, and why the name change?
BW: We used to be called ‘It’s a Trap!’ We started that band with just three of us when we were 16. It was a lot of fun and was not taken that seriously. The songs often sucked and we typically played diabolically drunk or high, which effected the performance itself very badly, which people enjoyed. Even though we had a fan base and everything else, we simply did it because we liked playing music. Then we got an offer from the label we are currently with, and after that we decided to just work harder. The first song we produced after that first meeting was ‘Lungs.’ We decided to get a new guitarist and it just seemed like a newer, mature band, so we changed the name to reflect it. It really is not a name change, it’s a whole new band, and there should be no confusion about that.
KV: What do you want people to feel when they hear your music?
BW: Anything they want, I can't really say what they should feel. Hopefully not white, hot rage.
KV: How has being in a band changed you; for better and worse?
BW: Although it's a huge amount of hard work, being in this band has been a consistently wonderful experience. I have traveled to so many places, met so many people and just have the time of my life. The business side of it has made me mature in a lot of ways and given me a real sense of purpose. At the same time, climbing into our van and going on tour has confronted me with so many funny experiences that I have in some ways remained perpetually a 16 year old. I think if I worked in an office or something, I would not be the same person. I would probably be more of an adult. My job is literally to have fun, so if I wasn't playing drums on stage I would be doing it alone in my room. This is what I love doing, and I am surrounded by people who love doing it.
KV: Has the Internet and sites like YouTube helped or hurt the band's exposure?
BW: YouTube has helped us immensely. The view count goes up on our videos every day and people's comments really mean a lot. The same goes for all elements of the internet. I have few bad things to say with regards to our band and the internet. Facebook has bought fans and bands closer together than ever. This interview is a fine example of what the wonders of the internet can provide!
KV: Do you aim to create a new sound or hone your own?
BW: What you hear is what Ideals are. We are a pastiche of everything we love. We aim to hone our own sound, a sound influenced by many artists.
KV: How do you guys create a song? Are you crafting song parts separately or jamming together?
BW: A lot of the time Andrew has a fairly solid song already written, at this stage just lyrics and guitar. Then we will all add our own parts, hone it down, often scrap 99% of it, argue a bit, add other parts and the end result is a song. This can take a day or several months, a song is not done until it's done. On other occasions, Simon or Johnny will have a little riff and we build it up from there by jamming, etc. But jamming can only get you so far. You need to stop and look at a song as a whole; where it's coming from and where you want it to end up.
KV: Do you have any crazy fan stories?
BW: We do but they are often fairly explicit… I did stumble across a fan-made video the other day on YouTube (here). The kid that made it lives in Mexico. It made me pretty damn happy.
KV: Would you rather have fifty fans that know you and all of your music or fifty-thousand fans that know a single?
BW: I really wouldn’t mind as long as they loved the music and came out to shows.
KV: Any plans to tour in the U.S.?
BW: Not as of yet. We would love to, and if there is a demand for it we will for sure. America is a beautiful country, I have been to New York and San Francisco and I loved them both. We have a lot of exciting things going on behind the scenes with some pretty big companies in the U.S., so it is a possibility. We are touring Holland and Germany this June, which I am very excited about.
KV: What can people expect from Ideals in 2011?
BW: More Music. More Videos. More Fun.
Ideals' newest single, ‘Reflections’ is yours to download for free here, until it is released on July 4th, 2011, where it will then be available for purchase online. The band have also began blogging, so keep up with their travels abroad on Tumblr!