On November 8th, 2012, multi-instrumentalist and composer Benedict Marsh released the first single, titled “Moldy Rotten,” from his first record under the name Brother Below.
“If Donald Fagen [one of the core members of 70s band Steely Dan] found out that I'm his long lost son, I'd like to think he'd be proud,” said Marsh earlier this week, quipping about his musical influences.
Only a minute and forty nine seconds long, the track layers neo-Americana and Northern Soul flavored hooks over some very tasty chords and driving rock rhythms. A schooled musician, Marsh chose to take a more traditional approach to his arrangements, putting pencil to paper, writing every note out by hand for each of the musicians who contributed to the reggae like instrumentation on “Moldy Rotten,” with the exception of the bass and drums.
"I had written the bass part out, but Chin [Injeti] is such an incredible musician. He asked me if he could just make a go of it. How could I refuse? And as for Jonny, why write beats for a guy who kills it?"
While his compositional approach may be more traditional, his recording process most certainly isn't, and takes home-made to a whole new level: he recorded the 14 piece band using only one microphone - the built in microphone of an iPhone 4.
"I am completely infatuated with this process. It totally excites me. Letting go of the need to record a big band in a big studio and just focussing on the songs, the performances, and the orchestrations is so liberating. To me, it's the composition and orchestration side that I enjoy the most. Being able to walk into a musician's apartment with chart and iPhone in hand, sit them in a closet or something, record their part, and walk out, is just so fun! It's guerilla recording. And the color of [the iPhone's] inherent sound is so awesome. It's like putting a filter on your lens as a cinematographer," Benedict explained. "Great art happens through self-imposed limitations."
After recording the various instruments and vocal parts one by one on the iPhone into the voice memos application, Benedict imports them into GarageBand for editing, before sending them off to Next Level Games sound designer and techno wizard Scott McFadyen for mixing and mastering in his home analog studio.
"Scott is a genius. He is one of Vancouver's best kept secrets."
Born in Montreal, Benedict moved to Hong Kong with his family when he was only 9 years old. He began singing in musicals at 10, and by 14 was fronting bands in the south-east Asian hub. He attributes a lot of his desire to play music from an early exposure to his mother's talents and his father's record collection.
"She was always singing around the house, in operas, and in Hong Kong she fronted a wicked cover band that was semi-professional. My mom kills it." And she just so happens to be the extremely high voice "killing it" during the song's throw back outro.
At 16, he moved back to Montreal by himself where he quickly became involved in the music scene, fronting various bands from 1996 to 2000. In 2001 he began his studies in the music department at Concordia University, where he honed his composition and orchestration skills, along with his guitar playing and improvisational abilities. After completing his studies in 2006, he moved to Vancouver. Not wanting to be stuck in a box, Benedict has orchestrated for opera, composed chamber music, toured tree-planting camps with absurd jam bands, and worked on an oil rig to boot.
Brother Below is set to release the full-length record "River Kid" this spring. The lo-fi hi-fi record is filled with big band arrangements, dancing between various lush orchestrations that frequently boast 14 to 17 instruments, and is as home-made as it gets.