For a Solo Act, Brendan Benson Sure Enjoys Company

Image: Adriel Denae

Image: Adriel Denae

Like Having A Birthday Party

Playing a hometown album release show is kind of like having a birthday party—it’s your night to hog the spotlight. Some might say Brendan Benson is squandering that chance.

Would you ever know this is a solo artist's release party poster? Don't forget there are even more artists listed simply as TBD. Click to enlarge. Image: brendanbenson.com

Would you ever know this is a solo artist’s release party poster? Note the “More TBA.” Click to enlarge. Image: brendanbenson.com

The Nashville power-pop songwriter has so many musicians scheduled to appear at his Ryman release show that their names barely fit on the promotional poster. All 21 friends and counting on the playbill are people with whom he’s toured, motorcycled or written tunes – and maybe even produced. Benson is a solo performer who plays best with others.

You Were Right is the sixth album Benson has released under his own name, but he never planned to put his name out there at all. Back in Detroit, he would scrawl the moniker Well Fed Boy on the cassettes of songs he penned. When he signed a record deal in the mid-‘90s, he didn’t like the name anymore.

The process moved so quickly that he never came up with a better option. So Brendan Benson it was. But for a twenty-something with hip influences, honeyed hooks and a jangly, punkish guitar attack, it was a billing lacking in edge:

To me, solo artists were—I don’t know—kinda boring. Didn’t sound very exciting. …I think I was comparing it to maybe some of the more contemporary solo artists of the time and thinking, ‘That’s kinda lame. I feel like I fit more in this band category. I don’t write singer-songwriter music. I write rock music and pop music meant to be played by a band. It just so happens I don’t have one.’

Benson and Jack White with The Racontuers in 2008. Image: Wikipedia

Benson and Jack White with The Racontuers in 2008. Image: Wikipedia

The Band That Brought Him Here

A dozen years later, he couldn’t say that anymore. By then, he was churning out riffs with Jack White, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler in The Raconteurs. Benson describes that experience this way:

The Raconteurs kind of afforded me that chance, that lifelong dream of being in a band. …I loved my role in that. I loved being part of this group. …Mine’s kind of a different story: solo guy wanting to be in a band.

Readymade Records

Benson moved to Nashville with the rest of his band mates. Once the quartet went on unofficial hiatus, he started his label Readymade Records. It wasn’t about making money so much as having the freedom to expand his musical circle, which looked a lot like socializing.

He met The Howling Brothers trio at a party, and invited them into the studio for another chance to hang out. And then there’s the time he overheard a demo playing on his house painter’s boom box, and decided he had to get to know confessional folk-rocker Young Hines.

Even Benson’s solo work became less solo, as he sat down with more and more co-writers who nudged him toward soul-baring.

“I think I started out like that, very raw and sort of literal and not beating around the bush, and got progressively more self-edited, and a little bit sorta stifled” Benson says. “To work with these people who just would say these things was exciting to me. Kinda brought me back to that place again.”

Benson’s new song “Rejuvenate Me” came together only after he wrote the catchy, jabbing melody and chord progression, and asked Young Hines to supply all the words.

Lyrics are very personal and they also have to be kind of suited for you. You kind of have to get behind ‘em as something I believe. …I think that’s the first time I’ve ever done that. In fact, I know it’s the first time I’ve ever done that.

Benson claims to have chosen the album title You Were Right for no other reason than that he liked how it sounded. Subconsciously, he might have been addressing those three words to his younger self. You know, like a thumbs-up to the kid who had a hunch that he was cut out to collaborate.

Benson was an inspired choice to demonstrate Third Man Record’s “Record Booth” in this video:

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