Q &A WITH BENNY MARCHANT (2010)
ABOUT THE SINGER-SONGWRITER-GUITARIST’S DEBUT SOLO EP ‘CONVERSATIONS MISSED,’
RELEASED SEPTEMBER 28 VIA MARINA RECORDS
Congrats on the EP. It instantly makes an impression sonically. How did you join forces with producer Joe Chiccarelli?
“I was doing work with some other bands at Sunset Sound [in Los Angeles], which is where Joe works a lot, and we were introduced by a mutual friend. I spoke with Joe, asked if he was available and sent him some songs. He liked it and that’s how we got started.”
When was the EP recorded?
“We started recording in November of 2009 and we did five songs before taking a break for two months, because Joe was also working with the Strokes at the time. We started back up in February through March in 2010.”
Can you give me an example of what Joe actually added?
“In general, the songs were given to him just as an acoustic demo with maybe a harmony here or there; in my house I have a very simple Pro Tools formula that I use, with just one mic. Joe found the right tempos and the right positions, and he created the orchestrations. Once the basics were done, he found just unbelievable ways to make the songs speak. And when I would bring in full demos with the band, he didn’t try to change that–he just improved on it.”
Is there a particular song that you felt really just got an incredible treatment by him?
“’A Better Way’ was one of the demos that was just acoustic guitar and a vocal. The first thing Joe wrote to me in an email after he heard it was, ‘I hear a cello in it.’ He stuck to it; when we started recording it a month later, we put it together around the cello.
Who are some of the players on the record?
“We got very lucky with everyone, I was very spoiled. We had Matt Chamberlain on drums, and Dave Kruzen jumped in for a little bit. On guitar we had Michael Ward and Mike Daly. Justin Meldal Johnson played bass. He’s fantastic—a real talented guy.”
Can you talk about The Kings Royal, your first band when you came to Los Angeles. You were the lead vocalist and a guitarist. What they sounded like, what you achieved with them, and why you moved on from there?
“Kings Royal was definitely an artistic band–very classic rock oriented, very influenced by The Doors. It was the first band that I was in where I was the songwriter, so that was an achievement for me just by itself. And the other achievement was being able to go on the road and tour. Being on the road for 40-42 cities, a couple of months at time, was really good.”
Were you touring behind a record?
Yes. We were able to tour with Candlebox and luckily we had the record together just in time. I think even without a record, we would not have passed it up.”
You’ve talked about bands like the Doors as well as the Animals, a great band who doesn’t always get mentioned as one of rock’s finest.
“Their videos were great, too. A lot of the videos back then were very simple, very playful. We kind of took that approach, not only music-wise, but video-wise as well.”
Why did things come to an end with Kings Royal?
“Lot of reasons, and one in particular. In the middle of making the second record, we separated a little; people started having commitments, and it just didn’t turn out to be what we thought it would be. Still buddies with everybody, though. In fact, Walker Gibson–one of the players in my band right now–is from Kings Royal.
Moving ahead, “Conversations Missed” is the title song of your EP—and it’s a haunting track. Can you take us into what lyrically required you to write it?
“When I left home and moved to Nashville, I could definitely see the strain that was going on with my parents. That kind of strain led me to write the song. Unfortunately their situation eventually led to a divorce. It was a very tough time, especially being away from home.”
When you sing of the “Conversations Missed,” are you referring to your parents’ conversations? Have your parents heard the song?
“Yes. I don’t know if they fully know the meaning. I haven’t spoken to them about it. I have other songs that I’ve written that are because of them– it had a huge impact on my life. Some of the songs have the happier times in them, but also the conflict.”
Are you playing guitar on the album?
“I am playing electric rhythm, and the main licks are being played by Michael Ward, like that low, kind of distorted one liner that starts at the beginning of the song ‘Conversations Missed.”
What kind of guitar do you play? What make?
“For Kings Royal I was a Gibson fan, playing SG’s. Now I’m kind of moving towards the hollow bodies. Right now for live shows, I’m playing acoustic for a lot of songs. For electric I’m going to be playing a Gretsch Silver Falcon. It’s one of the nicer guitars I’ve found that are new; normally I look for vintage stuff, but was very impressed by the Falcon so I picked it up. It’s a great sounding guitar; it fits the mood of how I play.”
What records did you hear growing up that had an effect on you?
“Where to start? Before I knew that I was really going to get into music, the first record that I bought when I went to a record store was the David Lee Roth album Skyscraper. I was a little kid and saw ‘Just Like Paradise’ on MTV; I thought that’s a great poppy song. Then I got the record and was just captivated the whole way through. I was like, ‘Oh my God, if music is like this for every single record, this is gonna be a great life,’ ya know? When I was at Lacrosse camp, an overnight camp, when I was 13 and 14, I remember not being able to sleep one night because I had head phones on; I literally did not sleep. I skipped out on the next day of camp because I didn’t get any sleep and I kept listening to the record over and over and over again. It blew me away.”
As you got older–15, 16, 17– any other records come to mind?
“I was listening to some Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead—their Workingman’s Dead album was just fantastic. It’s a very acoustic record and the way they put songs together was just crazy: ‘Black Peter,’ ‘Easy Wind’ and “Dire Wolf’ are all amazing. I’m going to have to also say every single Zeppelin record. I bought them in order; not only was my appreciation for music growing stronger and stronger, but I was listening to a band that was growing and growing through every record.”
When you were touring with Kings Royal, did you ever have that Spinal Tap moment of pulling up somewhere and the venue didn’t exist or anything like that?
“There were two shows in a row in upstate New York; to this day, I still don’t know the names of the cities where we played. The gigs were back to back and supposedly, I said ‘Hello’ onstage to the other city, then the next night I did it to the other city.”
That’s like saying ‘Hello Cleveland’ and you’re playing in Detroit.
‘Hopefully I’ll never do that” [laughs].
Any books or films make a lasting impact on you?
“The Lord of the Rings, a lot of Tolkien, and I’m reading The Hobbit right now. Also I admire Stephen King’s The Stand; for me, the traveling part, not the apocalyptic part, really spoke to me.”
Let’s get back to the EP. Tell us a little about the song ‘Cold Weather.’
“That is probably one of my favorite songs on record. It was originally a kind of poppy tune I had written for a side project, and then it changed a bit as I began working with Joe on the EP. I wrote a different bridge for it altogether, a Simon & Garfunkel-ish bridge, because again I listened to the classics, so that kind of took it to a whole other level. Lyrically, it’s one of the songs that says, ‘I’m not alone, I’m actually with somebody and I don’t care what anyone says, I’m so excited that I am in this moment.’ ‘Cold Weather’ is just kind of like a metaphor for life.”
What inspired the song “Been Too Long”?
“Musically, that was the last song written for the record; we needed an upbeat song so the safest way to do that is to say to yourself, ‘I’m going to write a song with four chords,’ and occasionally change up a few chords and the dynamics–all in all, four chords and a nice little tempo, and there you go. So we had an upbeat song, which we needed. Lyrically, I wanted to capture this: ‘Benny, you know it’s time to get out of here and move on to bigger and better things.’ I’ve been loyal and stayed in one spot and it was time to go.’
Will the upcoming full-length album be your official solo debut? You had another album out a few years ago, in 2004, ‘Teller.’
“I used ‘Teller’ more as a resume. Once I finished that record, it wasn’t really about selling records, or even performing it live. I’ve actually never performed it live.
Was ‘Teller’ available in stores?
“It was available on CD Baby, not in stores. For me, it was about just getting something out there. It also got me to Nashville and introduced me to some great songwriters and local talent.
What inspired the song “A Better Way”?
“The song has gone through three different changes. I wrote part of it in Nashville–it was the first positive song I had written in awhile since my parents had split up. I thought I had finished it with Kings Royal, but lyrically I didn’t like where it was going and musically I wasn’t satisfied at all. Knowing that I was working with Chiccarelli, I really wanted to give that song another chance, so I changed it up lyrically altogether and re-wrote some parts, slowed it down and it just became what it became. For me it’s like just a better version of the song. It’s about finding your way as you search for what is in your soul.”
When it came time to picking songs for the EP, what was on your mind. What did it have to represent?
“I didn’t want to give too much away, but I really wanted to give a great and balanced representation of myself and the upcoming full-length album. I think I did a good job with that. I want the listener to know that I’m not trying to be a catchy commercial pop artist.”
Looking ahead to touring, what band out there do you like and what bills would you like to be invited on?
“For one, the Shins, if they decided to go back out on the road. I’ve also been listening to artists whom Chiccarelli has worked with, like My Morning Jacket; it’d be an honor to open for them, even once. Their keyboardist, Bo Foster, played on the EP. I’d also love to be invited to open for Jack Johnson, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Tom Petty.”
Any particular Tom Petty album or era that influenced you?
“His Wildflowers album; I thought the production with Rick Rubin was great. I was in high school and got to see him live a bunch of times after Wildflowers. Another record that I’ve been constantly listening to is his Highway Companion.”
If you were to duet with someone outside of your genre, who might that be?
“Maybe Stevie Nicks. I would also love to collaborate with Eddie Vedder and Tom Petty. I really like the direction that Eddie Vedder has gone lately with his music.
Can you pick a musical guilty pleasure?
“Third Eye Blind, I would love to do a duet with Stephan Jenkins.”
Why is that a guilty pleasure of yours?
“When I listen to the Third Eye Blind albums, they just put me in a happy mood, even though they have some dark subjects in songs like ’10 Days Late’ and “Wounded.’”
The name of your label is Marina. Is that a shout-out to Marina Del Rey where you live?
Yes it is. I’m from Annapolis, Maryland so I’ve been boating my whole life and I wanted a pelican in the logo [laughs].”