The Transcending Soundscapes of Startle The Heavens

For those into the wondrous reveries of such class ambient acts as Brian Eno and Harold Budd, it is highly recommended that you give the remarkable Startle The Heavens a listen or two.  The brainchild of composer Ben Leopold, this is music destined to take the listener into the most fascinating of places.  Having just released his second full-length recording entitled Always Transcending, we thought it was high time to find out more about artist and his thoroughly inventive work…

Introduce yourself, tell me what you do in Startle The Heavens, and how long the band has been together.
I’m Ben Leopard and Startle the Heavens is my solo work. I play all the instruments you hear in Startle the Heavens and I have been working on this project since 2007.

Where are you from and what is your local music scene like there?
I am from Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham’s local music scene has made a lot of improvement over the past 5 years. We’ve had some great ambient/instrumental bands such as Unwed Sailor, The Album Leaf, and Explosions in the Sky played here recently and have really good crowds. As far as the local band scene goes, I can’t really describe what’s out there. It seems the older I get the less shows I go to unfortunately.

What inspired you to start doing this kind of ambient style music?
I would say there were two major things that inspired me to start playing ambient music. The first being my love of nature. I love the outdoors and it has always seemed like nature and ambient music go hand in hand. The second thing that inspired me would be indie movies. Some of my favorite movies have amazing ambient soundtracks.

Is there any story or concept to the CD title Always Transcending?
Yes, Always Transcending was inspired by the flowing water of rivers and creeks. I spend a lot of my free time floating down Alabama’s wonderful rivers in my kayak and I love how the water leads you to a new landscape around every bend. The water and scenery is always changing. I tried to add that into my music by having a completely different part fade in toward the end of my songs giving them a different sound or feel.

Where did you get the name Startle The Heavens from?
Startle the Heavens came from a song title by the band Hammock. I just like how it sounded honestly. Also, I did not want to use my real name because there are just too many Bens in the music industry already!

Have you ever played live or plan to do so in the future? If so, what is a live Startle The Heavens show like?
I have never played a Startle the Heavens show live. The idea has been brought up a few different times and I’ve even had some friends help me practice it but I never kept it going. If I were to play a live show it would have to have some type of video playing behind it that was in sync with the music.

Are you involved with any other bands outside of Startle The Heavens?
Some friends and I are trying to start an old school country band! Something that would sound like Merle Haggard or Hank Williams Sr.

Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd have done scoring for movies in the past. Is that something you might want to do in the future?
Absolutely. When I started Startle the Heavens that was my biggest goal and it still is. I would love to sit down and write songs based on the emotions of a movie. By the way… The soundtrack that Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd did to Mysterious Skin is one of the movies I was talking about that inspired me to write the music I do.

Do you have any secret metal or hardcore bands you’ve been involved with in the past?
As many different genre bands that I’ve been in over the years I’ve never been in a metal or hardcore one.

What was your favorite CD of 2009 and why?
My favorite album was Jonsi & Alex Riceboy Sleeps. My favorite EP was Robin Guthrie’s Songs to help my children sleep.

How close are you to releasing new material?
I do not plan to release any new material in 2010 but hopefully by early 2011 I will have a new full length. I would also like to do an experimental ep.

If there was one thing you’d like a listener to remember after hearing the music of Startle The Heavens for the first time, what would it be?
It would be to just keep things simple. It doesn’t matter if it’s life or music we are talking about. Don’t worry about making things technical or complicated. The most beautiful things in life are usually the most simple!

Any final words of wisdom?
Stay modest in all things you do.

(Interview by Kenneth Morton)

Startle The Heavens on Myspace


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