Marco Benevento Interview Part One

Marco Benevento - photo by Greg Aiello

Marco Benevento - photo by Greg Aiello

Marco Benevento’s album Me Not Me was released in stores earlier today. To compliment the release, we have an interview with Marco talking about the new album, his time off from The Duo, his love of circuit-bent toys, and his super rad clothing line. His unique and energetic personality reflects in all of his endeavors. We’d like to say thanks to Marco for taking an hour out of his day to chat with us at The Calcutta and answer a few of our silly questions.


Marco Benevento: Hello?

Mike: Hey Marco it’s Mike and Colin from The Calcutta.

MB: Oh hey, how ya doing?

Mike: Good, how are you?

MB: Good.

Colin: Sounds good. Can you tell us what to expect from your album Me Not Me?

MB: What to expect?

Colin: I read somewhere that you have some covers..

MB: You didn’t hear it yet? You guys didn’t hear it yet?

Mike: No, we haven’t heard it.

MB: Oh man, I’ll uh, I’ll play you some over the phone.

Colin: Sweet.

MB: Okay, hold on. That way, you guys know what it sounds like.

Mike: Alright.

MB: What should I play you? Do you know what the song listing is?

Mike: Can you play us your favorite song off of it?

All: (Laugh)

MB: Let’s see. OOOHHHHH (Marco let’s out a long groan)

Colin: Give us something that will blow our minds. (Laughs)

MB: Okay. Here we go. Let me make sure the..ah okay. It’s almost, alright alright there. K, here we go. Hear it?

(Plays “Heartbeats” from Me Not Me)

MB: Yeahhh!

Mike: Very cool.
Colin: Nice.

MB: Nice. Tight.

Mike: That’s sick man.

Marco: That’s a song called uh “Heartbeats.”

Mike: Heartbeats?

MB: More? Where’s the other one so you can hear more of it. Yeah.

Mike: Alright

MB: (Laughs) It’s written by a band called The Knife.

Mike: Oh yeah, yeah.

MB: Um..

Colin: Sweet.

MB: So uh, yeah I mean I did a lot of layering of Optigans – one of my most favorite keyboards. It’s spelled o-p-t-i-g-a-n-s and, uh, yeah I used a lot of Melotron and Farfisa and sorta what I did with the covers, (coughs) is played more of a producer/engineer sort of role. Of course you know, there are some tunes where I do some improv and like stretch out the forms like ??? almost like a jazz tune mixed with like a little spaghetti western, kinda. (Laughs) But, uh, you know I did a lot of layering like this tune specifically on “Heartbeats” is like a lot of sectional writing and using lots of different sounds and messing around with different ways of like arranging a song, getting into like lots of layers and, um, yeah. Invisible Baby sort of was like how I learned Pro Tools, you know. Like I had messed around with it before but, like, soon as I was working on Invisible Baby I sort of was egged on to learn Pro Tools a little bit more. So after putting out that record I have a lot more experience messing around with stuff so I’m a little quicker at it so it didn’t take as long. So this album is like me just messing around with lots of sounds and sort of pasting it all together, and making tunes out of it.

But, um, yeah we did a lot of live; obviously did a lot of live tracking. It’s not like a completely mangled situation, you know. There’s a lot of, it sounds live and it is live mainly with the exception of the, (laughs) circuit bent toys and other Optigan loops that I sort of snuck in there. But there’s a tune on there that’s solo piano which is a Beck tune called “Sing It Again” and, uh, its sort of like a mixture of, you know, lots of layers and really minimalistic shit, so.

Colin: Nice
Mike: Very cool. So where’d the name of the album come from?

MB: Um, well, it came from a couple different places. Um, one meaning like, it’s Me Not Me it’s an original then it’s a cover, its an original, it’s a cover. It sort of alternates between..

Mike: Right, right

MB: .. a song by me, song not by me with the exception of (laughs) the end of the disc, which I think is just three covers. (Laughs) So that’s where that came from. It also comes from a David Cross skit from a CD called It’s Not Funny. I don’t know if you’ve heard him, his bit on these kinds of people that were like affected by the World Trade Center incident that lived at like, in Las Vegas but they worked at the New York , New York casino. So he was like, “You think they just felt it a little bit more..”

Mike: (Laughs)

MB: ..cause they were in the (laughs) New York, New York casino. (Laughs)

Mike: (Laughs)

MB: And he’s like describing how this lady was like, ‘As you know I work at the fake Mulberry pizza, six blocks from the fake World Trade Center. It could of been me not me. You know it’s like, (laughs)  it’s just a funny skit. (Talks to daughter)

Mike: Right

MB: A third sort of place that it came from is almost like that theory of writing an original song that sounds like a cover. You know what I mean? It’s like when somebody plays a song for you and you’re like is that your own tune or is that like, uh, who wrote that?’ And they’re like, ‘No I wrote it.’ And you’re like, ‘Oh wow. It sounds like something that..’ You know it’s like this sort of universal collective consciousness where you can tap in and like, sort of, somebody writes a song and you’re like ‘Oh whoa what is that one that’s great, you know like it doesn’t even sound like you wrote it.’ So it’s sort of like my philosophy with trying to, trying to not try to write the music. (Laughs)

Colin: Nice

MB: So like being you but not you, because you essentially don’t want you to get in the way of a song that’s supposed to be passing through you, you know?

Mike: Right
Colin: Right

MB: Sort of let that, so, so, like me not me, you know. I don’t know. I’m fucking schizophrenic.

Mike: (Laughs)

MB: I don’t know. Not that like. (Laughs) No I’m kidding. I’m not. Or maybe I am. Who knows! It’s sort of like, you know, that.. (Talks to daughter)

Mike: Okay

MB: My daughter wants to dance around with her towel on.

Colin: (Laughs)
Mike: That’s fine

MB: So go ahead, I’m cool, I’m a dad, I’m used to it. What else you got?

Colin: How does writing a solo record differ from writing with the duo, if it differs at all?

MB: Oh yeah, it totally does. It’s sort of like writing with any other band. You know its like when you have a band there’s 4 inputs, there’s 3 inputs, there’s 2 inputs and you’re writing songs with people. And that whole process is an amazing one and it’s really nice when yall sort of get together and practice and get it together and sort of, uh, come up with an arrangement, you know all you guys. But it, it takes longer, so I would say the difference between sort of doing something on your own and letting people in the band calling it, uh, it’s just like a quicker process in general.  It’s like, you know, for example: me and Matt(Chamberlain), one of the two guys I wanted to play with, but I knew that I wanted to have some songs and I had some song ideas so I brought all the tunes to them and I was like these are the songs you know and they were all like, ‘Oh wow. Cool. Should we do this there? Or what do you wanna do there? Oh yeah, great. Sounds perfect. Sounds nice. Great. And they were sort of like turning to me to sort of get everything together you know?

Colin: Right

MB: It’s a really.. well, because I called them and hired them and it was like this is what I, I have a vision you know, you guys wanna follow, you wanna jump on board sort of thing. (Laughs) And uh, so doing it by yourself is a really interesting process because you don’t have anything – anybody to bounce any idea off of really, cause you’re just doing it yourself. So it’s kind of a cooler, not cooler, just different way to compose. And um, after writing maybe it was because, I mean I’m just wand – my brain is wandering right now, but maybe its because of like, you know, 5 years of writing music with someone that when it came to writing music by myself it was like, ‘Wow this is a new thing. I haven’t done this in a while.’ (Laughs) You know what I mean? More so like, just on uh, on uh, you know choosing song order, choosing the way the song goes, choosing maybe what the bridge would be, so you like got all these things. So it’s, it’s a nice exercise as a musician to be able to write something yourself and conceptualize an album yourself and sort of bring it to people to be like hey this is what I got in mind. Um, but you know there’s also it’s like I have equal love of both worlds of you know being in the practice space with Joe(Russo) and figuring out something. It’s so rewarding cause it takes so long, it seems like compared to when your doing it yourself, to come up with something. But when you do, you’re like playing something that is mutually loved by both people. So it’s like, it’s a really powerful thing. You know?

Mike: Right

MB: But um, you know it’s also different because when I do stuff by myself I’m mainly writing for the piano and I end up thinking a bass player will play these bass notes, um, but with Joe it’s like okay I’m doing the bass notes, I’m doing the uh, you know, Wurlitzer parts. There’s like a lot more, there’s a lot more going on but it’s just sort of a different.  It’s a different mentality. Like sometimes the songs don’t translate very well from piano to organs. You know what I mean? And, which is sort of the reason why Invisible Baby came out in the first place, it was like I’d bring these songs to Joe and it was sort of like, ‘Ah it sort of didn’t work with like The Duo vibe, or like the organ,’ or something about it didn’t work for Joe and I’d be like oh alright well, you know, it’s just a song idea, like something else. And, a lot of song ideas sort of stuck in the back of my mind for a while and a lot of those tunes just came up on Invisible Baby. Sort of like tunes that really worked on the piano that I’d wrote on the piano, but like, sort of didn’t work with uh, you know, writing music with someone else. Sort of didn’t work with the Wurlitzer and Hammond organ too. It’s a pretty interesting thing. It’s like if you could picture a filter bottle with eight tops on it and like one top was sort of opened for a long time, and that’d be like The Duo, you know, and we were just letting music come out, come out. Meanwhile, all these other offshoots, these seven other offshoots were like sort of bubbling up and getting all fed up being like ‘when are you gonna open me up.’

Mike: (Laughs)

MB: And uh, you know I feel like I opened up one with Invisible Baby. I got a chance to sort of have that outlet you know?

Colin: Right

MB: My daughter is uh, she’s singing. (Imitates daughter; talks to daughter)

Mike: (Laughs)
Colin: (Laughs)
Mike: So how’d you get into using all of those effects on your keyboard? When did that first come about?

MB: Um, figure about, like, you know I was using effects on like the Rhodes and uh, I was figuring out ways to mess with stuff like when I was in college, you know. I went to Berkeley College of Music and I had some, I played a lot obviously being in a music school and messing around with effects like back in you know 1998 and played with this group call The Jazz Farmers and played Rhodes through you know wah-wah, distortion and, um, played an ARP through some delay pedals and stuff. And you know I met Joe and played the organ through distortion and it just sort of evolved of the touring years really. Like, oh I like this pedal, this pedal sounds great or this amp sounds cool with this pedal and it’s just a snowball effect really.

Mike: Right

MB: Now I’m sort of like stuck in this place where like I want to buy like a pedal like every month just to like check out what all the freaking options are cause there’s so many ways to get sounds, you know, distortion or delay or, so, I mean it really doesn’t fucking matter how expensive or how cheap a pedal is it just matters on how it works for you quite honestly.

Mike: Totally

MB: I get recommendations all the time about what to buy and I buy it and I’m like nope doesn’t work and I like randomly run into this thing somewhere where this lady is like you should check this pedal out and I plug it in and I’m like this is the fucking coolest thing in the world. You know so, you know it’s also good for, it’s also just like a good uh way to freshen up stuff. You know I went to a gig the other night and I was just like carrying my pedal board that I normally bring with me and I was like, ‘Why do I always just use these same pedals? Why don’t I just bring like this thing and this one. I never used this on a gig like you know and just bring two pedals with batteries in it and just see how different it makes the gig.’

Mike: Right

MB: So it’s sort of like once you open up that box of experimentation, you’re fucked. (Laughs)

Mike: (Laughs) You’re fucked.

MB: I sort of noticed it when Joe and I were tracking Play, Pause, Stop in LA hanging out with Matt Chamberlain and Tom Biller. We went to Largo in LA to see John Brion and John Brion let us use a lot of his keyboards for this session. It was just cool to like hang out with these folks that were into all these different sounds that I never heard of and I was like oh my god this is what they do here. They just like talking about these weird things that I’ve never heard of that sound amazing (Laughs)

Mike: (Laughs)
Colin: (Laughs)

MB: So weird. And then, of course, hanging out with Bryce Goggin, who I work with for mixing and as an engineer after tracking and overdubbing, he did work on Invisible Baby and Me Not Me with me, and he also did a bunch of Pavement stuff. BG is the master. Anyway, he’s got all sorts of crazy gear in his place too and its  fun to to see what all those options are and sort of get into it and make. You know for me an album is almost like a snapshot of a thing you’re going through. Like Invisible Baby is a snap shot of me first experimenting with the piano through some different effects and through really first messing around with my own and just dealing with being a band leader sort of and organizing tours and writing music and calling up venues and making CD’s and calling the shops and then just sending everybody the record when it’s done sort of thing. You know its sort of still growing it’s incredible.

Marco - photo by Greg Aiello

Marco - photo by Greg Aiello

Coiln: Alright, so, what’s the best reason to buy the sun?

MB: Uh, you’ll have to ask Joe that.

Mike: (Laughs) Ask Joe?
Colin: Ask Joe?

MB: (Laughs) If you can find him he’ll tell you.

Mike: Alright
Colin: Alright. We’ll keep that in mind.
Mike: We saw that you have your own clothing line. How’d you get into designing and creating shirts?

MB: Uh, coming up with stupid slogans on the road. Just being like, “Dude, you should totally put that on a t-shirt”. You know what I mean? I think like once every six seconds a college student says this to another college student like ‘Dude no way! That should totally be on your shirt! ‘Oh my god, shootin’ up at the office’ would totally be hilarious.”

Mike: (Laughs)
Colin: (Laughs)

MB: I was the idiot that went ahead with it and made t-shirts. It all started with the sayings and  just being on the road.  Literally a friend of a friend of a friend got busted at some office he was working somewhere and was shooting heroin or something. And he got busted shooting up at the office and they’re like ‘oh my god that’s terrible’.

Colin: That’s a bad way to get caught.

MB: Where using time for fun came from, uh, Joe and I sort of loosing our minds on the road and we were like I don’t know how many weeks deep we were into a tour and we were sound checking, quote un quote sound checking is what I should say, but Joe and I were just messing around. We were  so exhausted and come sound check time Joe and I just wanted to mess around and play our instruments. And you know our sound guy went into the monitors and was like ‘Hey dudes can we sound check please? Can we get started? Like can I hear the bass drum?’

Mike: (Laughs)

MB: And I was like, “Oh sorry, sorry we’re totally wasting time”. And I was like were not wasting time we’re using that for fun, fuck that.

Colin: (Laughs)
Mike: (Laughs) Yeah.

MB: But just like you know stupid things that you sort of come up with that are inspiring and you know..

Mike: Right on frat boy.

MB: What’s that? Oh yeah. (Laughs) Right on frat boy. (Laughs) You know its so easy to sell stuff online and make a website. There are so many people I know that now have a place where you can go online and buy something.

Mike: No, it’s true.

MB: But um, yeah so, it’s not like a crazy business. I don’t go to t-shirt conventions and figure out how to launch my store or anything. It’s just sort of like, I get like one order, one or two orders a week at the most. It’s just sort of a fun side thing.

Mike: No, that’s cool.

MB: Yeah, you know it’s pretty cool to see somebody wearing it cause you’re like ‘Oh nice I made that shirt and I mailed it to that person.’ And it’s sort of like I’m sure like it’s also like, like Mike Dillon, Mike D was wearing “Shooting Up At The Office” walking his dogs in Texas somewhere and it was really early. He sort of forgot he had that shirt on from the gig before, the night before. (Laughs) And all these people were like looking at him. He said and he couldn’t figure out why they were looking at him and then he looked down and was like ‘Oh I’m still fucking wearing this shirt.’ (Laughs)

Mike:(Laughs)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Colin: (Laughs) Nice. So we saw you up in Syracuse last spring sometime.

MB: Oh Cool.

Colin: And, you just seem like you’re having like so much fun on stage, you and Joe.

MB: Oh yeah.

Colin: And we were just wondering what’s going through you’re head if you can describe that somehow.

MB: I mean, ideally, just pure acceptance and joy, you know. Like if somebody messes up or if some sound feeds back or the Wurlitzer is out of tune or if the bass blah blah blah or if Joe’s bass drum breaks or the snare drum cracks or, you know, you want to be able to roll with anything because essentially there is no wrong note. Music has always been a deep thing for me as far as having it be an outlet or like an escape for trying to leave the world or your mental chains that people put themselves in. You know people go to concerts to like forget about the work day and unwind.  They go to see music because its serving as a vehicle for them to relax and think about stuff again and appreciate some things that make them feel a certain way. So I don’t know, I get like every time I play my instrument. I tend to feel that bliss of like this is the first time I’m playing my instrument, whoa, this is a discovery every time. You know, as fucking hippie and cheesy as that sounds, its like, music is like my lifelong study so I’m getting closer and closer to, I don’t know what it is, but I know that it’s like healing and it feels right and I know it does because there’s a lot of people who are on board with me that are also feeling right about it you know?

Mike: Definitely. I mean, you and Joe have been putting out great stuff. And we’re wondering what can we expect from the Duo in the near future if anything?

MB: Oh, Joe and I are texting each other like ‘Dude when can we go to the practice space?  When can we meet up?’ You know and we’re dyin’ to get together, it’s actually been a really sort of fun unexpected little ride. We both have gone on some tangents, I think naturally, just like two musicians growing. You know Joe playing with The Gene Ween Band and American Babies and me playing with The Trio(Marco, Matt Chamberlain, and Reed Mathis) and Garage A Trois.  We played a lot together. Like I said about that filter bottle, the eight top filter bottle – You just have that itch to fulfill something, that something else to grow as a person to play with other people.  As a musician really.  I mean if you’re trapped playing music and studying music for the rest of your life, in a good way, you wanna learn about it. And one of the ways you can learn about it, one of the best ways, is to collaborate with other folks as I’m sure Joe is learning and as I’m sure I’m learning. But um, we’re trying to get it together, we have other gigs and we also have been working on so many duo ideas; its terrible. We have so many ideas on the table we really just need to get together and pull it together. And when we do, it’s gonna fuckin’ totally rock. (Laughs)

Colin: Awesome
Mike: (Laughs)

MB: Yeah, we’re both really happy doing stuff that we’re doing and its sort of like that reach out. It’s like when your reaching out to an ex-girlfriend or something and, you know, you’re like ‘we’re totally gonna see each other again I know it and we’re gonna make the earth shake.’

Mike: (Laughs)
Colin: (Laughs)

MB: Yeah it’s like that feeling of like we’re gonna, we will, we will, just something is happening right now and I don’t know what it is but we’ll figure it out. But it’s a great feeling and we definitely can’t wait.

Colin: Nice. So out of all the artists you’ve collaborated with, who was your favorite if you can pick one besides Joe?

MB: Ugh, besides Joe. Easy out on that one. Um, well, phew, wow, you know I’m gonna have to go with Matt on that one, Matt Chamberlin. He’s just, he’s an inspiring dude. He’s an incredible drummer, he’s on so many records, he’s so amazing as a drummer live and he’s such a pro in the studio, like he just is. He gets shit done. And the sounds he gets out his instrument are so unlike any other drummer I know. And right along next to him would be Reed (Mathis), of course. (Laughs)

Colin: (Laughs) Don’t want to single anyone out?

MB: (Laughs) What’s that?

Mike: Don’t want to single anybody out?

MB: Totally (Laughs)

Mike: So are there any music trends out there that scare you right now?

MB: Music terms? No I don’t think so.

Mike: No? No like..

MB: I don’t know, maybe I haven’t heard ‘em all.

Mike: (Laughs) No, music trends.

MB: Oh, trends, it thought you said terms.

Mike: Terms. I don’t even know what that means.

MB: Music trends that scare me? I’m so behind I don’t even know what musical trends are happening right now.

Mike: Alright that’s fair.

MB: (Laughs)

Mike: (Laughs) We can just leave that one at that.

MB: And what about you? Do any trends scare you?

Mike: There’s so much electronic stuff going on and, I don’t know, it’s just like who can do it the best. But, you know, I love Justice and they do it so well it’s like it’s just interesting to hear all the bands out there who are incorporating all these different midi sounds and electronic beats into their music and trying to make it work. So I mean it’s interesting but it’s also I think a little dangerous because everybody’s kind of going in that direction. I kind of want to see..

MB: Well you know another thing to expect from the record is not one midi instrument. (Laughs)

Colin: (Laughs)
Mike: That’s cool.

MB: No, I’m pro using midi and sampling.

Mike: Oh absolutely.

MB: But yeah, when I record, especially if you go to a studio and they have all these old keyboards you’re like ‘why would I use this Melotron sample, when there’s a Melotron right here. (Laughs)

Mike: Yup

MB: But um, yeah it was fun getting into the dirty world of analogs.

If you come back tomorrow for part two of Marco’s interview, you will reduce your chances of getting the black lung by 73 percent!


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