Monday, March 23, 2009

Marco Benevento Interview Part 1: The Album

Marco Benevento's latest album "Me Not Me" is certainly one of the best of 2009. It's littered with amazing cover tunes, and a handful of Marco originals. I recently spoke with Marco about the album. Here is what he had to say.

“Me Not Me” has received a ton of press. Was there a sense of urgency towards recording and releasing the album right away in order to keep the momentum of “Invisible Baby” alive?

Marco: There was no conscious effort to release this in the fresh wake of Invisible Baby to keep the momentum alive. I had two days off on our tour (May 2008) and we decided to record some of the newer originals and covers and ka-blammo--I had a new record. I guess I'm going through a "flood" period of recording, producing and composing. I'm working on a new record for the trio right now! And Joe and I are recording and writing new music, Garage A Trois (my band with Stanton Moore, Skerik and Mike Dillon) will be releasing a record soon too. For the trio, I think there will be a lot of casio tone dance party tracks on the next record as well as lots of circuit bent traffic and of course some acoustic piano too.

Bryce Goggin is known for working with artists such as Phish and Akron/Family. Did you find that his production methods translated well to the sonically dense album you were trying to create?

Marco: Don't forget TV On The Radio and Pavement too!!! I just get along with Bryce. His studio is close to my apartment! We both accept each others creativity. I think we get inspired by each other too. I trust his opinion and ideas, he digs the thick, crazy, mangled sounds that I bring him. We just drink a lot of coffee and eat good food, turn on some old tape machines, reamp instruments, and crank up the Optigan and laugh and try not take stuff too seriously. We have a blast mixing and putting the final touches on my edits.

With so many tunes in your musical canon, was it difficult to narrow “Me Not Me” down to just 10 songs? Were there any cover tunes you recorded that did not make the record?

Marco: Fearless by Pink Floyd didn't make the cut. Not sure why. We'll probably get it out there as a bonus track at some point. We were just about to record "Strangers" by The Kinks, but we aborted the mission and wound up recording my new untitled tune (at the time), that eventually became "Call Home." I wanted to record "Kissing the Lipless" by The Shins, but I don't remember why that didn't happen -- anyway - it's not difficult to choose which tunes to record or to keep on the record for that matter. The really good ones always rise to the top and it's almost obvious which ones are the keepers.

It seems a lot of artists are recording cover albums lately, with Vetiver releasing “Thing of the Past” and Phosphorescent releasing “To Willie." Do you have any moral qualms towards profiting off someone else’s songs?

Marco: Recording other people's music has be going on since recording was invented, so the concept has been around for a while; in folk music, jazz music, classical music, in all music. And I've always wanted to make a record of covers, maybe mixed with some originals. I guess that came from my jazz background. What's funny about the whole "profit" mention in your question is that the person who wrote the song is profiting from me recording it. For example, I have to pay Beck Hanson for "Sing It Again," Jim James for "Golden," etc. Ultimately there is not qualm. It's a great feeling to be able to play a song you love that you find so moving, even though you didn't write it. And ideally your own song should sound like it came from somewhere else, like it reminds you of something, or sounds like another song, a cover. I find that putting cover tunes on "your" record helps the listener connect to what you like to listen to. And maybe it brings you into a new circle of listeners as well.

Your original composition, “Mephisto”, has taken many different forms throughout your career. The Duo version is a slow jazzy ballad, while the version you played with the MK Groove Orchestra was big band and fast tempo. Was it difficult to conceptualize another version of “Mephisto” that would sound different and original?

Marco: Not at all. As a matter of fact I first wrote that tune on the piano and I always wanted to record it with a bass player and a drummer. I've been fortunate to hear it in all sorts of different contexts: on the Rhodes with my band from 1999 The Jazz Farmers, on the Wurlitzer and Hammond with Joe, a big band with MK Groove Orchestra. I actually felt like Mephisto needed another try with Matt Chamberlain, Reed Mathis and the PIANO! I really like the groove Matt came up with so spontaneously in the studio. The big band version came to fruition after I had a dream (on an airplane) about a high school marching band playing it up-tempo. I told them about it and they literally made my dream come true.

Is “Friends” a song you have played before with your Led Zeppelin cover band Bustle in your Hedgerow, or is it brand new to the Trio?

Marco: Joe and I used to play it at The Knitting Factory, and then it became more of a B list tune over the years. BUT it fits perfectly with the trio. There's lots of room for rhythmic play and harmonic freedom over the solo section at the end -- AND - the tune is just awesome - I love Zep ! Never played it with Bustle in Your Hedgerow...... Yet!

You are one of the artists at the forefront of expanding and evolving psychedelic music as we know it. Amongst your use of feedback and your wide array of effects pedals, you also utilize what you call “circuit bent toys”. Can you give us some more detail regarding these toys?

Marco: Just You Tube it--no seriously circuit bending is taking off! They have circuit bending conventions in NY and many other places in the world! I met Tom Stephenson, a circuit bender in Chicago and my life officially started! In short, it's a toy with a pitch knob (custom made by the circuit bender) or a switch that has interrupted or diverted the flow of signals or circuits - hence the name "circuit bender." I love the lo-fi, clitched out sounds that they almost accidentally make!! That's why the song "Now They're Writing Music" has that title--sometimes in the middle of the night they turn on and make there own music!

At the beginning of May I will be sitting down with Marco once again to discuss the tour supporting "Me Not Me" and a whole lot more. I encourage everyone to buy Marco's album. You can find it on ( ) and itunes ( ). Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview.

Here are some sweet videos of Marco's show at the Bell House in New York City. The Trio that night consisted on Andrew Barr on drums, Marc Freidman on bass. Joe Russo, Marco's partner in crime for the Benevento Russo Duo was also on hand to add some extra percussion. Brad Barr opened the show, adding guitar work on a few tracks. With The Slip boys at hand, as well as Joe, you'll see just how amazing the show was.

"RISD" featuring Joe Russo and Brad Barr

"Heartbeats" featuring Joe Russo

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice interview. Marco is an absolute genius in my book. I'll be waiting for part 2 of your interview. Next time you speak to Marco, can you ask him if there have ever been plans to release sheet music of his work? I really love his take on Leonard Cohen's "Seems So Long Ago Nancy". Thanks for the great interview!