Ben Fletcher is a 21-year veteran of the Australian music industry, despite only being in his mid-30s. The Sydneysider quit school in 1992 to join indie rockers Bluebottle Kiss, sneaking into pubs to play gigs and soon getting signed to Sony subsidiary Murmur around the same time as another young outfit, Newcastle trio Silverchair.
"Daniel Johns is the same age as me," Fletcher chuckled. "We had different journeys, obviously."
He has travelled a different road, certainly, but one as long and as winding as the 'Chair man. The path finally arrives at the release of his debut solo album, Upon Ayr, a collection of evocative indie folk tunes resting somewhere between Something for Kate, Josh Pyke and Boy & Bear.
The album is not the first to carry his mellow voice. After leaving Bluebottle Kiss in 2004, Fletcher started his own band, the Devoted Few.
The following year, he started playing bass, guitar and keys with Sydney songstress Sarah Blasko and in 2010 he followed her to London, which he now calls home.
"I like being on the road - I like moving," the quietly spoken Fletcher said when he was in Perth for Blasko's recent Kings Park concert.
"I was in Bluebottle Kiss when I was 15 and that's all I've ever done, touring lots. It's the only thing I know how to do now. I'm stuck with it."
Joining a band as a teenager was "the best thing ever … I hated school," Fletcher said. "All of a sudden I started playing bass in this band and then literally we got signed to Sony a week later and I quit school and started touring. It was kind of awesome."
Fletcher enjoyed reading the giants of American literature, such as John Steinbeck, Tom Wolfe and, of course, Jack Kerouac. The beat generation legend's On the Road and Big Sur had a big impact on the young musician.
Since moving to London, Fletcher has created his own stories, writing on tour with Blasko or finger-picking a nylon-stringed guitar into a laptop perched on the toilet in the bathroom of his flat.
He also sneaked into a studio at an unspecified Sydney university late at night to lay down some demos, hiding from security guards when they did their rounds.
Fletcher said that he was hoping to save enough money to afford a professional studio to flesh out the songs - until he got a bit of salient advice while touring Europe with Paul Kelly.
"What he said really struck me. He said he'd never done demos in his life," Fletcher said. "I've always demoed in Bluebottle Kiss and the Devoted Few - it's just what you do. When he said that he doesn't demo, it dawned on me that these songs I've recorded don't need to be re-recorded. They sound fine."
Blasko also weighed in. "She kept telling me 'Just make your record'," he said. "I'd been writing for two years on tour, we'd talk about it all the time and she basically forced me to make this record. I was waiting to get the money or studio time and she said 'You don't need that, just go and make it'."
The songstress also lent her gorgeous voice to the album, most notably the Bonnie and Clyde duet, Simple Life. She also invited Fletcher into the Stockholm studio where she made her latest album, I Awake, so that he could record the rhythms tracks for Upon Ayr.
After seven years of touring together, Fletcher said Blasko was like a sister to him. "We pick on each other," he laughed.
The young veteran will be on the road in Europe with his sonic sister in April, before returning to tour Upon Ayr around Australia.
The peripatetic muso doesn't mind that his long-awaited debut had to be recorded piece by piece in Sydney, London and Stockholm.
After hiring expensive studios to record with one eye on the clock with Bluebottle Kiss and the Devoted Few, Fletcher enjoyed laying down the songs on Upon Ayr in his bathroom."I think a lot of musicians are going to have to do it like that," he said. "I think it makes for a more interesting album as well, recording at home, as long as it doesn't make it sound too lo-fi. You can make a great album at home."
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