Sydney-based artist Ben Ransom has released a new single, ‘Mamma Said’, but as memorable as the song is it’s almost outshone by its video, in which Ransom plays all the parts – dozens of them.
‘There were more outfits than a Cher concert, I reckon,’ he says with a laugh. ‘About 50 or 60 … The idea of the clip is not a unique concept, but on a deep level it was symbolic of me. I could have been anyone or any person. I could have been any profession or done anything. And so it’s kind of “how do we get to the point in life that we’re at and where we’re at”. But it was just fortunate – or I don’t know if it was fortunate – that [filming] happened right in the middle of lockdown, so I couldn’t rely on anyone else to be in the clip anyway.
‘The videographer, Luke Oldknow, is based in Tamworth and he said, “There’s this fantastic, old heritage-listed theatre up at Bingara”, which is in north-western New South Wales, about an hour and a half past Tamworth. And he said, “It’s amazing and it’s going to be exactly what we’re after.” And because it was in the middle of lockdown it wasn’t being used and they allowed us to go in and shoot just for the one day.
‘So it took the whole day, from sun-up to sundown, and it was technical in that everything had to be done with one take, the way that they were using the camera and stuff. It’s all a bit much for me to understand, what they were doing postproduction, but you know, had to do this, do that, do this, so that it will work. And 20 minutes into it we were thinking, Oh my god, what have we done here? At any point it could have been muffed up. But thankfully we pulled something together and we really did the best we could with the limited things we had available to us at the time. So I played every role – 150 of me in there. I had to argue with myself, all of that! It was a lot of fun. There was so much more that we wanted to do, we just ran out of time.’
The single is for Ransom’s forthcoming album which was recorded in Nashville in April last year and which has been ready for release since September last year.
‘We were working on ideas and stuff for clips since then,’ says Ransom, ‘and we’d picked at least a couple of songs that would be singles, this being one of them and “Night After Night” was the first one that we put out. There was talk of going around Tamworth and shooting crowd scenes, involving mothers and stuff like that. And we soon passed on that. I thought we’ll just go with them with this quirky little idea.’
Apart from anything his mamma might have said to him, Ransom says the other good advice he’s been given is, ‘Always wear clean underpants! If you can’t say, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Stuff like that. All the good motherly advice that they give you so you can dodge a wooden spoon.
‘This song was more or less about thinking how is it we get here? How is it that we survive all the pitfalls of daily life? It could be fate, luck or the pearls of wisdom that have been thrown upon us. It was just a bit of fun. A bit of homage to the parents but also I wanted something fun and upbeat that people could relate to. People who have a mum, I think,’ he says, laughing.
While the album was made in Nashville, Ransom wasn’t there. ‘Unfortunately I couldn’t go because when I looked at my passport it was expiring and there just wasn’t enough time to pull it together,’ he explains. ‘Because of the way technology is nowadays, we did the preproduction here, Matt Fell – who was the producer – took it all over there and we had Keith Urban’s drummer and Bob Seger’s guitarist and Sting’s guitarist. All these incredible musicians just sort of knocking it out in the studio. And then I did all the vocals, everything else that needed to be done back here.’
Ransom admits that it felt strange to not be in Nashville while everything else was happening. ‘When it comes to that kind of thing you have these romantic notions of being in the studio and collaborating and working and creating this magic while you’re there. Whereas this way it felt a bit [like] just going through the motions,. That emotional connection of being in the studio when the magic happens, I didn’t have that. But we were on Skype and everything else at three and four o’clock in the morning while they were over there in America doing it and I was here. So I got a little bit of a sense of it.’
He also says there was ‘a very intense preproduction process and we had a good chat about the songs and stuff … And I knew that the calibre of people playing on it would be faultless. So it was close to perfect when it came back and there were a few little things here and there that we went backwards and forwards about. But generally it was pretty cool. So that was lucky,’ he says with a laugh.
Ransom would have released the album already but, as for so many other people, his plans have changed due to the circumstances of this year.
‘Just with everything that’s happened we decided to put a few singles out first,’ he says, ‘and it’s actually been moved to February now. I think February is that absolute deadline for it because we’ve just really got to get it out. And I want people to hear these new songs. Hopefully these next 18 months to two years, I’ve got a whole stack of singles that we can put out from this album, so I think there’s a good amount of longevity in it. Even if we can’t go touring and everything in the next six months. It’s going to drag on for 12 months, I think, before we’ll be able to sort of get out there and do the album shows without a worry.’
Ransom has been able to play one show lately, though: a launch for the single, in Queanbeyan, NSW.
‘It was fantastic,’ he says. ‘Because it was only up close and personal, it was more or less a solo show, limited capacity, of course, so the place was full. It was probably my first real gig in five months. Everything was being pulled out for the year, all the festivals. I had a couple of festivals up in Queensland in October and November, tours around the Whitsundays and a few other places, they’re all gone. I have nothing in the diary until March next year, which is the big Country Rocks Festival 2021 in Bungendore, with an amazing line-up of people. And I’m pretty sure that when we get to that, everyone is going to be like racehorses ready to jump out the gate because they’re so excited to play. I think it’s going to be an absolute blast. But I really miss it, you know?’
He admits that he was nervous before the show, but says ‘it’s that nervous excitement, and I think that keeps you honest. If you play all the time you’re at risk of sort of becoming a little bit blasé about it all and just going through the motions, whereas if you haven’t played for a while you’ve got that real genuine sort of excitement and desire to put on a good show. So that comes across. Once you blow the cobwebs out and rustiness aside, I think if the emotion and the energy is there the rawness can sometimes be a good thing.’
While Ransom has a break from shows, he plans to keep his voice match fit, although he admits that ‘I should do much more than what I do. I had vocal coaching from John Swan actually, Swanee, and a fantastic back-up singer for people like Jimmy Barnes and Noiseworks and others, Shauna Jensen. She was fantastic … I’ve got a series of CDs that you can pop in your car – I’ve still got a CD player in the car – and it’s more or less sort of vocal scales and stuff to sing along to. It’s incidental exercise for your singing.’
Something else he’s been doing over these months of no shows is his ‘day job’: ‘I’ve had to … fall back on the day gig that I have to fill in the holes. I’m working in the hospitals, in operating theatres as an anaesthetic nurse. I went from doing that on a casual basis and filling in the holes around shows and touring and stuff to doing it full time. Still casual but pretty much working full-time hours to keep the cogs turning and keep the cash coming in. But it also keeps grounded, I suppose, in a way. It’s not a bad thing to do.’
He’s keen to get back to touring, though, as soon as he can, saying, ‘Particularly for someone like me, where I find the strength in what I do is in the live performances and shows and the energy that I put into that. You just don’t get that with the digital things that are available to us at the moment, the live streaming, et cetera. They’re still good and they serve a purpose, but I think you’re missing that one thing that being at a live gig gives you – the chills-up-your-spine kind of thingy. I can’t see that and I haven’t seen that happen too many times with the online performances.’
While this year has been a lot for people to get their heads around, Ransom says, ‘It’s incredibly unusual but I’ve enjoyed the challenge, you know? It keeps me driven to work hard so that I can get back into it when everything sort of opens up the concerts are on and all that kind of thing. I’m working my ring off to get the new record out, the new songs out, and forge ahead with trying to make a dent in the industry. I reckon I’ve worked harder in the last six or seven months than I have in the last couple of years.’
That hard work can be seen in the great entertainment of his new video, and the hard work that came before it, to create the songs, will no doubt be seen once the album is released. Ransom’s commitment to music – and making the best music he can – is clear and it’s the audience who benefits.