Interview: Brendan Benson on his new 'World,' his own label and the Raconteurs
EXCLUSIVE: Singer-songwriter helping release Raconteurs 7" on Jack White's Third Man Records
“I’m tired of the underdog mentality. I’m older and I am not cool.“
Hey, Brendan Benson has done his time. He’s been making solo albums for more than a dozen years, and already spent his years drinking too late, touring too hard, handing his royalties over to labels that have dropped him, or folded, or in one-offs deals. He’s married now, has a two-year-old kid and – in a new change of scenery – has his own label. Which is sort of like having a kid, he said.
His new album, “What Kind of World” (out April 21), is his first set for Readymade, which is now putting out other artists like The Lost Brothers, Young Hines, Leah Mason and Cory Chisel, all artists Benson has also produced. His Readymade label and publishing partners -- Thirty Tigers, Downtown Music Publishing, Terrorbird, Big Hassle, Hard Boiled Inc., Toolshed, and Music Alternatives -- also seem ready to tangle, themselves “underdogs” on a completely independent mission.
This new period in his career feels like the time he made “Lapalco,” from 2002.
“I started out thinking I wasn’t sure if I had a label anymore, which proved to be the case halfway through. The other part of it was not even know if I wanted to continue in the music business,” he explained, now further into the bowels of the music business. “People thought I was in a rut, and Virgin kept me on two or three years, telling me, ‘We don’t hear a chorus.’ That was a f*cking hard time in my life… I was left liberated and wandering.”
Wandering this time, Benson, 41, was an industry vet, who relocated to Nashville in the mid-2000s in an effort to redefine his career. He put out a couple albums with Jack White and half of the Greenhornes as a member of the Raconteurs, plus 2009’s solo “My Old Familiar Friend.”
As responsibilities have grown, the Detroit-bred songwriter has found he’s been better able to achieve his goals, as a husband, father and career musician.
“Maturity means I don’t do the same old things like hangin’ out or going out late and partying… I get more done, more focused on sh*t. I have all that energy now to put into my work,” he said. The Readymade label is shared among partners, like a co-op, with everybody happy to have a solid album out of “What Kind of World,” which boasts an ever-evolving backing lineup of pros like The Posies’ Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, and Brad Pemberton (Ryan Adams’ Cardinals).
“I got back to doing [music] just the way I like to do it. I’m paying for it, I guess, so I I get to do what I want,” he laughed. His bright-lit tunes remain purely rock-pop, though he threw in a little country on “Pretty Baby” featuring Ashley Monroe (Pistol Annies). His little fictions and bits of autobiography are still wrapped with bounding rhythms and the occasional electric guitar freak-out. It’s still the sound of someone who appreciates the ‘60s and ‘70s, but never seems to borrow whole-cloth.
And it’s one of his best produced and – even more importantly -- his best edited albums yet. That may have to do with his stints in helming the records of others.
“I’ve been producing a lot, non-stop. I’m learning more about what makes a song great. I’m giving those artists the advice that I should be giving myself.”
As for the Raconteurs, the project’s “based its existence by timing. It’s all logistics.” Jack Lawrence, Patrick Keeler and White all live in Nashville, and all are obviously very busy. “We don’t talk about it, it just happens when we’re like, ‘What’s your schedule like this year? We’re always writing for the fun of it. That happens naturally too, when [White] and I are hanging out at the house.”
For fans of the band, they may be interested to hear about a 7” that Benson and the Raconteurs are releasing via White’s Third Man Records. Third Man Vault members will have dibs on “Open Your Eyes” b/w “You make a Fool Out of Me,” to be released in June. The latter tune was featured on Benson’s own “My Old, Familiar” friend – originally pitched for the Raconteurs -- and the former was also a tune written during The Raconteurs’ 2008 album “Consolers of the Lonely” sessions (“It didn’t make the cut, It didn’t really fit.”). Benson said he and White were just "finishing off the mix.
Check out Brendan Benson’s tour dates via his website and listen to other Readymade artists at its site.