JPR Live Session: Ben Abraham

Aug 5, 2016

Ben Abraham's honest songwriting and disarming stage presence have seen him grow in the last two years from a well-kept hometown secret into an independent artist with a passionate international following. His distinctive soulful voice and developing reputation as a songwriter have led to recent collaborations with artists including Gotye and Sara Bareilles, and he was recently hand-picked by Emmylou Harris to support her on a national tour of Australia.

As a teenager, Ben Abraham had made a few misguided steps in the direction of a mainstream pop career. The experience was "mortifying", and so, despite his parents' own previous pop-star status (this in his father's native Indonesia), the Melbournian teen abandoned music for screenwriting, and immersed himself in a different world of telling stories.

Slowly but inevitably, music found its way back in. Abraham couldn't help but pick up his guitar to help him process the relationships he was navigating. An unexpected watershed came during his studies, when he found a part time job entertaining kids in a hospital. He began writing "a half song" about his role, which he played to a teenager suffering from anorexia, and encouraged her to write a second verse. When the song was finished and news got out, Abraham was asked to perform it at fundraisers. "That's when I knew music really could be something: it didn't have to be whatever I thought it was before."

The story arc of Abraham's new album Sirens is roughly in three parts. The first songs (from 'Time' to 'You And Me') encapsulate what Abraham describes as the "introspection and naive longing of my early twenties." 'Collide' to 'Speak' represents "deeper themes" before the final act ('Somebody's Mother' to 'A Quiet Prayer') "are more outward-focused. 'This Is On Me', co-written/sung with Sara Bareilles, has its own story. "I'd found Sara back in the old MySpace days. She's a great singer and songwriter, but what connected me the most to her was her lack of pretence - she wrote this sprawling, personal biography for herself, as I'd also done, and she was trying to find way through on her own, like me. But how best to get her attention? So I posted a song ['To Sara, From Ben'] on You Tube."

Bareilles' fans began to Tweet the video and it grabbed her attention. When she played Melbourne in 2011, she invited Abraham up on stage (they co-sang a cover of Bruce Springsteen's 'I'm On Fire'), and so their collaboration was subsequently born. 'This Is On Me' is a fictional tale of a couple "who both know their relationship is over, but both are taking responsibility for it." By the time it was recorded, Abraham had split with his girlfriend: "The song became, word for word, a scarily accurate story of what actually happened."