Marco Benevento just embarked on his latest tour with the Marco Benevento Trio, consisting of himself, drummer Andy Borger, and bassist Karina Rykman, taking the place of Dave Dreiwitz, who is focusing on upcoming dates with Ween. The Poke Around’s Miles Hurley got a chance to catch up with Marco about the creative process, his interest in studio production, and what the future may hold.
Miles Hurley: So I’ll start by asking how the tour is going, you started…
Marco Benevento: Last night actually! Great. We have a bunch of new songs we’re sort of trying out on this tour.
And how did those feel?
Good! Gotta start somewhere. We’re also touring to promote our new live record we have. In september we recorded at this place called Applehead, in Woodstock, New York, and the record just came out a couple of days ago, so we have it for sale on this tour. It’s a mix of stuff, a bunch of stuff from our previous record, The Story of Fred Short, some instrumental tracks mixed with some singing.
[Editor’s note: Marco Benevento Trio’s latest record will be officially released on February 17. Readers can preorder it on PledgeMusic or pick a copy up on the road.]
That’s cool, from what I’ve been hearing you’re getting more comfortable singing live?
Yeah. Well, I mean I still hate the sound of my own voice (laughs). I don’t know when I’m going to start liking it. I’m definitely over the beginner’s hump of it…I’m feeling less and less self-conscious about it. And, you know, the lyric writing is a challenge, as well, but I like it. I’m sort of hooked. Intuitively, when I write songs now, I immediately start singing and coming up with words on the spot. Whereas like six or seven years ago, I would write songs, and the melodies would be played on the synthesizer or keyboard.
So has there come a point where you have stuff you know you want to say? Or write something out musically that you just need to come up with lyrics for?
I’ll mainly start with the music, and come up with words after. It’s more often me messing around in the studio, and then coming up with some cool drum machine groove that I like, and then adding some synths and piano and what not, and then I’ll add the words. I rarely will write the story first with the lyrics, and then write the music. I haven’t done that yet. I’m more of an ear-candy guy, where I’ll come up with some things that I like to listen to, like a simple groove or a one-chord or two-chord vamp, and then sort of improvise or vocalise over it.
This year you’ve been doing a lot of Bowie, starting a few years back, and then this year throwing a bunch in your sets. Has that been an inspiration for your most recent musical work?
It’s definitely an inspiration, I love Bowie’s songwriting and lyric writing, he’s such an incredible musician. I’m influenced by all sorts of things, some new bands that are out these days. I really like this band called Foxygen, and this drummer named Richard Swift, who we actually made a record with, which is why it’s called Swift.
So who’s playing bass on tour right now?
Karina [Rykman] is on this whole tour actually. Dave’s [Dreiwitz] known her for a long time, and he always told me, “Oh there’s this amazing bass player I’m gonna get her to join the band if Ween gets too busy, and he went to her house and showed her all the songs. One night we had both of them play bass, it was really fun. And she’s great. She’s just got great stage presence and is just super positive. And an amazing bass player. You know, she learned about forty of my songs in just the last couple of months.
Tell me about your studio, Fred Short. I know you’ve done lots of things there like played on many different artists’ records…is that something you’ve always wanted to do?
Yeah, I mean I was always attracted to the engineering side of things with records, and also the producing side of things. I’m working on my seventh record right now. The first couple of records I made, I was very hands-on in the studios that I made them in. I worked at a place called Trout Recording in Brooklyn, with an amazing engineer named Bryce Goggin. And I would sort of just watch and learn, and inquire about how to use ProTools, and what compressor does what, what microphone does what, and basically over the last ten years that’s grown to me collecting tons of stuff. I definitely know my way around ProTools pretty well, and I love recording demos and all sorts of things at the house, and it just naturally evolved into me packing a little room, a little side space separate from my house, basically a place where I can make a record. I’ve always been interested in that side of music. Some musicians get into it, some don’t. It’s definitely a whole other art form that needs just as must attention as you give your instrument, and it’s a thing, you know, you gotta practice recording and engineering and producing.
And since I’ve moved to Woodstock and I’ve learned all this stuff about making tracks and things like that, I’ve been hired to overdub keyboard parts for people’s records, and I just do it all in my studio. The singer in the New Pornographers, A.C. Newman, we did three days at my studio and I recorded all the keyboard parts for his record in there. My friend does the music for Bob’s Burgers, and he’ll come over with a rough thing and I’ll put some piano to it, or add some accordion to it. So it’s pretty fun, to do other people’s stuff as well as my own.
We actually did an interview with a trio [The Straybirds] a couple months ago, and their newest album had some stuff from you on it, they had told us a funny story about how they had never even met you but that they loved what you put on it!
(Laughs) Oh wow. Yeah, I love that element of Woodstock, there’s a lot of cool musicians and producers working on records that, when they’re working on them they’ll be like, ‘Man, we need piano like tomorrow or the next day, you around? And if I’m off tour, I’ll do it. You know, make a couple bucks, and have a good time doing it, hanging with my friends in my studio.
So JRAD, every once in awhile there’s talk of putting it away for a bit, then more dates come up. Of course, you guys are still on a streak, really, with one phenomenal show after the next. Is that something you want to keep going for the foreseeable future?
Yeah, you know Joe [Russo] is the leader of that and we’ll do whatever he wants to do with the band, basically. Sometimes there’s conflicting schedules where someone will have to sub for Dave or me, but yeah, for the most part Joe really wants to do a lot of that, and we try to do as much as he asks for.
And the question you probably get way too often…but you’ve done a couple of impromptu stuff in the past couple of months, is that an itching to do more stuff with just the two of you?
You know, it’s more fun than nostalgic right now, we’re not writing new music or a new record, or figuring out the next tour. It’s more of a fun thing, like, we haven’t done this in awhile so let’s do it. We haven’t really talked about we want to do in the future. There’s so much on the table right now. If we weren’t doing so much, with JRAD and my own band, there would be more time and room for it. We’re just sort of swamped in these other worlds. So we’re just doing it for fun here and there, where we can.
So any goals for this upcoming tour?
Yeah, well goal for this tour is sell a lot of the live record that we have, promote the live versions of Story of Fred Short, and also figure out all these new songs that we have, like we did in Syracuse last night, we just sort of went for that on the fly. You know when you’re playing every night for weeks at a time…it’s nice to have new song ideas, to keep you and the musicians on stage fresh, and the audience hearing you in this sort of vulnerable state of like, ‘oh yeah, they’ve got this one song idea that they haven’t finished but they’re gonna play it for us anyway, so let’s root them on and see how well they can do this new idea.’
Well good luck with all of it, and thanks for talking.
Thank you, man!
Article by Miles Hurley