The six-piece band formed in 2006, and has already released four full-length albums. The group is signed to mainstay metal label Metal Blade. We spoke with Ben at the San Bernardino stop of the 2012 Mayhem Festival.
Ben Savage: I'm sort of our musical director, so you're talking to the right guy.
Songfacts: That's great. Is there typical process that Whitechapel goes through to write songs?
Ben: Yeah. First we have to collect and gather riffs. The right riffs have to feel comfortable whenever you write them and then also give a sense that they'll stand the test of time. As in, they'll still be worth playing two years from now. I always like experimenting with different riffs and different notes within something. Once I get down a solid idea or just think of something that's inspiring, I'll usually hum into my phone, or if I have a guitar with me I'll just figure it out and play it. As long as you get it down somehow, that's what's important. Afterwards, it's a lot of trial and error seeing if different riffs work together. It's like making verses and choruses and just going on different tangents with the riff at hand.
Songfacts: From the way you explain, it doesn't sound like you guys need a deadline to produce music. It sounds like more of a constant, ongoing process for you – is that right?
Ben: Yeah. We're always writing. We're never like, oh shit, we have no material. That would scare me. I had a nightmare one time, where somebody said, "Okay, you guys are going in the studio," and we had no material. We were like, "Auuugghhh, how could this happen?"
Songfacts: That sounds like the dream where you take the important final exam and you haven't been in class all semester long.
Ben: Oh, yeah. That dream scares me, too.
Songfacts: So your dreams maybe reflect that same sort of fear, only more based on what you have to do for the band?
Ben: Yeah. We're constantly writing, so when it comes to serious songwriting time we always have ideas. It's a process of gathering them up, laying them out on the table, and seeing what pops out. And then after we do that, we usually sit with the band and play them on the computer and just listen to them and toss out our impressions. Like: Okay, we can work with that. Or; that sounds like a cool intro. And we just start from that beginning until we end up with a song.
Songfacts: So you come up with the music before lyrics are put to your songs?
Ben: Yeah. It's kind of like rappers - they make a beat, they send it off, and then the rappers do their thing. But Phil [Bozman], our vocalist, also adds ideas. Maybe he'll say to pause a song at a certain point, or add something different.
Songfacts: He's got to sing it, so he's probably going to have some input, right?
Songfacts: Well, at the risk of asking a father to choose his favorite children, can you tell me maybe some of your favorite songs that you do?
Songfacts: So when you say dynamics, you mean you like a lot of soft and loud changes, not something that sticks to one basic dynamic all the way through?
Ben: Yeah. It's got to have a continuous flow, an emotion, a musical emotion. And usually I don't like to have a formula, like a verse/chorus/verse/chorus. If the riffs work together, the riffs work together. You can't have the same thing repeat and have it sound like you're doing anything interesting, but it's all just experimenting. I don't like to have any hard-and-fast rules for songs.
Songfacts: Do you get tired of begin asked about Jack the Ripper?
Ben: We haven't been asked about it in a long time. Our first record we got asked it a lot.
Songfacts: Have you ever been to that area?
Ben: I've been to Whitechapel, London.
Songfacts: What was the experience like – was it sort of eerie?
Ben: It really was. It's also kind of not a good part of town. There are a lot of street vendors.
Songfacts: A long way away from home, huh?
Ben: I was like, I want my mommy. (Laughs)
Songfacts: It is kind of weird to make the music that you make and be from an area where Americana music is popular?
Ben: Yeah. But it's good. Because you don't really want to just hang out with all the cool kids. You want to stand out. Big fish in a little pond sort of thing. I mean, I don't mind. We couldn't have made this music and got this much influence if it was maybe ten years ago when they didn't have Facebook and Myspace to help expose new bands. With them you can always find new sounds and new things you never heard.
Songfacts: So you come out on the side that Internet is actually good for the progress of music?
Songfacts: Even though it's kind of killed sales?
Ben: Yeah. You can just rip stuff off like you hear online, but it wouldn't be like hearing anything original. I like listening to old records, timeless records, like Pink Floyd and all that, like The Zombies and stuff. Listening to that stuff and getting the influence from them and how they did it. I like to look back and realize that, when they made this record, they didn't know it was going to stand the test of time for that long. I'm not saying we'll do that, but that's what I look for.
Songfacts: So what kind of music do you think would surprise people that you listen to? You mentioned The Zombies, Pink Floyd. Are there bands that you listen to that people say, "Man, I didn't know Ben would listen to that."
Ben: Yeah. I like Regina Spektor.
Songfacts: What draws you to an artist, good songwriting?
Ben: Yeah. Good songs. A good song's universal. It doesn't matter if it's a pop song. A good song's a good song, you know? You can tell if music is something just forced out of a musician.
Songfacts: Is there anybody in particular that you're really looking forward to seeing on this tour?
Ben: Slipknot, yeah. Because they're like a whole different animal. Who would have thought there would have been a metal band from Iowa that started from just regular people that just wanted to play music and put on masks and just started this whole persona, actually went out there and did it. That's a success story.
Songfacts: You guys don't wear any masks, do you?
Ben: No. We don't. I respect them that much more for it. But that's hard to keep up, man.
Songfacts: I'm kind of looking forward to Motorhead.
Ben: And Motorhead, yeah.
Songfacts: I want to see Lenny, because he's bigger than life, isn't he?
Ben: Yeah. He is rock and roll personified.
Songfacts: Yes, he is. Indeed.
Ben: A crazy fact, I found out he did guitar tech for Jimi Hendrix or something. And he's been in it for a while.
Songfacts: I don't know if you know who Nona Hendryx is, but she was a member of Labelle. But she spells her name H E N D R Y X.
Songfacts: Labelle like remember Patti Labelle and "Lady Marmalade" and all that kind of stuff?
Songfacts: Well, she was a member of that group. And I found out from interviewing her that she's related to Jimi Hendrix. And she used to spell her name H E N D R I X. I asked her a question thinking, you know, you're going to think this is stupid, but do people ever get you confused with Jimi Hendrix? Because their name is the same name, only spelled differently. And she said, "Yeah, I went to Ancestry.com and found out that I'm actually related to Jimi Hendrix." So here I am thinking I asked the stupidest question of my life and it turned out to be really pretty cool.
Ben: That's awesome. That's cool. You're just like, "wow".
Songfacts: So sometimes the stupid things lead to good things.
Ben: Yeah, use your intuition. Like songwriting. Sometimes stupid ideas could turn into awesome parts of songs.
October 2, 2012
More Song Writing