JamBase Questionnaire: Garrin Benfield

Welcome back to JamBase's baker's dozen to the bright lights of the music world. Last time we heard from Gang Gang Dance.

Just one voice and one guitar but The Wave Organ Song (released May 17) wants for nothing. The fifth full-length from Garrin Benfield finds the SF/NYC singer-songwriter stripping back the layers to reveal a shining core composed of gorgeous, emotional guitar work and a voice comparable to 70s luminaries James Taylor and John Denver muddled with the open-wound ache of Elliott Smith. The tunes are similarly meshed, conjuring both Hunter/Garcia ballads and classic radio fare, approachable but exposed, intimate but universal in nature. It is in Benfield’s words a “musical journey best accompanied by candlelight and a bottle of Pinot Noir.”

But this is also music for the road, a lovely song cycle for finding one’s way in the world after they’ve gotten lost, a balm for sore hearts, and tentative encouragement to love again, knowing full well the dangers. It is a beautiful album full of the strongest original material yet penned by Benfield and capped off with a sparkling cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen,” an invitation to walk home from school together and perhaps be outlaws for love & life. The hurt and the hope of The Wave Organ Song are equally genuine and measured out with a careful hand, a bittersweet concoction that lingers long after one’s first taste. (Dennis Cook)

Garrin Benfield is currently on tour supporting his new album. He plays next on Thursday, May 26, in Portland, OR and full tour dates can be found here.

Here's what Garrin had to say to our inquiries.

Garrin Benfield
Instrument(s) of choice: Martin HD28-V with Sunrise soundhole pickup, Martin D45 Special with Sunrise Soundhole Pickup, Alvarez Yairi WY-1, Baby Taylor with Martin acoustic pickup, Fender Stratocaster with noiseless pickups.

1. Great music rarely happens without…
An element of chance or risk-taking. Whether it's free jazz or chamber pop, my interest is piqued by feeling that the rules are being written as the performance progresses. I try to approach every song or show with only the expectation that it's going to take me somewhere.

2. The first album I bought was…
The Outfield’s Play Deep, I think. Also loved The Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, Men At Work, et al. I was discovering what music did to me in the early eighties. The first record ever given to me has a lot more cred to it, I guess - Meet The Beatles - which I played on my Fisher Price turntable!

3. The last song or album to really flip my wig was…
"Thirteen" by Big Star, from #1 Record Radio City. It just jumped out at me in a big way, maybe because of how distinct it seems from their other material. It's a perfect, succinct portrayal of that incredible time when you begin to innocently rebel against the powers of authority and assert some independence and live your own little life. I think it resonated so much, too, because I have really fond memories of that time. I know that's not the case for everyone! This version of the tune has really "woody" sounding doubled acoustics, gorgeous vocals, and that bridge! I ended up covering it on my new record.

4. When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be…
A bus driver, a street hot dog vendor or a garbage man; I think the theme there was vehicular. I was fascinated by trucks and carts.

5. My favorite sort of gig is…
The ones that sneak up and grab you by surprise. You’re tired, bummed by the travel, there's hardly anyone there, and the sound guy's already being a dick. You struggle through the first three tunes, and then a wave of serenity comes over you, which transforms your abilities. You connect with the room, more people show up, and the collective energy of the place is elevated. Everyone walks out of there in a completely different space. You and the sound guy exchange appreciative glances. Folks you didn't know two hours ago talk to you as if you are the best of friends. In some small way you've restored their faith in significant chance encounters. You drive out of town so thankful that you get to do this!

6. One thing I wish people knew about me is…
How much I love playing a supportive role to another artist, as a sideman or harmony singer. Such a nice relief to not have to run the show!

7. I love the sound of…
That moment right before your favorite band is about to count off the first tune of the night. There's a little air pocket or vacuum before the excitement washes over the room.

8. One day I hope to make an album as fantastic as…
Either Joni Mitchell's Hijera or The Beatle's Revolver. Hijera for its restlesssness, its scope, its insight, and its production and sounds. Wait, that goes for both of those records.

9. The best meal I ever had on tour was at…
A sushi place in Denver, after playing Swallow Hill -- landlocked raw fish never tasted so good.

10. I always find the coolest audiences in…
Small towns - without a doubt, the most attentive and appreciative folks out there. I've been asked why I play places like a bakery in Richmond, Vermont, a winery in Sunol, California or a coffee shop in Conyers, Georgia. I love that concentrated energy of a small room filled with deeply listening people.

11. The worst habit I've picked up being on the road all the time is…
Accumulating lack of sleep over the course of a few weeks, counteracting that with caffeine, regulating that with beer.

12. Led Zeppelin or Radiohead, which flips your switch the most and why?
By the time I first encountered Zeppelin in any meaningful way, I was already one of Jerry's kids, so they came across to me as somewhat harmonically monochromatic compared to what the Dead were doing in their free jams. Zep tended to lean on blues modalities very heavily, obviously. The first Radiohead record I got and loved was The Bends. It had the creepy insularity of their later more high concept work, but was essentially a rock band playing really good songs with great production and guitar sounds that were already hinting at greatness. I cover "High and Dry" and "Black Star" from that record, as well as "Knives Out" from Amnesiac.

13. The craziest thing I ever saw was…
Way past midnight, a guy chasing me and my singer off his property with a shotgun in rural North Carolina while we were trying to find where we were staying that night.



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[Published on: 5/24/11]

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