Ben Adams is a rare find in pop these days. In an industry only just getting over the ripple-effect of one-too-many TV talent shows, not only can he sing, write and produce his own material, at the tender age of 25, he's already gained enough experience in the music industry to call his own shots. Ben's musical endeavours surprise and exhilarate at every turn, and he's ripping up the rule books of what constitutes pop music and doing things his way.


 

These are no idle claims. Ben provides an unselfconscious alternative to the devaluing effect reality TV has had on the genre. "The pop industry would have us believe that young music fans are too stupid to grasp or embrace new ideas" Ben states. "That's rubbish. Music has to be able to evolve and change, otherwise it gets stale”. Ben is currently working on what will be his 6th studio album, his 1st as a solo artist.

Flicking through Ben's new tracks, from the slick, world-class “Won’t Do You Wrong”, to the classic emotional highs and lows of the killer ballad "Boo Hoo" and the frenetic nightclub sleaze of "Get Off My Girl", the whole thing sounds like Ben has simply crowbarred open his iPod

and shaken his entire record collection into the mix, and so it comes as no surprise whenBen casually admits that his entire life has been consumed by music. 25 years in the making then, Ben's debut solo album doesn't disappoint. It's dizzying stuff, veering from jazz to R&B to pop to soul and often doing all that in the space of a single verse and chorus, but the wide array of styles is no accident - and nor is the quality of the tuneage. "Pop music has really suffered from the 'It'll do' mentality", Ben shrugs. "But I didn't want my career to be 'quite good' or 'just good enough'. I wanted to smash the whole thing apart."

Ben grew up in Middlesex, in a modest house listening to the likes of Madness, James Taylor, Michael Jackson and Tracy Chapman on his mum's stereo. Raised single-handedly by his mum without much spare cash around, Ben found that from singing solo in school assembly to picking up
 
classical piano, oboe and violin in music lessons, and then combining all that with an emerging passion for musicians like Prince, Queen and Stevie Wonder, he could escape into the world of music. And while it may seem unlikely in the context of the drinking, dirty dancing and dubious circle exploits of new songs like "Get Off My Girl", at only ten years old, a cherubic Ben Adams was one of the UK's top choristers. Having won a scholarship based on his musical talents he found himself based at St Margaret's Westminster Abbey, regularly performing for some eminent audiences (The Queen, The Pope), touring through all the major cities in Europe with the Choir, all leading up to recording two classical albums - "Benedicamus Domino" and "Laudate Pueri". The experience would prove useful for his next career step. "If you are classically trained, which I was, it pretty much equips you to sing any kind of music. I'm thankful I was taught to sing at such a young age because it teaches you how to maintain your voice, which is really important, especially when you're on tour."

His experiences in the choir turned him onto all types of music. "Anything to do with music excited me. I remember sitting at home every Friday watching Top Of The Pops, and wanting to be on it so much. I'm very lucky the way things panned out." In 1997, Ben joined a band called A1 and between 1999 and 2002 they scored 3 albums, a string of number one’s and Top 10 hits across the globe, - all but two of which were written or co-written by Ben. A1's finest hour came with the first single from their third album. Kick-started by Ben during a frustrating group songwriting session, "Caught In The Middle" was ostensibly about an unhappy love triangle, but with hindsight its themes spotlit the musical tensions facing A1 as they approached their third album, and signalled a huge change in musical direction for the band.


 
Gone on that third album were the high-octane disco stylings of the band's first two albums. In their place was a sophisticated guitar sound courtesy of sought-after producer Mike Hedges (U2, Travis, Manic Street Preachers), who had been invited to work on a handful of songs and was so impressed with the band's songwriting that he stayed for the whole album. "Caught In The Middle" became one of A1's best selling singles; a reward, for
Ben, that proved versatile songwriting had a place in the charts and that pop fans are only too happy to be challenged. "A1 was a great experience but I always felt it was a rehearsal for my solo career. I am a lot wiser to the industry so I can avoid the usual mistakes people make first time round. It's like anything - the more you do it, the better you are at it."

When A1 came to a natural end, Ben was bombarded with all the predictable offers of work you might expect to head in the direction of someone who public persona had been permitted to extend little further that floppy hair and occasional winks to camera. In spite of having left A1, his record label Sony, his publishing company and his management, Ben turned them all down flat. "I was looking at the bigger picture," he remembers, "and I didn't want anything along the way to ruin it. He called Mike Hedges, and asked the producer for his advice on what equipment would be necessary to build up his own demo studio into something with which he could make hit records. One hefty investment later, Ben was ready to start work.

Undeterred by the minor setback, Ben became a hermit, locking himself in that home studio and barely getting out of his dressing gown for an entire year. "I was a nightmare to be around," he admits. "I didn't want to be around other people, I didn't want to go out. I knew that I had to put my all into
 
doing music, because I'd thrown myself into it to such a degree that there just didn't seem to be any other option." In search of perspective on his songs - some voice of objectivity after two years of climbing the walls - Ben brought in some of his favourite songwriters.

One revelation was flying to LA to work on "Get Off My Girl" with Har Mar Superstar - a larger than life party animal who drew out some of Ben's surprising songwriting quirks. "I loved his music. It's very inventive and fresh. I'm not interested in writing songs which have been heard a million times before. It's really important for me to push the boundaries, whether it be musically, vocally, performance, and I think Har Mar is on the same tip in this respect. It's been great to work with people who are a little bit out there. I'd say to Har Mar, 'I've got a weird idea.' He'd go 'I've got an even weirder idea'. I'd say 'Brilliant, let's record it!'." Ben spent just short of a month in Los Angeles working with Har Mar. "We'd work during the day and go to some crazy places in the evening. He's a very funny guy."

 
As well as writing for himself, Ben as turned his attention to writing and producing for other artists, some already established and a handful of up and coming acts both here and in the US. Talking of his own album - "The songs on the album are about my life, and the things I've experienced. Although I'm only 25, I've already been through a lot. Writing songs for me is like writing a diary, except one that can be read by everybody." Ben's is state-of-the-art pop music, as broad in its influences (on "It's Brutal Out There" you'll hear
Ben singing opera in the opening bars) as it is deep in its lyrical significance (the beautiful potential album closer "Broken Bird" was written for Ben's mother). "Sometimes when you're a writer, the powers that be want to put you in a box which can squash creativity. I didn't have any of those boundaries on me, so I had free reign to do and say what I wanted. If I wanted to take jazz chords and use them over a hip hop beat with some opera riffs then I could. In fact, the more unique the songs were, the more encouragement I got."

Ben's view of the results - "everything's slotted into place without having to force it" - might sound as if he's taken it all in his stride, but there's been no complacency. "Pop music has become so unadventurous, but to me that's like someone throwing down a gauntlet. I know that I've got to step up my game at every opportunity, and that's what I've tried to do with these songs. Now I just can't wait for the world to hear what I've been doing for the last few years. To be honest, I never even knew I had it in me..."