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String Project - Interview

  by Owen Peters

published: 5 / 2 / 2016

String Project - Interview


Owen Peters attends a String Project gig in Oxford, interviews the band's founder Ben Mowat and wonders where 2016 will take this multi-talented musician

A group of musicians are trying to squeeze their bodies, respective instruments and kit on a stage no bigger than a kitchenette at The Jericho Tavern in Oxford. The venue is busy, it’s getting late in the evening and chatter is foremost on most people's agenda, besides a drink of course. With a brief introduction, the String Project begin. Keyboards, synth, beatbox and violins, they don’t come as a standard musical package. Yes, Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Clean Bandit come to mind. However their unique mix and introduction of baroque, funk and jazz make the String Project a surprising and refreshing change to the norm. During the 30 minute set they calmed the crowd (string section), excited (beatbox) and brought some limited dancing in confined spaces (funk offering). Intrigued to know more, I talk with Ben Mowat founder of The String Project over the phone. I begin by asking him the origins of the band. “We began as a string quartet in 2010. I wanted to produce a mix of chamber music, coupled with electronic beats. We grew in our musical style as more people came on board, namely Martin Ash and Wulf Forester-Barker. We have in my opinion one of the best beatbox artists around (Pieman). Our range is so diverse as we have so many creative people involved.” Mowat’s love of music took shape when he began violin lessons at 7 years old. Throughout his formative years he played in various bands, scoring arrangements on a computer by the age of 16. However his horizons broadened when attending Leeds University, where he gained a BA (Hons) Popular and World Musics. “Here my musical journey diversified as I began to explore different cultures and genres of music, ” he says. “I had the opportunity to learn new skills and try to incorporate them into new projects. Composing new material, working with recording and engineering kit, was a huge education for me. This allowed me to work with other artists, understanding the mechanics of how to plan and schedule music through project management. The skills and knowledge I learned resulted in my involvement with live tours. Whilst I absorbed a whole range of music when I was at uni I was particularly proud of the project I co-set up, 'Soul Society' with now Bristol artist, loop-extraordinaire and singer-songwriter Isolde (Freeth-Hale). That was something special.” On leaving university Mowat moved easily into differing musical styles and collaborations. He’s written for large choir ensembles, for example 'Psalm 28', which was commissioned by Headington Singers and recorded in York during 2010. He has also put his name to various film scores such as 'Defenders of The Forest Spirits' which highlights the reduction of Cambodian rain forests due to exploitation of the country's natural resources. So does Mowat see himself as a musician or a composer? In true Desert Island Discs mode he asks, “Can I say both?” “I love playing the violin, but to have compositions I’ve written come together is very satisfying.” When he isn’t composing or playing, he teaches music. He works with children who have Special Educational Needs, but also teaches people who want to learn or improve their musical skills. “I am really fortunate, to see some of the children overcome their difficulties and improve week on week brings a smile to everyone's face. You’ve probably gathered by now everything I tend to do revolves around music. It’s quite simply my life.” So back to the String Project, what have they lined up for 2016? "We are really excited to be releasing our EP later this year and we are working in January with an inspiring director to create a music video for our song 'We Can Be the Proof' (a live version of said song is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zopnik6EgAM). We are also looking forward to more gigs around Oxford, as well as further afield including Bristol and London. Our sound is continuing to evolve, including some exciting electronic developments." The String Project have a simple task, to find a wider audience. I know, easier said than done. This band are different, layering different instrumentation, moving effortlessly between a more classical style to beatbox grooves. Take a listen to their varied material. Catch them at one of their gigs. Either way, you’ll find it well worth the effort. For now, let’s see what 2016 brings the talented Mr. Mowat and his band - it could be interesting.

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String Project - Interview

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