With a huge catalogue of independent music out there it's hard to stand out and get heard. I hope this show can provide a platform for the amazing people of the Black Country. Not enough people have heard of bands like The Dollcanoes and Me and Thee
In music television, Whistle Stop is new, it’s anarchic and non-comformist; streamed online, of course, it’s instantly ambitious and gorgeously unwieldy. Therein is the frisson. It’s exciting. This is music journalism at its most compelling. It's deep underground. Whistle Stop takes an archetypal music television form gleefully shapeshifted by indie musician guests who aren't yet media trained to within an inch of their lives. There's a feeling that anything can happen and maybe it will. There's the looming threat that nothing might happen. It's dirt beneath the fingernails real. It's a bit like Amoeba Records' What's In My Bag, it's a bit Desert Island Discs for non-swimmers, it's torn from the pages of the golden age of American Cable Access broadcasting and... Well, what is Whistle Stop? We talked to Ben from the Whistle Stop team to find out.
Outsideleft: Ben, let’s talk about what Whistle Stop is, why it needs to exist and how and why you got it going?
Ben: I've loved music journalism for a long time, I think musicians are a uniquely interesting group of people and I adore hearing what they have to say. I personally find that when I learn more about the person behind the music it completely transforms the listening experience, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad.
I got the show going because I wanted to create something that would provide local and independent artists a platform to promote their gigs and releases and hopefully be entertaining in its own right. It's designed to give a platform to those that don't really have one. But it's entirely selfish too, I love making this show.
OL: Can you introduce OL readers to your production team, I think you guys are pretty closely knit and when I saw you covering the Lakeside live festival it seemed clear that each member of the production team has a significant role to play?
Ben: Emily is one of our hosts and writes too and is excellent and finding just the right question when it's needed. Emily comes up with some of the greatest questions! Amelia is my brilliant partner and listens to my ramblings about video ideas and is critical to almost all aspects of producing the show. I'm a camera operator / video editor in my day job and I'm the one who bugs everyone to come on show.
OL: In Walsall, at the festival, I saw you battling the elements, it reminded me of why Hollywood existed… Is the Black Country really the best spot for Whistle Stop?
Ben: The Black Country is absolutely the best spot for Whistle Stop. I don't think we hear enough from the musicians of this locale and they are incredible. With a huge catalogue of independent music out there it's hard to stand out and get heard. I hope this show can provide a platform for the amazing people of the Black Country. Not enough people have heard of bands like The Dollcanoes and Me and Thee and that's a shame.
OL: How long does an episode take to set up, shoot, edit and all that? Can you keep the pace up?
Ben: It's quite a challenge to deliver an episode. We usually tell the artists to allow at least 2 hours for filming, that includes setting up, briefing the artist and the actual video capture aspect.
As a video editor by trade I can probably get an episode cut together in about a day, maybe a day and a half with the shorts and writing the descriptions.
The question about pace is a great one. Ideally I'd like to be putting out an episode a week but with full time work that's an impossibility at this point. So we're going for bi-monthly for now. This will be difficult to sustain indefinitely. I think my approach at the moment is to go for a seasonal approach, release 6(ish) episodes and then have a break for a few weeks and start a new season. The break will give us chance to re-evaluate things like the production design, interview questions and come up with some unique ideas.
OL: Can you get Arts Council funding for this, it seems like an important and unique archive you are building?
Ben: Simply, I don't know, I haven't looked into this and I definitely should. If anyone knows any directions to point me that would be amazing!
OL: What I like it seems to me is that you seek out artists that are unique and underground. Can you talk about some of the musicians you’ve featured so far? They must be difficult to research there often isn’t a lot to go on?
Ben: The goal is to feature as many unique artists as possible. Researching beforehand is so useful and good research prior to filming definitely leads to a better episode. With Ancient Champion for example, I was fortunate to be sent a CD and his collection of short stories prior to sitting down. This was a brilliant leaping off point and allowed me to ask questions I would have never before thought of.
Most the people we have interviewed so far we have a personal connection with and that makes things easier.
OL: I am always even now always fascinated by what motivates musicians to write, to perform. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve been told by a musician?Ben:
I suppose this shouldn't be surprising but it definitely intrigues me. A lot of artists we talk to want to be reached out to on a personal level. We've had multiple artists mention that they'd like to be sent letters or direct emails. I suppose we forget in this incredibly digital world that people still very much crave that personal touch. I think artists can feel very isolated, it's very hard for people to feel connected with their audience.
OL: I weirdly keep digging even when I should stop. Let me ask, have you ever been deep into an episode with a band or musician and you’re sitting there looking at the footage and wondering, how the hell do I rescue this. Musicians can be dull. They’ve spent a life not talking, hanging out or immersing themselves in culture, instead, pouring over guitar tonewoods or something…
Ben: I'm good friends with the guys in Me and Thee and I am sure they won't mind me mentioning that when we filmed them, I was a little worried. I was concerned about how they came across on camera and thought that what we captured may have not been the best representation of them. However, when I started editing the episode it soon became clear that the exact opposite had happened. I was so happy with how they looked on camera and they came across exactly as I knew them.
The art of editing is the art of manipulation, you have so much power as the editor to shape the story and the viewers perception of the artists. I think If I'm ever sat in an edit and I'm scared that the episode is boring then we as the production have done something wrong. It's our job to get the content and pick the right artist.
OL: This is only a marginal digression but I cannot get it out of my mind… Okay it’s not really a marginal digression, it is sort of major. That night when we were all hanging out in the Chateau Marmont in Wolverhampton you told me that you’d shot a lot of film (or stills) of all of the UK’s various types of railway level crossings… Are you able to talk about that - the photography, if we can get it would make a perfect Outsideleft Booklet! I mean how many are there? What is the most common?
Ben: This is an insight into my day job. I work for a video production company (hence why I can nag my boss to borrow fancy cameras and stuff). One of my favourite jobs has been a series of training films for Network Rail. I had to visit 11 level crossing types across the uk (about 20 individual level crossings) and it's sad but I get quite excited whenever I see a level crossing out in the wild. I think the most common type is one of the varieties of barrier crossings. The most scary crossing type to me is open crossings that simply feature some give way markings. I believe there are around 280 level crossings in the UK.
OL: Finally… What elements make a quintessential episode of Whistle Stop?
Ben: The key ingredients of a Whistle Stop episode is our core set of questions we ask everyone, unique characters and a natural inquisitive nature.
Whistle Stop is archiving artists in the Black Country, you can find them on Youtube, here⇒
Main image Ben and The Dollcanoes