Words by Ben Fowler of Benji and the Saltwater Sound System.
This EP is a musical Frankenstein that mashes musical genres and explores the cultural juxtapositions that arise when you live abroad for an extended period of time.
The songs on Coming Up for Water were collated in the Solomon Islands where I lived for over a year in a remote village without electricity, running water or stable food security…. but I did have a guitar, pens and paper.
We asked Ben Fowler, the songwriter behind Benji and the Saltwater Sound System, to run us through his funk-filled debut EP Coming Up For Water.
Public Service Announcement: The following article outlines the inspiration, meaning and purpose of the songs from Coming Up for Water as interpreted by one person. These songs were intended to address universal themes, and as a result the purpose of each song will shift to suit the context of each individual listener.
Please take your own meaning from the songs and disregard any of the following opinions that aren’t relatable. Only you truly know what the songs mean to you.
Top Bunk Trait
This is the single from the EP and we have been humbled by the response to this track since its release last month. It deals with the balance of having a drive to succeed and the search for an understanding of what success actually is. A fairly common question that most people ask themselves at some stage in their life.
Steve Russonello smashes out a grunting harmonica solo in this one. Listen out for the literal grunts. I also love the chromatic bass line from Simon Milman in the bridge. The Solomon Islands’ brand of reggae also comes out in this song.
Treadmill stems from thinking about the human tendency to fall into repetitive patterns. This might apply to work, lifestyle, relationships, substance use or any other aspect of life. It also explores the idea that we are often dissatisfied with being in these ‘ruts’ and can lay the blame on society for constructing these cycles.
This one was really fun to play with from a production point of view. Ben Moore of Harvest Recordings worked hard mixing this track. We spent hours fiddling with sounds to give them more grit while maintaining a sense of space. Also listen for the Jenga block percussion :)
For me Fortune Ate is about making mistakes. I find it intriguing how easy it is to see close friends and family slowly walking into ruin by making a series of small mistakes. The classic example is when someone is blinded by love towards someone who clearly isn’t a positive match for them. Often, all you can do as a friend is stand aside and wait for the oncoming wreckage. Like when a cricket ball’s heading for a glass window and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
The peculiar thing is, when you make these mistakes yourself, it’s almost always a shock when the penny drops and the doo doo goes fanwise.
Trying / I Tried
These two tracks were originally written as one song and are intended to be heard as a pair. They’re about long term relationships ending. It’s always hard, but can be liberating.
All of the songs on the EP were recorded live in the studio. This isn’t the norm these days. When you’re recording live what you play in the take is generally what will be on the album.
I love the improvised guitar solo that Jono Dallimore rips out in I Tried. The crazily chaotic sax/harmonica jam at the end from Mick Elderfield and Steve Russonello is also perfectly loose. Wouldn’t have it any other way.
Joke’s On Us
Joke’s On Us is a tongue in cheek stab at some of the aspects of Australian culture. The track also has a darker side. It observes how privilege and western medicine can create emotionally confusing scenarios that are simpler in countries where medical services are limited. The Solomon Islands village that I lived in has an average life expectancy that was under 40 years old. I think it was 37 for males. Throughout the year that I lived there I lost 16 kg and had a wakeup call about my own mortality.
This one’s about money. What it’s really worth and what people do to get their mitts on it.
Musical highlight for this one is the creative approach to drumming from Alex Dumbrell. For most of the album Al and Simon Milman (bass) have the main prerogative to lay down solid grooves. The creativity these guys have towards what they do can be overlooked at times, but at points in the EP it jumps out and grabs me. On this track, Al’s drumming does just that.
Dearly Departed (Bonus Track)
This is a bonus track that has only been included on physical copies of Coming Up for Water. This one’s inspired by my grandma Marie, who passed away while I was in the Solomon Islands. It’s for everyone who’s lost a loved one and all of the loved ones that I have lost.
Coming Up For Water is out June 15th.
Benji and the Saltwater Sound System are launching Coming Up For Water across two live dates. Grab the details below: