Detroit's Brendan Benson begins tour
EMMA LEE Detroit-based one-man band Brendan Benson has just released his third album to critical acclaim and is about to embark on a UK tour which starts at Norwich Waterfront on Monday.
For a man who has just had his house ransacked, Detroit singer-songwriter Brendan Benson is in a remarkably upbeat mood.
“I got off lightly,” he says. “They didn't take anything that was not replaceable. I have got a ton of guitars here, but they took stuff like a modem, it's really kind of weird. It's ridiculous.”
Benson, who describes himself as a one-man band – with band being the operative word – has just released his third album Alternative to Love.
He recorded it himself at his home, known as Le Grand Studio.
Benson began writing music as a teenager.
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“I was about 14 or 15 when I became interested and wanted to play guitar with my friends in high school. I think it was punk music that got me into it,” he says.
“It was an amazing feeling. I felt invincible and I have spent the rest of my life trying to achieve that feeling again.”
He released his debut album, One Mississippi, in 1996, but when it left him a critical success on the verge of getting dropped by his label, he retreated to Detroit's Belle Isle neighbourhood and used what was left of his second album advance to fill his house with vintage recording equipment.
It was there that he made Lapalco, which was described by critics as a record of “radiant beauty”.
Benson says that he likes working on his own, but he might try other ways of recording on his next record.
“I think it's because it's just easier that way since I'm a solo artist. I love to play the drums and the bass, it makes more sense for me to do it myself. I can do it quickly without having to teach it to someone else,” he says.
“I think on the next record I'm definitely not going to do it that way, at home. I might get a producer and a band.”
He sings of love, heartbreak and connection, but the context isn't always romance – he also draws on hard life experiences like being abandoned by his father and the death of the grandfather who raised him.
But he says that “nothing in particular” inspired the new album.
“I think I was already in work mode. I had just come off touring Lapalco and I was dying to start some new material. I was sick of Lapalco – I think that might have been the biggest inspiration for me.
“There was never anything obvious behind it, it would just come from a word or a phrase or a chord progression – the way most people do it,” he says.
As well as working on his new album, Benson has been collaborating with fellow Detroit resident Jack White, of the White Stripes.
“The collaboration with Jack White is a lot different,” he says. “It is a lot more rock. What's funny is that we got together and I think that it was almost as if we were each doing impressions of each other.
“It was a perfect opportunity for me to do a Jack White impression and get away with it because no-one will know.
“It worked really well. I think the reason it worked is that we respect each other. I am fast in the studio, but he is really fast,” he says.
Detroit has a vibrant indie music scene, which Benson says helps inspire him.
“Definitely it's motivating, there's so many people on the same schedule as you,” he says.
He says that he is looking forward to the tour – although he is still overcoming an aversion to playing live.
“England has been super nice to me generally speaking,” he says.
“I think the more I play live the better I get, which in turn makes me more confident which then makes it more enjoyable.”
v Main support comes from Irish outfit Hal who have enjoyed a spate of on the road adventures, touring with the Delays, Starsailor and Grandaddy.
Hal will be playing songs from their debut album due out later this month which features the recent singles, Worry About the Wind and What a Lovely Dance.
Opening the evening will be Psychid.
t Brendan Benson's tour starts at the Waterfront in Norwich on Monday, April 18. Doors 7.30pm. Tickets at £9 in advance are available in Norwich from UEA Union, Waterfront, Soundclash and HMV; UEA box office 01603 508050 or www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk