“There was no way I could make music that was one genre.”
In support of his debut self-titled record, Benjamin Booker is bringing his infectious bluesy garage-rock across North America, including a show in Toronto tonight. While at home for a small break between tours, A Music Blog, Yea? had the pleasure of giving Booker a call earlier this month. To read about music journalism, punk bands, cinematic videos, and his genre-bending record., dive into our new interview below:
AMBY: Hey Ben. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.
Benjamin Booker: Oh no problem. Thank you. I appreciate it.
AMBY: It’s my pleasure. Since I relate to this a lot, let’s start this interview at the beginning!
Benjamin Booker: [laughs] Let’s.
AMBY: You initially attended university and studied journalism with the intent of going into music journalism, but are now a musician. Before starting my website, I always thought I’d be singing in a band but now write about artists like yourself. What was the turning point where you knew you wanted to go from writing about music to creating it?
Benjamin Booker: I didn’t intend on playing music at all. When I was living in Florida, I had just graduated from school and wrote a few songs. I couldn’t get a good job writing or anything, or at least a job where I’d make good money, so I got a job doing social media for a non-profit organization. Before that, I went to see my parents and recorded a couple of demos and those got picked up on a national radio here. That was what happened, I guess. It wasn’t like I was trying or pushing to have a career in music. I thought it would be fun, but I thought I would probably just do it on the side as a hobby.
AMBY: Did you prefer being behind the scenes and conducting the interviews, or answering the questions?
Benjamin Booker: I mean, I definitely don’t prefer answering the questions…
AMBY and Benjamin Booker: [laughs]
AMBY: Why’s that?
Benjamin Booker: When I was doing music journalism, I liked interviewing people. I guess the real reason I did it was just because I wanted to talk to bands that I like, you know?
AMBY: I totally get it.
Benjamin Booker: I didn’t really care about the article as much [laughs], but I really liked to interview people.
AMBY: Now you’re taking a break from touring your self-titled debut record after playing Tokyo, Denmark, and Paris. How was that experience?
Benjamin Booker: That run was pretty ridiculous. We did Australia, Japan, and then Europe. I was gone for two months; I think it was the longest I’ve been gone from home. It’s been great. I maybe prefer being on tour than being home… I’m always crazy to be back out.
AMBY: Many of the people I’ve spoken to always say how the road becomes their home, as cliché as that sounds.
Benjamin Booker: It feels weird. I woke up today – for the first time in a couple of months – in my own bed. It was more weird than waking up in a hotel. It feels more comfortable being out, you know? I guess it always feels like you’re doing something, and when you come home, I don’t work anymore so it’s me trying to find things to keep myself busy. It’s weird to come home.
AMBY: While you’re touring, what are some activities you like to do for fun when not performing?
Benjamin Booker: There’s not really time to do anything.
Benjamin Booker: Honestly! Usually we’re in a car all day or I’ll be reading or listening to music. That’s basically all that I do; play music, listen to music, and read books.
AMBY: I read that you and the band like listening to music during those long drives in the car. Who are some of your favourite artists at the moment to crank up to eleven and listen to?
Benjamin Booker: We all have very different interests. I recently was listening to a lot of Life Without Buildings and a lot of hip-hop. There was a Pusha T album that I listened to probably 30 times on this tour [laughs]. I just downloaded the new Kendrick Lamar album which came out not too long ago and have heard it four times already, also.
AMBY: And you’re also a pretty big fan of punk music. Are there any punk bands you’ve been into lately?
Benjamin Booker: I don’t listen to too much punk anymore. When I was a kid, I guess it was a great escape to go to the skate park and listen to that kind of shit. Now that I’m older, I’ve mellowed out a little bit. I do like some punk-influenced bands. I like Metz, who are a band from Toronto. I really like them a lot. Even though I don’t hear it as much, punk’s definitely had an influence on the music.
AMBY: How about bands like The Districts and Parquet Courts? They’re doing something similar to you where there are those great nuances of punk in the music, but you wouldn’t necessarily label them as “punk”.
Benjamin Booker: We toured with both of those bands. I think what all of them are doing is great. When I was writing the record, I was trying to not be one thing fully at one time; if I was playing a heavier guitar part, I would try to do a gospel melody or something completely different. It’s more fun and you get music that sounds more original when you’re doing that thing.
AMBY: You actually just released a beautiful mini-film where you are a time traveler. It’s entitled “The Future is Slow Coming” and it features your songs “Slow Coming” and “Wicked Waters”. What inspired you to create this deep, cinematic video?
Benjamin Booker: I wasn’t planning on doing a video for that song at all. It ended up being a song that a lot of people responded well to: Slow Coming. James, the director of the video, had been following me for a while and was a fan and put together this very detailed video and idea. When he came to me with the idea, we talked it over for a while and went back and forth. It just made sense to do it. It was the perfect visual to compliment the song.
AMBY: The track is taken off of your self-titled debut and there are so many different nuances on this album. Take the single Have You Seen My Son? for example – it has everything from lo-fi rhythm and blues vibes to folk-punk. We touched on this briefly before, but when writing the album, were you intentionally trying to channel all of these genres or that happen naturally?
Benjamin Booker: I guess it was pretty natural. On any given day, if I made a playlist for myself, it would have a blues artist from the twenties and then the next song could be Minor Threat. There was no way I could make music that was one genre. That would be hard to do.
AMBY: Putting you on the spot here, if you had to choose between rhythm and blues and punk music, which do you love more at the moment?
Benjamin Booker: I guess… hm… Right now, I guess rhythm and blues. I moved to New Orleans and listened to a radio station here that plays a lot of rhythm and blues. That was a big influence on songs on the record and the music I make now. So I guess I’d have to go with that.
AMBY: You also started announcing some festival dates for the summertime. If you could curate your own festival, who would be in the line-up?
Benjamin Booker: Oh wow. Okay! Well, it would probably be a line-up of bands I grew up with [laughs]. I really like TV on the Radio and Deerhunter. Courtney Barnett would definitely play the festival. We recently toured with Mac DeMarco and Angel Olsen in Australia and I really liked seeing them every day, so I’d choose them, too. That would be fun.
AMBY: And to wrap things up, what’s something about Benjamin Booker that most of your fans don’t know yet?
Benjamin Booker: That they don’t know? Oh man. I don’t know. There’s a reason they don’t know these things! I’m sorry. If I wanted them to know, they would know.
AMBY and Benjamin Booker: [laughs]
Thank you Benjamin Booker, for giving us your answers!
Interview by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout