Welcome to the 2nd installment of our “Innovation in Music Series”, where I interview artists who have blazed a path for themselves by following their hearts and bringing something truly vital and original to the world. The first interview in the series was with progressive metal giants Animals As Leaders. Today’s interview is with an artist who has been one of my very favorites since the mid-90’s and who I consider a true innovator – Juno Reactor. I previously included him in my “12 Essential Electronic Music Artists For Rock Fans” piece. Ever since I first heard “Bible of Dreams”, my life has been consistently enriched by the music of Ben Watkins (the man behind Juno Reactor) and his trailblazing music. In fact, interviewing Ben was a bit of a Chris Farley-type experience for me as I felt like quite the fanboy (“Do you remember…when you released “God Is God?…..That was awesome!”) Luckily, Ben was a class act, and very easy to chat with.
Juno Reactor’s new album “The Golden Sun Of The Great East” is a brilliant, genre-bending trip into Ben’s imagination, but the best thing about his music is that his work facilitates a journey into the imagination of the listener, too. It’s a truly creative process, and that’s why I’ve found Juno Reactor to be such a dynamic project to interact with.
In my conversation with Ben, which was on Skype this time so as to have a good flow, I have to say I learned a lot. For one, an Alan Watts quote comes to mind about interested people being interesting.
It’s critical to be vitally interested in what you’re doing and not to feed distraction. Ben is absolutely passionate about trance music, experimental music, world music, classical music, operatic vocals, heavy metal, rock n’ roll, industrial, and all forms of electronic music…well, it’s safe to say he’s passionate and open to just about anything. Instead of going the tried-and-true way of abiding by genre expectations, he chooses to go his own way, to follow his passions and fuse all of this into his work. The results is a cohesive, “everything but the kitchen sink” sound that truly explores.
About his tendency to explore, Ben says “I love heavy metal. I love strapping on a guitar and playing it incredibly loud to everyone else’s annoyance, you know, but I love synths. I love electronic drums and I love opera vocals and I love Indian vocals and I love sitar…Where do you put it? For me I just have to try and put everything in there.”
In a Juno Reactor song, anything can happen, from tribal drumming and Indian chants to downtempo atmosphere and explosive metal. To him, it’s all in good fun. The fact that he has fun with it facilitates more natural creativity…and so the cycle continues.
“For this album, I felt I could really return to some of the roots of Juno Reactor without it being too similar. On this album, I spent quite a bit of time in Indie and absorbed the atmosphere of Mumbai, and a lot of the feelings and inspirations are very much coming from that really fantastic city.”
Also, I really got the sense that Ben Watkins enjoys the path rather than focusing on the road blocks. He does it because he does it because he does it. The original motivation for Juno Reactor wasn’t even to be a mainstream endeavor. It’s caught on because of the contagious passion of it’s creator.
When asked if he has any advice for independent musicians, Ben says “Just keep bashing the door. I’ve been bashing the door for so long that my main purpose is pretty much to survive it, you know? I met Dr. John years ago and I got that off him, really. It’s the journey. It’s not the destination.”
Check out the full interview in audio form below via Vimeo. Visit Juno Reactor here and buy their new album here.