A Conversation with Ben Braun AKA Hotel Pools

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Some artists take a while to find their way musically. Others kill it right out of the gate but have trouble consistently coming out with a quality product. The rare artist comes in hot and continues to impress. Producer and musician Ben Braun has done that with his project Hotel Pools. Ben has already produced three modern-day, Indie/Electronic classics under the moniker. He is on fire with no signs of slowing down. With Hotel Pools, he takes the best of various Electronic genres and serves it up with a unique signature sound. Amongst other things, we discuss Ben’s connection to Hall & Oates, what records (as a format) mean to him, and the new approach he used for his latest album. If you dig anything I said above, check out my discussion with Ben below and listen to Hotel Pools here.

Joe:
What have you been up to the past year considering the current state of the world?

Ben:
It’s just been different. Personally, it’s been kind of tough. I’m a father. I have a 3-year-old little boy and a wife, and a home. It’s definitely been difficult. The hardest thing for me has been not being able to give my kid that social interaction I want him to have. I am trying to be on top of distancing and wearing a mask and trying to mainly be home. So, him starting his preschool mainly online; it’s great cause he loves it. But, it’s a little sad for me. I wish it could be different for him. I’m lucky in a lot of ways because so many people have it a lot harder. I’m just thankful I’ve been able to continue to write and make music since this whole thing has started. For the most part, not a whole lot has changed. At the same time, a lot has changed. It’s been a weird thing that is hard to put into words. I think its magnitude will outlast everything going on in the now. It will ripple into many years in the future. I have just been trying to take advantage of the time I have; that’s something that has been a positive out of this. Use it to work, write and record.

Joe:
How would you say your new album [Still] compares and contrasts with your previous albums?

Ben:
As opposed to Fall and Constant (which were my first two), I wrote Still over the course of a few months. I went into it trying to record an album rather than singles that I grouped into an album. Quite honestly, no one ever had a problem with the way I did it before. I feel like Fall and Constant still have a nice feel to them. I just went into the process of it differently. On the vinyl, it’s pretty fluid. I built transitions into some of the tracks. I tried to keep the flow of it pretty consistent.

Joe:
Would you say it is a more comprehensive album?

Ben:
Yeah, I would say so. That was a purposeful thing. I usually looked at that after the fact; I went in this time knowing that was something I wanted to do. That was the biggest change. Just cause of all the pandemic stuff, everything with the world was going on at that moment. The record had…I don’t know…I mean, all of my stuff is pretty laid back. The point of Still was to be “still in the moment.” You know, kind of caught in that moment. I felt it had a bit of a sadness to it. I was trying to be fluid in what I was writing. Maybe it wasn’t as “Chillwave.” I went out of the box a little bit with it. I was just doing what I felt. I didn’t really know how people would take to it, but people seem to really enjoy it. So that’s been cool.

Joe:
How did you come up the name “Hotel Pools?

Ben:
It’s actually a pretty basic story. When I started the project, the point of it was to be completely without self judgment. Trying to not overthink any part of the process. Whether it was the writing, or the name or whatever. Honestly, every name is taken, so just trying to find a name is hard. I was following this Australian singer whose name was Chelsea Jade. She’s really cool. It’s like Pop stuff. Anyway, she had these Instagram where she would go into different hotel pools while on tour. She would just take a picture in the pool. I was looking at one of the pics on Instagram, and I was like, “Oh shit, Hotel Pools!” I looked it up on Spotify, and there were no Hotel Pools. So I was like, “okay, done.” The thought into the stuff was just very off the cuff. That’s how I wanted it to be. I had never done that. I always had overthought every part of the process. I just wanted to run with my gut instinct. But yeah, that was just something I saw online and checked to see if it was taken. I liked it; I ran with it. From there, I created a little bit of imagery with it. At first, there was nothing really purposeful about it. I just kind of went with it.

Joe:
What was your segway into music? What path did you take to make the music you are currently making today with Hotel Pools?

Ben:

I grew up in music. My dad is a drummer. He played drums in Hall & Oats for over 20 years. As a young kid, I grew up visiting him on the road a week at a time. I would spend time on the tour bus, in the hotel, and I would go on stage. When I was about 20, I spent a week on the road with some of the guys. They had paid me to film them. They thought they had a good idea for a show about the crew aspect of touring. It was actually really great. I was on the bus, and I traveled with them. I got to see a side of the business aspect of music that people don’t really get to see. Growing up…it led to me having a different point of view. I got into music when I was maybe 12 years old. I started writing Hip-Hop beats. Got a drum machine and a sampler. I grew up on 90s Hip-Hop like Outcast and Keith Murray. Early 90s stuff like Tribe and De la Soul. Two of my huge influences at the time were DJ Premiere and JD.

All I wanted to do was sound like that and figure out how I could sound like that. I spent a lot of time working on MPC and trying to go without the computer. From there, I had a project for about ten years called Macintosh Braun. It was more Pop…well, it started more like Postal Service. It started more like cool Downtempo/Electro. We got a record deal, and they made us more poppy. They had too much of an input into what we were doing. It changed the whole vibe of everything. I did that for a while; it was my main focus. Coming out of that, I wrote some solo stuff with vocals that didn’t really do anything. Hotel Pools was just one of those things. I was listening to music I found on the Electronic Gems YouTube channel. My influences have always been heavy synth-based and electronic. I’m super into ethereal music and Chillwave. That’s just always been stuff I liked. I wanted to write some of this stuff. I was inspired by a few things that I heard, and I just took a stab at it. What has happened with the listener base and people finding my music has been crazy. I never really thought that would happen. It’s great.

Joe:
We kind of touched on this a little; you have your own unique sound. I think that is what people have responded to regarding Hotel Pools. You kind of take some elements of the Synthwave, Vaporwave, and Chillwave movements as well as various dance music and atmospheric sounds. However, often artists get placed into a specific genre or sub-genre. How do you feel about people trying to classify music that way?

Ben:
I try not to let it bother me or pay a whole lot of attention. Quite honestly, if they are listening and enjoying it, and they want to categorize it, that’s fine. I’m not mad. Some people are like that’s Chillwave or that’s Vaporwave. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t know; I guess I would just classify myself as an electronic musician. The EDM thing took the electronic part of that and made it bad. But, I’m an electronic musician, and that’s what I feel I am. I mean everything you mentioned, they are all inspirations. I don’t mind being put into any of those categories.

Joe:
I have always felt that aesthetics has been as important as the music in some sub-genres. Its especially true in sub-genres closely related to your music, such as Vaporwave and Synthwave. I was wondering what your thoughts were on that.

Ben:
I think that is true. The physical presentation is a huge part of it. To me, it is almost like reading a book; you don’t want to give them too much. You don’t want to paint it all out for them. You want them to hear the music and picture it in their heads. You want to touch on some things that might pull some emotion. That’s what I try to do. I use artists whose work I enjoy. Andrew Walker, who has done all my albums, he also runs Stratford Ct. He is someone that I trust with my sound. He listens, and he gets it. We work together well. I think the artistry, the visual part of it, its huge. You can run into that whole cliché element, but it’s another thing that doesn’t bother me. I push that cliché; that’s part of it. If you don’t get that, that’s cool to. The whole palm tree, I did that cause it’s a cliché. I love it, and I’m just going to push it even further. That’s just what it is, and a lot of people understand that. The music does speak for itself, but it is what it is. It is huge though; they go together. It’s a marriage.

Joe:
Physical music has made a massive comeback in recent years. How important has this been for music, particularly independent music? Why do you think there has been such a comeback, particularly on vinyl?

Ben:
I have been a vinyl collector for so long. It was for another reason when I was younger. When I was younger, I was trying to find the cool thing and loop it. Figure out how I could make music out of it. With Hotel pools, it’s the artwork; it’s the music; it’s having a piece of physical media. Vinyl is special; vinyl will always be special no matter what happens. What can compare? You buy this giant thing, its like a piece of artwork, then you take the record out, and you put it on. Its just a whole experience. To me, vinyl is special and will always be special. That’s not surprising. It has been surprising how in-demand my music has been on vinyl. I’ve been stoked at how fast things go. I’ll put it out and it’s gone. That has been incredible. The whole Bandcamp scene is great. It is supporting independent music. Fall ’18 was the first album that Stratford put out in vinyl as a full LP. Since then, I think Andrew has put out maybe 20 albums on vinyl. I think it’s huge. It’s huge for independent labels and musicians. To grab a niche and grab a group of people. To have a format where you can have it and hold it. There is something cool about that.

Joe:
Your success with your albums on vinyl has been impressive. Your last album sold out so quickly…I could not get a copy of it.

Ben:
We did 300, and that sold out in 15 mins. I said, “Damn, we should have done 500.” We are always trying to keep up with demand; at the same time, it’s literally a dude and his girlfriend shipping out all these albums. It’s a big commitment to press something to vinyl. We are doing the best we can to fulfill the demand. To pay for the vinyl upfront and have the ability to ship out 500 albums is a lot. We just did an open preorder for fall and ended up being a little over 500. It’s a lot of albums to ship. It’s a work in progress. We are trying to grow as the demand continues. Tomorrow we are putting a 100-cassette run of Still up for sale. It’s a one-off with a cool little obi. That was just a really quick one-off thing. Yeah, the demand has been cool. It’s been great to see the demand for everything.

Joe:
Do you personally collect and listen to physical formats, or do you mostly use digital music?

Ben:
I do have a personal collection. I get sent a few of each record of my own. I put out quite a few records in the last few years. I still have a collection, though. I still collect. I’m weird, though. I’ll collect that 70s European stuff. I’ll pick up a weird album where I hear one track, and I love it. Then I’ll buy the album, and it’s some weird old record. I’m not necessarily buying new music on vinyl that much. However, I’ll support my buddy oDDling on Stratford; I bought his record. I always like to support people I listen to and people I know. I know it’s hard out there. I guess if I’m listening to newer stuff, it’s probably digital.

Joe:
What are some artists, songs, albums,
etc., that have influenced the Hotel Pools sound?

Ben:
When I first started listening to Electronic Gems, I hadn’t even heard “Resonance.” I mean, that’s obviously the song that everyone talks about. I did end up hearing it; it’s a great track. “Slow Drip” by De Lorra was one of the ones that really influenced me right away. He is a friend of mine and just a really talented artist in the scene. He had another track called “Still Phasing” that was really influential on me when I was writing Constant—a couple of tracks by Voyage. Paradise was really big on Electronic Gems. When I was young, I was super into Hip-Hop. I was super into Led Zeppelin. I wanted to listen to Led Zeppelin when I was in elementary school. Then came the Hip-Hop thing. Then I got into a lot of M83 and Cut Copy. It was that 2000s phase; I was even into Shiny Toy Guns. Even that poppier side of Electro. I just always liked chill music. I like more mid to low-tempo stuff. Groove driven. That’s just what I fall back on. When I started Hotel Pools, I just told myself I was going to do what I wanted to do. I was sick of doing stuff because I felt like I needed to. Not doing stuff because someone told me I need to. I’m just going to do what I truly want and see what happens. When I finally did that, that’s when stuff started to happen.

Joe:
What do we have to look forward to from you and Hotel Pools in the future?

Ben:
I hit the end of the year pretty hard. I was working on a lot of collabs with artist’s I was a fan of. Either I approached them or they had approached me. I hit a roadblock of sorts after Still. The collaborations kind of helped that and helped inspire me. I would send them a track, and they would send something back with a totally different spin on it. Sometimes they would have a little start and send it to me. Then I would take it further. Since December, though, I have been working on a new record. I’m pretty much done with the writing and recording. I still have to mix and master it; that process will be a little different this time. I have some new equipment for the mastering. Realistically, it will be released late spring or early summer. It will include a couple collaborations that were popular from last year that I would like to put on vinyl. There will also be a bunch of new songs. I think it’s my longest album, over 40 minutes of music.

Sequential

Interested in learning more about the work of Hotel Pools? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Records, Roots & Ramblings, by Joe O’Brien, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/records-roots-ramblings-archives/

Published by Joe O'Brien

Joe has always been a huge music fan. Growing up on Long Island, NY, USA, Joe did chores and dumpster dove for bottles with his best friend Andrew to trade bottles for money to buy vinyl. Joe is a Registered Nurse in the ER by day, and a life-long music lover by night. Having been an avid consumer of all things music since he was a child, Joe’s diverse collection of over 3,000 vinyl albums, plus several hundred tapes and CDs, tells the story of a man who simply loves music. Joe’s goal is to write about what he is most passionate about and share new and exciting music. Joe lives on Long Island, NY with his beloved dog Scarlett.

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