June 8th, 2018

Ok. Cover number four. 

For this one I picked “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. Dolly is a hell of a songwriter, both in what she's written for herself and for others. I think she's got a really cool sense of melody, and she's the type of professional we don't much see anymore. Always seemed genuinely kind as well. But I remember when someone on youtube put up the 33rpm version of Jolene (pressed as a 45) about 5 years ago, and I got a little obsessed with it. At some point I figured out the chords just playing along with the track, for my own amusement. When deciding to lay down some covers, it was one of the first ones that came to mind. I also noticed, once I stripped this down to its chords, that it reminded me of some music from old fantasy films. Like the soundtrack of “The Last Unicorn”. So I decided to push that stuff a bit with the piano and mellotrons. 

I had a ton of fun making this cover art, too. Everyone involved just laughed for a couple hours straight. Again, I worked with Glen Alen who runs Drag Academy, and he put the entire look together. He found and styled the wig, did the make-up, and already had the fake breasts and jewelry. He was a one stop shop! I was unsure of how this one would go, but he nailed it. Thanks again, Glen. And a special to thanks to “69” for letting us shoot in their space and for providing the clothes, and to Roy Berry for taking the photos. I just showed up and it all happened. 

Dolly Cover.jpg

Hopefully, this can be a little bit of nightmare fuel. I think it's probably the best photo I've ever taken. Hahaha. 

And like all the others, I cut together a video out of public domain footage that caught my eye. 

This is the last one in that style, though. The last two covers are a little stranger with the videos. Excited to see how those shape up. 

But cool. That's enough for now. I hope everyone is well. 

May 25th, 2018

Okay. So for cover number three I picked “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey.

This will likely come as no surprise, but I know very little about modern pop music. It's not something I follow. I never really have. By the time the Backstreet Boys popped up on the radio, I was already well into underground music. But I want to stress, this was never principle for me. I have no problem with pop music. You often come across this high-horse attitude about it that I really don't share. Music is music. You like it or you don't. I'm not very social about what I enjoy, and I'm not going to like or dislike something based on how popular it is, or isn't. I just don't listen to a lot of pop because it doesn't catch my ear. Nothing more.

I really like Lana Del Rey, though. I only heard about her because of backlash. My initiation to her music was other people complaining and saying she was some kind of fraud. So I got curious and looked her up. The first song that popped up on Youtube was Video Games and I liked it right off. It had a lot of the things I enjoy in music. It was moody, the chords, arrangements and melodies were clever, and the vocals had a lot of personality. It was the first “Radio Pop” kind of artist I'd heard in a long time that I listened to the song more than once. So I got the record, and again to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed how it was simultaneously melodramatic and bored. It was very left-field for the kind of records I was into at the time, which was fun.

And then on tour, back in 2013, we were in London and were asked to perform on a video blog. I misread the email and didn't realize until 10 pm the night before that we were supposed to prepare a cover. So Josh and I came up with this version of Video Games over the course of about an hour. We wound up playing it off and on at shows from that point on for something fun. So it was a no-brainer to sit down and record a proper version for this cover's EP. A couple others in this little series have come from the same scenario.

Anyway, here's a link if you'd like to hear the result:  http://smarturl.it/gn2vk5

And as with the rest of the series, I also cut together a video: 

Special thanks to Hunter O'Shea for providing the 16mm footage of his Arizona skate-crew. He was kind of enough to donate lots of little clips at a super short notice, and it made the edit a ton better. Him and his brother also make a great series of skate videos called “A Happy Medium” that are very worth checking out.

VideoGames_Cover.jpg

 

And lastly, for the cover image, even with a wig and make-up, I couldn't come close to looking like Ms. Rey. Way out of my range on this one. So I just did a cover that reminded me of her style, and hid most of my face. Hahaha. Some of these were definitely more challenging than others. But such is the way. As someone who has never done drag, it has given me a lot more respect for the medium. It's a lot harder than it looks. And it didn't look easy to begin with.

Anywho, I hope everyone is well.

May 11th, 2018

So it's time for cover number two, and what I chose is the theme from “The Goonies” by Cyndi Lauper.

Why this one?

Goonies is one of my big childhood movies. I remember renting the VHS multiple times in elementary school, alongside Don Bluth animations (Secret of Nimh and Land Before Time especially), Chipmunk Adventure, Transformers and Return To Oz. I still love all of these. But one thing that really stood out to me from Goonies was the music, and especially the theme song. That track eventually led me to “She's So Unusual” and everything beyond, but it's where I started with Cyndi. Sometimes it's nice to go back to the beginning. I also liked that I was genuinely stumped about how to cover this one at first. I enjoyed the challenge.

Here's the link to the track:  http://smarturl.it/64q92x

We had a lot of fun doing this photo shoot, too. The make-up, wig, clothing, accessories and styling were all done by Glen Alen. Glen runs Drag Academy, works like a madman, and is a total pro. He had me all put together within an hour, and I couldn't stop laughing about the result (see below). It was a ton of fun. I tend to be such a bummer when I sit down to write music, so doing something light-hearted like this was a good change of pace. But never fear. I'll be back to my old, sad-bastard self soon enough. Ha. 

Goonies_Cover.jpg

And I've been throwing together videos out of public domain footage for a lot of these tracks, but did some bonus overlays for this one. Here's a link to that:

That's all for now. I hope everyone is well.

April 27th, 2018

So I'm finally putting up some new recordings! I have been tracking a ton these past 8 months, but due to the inevitable back-end organization that comes with running your own label, it always takes a while before things are actually released. More on that in a bit. First, I'll explain what I'm putting out today.

After years of moving, resettling multiple times, and lots of work getting my head on straight, I found myself in an odd spot – it was the longest I'd ever gone without regularly recording. Fall of last year, I was done moving and trying to think of a way to get back in the saddle as a producer. When you engineer/produce all of your own material, it's very different from working with others. It's more difficult in a lot of ways. So I decided to do a series of cover songs to get my chops back up. This way I could focus on the production and arranging side of music without focusing so much on what I was personally trying to say. It was also a good way to learn my new recording space – my living room. Rooms are such a big part of recording that I always get the best results when I make time to get to know them. I've come to really like this one.

I gave myself a theme with these covers, as I always tend to do: I am only covering women, and I am basing my choices on voices/personalities that have struck me over the years. Most of these are nostalgic.

The first one I'm putting up is from The Cranberries, as an homage to Dolores O'Riordan. I was really sad when I read the news that she'd passed. The Cranberries were a private band for me. Some might call it a guilty pleasure. I came up in rock music. Bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins were such a huge influence, and a large part of why I picked up a guitar. Those bands quickly led to the whole world of indie rock, and it wasn't long before The Pixies, Sonic Youth, Polvo, Slint, My Bloody Valentine and the like took over. It was all my friends listened to by the time we were starting high school. But on my own, when no one was around, I also liked my pretty songs. Some of them were radio-friendly and therefore not cool. This is where The Cranberries lived for me. And while they were most known for Zombie at the time, I really loved songs like Linger, Dreams, Ode To My Family, Dream My Dreams. And I adored her voice. Very Irish, and it always felt so raw and direct to me. It still does.

I picked “Ode To My Family” because it straddles sentimental and somber in such a way that makes it hard to pin down. A lot of my favorite songs dance between emotions like that, and it's something I often strive for in my own stuff, so it made the most sense to me. I also remember seeing the video first pop up on MTV and I really liked the feel of it right away. The song is not an easy range for me to sing in, no matter what key I put it in. I also made myself track the vocals in a single take as a challenge, figuring it was the best way to mirror that raw and unabashed quality her voice has.

Here's a link to the result (Spotify):

https://tinyurl.com/yaamamru

I also put together a video from home videos of different eras, as a small nod to the original video:

Another rule I've made for this series is: for the artwork, I will do my best to look like each of the women I'm covering. I do not have the bone structure for drag (an artist friend of mine once described me, while working on my portrait, as a human potato … hahaha), so all of these will be a stretch. But I think laughing at yourself is important. Two of these in particular are going to be a horror show. You're welcome.

Here's my best Dolores:

Cranberries_OdeToMyFamily_CoverArt.jpg

This series was completed a bit ago, so I'm putting up a track everything other Friday. It'll be a fun lead up to my next set of releases. I have lots of smaller things coming out this year. Two EPS, some fun stuff around a re-release, as well as really launching Bear Machine next month.

I have a lot more to say on all those things, but I will do that as a separate post. I think this is long enough. I hope everyone is well.

R.I.P. Dolores.

March 4th, 2018

So it's been a while. I always think I'm gonna write more than I do, both here and on social media. But I honestly forget. 

I'm not particularly into social media (shocker). I've had stints where I use it more, but not many. I sometimes wonder about this. It's such a major part of the world now. I don't have some high-horse issue with it. Sure, it has problems and affects society, but so do most things. And I think it's human nature to abuse things that are new -- we often find our limits by going too far. Does that happen with social media? Of course. But I'm not coming at it from that angle. While I like to read about these things, and I have side-line opinions about it all (I have opinions about everything, so this isn't special), my personal conclusions here are far less lofty. 

I don't like my phone very much. That's the root of it. I put it away all the time. I often turn off all notifications often and only look at them when I'm in the mood, or on the toilet (it's fascinating compared to the ingredients label of my hand soap). But if I'm writing or recording, having something in my pocket that tries to get my attention every time there's a text, email, someone liked a photo of a cat, a politician proved yet again to be a dimwitted sociopath, and so on, I get distracted from what I'm really trying to do. I get less done, and I lose my train of thought. I'm not a very good multi-tasker. I like to focus on one thing at a time. I enjoy being thorough, I adore details, and I don't like feeling scattered. So I'm pretty picky about letting my phone yell at me. I sometimes think of it like "Navi" from Ocarina of Time, and have similar feelings towards it. As such, I am always behind on all things social media. I answer people hours, or days, late. I'm not instantly available, and these things slip my mind. 

But I realize how this appears in our current state of affairs. Sometimes people write me and ask if I have quit. I haven't. I just don't like broadcasting my day-to-day life. I am happy to share my work once I have shaped it into something I'm proud of, but my life? Not so much. I'm not that interesting. And even with close friends, I want to see them in person. Watching snippets of people's lives from a distance isn't very satisfying, especially when I know them well. It doesn't stick for me, and I don't remember it. 

This is likely all a lengthy justification of why I don't talk about what I'm doing very much. But I like writing more when I don't filter myself, and just let out whatever comes out. Now onto something with a point ...

I have been recording a lot. I have a nice sounding living room in this new place. It's working really well. But since it's been a while since I've had the peace and quiet to really write and record, I came up with an idea to get my engineering and producing chops up to snuff. I have recorded 6 cover songs. All of them are from women whose voices I love, and as of two days ago, they're all done and I'll start releasing them soon. It's been a really fun project. Instead of starting from scratch, I interpreted instead, and it let me focus on learning how to record in this new space. I'm really happy with the result. If you've come to live shows, you may have heard some of these covers. A few I have only played out once, or never. But it's nice tipping your hat to people who've inspired you down the road. 

I also have two Radical Face EPs coming right after. One is called Verse/Chorus. I decided to write some songs that use standard formats, to see what happens when I'm bound to a format instead of a narrative. It's been a good challenge. The second EP is instrumental music. I've been doing more and more work in the scoring world, and I'm really enjoying it. But these tracks will not be for a film or tv project, just ones I have written that I have written for myself. I listen to mostly instrumental music, so this is something I've wanted to do for a while. 

Beyond that, I know what my next full-length record is about. I have the title, the theme, and I am sketching demos and ideas for it. It's always so exciting when all those pieces connect. It feels like a little home has been built in my head, and it has tenants now. I get to add details whenever I choose, I add flesh to the bones of this new mini-world until I'm ready to record final versions. It fills most of my quiet moments, and in some strange way, gives my life some order. I wouldn't trade it for anything. 

I am currently in the stages of music that remind me why I love to do this. There are a lot of aspects of being a full-time musician that are just work, pretty devoid of joy or even interest. It's the hills you have to climb to keep going, and I accept it, though not always gracefully. But every once in a while the stars align and I get to really just create -- to follow ideas down whatever rabbit-holes they create and get as lost as I want. When it happens, I feel lucky. 

I have also been really studying sound, mix theory, production trickery, and hunting down new gear. Both for myself, and for my studio in Florida. I will write a post about the studio soon, and how we are opening it to the public soon, and everything that has gone into that. But I will wait until I am done with the website first. But it's been really fun. I have such a good time manipulating sound, and my interest has only deepened with time. And the results have been really noticeable to me. I keep getting closer and closer to what i hear in my head. That is likely a carrot I will chase forever, but I am fine with that. 

I think that's enough rambling for one day. The short form of all this: I have been busy. Lots of recordings are done and will go up soon. Lots more are almost done. A new record is shaping up. Not to mention some side projects, new things happening with Bear Machine Records, the repressing of vinyls that have been hard to find now that I have the rights back, and a bunch of other irons I have in the fire. But that can wait until the next time I remember to communicate what I'm doing with my silly little life. 

I hope this finds you well, whoever you are.  

August 10, 2017

I used to post a lot more, I know. 


I was never really sure if anyone read these posts, unless people specifically wrote in after. But those emails often led to lots of small conversations, and it was a nice, safe way to feel connected to the thing I spend most of my time on. I've recoiled from that in the past few years. Not because I don't enjoy the interactions, because I do. I just found myself shying away after becoming more public about some parts of my life. Speaking up was cathartic in its way, and I don't regret it. But the truth is, I wasn't nearly done. Big events are often overwhelming and obvious in the moment, but I've always found the aftermath to be the real work. This has been no exception. Because despite some very big changes to find some space and peace in the past couple years, my life was still unstable, and I wasn't sure quite what to do with myself. 


What I didn't realize at the time was that I was in way over my head. I was bumping into things I couldn't logic my way through anymore, and all my old tricks for coping were coming up shy. I've wrestled with depression off and on since I was a teenager, so I knew that part, but the anxiety was new. So I sought therapy. I found some good clinical psychologists and started digging up all the things I'd buried, and dealing with my PTSD responses. We began pulling on threads that go all the way back to my birth. I'm still in the process, and likely will be for a long time, but it's working. Things are feeling simpler than they have in a long time, and the ground doesn't feel like it's always moving. I'm not going back to how things were, but finding a new normal. 


So I find myself wanting to write again. I'm curious to see how it will go this time around. 


When it comes to music, it's been interesting watching how I interact with it these days. Music has been a constant in my life since I seriously started playing guitar at 13. But thinking back on it, I never took any lessons or learned to read music, and I barely learned anyone else's songs. I learned two  from Nirvana ("Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Come As You Are") right off, and that was about it. After that I started writing my own. They weren't very good for a long time, but from the beginning I wanted to write. Creating something new was the draw from the very beginning, and it still is mainly what I like to do. I've been touring more than I used to in the past 3 or 4 years -- still not a lot, I know! -- but I sometimes resent how often it pulls me away from writing. Same goes for aspects of my personal life. So after this short run of shows in October (the dates for the current tour and the one in October are in the "Shows" tab, should you wanna go), I'm going to stay off the road for a while and keep myself in one place. I write the most that way. 


On the writing side, I have a lot of new work forming. A good amount of it at the moment is instrumental. For years now I've wanted to work on film soundtracks. I like film and storytelling a lot, and I enjoy writing pieces directly for mood. So I've been building a portfolio. I'm not sure how much will come of it, but I'm learning and having fun regardless, so it's worth it to me. No matter the results. And since I am in Los Angeles a lot these days, I'm in a place to give it more of a go. So hey, why not? 


For Radical Face, I've got two EPs happening simultaneously. They both have very vague themes, but they are music driven themes instead of content driven. I plan on putting them both up in the Fall. And after that, I think I will begin a new full-length. I've got some seeds that are starting to grow, but I'm not gonna rush any of it. I figure once these EPs are done and up, I'll be ready to really dive in. And this short form stuff will give me a chance to explore some new sounds and methods without trying to keep a large work in my head. 


Another big project that's been eating some time is my studio. I put together a very proper recording space in Jacksonville over the past couple years, and I've decided I'm going to rent it out publicly. It's a big enough room, and for certain types of recording artists, I think it will work particularly well. Plus my house has extra bedrooms, and people could both live and work there when recording, which I think is ideal. Jeremiah Johnson, who plays guitar and piano for me on tour, is going to help me run it. He's a terribly good engineer, and we work together really well, so I proposed the idea to him earlier in the year and he's on board. So we're getting the last bit of insurance and licensing done, then we'll open the doors. I'll go into more details about the space once the website and paperwork is all finalized, but I think it's gonna be really cool. The space was designed by Lou Clark, and it sounds awesome. It's an atypical design, but really cool for people who like to work in one large, multi-functional space. And since I am not in Jacksonville nearly as often now, the studio will stay useful even when I'm not there, which I like. 


Beyond all that, I'm finding myself writing again. Fiction and essays, I mean. It's been a long time since that bug has bit me, but I'm happy it found me again. I've been writing out a skeleton for a fantasy book that's been kicking around in my head for a while. I don't know when I'll have a chance to really dig into it all, but when there's a will, and all that. 


As I sit here in my hotel room in Brussels, listening to the rain, Josh snoring in the bed behind me, nothing feels very complicated at the moment. I think feeling simple is worth more than anything to me these days, and I'm grateful any time it shows up. I hope you're all well, too.


-Ben

New Website

Hi there. 

So it's been a long time since I've written anything. Or since my website even worked properly, for that matter. There's a story there. Lots of stories, in fact. It's been a strange couple years. I've moved 6 times since 2015, for example, and a lot has changed in my life, both intrinsically and extrinsically. 

But I'm on the other side of the wheel, and things are settling down. I'm creating a lot more, I've gotten some professional help with screwing my head back on (long live good therapists), and for the first time in what feels like ages, I understand where I'm at. 

I also made time to finally fix this damn website, which is good, because I have lots of new work coming up. And two tours. Which will likely be the last for a while. So if you are reading this, that probably means you haven't totally given up on me, which I really appreciate. Thank you. And I will get back to writing on here again. I miss it. It feels like stepping stones on a path, only I have no idea where the path is headed because I'm building it as I go. But I like knowing I can look back and follow these little milestones, like breadcrumbs. 

But yeah. Enough from me. I hope everyone is well. Talk soon.

-Ben