If we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that so much of our lives are out of our control, and we can’t fault ourselves for that! Still, the anxiety that comes with the unknown persists – the lacking structure, the impossible scenarios suddenly becoming possible, changes occurring overnight – it can all feel like too much. But these experiences and feelings are universal, and we can take comfort in that. Inspired by his own feelings of uncertainty following his graduation in 2020, Ben Kessler wrote his latest single “Cruise Control.” With stunning visuals and heartfelt mantras, Kessler reminds us all that even when you feel like you’re drifting through each day, you’re still moving forward.
“Cruise Control” feels like a sigh of relief after a long, existential crisis. Steady, even synths evoke a feeling of calm and highlight Kessler’s vocal range. The ambient instrumentals build emotion like an arc, dropping into a rendition of the chorus that feels both like floating and falling. Kessler sings, “I’m floating and falling / Don’t know where I’m going / Damn it’s exhausting / I’ll get there I know it / Cruise control.” Emotive and honest, “Cruise Control” sits on the precipice of anxiety meets hope.
The music video accompanying “Cruise Control” displays the complexity of the emotions being explained and felt. Juxtapositions are apparent throughout: soft, glowing light and vignetting are matched by the coolness and darkness of snow, shadows, and night. The serenity of a snow-covered road is contrasted by Kessler’s frantic running. Each visual creates further understanding of Kessler’s dilemma- afraid to be left behind, yet trying to find contentment in each moment.
LADYGUNN recently had the chance to sit down with Ben Kessler to discuss the creation of “Cruise Control,” where he got his start, and what’s to come with his new EP set to release in March of 2021.
Tell me about “Cruise Control.” Was there any inspiration behind it?
I wrote this song on my last day of college. I ‘graduated’ this past May right as the pandemic was starting… I already felt a lot of anxiety about pursuing music while all my friends had legit ass jobs with legit ass benefits… that uncertainty in combination with the world crumbling kinda sent me into a tailspin & laid the foundation for this song.
‘Cruise Control’ is kind of an affirmation to myself that even when I feel lost, I’m still moving forward… everything will work out
I’m How do you feel like this song fits into the sound of your overall EP? What can we expect on the EP (sound/energy/etc)?
This song is like the more mature older brother to the rest of the EP. Every song on the EP borrows something from ‘Cruise Control’’ & all of the production lives in the same world… self-reflective lyrics with warm vibey synths and clean drums with some random heavily affected shit. ‘Cruise Control’’ is a bit darker and less structured which I like
What was your writing process like for this song? Did you work on this in Nashville or back home in Philadelphia?
I wrote this on Zoom last April with my friend Jonah Shy who is a crazy talented songwriter & producer based in NYC. I had the title/concept ‘cruise control’ in my iPhone notes for months… I brought it into a bunch of sessions and nothing clicked until Jonah and I dug in. This song covers a ton of ground and it’s not really about one singular thing–Jonah is really good at shaping my unintelligible scattered thoughts into more concise & compelling ones.
I produced a quick version after the session & it lived on my hard drive for 6 months or so. I really, really, really hated the production but loved the lyrics so much I deleted everything but the vocals & re-produced a different version in October-ish.
I love the emotion behind “Cruise Control,” especially how you discuss all the contradictions you feel (“I want fame but I don’t want to show my face.”) I think so many people will be able to relate to that during these changing times- What emotions/feelings do you hope people take away from the song?
Feeling lost is not the same as being lost… I hope people find some relief in ‘Cruise Control’ knowing that you’re still moving forward even when you feel like you’re not.
The visuals in your music video were great, I love how you tied in car imagery. How was it shooting the video? Did you work on it with friends? How was planning the concepts?
I worked on all of the visuals with Josefine Cardoni… She is crazy, crazy talented, and did all of the pictures & directed the music video. I wanted to create a dreamlike, cinematic-ish visual that captured the freedom & discomfort of “floating & falling.” Josefine and Grace Zhang (who produced the video) came up with a killer treatment around that and built a dope team to make it happen (Eileen Yoon, Ginny Taglia & Lukas Cardoni). We filmed a couple of hours outside of Philly near where I grew up… it snowed 2 feet two days before we were supposed to shoot, which took some last-minute finessing and some very cold early mornings, buuut everything worked out perfectly. Everything I’ve done until now has been single by single–I really wanted to take a step back with this EP to build out a more cohesive world and I am stoked about what we came out with
Tell me a bit about you and how you got your start in music – I saw that you started passing out your own CDs at just 14?
I am from outside of Philadelphia & I started writing/producing stuff in high school. I am hella unathletic and I wasn’t interested in any traditional ‘band’ instruments at school so I leaned into gigging around Philly as much as I could.
WXPN, one of the best non-commercial radio stations ever, is in Philly & they put on dope free concerts every Friday at noon. I skipped school all the time to see some of my favorite artists (David Gray, Amos Lee, Nickel Creek, Ray LaMontagne). When I was 14ish I made a CD of a bunch of songs I had recorded in my basement and gave it to Helen Leicht, who is a legendary Philly radio DJ and the host of all of those crazy free concerts. She put a bunch of my music from that CD in rotation which was so validating and really pushed me to start taking music seriously.
A lot’s happened between then and now
How do you think 14-year-old you would feel about ‘Cruise Control’ and your upcoming EP? I’m sure it must be exciting and nerve-wracking.
I think 14-year-old Ben would be proud that 22-year-old Ben is still making music… and that a few more people than my parents are finally listening. I feel like I’m just about to pull up to the starting line which frankly even surprises 22-year-old Ben… there were so many times in the past 8 years I never thought I’d get to a point where I could release a project of my own music that I produced. I didn’t even call myself a producer until this year
Anything else you wanna add or tell your fans?
THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for listening
I am all out of words lol
CONNECT WITH BEN KESSLER
photos / Josefine Cardoni
video/ Josefine Cardoni (@mynameisjosefine)
story / Kinsley Cuen