I recently caught up with east London’s one armed guitarist Benjamin Teacher for an interview about his inspirations, unique style and career so far in the first Squatney Steel interview.
I’ve read that Transformers (1986 version) was your inspiration for getting into music?
Yeah… The guy that composed it was a guy called Vince DiCola… That was pretty much the catalyst for making me play music. It was the coolest thing I’d ever heard in my life. It was great watching a film and having the background music all the way through really kind of like into the movie as well. It’s probably why it was my favourite movie: the whole thing fit perfectly: great movie, great plot, great storyline and the music was just epic. Everything about it was just great it was electric, it was melodic, it was feisty, it had everything. It suited the eighties style of music, but for me it was for me just like ‘Man I wish I was able to do this’ ‘I wish I could do this kind of stuff’, and now I’m able to.
So does the new one kind of disappoint you a bit?
No, what a lot of old school fans haven’t done is separate the new ones from the original. You can’t recreate what was originally classic. Michael Bay has modernised it in a sense, with how society is nowadays. At the end of the day you have to roll with the times. I didn’t get Megatron having something superior to him though, but it has set up the third one nicely.
So who else has inspired you to play guitar?
Well I grew up listening to Michael Jackson, so a lot of his stuff. Many other bands along the way such as Yes, Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, Metallica, Oasis, The Verve, Radiohead, GNR, Nirvana. Dragonforce as well, I love their style of music. Solo artist-wise: Neil Young, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani.
What genre do you describe your own music then?
Instrumental rock. It has pop elements and progressive elements but is pretty much instrumental rock but with a pop twist. I’m a big fan of pop music, not British pop music cos its pretty much crap. I’m into J-Pop (Japanese pop), stuff with very elaborate production: lots of guitar, lots of keyboards. I’m into the whole production side of dance and trance too. I know my stuff isn’t of that kind of standard yet but it is the thing that influences me, to make me want to progress, and to do a lot more than simple rock, cos it gets a bit boring you know.
So is this the only style of music you’ve done then?
Oh no I do acoustic stuff as well, folky stuff.
And do you have a singer with you when you do that? Cos the instrumental market is a quite small, have you ever considered joining up with a singer and doing stuff with him or her?
Well it is a very niche market, it’s something I’d like to break into. But at the same time I’m still searching to work with a singer or a band, you know, broaden my horizons a little bit. I don’t want to limit myself to just playing instrumental rock, I’d like to play with a lot of artists from around the world, anyone who is a genuine talent, they may not be commercially known to the world, but if I like their stuff… If Kanye West phoned me up and said he’d like to me to play guitar on his next album I’m not gonna say no to it. I’m into a lot of music regardless of the style…
Hans Zimmer is just a genius, his work incorporates a lot of different styles, from rock to classical. Every time he does something he just raises the bar. I’d like to follow in his footsteps one day, to create music for movies somewhere down the line. I’d like to do anything and everything regarding music.
So how did you work out how to hold a pick?
Originally I tried sellotape wrapped around my arm with the pick attached to it, but that didn’t really work as sweat gets rid of sellotape. I play every single day and the speed I play can be quite fast to say the least, so I found a better idea and I use a bit of elastic as it gives a better grip… I put a plectrum into a bottle cap, slice a hole in the cap, put it at a 45 degree angle and that’s my pick.
Were you taught or self taught?
I’ve never had a lesson in my life. Everything I do and everything I know I’ve done from scratch. You pick up things by watching other people play and that’s what I’ve done, I watched my favourite guitarists like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, John Petrucci. I’ve watched them play, and for me, I obviously don’t play like any normal guitarist, I have to think ‘How can I play like this?’
But the one thing I’ve always dreaded (whilst) growing up playing guitar is that I didn’t want to be like any other guitarist. I know I physically couldn’t, but I didn’t want anyone to turn round to me and say “You play exactly like Stevie Ray Vaughn or Eddie Van Halen.” A lot of guitarists fall into the trap of sounding like other people. That’s why music these days is in a state really. That’s part of the reason why I don’t really sing a lot, I don’t want to fall into the trap of being just another singer-songwriter.
But at the same time is there ever a danger of becoming a sort of a novelty act?
Well the novelty is what it is. Modern indie will fade out in a couple of years and will be seen as what Britpop was… like Glam Metal in the 1980s, it became so big it died its own death… But the way I play guitar isn’t interchangeable with anything else, it is what it is and I don’t wish to hide it.
Growing up with one hand is difficult enough as it is… Growing up that way makes me appreciate the gift I’ve got. I’ve worked my whole adult life to make a living out of music, I don’t just want to do another job – going to the office doing something I hate. I get to go out and do the thing I love, play music.
Do you make a living from it at the moment?
I busk on London Underground. I always get the question ‘Does it make good money?’ the answer to that is inconsistent… It depends on a number of things, time of day, day of the week… Every pitch is two hours, sometimes I may do two slots a day. I’ve got tendonitis in my left hand… from excessive over-use of my left hand because I use my left hand to do everything… not just play guitar: cooking, cleaning, exercise. I have to do stretches everyday to combat the pain… Physiotherapy made it start to get better though. It stopped me playing guitar for about five months, which was the worst five months of my life, not being able to play guitar, not being able to eat properly, it was beyond difficult. I do stretches everyday. But if I’m playing three hours, and if I’m playing my own stuff I tend to play really really fast and my arm can start to burn and then I think ‘yeah I kind of went a bit overboard.’
The other night at Leicester Square I had about 50 or 60 people watching me… I don’t think I’ve ever had as many as that before.
Do you make good money from a crowd like that?
I prefer to look at it as more people watching me, cos a lot of people had their phones out, and I got a lot of flashing in my eyes and it’s more a case of people putting their stuff (recordings) on Youtube for me to have. For me it’s not about money it’s about promotion. I’d be happier selling a million records and having a mediocre lifestyle than having an expensive lifestyle and selling fuck all records. I don’t need money to be happy, I just want to play music.
Have people told you that you inspire them?
I get it everyday on Youtube. You can just read comments on my page. That’s a great feeling, there’s nothing better than doing positive things… I just want to keep inspiring… The one thing everyone on this planet has in common is that everyone loves music, so what’s better than to make people inspired, to make them want to better themselves, to make them want to get up in the morning and just go for it, to make their dreams happen, to take every opportunity to fulfill their own goals? It’s always been my mentality – if someone can do something, why can’t I? There’s no such thing as ‘can’t’, there really isn’t. I’d like to think of myself as an example of that fact, cos there is always a way to do things, you just have to figure it out.
Benjamin Teacher’s 2007 EP ‘Violet Sky’ is available from iTunes and Amazon. His new EP ‘Fire Sky’ will be available at the end of August.