Ben Haenow Interview

Ben Haenow

Photo courtesy of Ben Haenow 

Ben Haenow is a singer-songwriter and the winner of the 11th series of the X Factor UK. He spoke with us about the joys and challenges of working closely with a sibling, perseverance, his plan for dealing with negativity online, and much more.

Think Before You Type: 
What is your favorite part about having a career in music?
 

Ben Haenow: It’s an honour to get to do something I love for a living. I’ve always loved writing and singing songs, and so having that as a job is the best thing ever. Getting to travel a lot and see different places while I do it is great.


TBYT: How would you describe your sound?

Ben: My inspirations come from all over, but  I’m a big fan of blues music and rock and roll. So I’d say probably a mix of those styles.

TBYT: We’re sisters who work together, so we know how fun (and challenging at times) it can be to work with a sibling. What is it like to work so closely with your brother? What have you learned from the experience?

Ben: Haha! Yeh even after over 30 years of knowing each other we still occasionally have our “Gallagher brothers” moments. But it’s great to have someone around who you trust implicitly. Someone who has your back and someone to help you out if/when things go wrong out on shows/tours and life in general. And someone who really knows me.
And also he’s great with songwriting, we wrote all the tracks on the new album together and as we have been writing together for years and working together we spend A LOT of time with each other… so  I guess I’ve learned that work well together… MOST of the time.

TBYT: If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Ben:
I’d tell myself, Don’t grow that stupid “goatee” beard thing in your teenage years lol! It was really not cool and actually a bit wonkyHindsight is a funny thing 

TBYT: How do you deal with negativity online? 

Ben:
To be fair I’m lucky in that I don’t seem to see much of it… I guess I just ignore it If I do see anything, and I don’t take any of it to heart for sure. I mean I don’t expect everyone to like me, or my music, or what I had for dinner on Instagram and stuff as in real life your opinions and the things you like won’t always match with everyone else.
There are a lot of people, particularly online who find it easy to just say nasty stuff for fun, because they can hide behind a screen and not really take any responsibility or because of their own insecurities and jealousy.

TBYT: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since winning the X Factor in 2014? 


Ben:
I’ve definitely learned to not give up and that persistence and hard work can pay off. The show really helped to give me back my confidence with singing and helped me achieve my dream. Over the years of playing pubs, clubs, and smaller local venues before the show, it was sometimes a struggle and you have to keep a bit of faith. It’s a tough industry to work in and nothing is certain but if you want something enough.. cheesy as it sounds.. go get it and don’t give up.

TBYT: You post a lot of fun covers online. How do you choose which songs you cover? 

Ben:
Generally I just pick songs I like. Sometimes people suggest stuff online if there’s something they’d like to hear but other than that it’s quite random really.

TBYT: If you had the chance to speak to someone who has been cyberbullied, what would you say to encourage them?

Ben:
It’s a tough one. There is obviously a huge pressure and want to be on social media nowadays particularly for the younger generation. And to have everything you do, eat, watch or think online for everyone to see. Unfortunately, if you put things up online, it’s easy for anyone to voice an opinion on good or bad. As easy as it is for someone to Like something it’s just as quick to show dislike. I’d say to remember who your REAL friends are, people who actually KNOW YOU and speak to them. Remember that someone who follows a social media account is not always a “friend” and may just be there to troll or say nasty stuff. There are a lot of people out there who bully, it is usually jealousy or boredom, but these people who don’t actually know you or anything about you just choose to post rude or nasty things online. Speak to someone if it is affecting you.

TBYT: What is your favorite part about touring?

Ben:
I love the whole thing. Going to places you’ve never been, getting out and meeting people, playing to people, getting to see the reactions to the new material or at the shows singing the words back at us on stage. The traveling is all pretty full on and can be knackering but it’s all good fun!

TBYT: Do you have anything exciting coming up in 2018? 

Ben:
More shows and more new music! I got to collab on a song I wrote with a South African artist recently released through SONY which has done great so I hope to be heading out there at some point this year for some shows. My new single “Falling Down” is available April 2nd and my second album “ALIVE” is coming in March so I’m excited for what’s to come in 2018.

Bil Musa Interview

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Photo Credit: Aimanness

We recently spoke with Malaysian singer-songwriter Bil Musa about how her music has impacted people, advice she has for people being cyberbullied, and her goals for 2018.

Think Before You Type: How would you describe your music style?

Bil Musa: It’s very chill. The melodies are very simple but behind it’s easy listening façade, the songs are quite deep because I usually only write when I’m emotional.

TBYT: Who are your musical influences?

Bil: In terms of lyrics, I like straightforward, story-telling type songs and relatable
songs. So people like Sam Smith and Adele would be my influences for that. In
terms of song style, I like chill but meaningful types of songs, so I always look to
people like Lana Del Rey and Jhene Aiko. There are, however, times that I try to
be more abstract with my lyrics, and for this I look to people like Hozier or
Bahamas.

TBYT: If you had the chance to speak to someone who has been cyberbullied, what
would you say to encourage them?

Bil: I would say the same thing that I would say to someone who is bullied physically
– that the people who bully you have got some deep-rooted problems they can’t
deal with so they take it out on you. You should never take what they say
seriously and what they say to or about you, doesn’t define you.. it just reflects on
their character. Also, REPORT AND BLOCK are words to live by.

TBYT: How has your time in the music industry been for you? Has anything surprised you?

Bil: It’s been a rollercoaster ride but really, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
and I’ve learned so much and met so many interesting people. I think the only
thing that really surprised me is how a lot of things are manufactured and
planted. I knew these things happened but I guess I just didn’t know the extent of
it.

TBYT: You recently released your album “Young Adults”. What has the response been like so far?

Bil: The response has been great so far. Like really, really great. For me, what’s
important is how the individuals listening to it feel about the songs and how they
affect them. I would love for my songs to be played more on radio or get more
media coverage but only because for me, personally, when I listen to a song and I
can really vibe to it, I don’t think, “Oh, I found this song”. Instead, I think to
myself, “this song found me”. Radio and media coverage are just catalysts for
these songs to find their ‘owners’ but even without much of that, so many people
have given me such touching feedback – some practically essays, reviewing the album. I get essays almost every day. It’s really nice that people take the time to
write them. I really appreciate it.

TBYT: As someone who started their career young, what would you say to other young people who want to get out there and leave their mark on the world?

Bil: I want to say don’t listen to what other people say and don’t let people tell you
what to do but sometimes, you should, if they have experience – that’s something
valuable that young people don’t have much of. That being said, you’re young and
you have your own destiny to fulfill. People will tell you different things and give
you differing opinions but don’t get confused. You take certain actions and make
decisions based on a goal YOU want to reach. No one else will understand that
goal but YOU. So, just stand your ground, have a little faith, be honest and work
hard. Also, have REALLY thick skin – but that’s something you’ll develop in time.

TBYT: We’re really passionate about encouraging other young people to use the internet for good. What’s one positive way that you would like to see the internet change?

Bil: I think one of the really big misconceptions that arose from the existence of the
internet and social media is that everyone else’s business is yours OR maybe
people always thought that and the internet and social media justified that
thought. I’d like to stop seeing hate on the internet. There’s a very simple solution
to not liking what you see or hear on the internet, switch it off, unfollow, block,
report. Nobody forced you to watch it. In your own free will, you saw it. In your
own free will, you can turn it off. I’d also like to see people stop spreading useless
videos or videos that violate human rights. I just don’t see the point of spreading
those types of videos unless you have a solution to stop whatever is going on in
the video.

TBYT: People often forget it, but a little bit of kindness can go a long way. When was the last time that a stranger made you smile?

Bil: Like I said, every day, a complete stranger messages me about my songs. Nothing
about my appearance or anything. Just purely about how my song made them
feel. I just got a message, in fact, on my Instagram about how this person didn’t
know who I was but they were so lucky to have found my songs. It’s very
heartwarming.

TBYT: What song have you written that you are the proudest of?

Bil: At this point, I think “4AM”. It’s the only song I wrote through a totally different
process. First of all, it’s the first song that I wrote lyrics first and then I visualized
everything from how it would sound, to the harmonies. It’s also one of the only
songs that has a different structure from most of my other songs and the lyrics
are not so straightforward. I also know when a song is going to be great, haha, because in the middle of writing, every two seconds it’s hard for me to go on
because it’s so good it hurts and I know it’s going to be a good song and I just
have to bang the keys or throw my guitar (on the bed) and pace the floor saying
“omg” a billion times and then calm myself down and try to continue writing. I
did that with this song. It’s an incredible feeling when it comes.

TBYT: What do you think 2018 has in store for you?

Bil: At this point, I don’t have expectations anymore. I learned that it’s important to
have a defined set of goals so you can figure out what you need to do to reach
them, that’s the hard part. My biggest goal right now is to cross borders with my
music. It’s not easy but I think this is the year I’m going to do it.

Violetta Zironi Interview

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Photo Credit: Puria Safray

We recently caught up with Italian singer-songwriter Violetta Zironi to talk about her music and songwriting, as well as the internet and discovering yourself. We hope you enjoy reading about Violetta’s art and how she focuses on enjoying the simple things in the world around her!

Think Before You Type: How would you describe your sound?

Violetta Zironi: I would say it’s a mix between what I love and what I am. I am passionate about folk and Americana music, as well as country, blues and jazz, so my sound definitely has influences coming from those genres. But being Italian, I inevitably absorbed a lot from my homeland’s music. I am inspired by the Italian songwriters from the 1960’s, such as Luigi Tenco, Gino Paoli, Paolo Conte. Their romantic arrangements and honest lyrics are very inspirational for me.

TBYT: As someone who started their career young, what would you say to other young people who want to go out there and leave their mark on the world?

Violetta: I would tell them that what’s really important is making sure to never stop learning. Especially from people around us. It also helps us define who we are in the best way, which I think it’s the most important thing for an emerging artist: having a clear idea of who we are and the message we want to send to our listener. We don’t necessarily know in the early years, but learning about people will help us discover ourselves.

TBYT: How did you get into songwriting?

Violetta: I wrote my first song when I was 16. I was playing in a band with some schoolmates and in order to participate in a music contest we had to present an original song, so I just wrote one. And then I wrote more and more and more and started performing them live.

TBYT: You once opened for and performed with Ben E. King. That sounds like an amazing experience. What did you take away from the experience?

Violetta: It was incredible. I could not believe it when he invited me to perform Stand By Me with him. I felt so lucky, especially because he sadly passed away a few months later, and I realized that I had the chance to share the stage with one of the music legends. He could still sing fantastic, and the way he still enjoyed music like it was the first time was mind blowing.

TBYT: Do you have any dream collaborations?

Violetta: Well… my absolute dream would be Paul McCartney 😉 But apart from that, I really love George Ezra, his songs and his voice, and I’d love to sing a song with him.

TBYT: People often forget it, but a little bit of kindness can go a long way. When was the last time a stranger made you smile?

Violetta: I’ve noticed that a smile from a stranger happens very often here in Berlin. I wasn’t used to it. I am pleased to say that every time I get the subway I get a smile from a stranger. And when that happens it really lifts my day up 🙂

TBYT: Part of our work with Think Before You Type is encouraging young people to use the internet for good. How would you like to see the internet become a more positive place?

Violetta: You often hear of the Internet used for negative purpose… such as bullying or express the hate for someone. I have been a victim of haters on Facebook myself, and I have to say that sometimes I got really badly affected by it. It’s very easy to judge people by what they appear to be on the web, as everyone is extremely exposed… so not only should people be careful on how they expose themselves, but other people shouldn’t stop and be aggressive only to take out some hate.

TBYT: If you had the chance to speak to someone who has been cyberbullied, what would you say to encourage them?

Violetta: I think I would just tell them to be strong. Just tell them to think of all the positive aspects in life, that are NOT behind our laptop screen. Real things are outside, and they might be harder to discover but once you do, there is no comparison.

TBYT: Tell us about your new single, “Toast”. What has the response been like so far?

Violetta: I’m happy about how people received Toast. It is a morning song, talking about how much you don’t want to be alone and how such a simple thing like someone making you breakfast can just make you feel loved and give a highlight in a dark period of your life. People have been perceptive about this concept and have enjoyed the song for exactly what it wanted to be, a little cuddle over the cold winter.

TBYT: Do you have anything exciting coming up in 2018?

Violetta: Yes! I’m excited I’ll be performing at SXSW in Austin Texas in March. It’ll be my first ever show in America.  My EP is coming out in three weeks, and I’ve got a few more festivals coming up that I look forward to play[ing].

Kolby Koloff Interview

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When we came upon, Kolby Koloff’s single, “Save Yourself”, we knew it was a song that would be perfect for TBYT’s Music Mondays. We also knew that we wanted to interview the woman behind the music and learn more about who she is as an individual and as an artist. Kolby had so many encouraging and inspiring words to share with us! We hope you enjoy reading what she had to say!

Think Before You Type: What prompted you to start making music? Did you always know you wanted to sing?

Kolby Koloff:  I never thought I would be doing music as a career. I have always sang, but I never sang for other people because I was too afraid. Towards the end of 2013, my brother in law (who has been in the industry for years) started to invite me to come and song write with him. I was very reluctant, but I started to go. I fell in love with it. The entire process of creating music fascinated me and I knew that I had to keep doing it.

TBYT: How does your faith affect your online presence?

Kolby: I want to make sure that whatever I post, say, or comment is always respectful. Not only respectful of myself but respectful of my followers. Christ was so perfect at speaking truth but doing it in such a loving way. I always want to represent Him in everything I do. If people stumble on my profile, I want them to see things that are life giving and encouraging so I try to take that into consideration every time I post something.

TBYT: If you had the chance to speak to someone who has been cyberbullied, what would you say to encourage them?

Kolby: First off, I’ve been there. I was cyberbullied badly all throughout high school. It’s not easy, and it really can make you feel like you’re doing something wrong. Let me tell you, it’s not you. Hurt people hurt people. Don’t buy into the lies that people post. The fact is, they are reacting from a place of pain and what they’re saying about you is actually a reflection of how they feel about themselves. If it’s really bad, tell someone. There’s NOTHING weak about sharing with someone things that are hurting you.

TBYT: We’re big fans of your new single, “Save Yourself”. Where did the inspiration for the song come from?

Kolby: Save Yourself is one of the most vulnerable pieces of music I’ve released so far. For years I struggled with depression. In the midst of that depression, I was bullied, had friends turn their back on me, and experienced a lot of other life changes. I felt hopeless. However, nobody around me knew I was going through all of this, because I hid it. I thought it was better to just appear like I had everything together. Eventually all of that caught up with me and I had to realize that I couldn’t save myself. I needed to let other people, especially God, come in and help my heart get better. The waves of life were drowning me and if I didn’t receive help then I wasn’t going to make it.

TBYT: What has the transition from being on the TV show “Preachers’ Daughters” to working in music been like?

Kolby: Transition from television to music has not been that difficult. They are both hard
businesses to get into, and even harder to stay in. The payoff has always been worth it for me though, because I am doing what I love and spreading Christ’s message through it.

TBYT: In today’s day and age, many young girls are struggling with body image issues. What advice do you have for young girls who are dealing with these kinds of things?

Kolby: Again, I have been here. For a world who talks about “accepting people the way they are” so much, there are way too many unrealistic standards that are being set for us women. If you are feeling those pressures, and have started to believe that you’re only beautiful if you look a certain way, shape, or size, that’s a bunch of baloney. There is NOTHING that could make you not good enough. The God of the universe, who designed Mt. Everest, Hawaii, sunsets, and the galaxy, also designed you. Everything He touches is beautiful and worthy. You are worthy and beautiful just the way you are. Fight the “status quo”! When someone says you should do this or do that to improve yourself, tell them thanks for the advice but you’re perfect the way you were created. When I was struggling with body image, I would put post-it notes on my mirror that had Bible verses on them about beauty. Every time I looked in the mirror and began thinking negative things about myself, I read them and was reminded that I am a daughter of The King and nothing He touches is ugly.

TBYT: If you could tour with any artist living or alive, who would you choose and why?

Kolby: I think I would chose to tour with Ben Rector or Drew Holcomb. They both are artists who embody music that has meaning but still makes you want to dance around a room.

TBYT: What kind of impact have you seen “Save Yourself” have on your listeners?

Kolby: I’ve been really blessed at the reaction to Save Yourself. People have shared their
stories with me, how the song is helping them beat their depression, helping their hearts while going through breakups, family struggles, etc. It has been the biggest blessing because I wrote this when I needed a song to help me get through the same things.

TBYT: Who are your musical influences?

Kolby: My musical influences are Nora Jones, Regina Spektor, and Ingrid Michelson.

TBYT: What plans do you have for 2018?

Kolby: My plan for 2018 is to continue to release music, tour, and keep writing more songs!

Joshua Luke Smith Interview

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We recently caught up with rapper, poet, and producer Joshua Luke Smith to talk about about music, confidence, and positivity online.

Think Before You Type: Why did you start making music?

Joshua Luke Smith: I started writing music out of the curiosity of what could happen. It was that simple. It was as if I stumbled across a laboratory full of potions when I first picked up the guitar and started strumming chords. The liberation and trepidation of being able to create…. anything. From there it became solace, a place to explore my thoughts and craft words that would speak to the chaos around me.

TBYT: How would you describe the style of your music?

Joshua: I would say it’s what would happen if Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) could rap (ha!). It’s story telling, folk music that feels at home in His Hop.

TBYT: You have a very positive presence online. Why is that important to you?

Joshua: I write to Speak Into the Chaos. To speak words of life and hope in the midst of some darks days. Whether it’s a tweet, a song or speaking to a room full of people, it’s a soapbox I can stand on, and I don’t take that for granted!

TBYT: If you could speak to someone who is being cyberbullied, what would you say to encourage them?

Joshua: I would say you are not the words that have been spoken over you, nor are you defined by the pain others have chosen to hurl at you. You’re meant to be here. You matter and you have a future worth waking up for. I would say I’m sorry. Not because I’m involved but because it breaks my heart every time someone is subjected to the hurt that another has not found healing for. I would say you are not alone, though I know it feels like it. I would say Hope is Real and Help is Real.

TBYT: What is one positive way that you would like to see the internet change?

Joshua: I’d love to see nothing written and about anyone, anywhere by another person who wouldn’t say the same words if they were together standing in the same room. It’s harder to hurt another person when you can see you shared humanity.

TBYT: It takes a lot of confidence to get up on stage and perform in front of people. What advice would you give to someone who needs the confidence to get up in front of even a small crowd?

Joshua: Don’t run away from your nerves. To be nervous is to recognise you’re about to do something drenched in purpose. If it doesn’t cost you, it’s not worth as much. Embrace that feeling, own it, and hold onto the truth that your voice, your story, your song matters. Ask for feedback. Be humble. Take people on the journey with you.

TBYT: If you could play a show anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Joshua: I think it would be NYC. The home and birth place of Hip Hop.

TBYT: What is the biggest thing that you want people to take away from your music?

Joshua: That what it means to be human is far more sacred and special thing than they realised.

TBYT: What do you have coming up in 2018?

Joshua: ALOT. New music, touring Europe and the U.S. More poetry. More opportunity to live with less fear. The chance of being a better man, a more caring husband and a more faithful friend.

Interview with Body Banter Founder Steph Ng

image1We recently caught up with Steph Ng, the founder of Body Banter, to talk about body image, positivity online, and how others can get involved with her online platform.

Think Before You Type: What is Body Banter?

Steph: Body Banter is an online platform that aims to open up the discussion about body image issues through sharing ideas and opinions using varied and creative formats (e.g. videos, written pieces, spoken word, artwork, photographs). By encouraging more people to speak up about their experiences and ideas, Body Banter aims to bring to more widespread attention the problematic way we judge and evaluate bodies and to highlight the diversity inherent in both the people that experience body image issues as well as in the ways that these issues are experienced.

TBYT: What prompted you to start your organization? 

Steph: I suffered from anorexia nervosa in my early teens, and therefore understand firsthand how poor body image can affect both mental and physical wellbeing. I didn’t realize that I had an eating disorder until I became quite physically ill, and it was extremely hard for my family to find help for me during my recovery process, largely because we (including me) didn’t have any idea what an eating disorder, let alone anorexia, was! I realized that this had a lot to do with the fact that in Chinese culture, mental health problems are rarely talked about, as they are considered quite taboo and shameful. This avoidance is extremely problematic, as media portrayals of unrealistic body shapes and the number of individuals who develop body image issues and eating disorders are only on the rise in this day and age! Many people don’t realize that their mental state is a problem until physical symptoms arise, which can often be debilitating and even life-threatening. In short, I started Body Banter because I want people to be able to learn about self and body love before the media teaches them to hate and punish. I want to show people that as isolating as the experience of negative body image can be, that these experiences are diverse and happen to others of such diverse backgrounds, and that we can heal together, as a global community. There is too much negative online media, and I want Body Banter to be part of the growing movement towards a more positive online environment.

TBYT: When was the last time that a stranger made you smile? 

Steph: To be honest, a stranger makes me smile everyday! I really like to make friends in unexpected places, and if I can find something in common with someone random on the street (like the same taste in funky colourful leggings!), I often can’t help but strike up a conversation and see where it leads! Obviously, I rarely end up staying in contact with someone whose leggings I complimented, but I do end up walking away with a big smile and a big dose of positive vibes! 🙂

TBYT: What would you say to someone who has been cyberbullied?

Steph: First of all, I would say to NEVER suppress your feelings of hurt, or to tell yourself that those feelings are not “valid.” Find someone you trust and confide in them – expressing hurt is an integral part of the healing process. Secondly, I would tell them not to delay seeking help. I consider it one of the bravest behaviours to assert power over situations that often feel out of your control. Moreover, it is often the case that seeking help allows you to understand just how many people are also experiencing the same thing, and how much support is available to you.

TBYT: How can we spread positivity online? 

Steph: A great way to start is just to be more conscious of the way we use our words. You can never tell how personally affected someone might feel when you comment on their photo or their post. If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it! Another tip is to never engage in heated arguments online. It is often difficult to tell what the person is really thinking or feeling in the moment, even if you know that person personally, and is the perfect place for misunderstandings to occur.

TBYT: What has been your favorite experience with Body Banter?

Steph: My favorite experience with Body Banter thus far is when someone Facebook messaged me to say that having once struggled with body image issues as a result of media influences, they found Body Banter to be a very positive and empowering online presence. It totally made me tear up! 🙂 I always say that Body Banter doesn’t need to change the world (though it would be pretty cool if it did!) – it just needs to make positive impact on someone’s life, or at least challenge someone to reconsider problematic stereotypes/assumptions that they have previously taken for granted.

TBYT: What are your goals for Body Banter in 2018? 

Steph: With regards to the Body Banter website, I would definitely like to see more people contribute video or written pieces, and share more perspectives on their experiences with body image. I also just started a Body Banter club at Duke, and my main goal is for the discussion about body image to expand within the Duke community! One big goal is to create a discussion based workshop that can be delivered by students, to students, with the aim being to spread ideas about body positivity while also seeking to understand more perspectives about body image.

TBYT: How can people get involved with Body Banter? 

Steph: Body Banter’s mission is for the sharing experience to be a conversation, so optimally people would not only share their own ideas, but also respond to ideas that interest (or even annoy!) them in their daily lives. I also want to add that the more original and creative the format of sharing is, the better! For example, we have received art pieces, and even a stop-motion video!