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Ben de la Cour - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 15 / 1 / 2012

Ben de la Cour - Interview


Malcolm Carter speaks to New Orleans-based singer-songwriter Ben de la Cour about his former doom-metal band Dead Man's Root, and his captivating and Americana-influenced second album, 'To the River Rise'

Few musicians have changed direction quite as drastically as Ben de la Cour. Steering doom-metal merchants Dead Man’s Root to success through their two critically acclaimed albums, the sound the band made was not just an acquired taste but also quite limiting. Although there was obviously something there, how could the band grow and extend their fan base while staying true to their roots? Given that the band met with some success it must have been a hard decision for guitarist/singer Ben to disband the group when he did. But, while Dead Man’s Root are sorely missed by their fans, Ben has taken the opportunity to create not only a completely different type of music but a stunningly beautiful one at that which is totally at odds with the sound of his former band. The old adage that there are only two types of music is, of course, utter rubbish. While the doom-metal genre that Ben’s former band were lumped in with admittedly had a limited audience doesn’t make it ‘bad’ or ‘good’ music, the fact is that while leaving that sound way, way behind on the two solo albums Ben has released since leaving Dead Man’s Root, the music this talented guitarist is currently making will reach a wider audience than his band work. That doesn’t make Ben’s current work any better than the music he made with his band, but it’s certainly much more accessible. There’s no wall of noise fighting to be heard with Ben’s vocals on either of his two albums, ‘Under a Wasted Moon’ which was released in 2010, or the recently issued follow up, ‘To the River Rise’. The biggest surprise to those that are familiar with Ben’s previous work is the absence of the electric guitar and the revelation that de la Cour has a comforting yet deep vocal style that you simply can’t ignore. Dead Man’s Root fans will no doubt be appalled to hear Ben’s melodies described as sweet but, make no mistake, de la Cour is currently writing and recording some of the most captivating tunes we will ever hear. Coupled with his outstanding vocals it would appear that Ben made the right choice in taking what was a brave move musically. At times the listener is having an inner battle while ‘To the River Rise’ is playing, do you let yourself drift away on one of Ben’s beguiling melodies or pay closer attention to that stunning voice as it takes you through yet another of his compelling story-songs? Apart from a few facts gathered here and there it would seem that apart from constantly being compared to Townes Van Zandt (which is a fair comparison actually) little is known about Ben de la Cour except for the work he did with his former band. When an artist like de la Cour comes along, someone who can move people with his songs and touch them with the honesty and emotion that shows in every line he sings, it’s only natural to want to know more about him. So when we were given the opportunity to ask Ben some questions about his music and background we jumped at the chance, I, for one, find Ben’s answers as fascinating as the music he makes. PB: Dead Man’s Root, the band that you were in before going solo, released two albums. Was that your first foray into music? Ben: I always played in bands growing up. My brother is a drummer, he played drums in Dead Man’s Root and just about every other band I’ve ever been in. We started playing around New York City when we were kids, I was really lucky because drummers can be hard to find. My dad plays guitar and showed me some picking patterns when I was a kid. and I just kind of took it from there. So I blame him for all of this. PB: What prompted you to leave the band and take the solo route? Ben: I’ve always been into folk and old country music, blues and that kind of thing, and I guess it was always something I figured I was going to do at some point. In 2009 Dead Man’s Root was on tour and my brother broke our bass player's wrist, we had to cancel all our remaining gigs so I had some down time and just started working on the songs that made up the first album. I called it my vanity project. 'Vanity Project Blues' was actually going to be the name of the first album, but my mom didn’t like it so I had to change it. PB: ‘To the River Rise’, your second solo album, has received some good reviews, as did your two albums with Dead Man’s Root. Are you tempted though to make another drastic musical change again after two well-received albums? Ben: I’m just going to play it by ear. I have plans for the next album, and it’s going to be a little different from the first two but nothing too drastic. What you have planned and the final product are always really different things, and I don’t think it pays to force a song or an idea just because it’s going in a different direction from what you intended. PB: Do you miss anything about being part of a band? Ben: I miss being on the road with my two best friends. I miss the jokes and sitting in the van, the stupid situations you get yourselves into. I also miss being able to share in the mutual disappointment. PB: Are you still based in New Orleans? ‘To The River Rise’ has the haunting sound of New Orleans running through its songs. Do you feel that the place a song is recorded has as much to do with its overall sound as where or why it was written? Ben: I still live in New Orleans. I don’t know. I think the place where it is recorded is important, but I think that where a song is written and where the inspiration is drawn from is the most important thing. It’s hard to put a finger on it though. New Orleans is definitely an inspiring place to live and I love it here, but this city will kill you if you let it and I’m trying not to let it. PB: There is some striking imagery in your songs, especially in the title track of your latest album. Where do your draw your inspiration from? Ben: Thank you, that’s a really nice thing to hear. That song was a strange one and definitely influenced by living here. They say inspiration is everywhere and I guess that it’s true but some places and events are definitely more inspiring than others. I feel like a songwriter is kind of like a television. It’s your job to catch the waves floating around in space and translate or broadcast them in a way that is understandable to others. Some only work in black and white, some are full colour. I’m kind of losing focus here and obviously only have a very rudimentary understand of how a television works... PB: There is a lack of information on the inserts of ‘To The River Rise’. We all understand that finances have a lot to do with that rather than the artists trying to add some mystery, so can you fill us in on who helped out on the album? I would take a guess that all the vocals on songs like ‘Memorial Day’ are not yours and did you produce the album yourself? Ben: It was definitely 100% financial. I played all the instruments and did all the vocals on the record, as well as the artwork, and I recorded it in my house on Garageband, so it was pretty much a zero-budget project. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to have some guest musicians on the album but I keep weird hours and just didn’t have the means to record other people or the knowledge of how to record certain instruments. I guess if the lack of information adds a little mystery to proceedings it can’t hurt though. PB: I understand you did a few gigs in the UK last month. How did they go? Ben: They went great. I love playing in the UK. I lived in London for a few years and some of my favourite people in the world are there. PB: Do you have plans for more gigs to promote the album? Ben: I’m always gigging, but I haven’t been able to tour for the last few months because I don’t have a car. There areonly so many times that your friend is going to lend you his car just so you can drive to Jackson, fill it with Hubig’s Pie wrappers and sleep in it. I have most of a new record written so I’m going to start recording that as soon as I can find a quiet room somewhere. PB: The music you are making now is obviously different from that you made with Dead Man’s Root. Which do you feel is the real Ben De La Cour? Ben: Everybody has different sides to them, I think that the two things are just different parts of the same person. I love Slayer, Poison Idea and the Melvins as much as I love John Prine or Warren Zevon. I think it’s nice to be able to indulge in both passions. That being said I find the music I’m playing now to be closer to what I want to be doing than anything I did previously. PB: Being compared to Townes Van Zandt is no bad thing and it happens to your solo work quite often. Do you personally feel that it’s a valid comparison? Ben: He is definitely an influence. I mean, nobody wants to be compared to anyone too much, but listening to Townes was one of the things that kind of put the seed in my mind that I could maybe do this. Not that I could be anywhere near his level as a songwriter, but just that I could write songs and not need to be screaming into the microphone with my shirt off all the time. PB: When you compose a song what comes first, lyrics or melody? Ben: It totally depends. Often times I’ll come up with a chord progression that appeals to me on some level and take it from there. Every now and again a melody or a phrase will just pop into my head while I’m walking around but that is a little rarer. The chord progression for 'Down in Babylon' came to me when I was drifting off to sleep one night, but it sounded more like an Irish jig. I had to get up and fix that. It’s a weird process, I really wish I knew exactly how I wrote a song because that way I could write a thousand of them. PB: What music are you currently listening to and do you think that you are influenced by any music you currently enjoy? Ben: I pretty much listen to the same stuff I’ve been listening to for a long time. Maybe I’m getting old and stuck in my ways. It doesn’t matter how many times I listen to 'Desperados under the Eaves'. It’s still inspiring to me. PB: Thank you.

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Ben de la Cour - Interview

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