Last summer, we were sitting in Scratcher Bar. It was a warm evening, we sipped a sweating Corona and waited for Brendan Benson to show up. We weren't sure how our new digital recorder worked, and we hoped it would pick up the conversation that was about to happen. Upon arriving, Benson helped us test out the new gadget, ordered a red wine, and then wanted to sit outside and smoke cigarettes - before hitting the record button.
We sat on a stoop for a while, talked about kittens, Zara, New York, his new discovery of blogs...and how he hates interviews.
Once back inside we started on our 2nd drink and dragged Benson in to something he just told us he hated.
JC: Tell me how you first started recording.
BB: I was in a couple bands and those didn’t last…there was no one else to play with, no one wanted to play…so I just decided screw it, I’ll do it myself. I didn’t declare that I would be a musician, but I just started recording songs in my bedroom on the cassette deck, I figured out a way to do one or two overdubs so I could harmonize or sing along or something like that. And then it just went from there, I finally bought one of those porta-studios.
JC: And you play all of the instruments on your latest album?
BB: I do yeah. My favorite is drums, and I’m not really great at any one instrument, I do have fun. I do enough I think to get by and make a record. But I was thinking about the next record, I’ll probably get a band. I’m kinda tired of doing it myself, and I don’t want to spread myself too thin.
JC: Do you think you’ll get a producer for the next one?
BB: I might get a producer or get some help, get a co-producer or something. I think it would be more interesting, I’m ready to venture out.
JC: You have a new project with Jack White...
BB: It’s called the Raconteurs. We made this record, it's sitting on the shelf right now while we were doing our own records. We talked about doing some shows. Kind of playing it by ear. [Ed. note: this was last summer, the boys are now playing shows.]
JC: Your sound is a contrast to the garage rock sound that Detroit has produced the last few years...
BB: Detroit’s funny like that, it doesn’t seem to matter so much the style of music you play. But if you play music you’re kind of "in", you’re part of the family. And I think I’m pretty respected too, I’ve been doing it for quite a while. So just based on that. I’m friends with everyone down there.
JC: Is there a power pop scene sprouting up down there?
BB: No, there isn’t really a power pop scene, it is mostly garage. Blanche is from there, they don’t really fit in either. It’s probably better.
JC: Yeah, it sets you apart. With Alternative to Love [Benson's last album]...everyone hears relationship songs, but is it something more?
BB: Everyone seems to think this record is about love/relationships, and it’s really not. If you listen closely it’s not really about that, I mean there’s a couple songs…but a lot of it’s just stream of conciousness. That comes out sometimes. Like everyone else, will I ever find love? Am I in love? The title has love in it, but you gotta listen to the record and it’s not too much about that.
JC: Could you map out the last few years...bring us to how you got here, with this album, what's been inspiring to you lately?
BB: I did a bunch…I mean, I moved, I broke up wth my girlfriend, I bought a house, built a studio, I did a bunch of writing. I did a bunch of stuff, I just didn’t have a label. And I wasn’t actively seeking one.
I’m inspired a lot. All the time. By all kinds of stuff. Friends, fans, strangers, places, I mean, there’s never been one consistent thing.
JC: You strike us as Zappa-esque - locking yourself in a studio, not eating, smoking, and creating...
BB: Yeah, I mean I definitely…if I had it my way actually I would be in the studio way more than I am now – which is still a lot. I don’t see my family sometimes for a long time, or my girlfriend, or friends. And I feel guilty so I make it a point to spend time with them. But I’d rather just be working. Just being in the studio physically. I mean it’s in my house. Even if it’s just cleaning the studio, whatever, I just want to be around it. I feel like it’s my sanctuary.
Shortly Benson was off to do some shopping on Broadway before another interview. That night he said he'd be at Rothko to check out Be Your Own Pet, a band he'd be joining at the Siren Festival the next day.
As for his side project with Jack White, The Raconteurs play Irving Plaza on April 7th, the show is sold out.