Marco Benevento Talks About the Highs and Lows of Touring Life
When we say Marco Benevento dabbles in various styles of music, we really mean it -- he runs the gamut of playing around with different sounds and genres.
Starting a band in high school and then heading to the Berklee School of Music in Boston where he fell in love with jazz, the singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer has gone through a number of musical phases throughout his career. However, with all that experience, Benevento experimented with the idea of sound and essentially made music that feels good to him without the worry of what others think. Fortunately, he's pretty much hit the mark with each of the records he's put out, including his most recent effort, Swift.
Benevento is one of many artists who will be playing at this year's Mountain Jam, and we had the chance to talk to him while he was back home in Upstate New York between tour legs. We discussed his progression from his first efforts to the music he makes now, his grueling tour schedule and what to expect from his Mountain Jam performance on June 4. Check out our exclusive interview below:
You went to school for music, taking the more traditional route of learning the craft. Can you talk about your growth from your early efforts to where you're at now?
I was into my own band when I was in high school and then went to Berklee and learned a lot. Then I got really into jazz, so I flew to New York with the idea of playing in a jazz trio. That was my goal for sure. I did the modern jazz thing, then did a lot of experimental music in New York. Eventually what happened was that my rock roots started creeping back into the music and I started feeling like my comfort zone was more in this sort of, almost in this songwriting category, more than in this virtuosic, performance, blow-your-mind kind of way. So I started writing my music and playing with Joe Russo of the Russo Duo where you're writing your own music and playing your own music with your own band. And I was playing more on the rock side of things than the jazz side of things, and that was back in 2002 -- that lasted from 2002 to 2006 or 2007. We made four records. Then I started playing with Matt Chamberlain, who's an incredible drummer, and Reed Mathis, an incredible bass player, and we made Invisible Baby, which was my first record on my own, and it was like instrumental rock songs with melodies. Instead of vocals doing melodies, keyboards are doing the melody. It was more song oriented than improv oriented, though.
Since Invisible Baby's come out, we've made four records, Swift being the newest. So it's evolved from the rock jazz records to now where we're playing for more people these days ... and people are dancing. Now we're playing more of that instrumental stuff and more vocals crept in. It has more of a pop sensibility and seems to be more accessible, something that people would all get into. There's more of that element in our show, too.
Do you ever get nervous about how people will respond to your music considering that you like to take risks in what you make?
No, you can honestly tell that I don't think or care about what's happening. I'm really just following my own vision. I feel like I'm learning the most things this way, playing in my own band and making records every year or every other year. And it's not like I'm trying to disengage the public. It's not like I'm purposefully trying to say, "F--- you," to the public. It's the opposite -- my intention is completely in my music. I love engaging the audience, and I love playing shows. I love single melodies that gets stuck in people's heads. So I'm not trying to not connect with the audience, but I'm following my heart and going with what I feel. And also, if you can imagine this, I'm playing 150 to 200 shows a year. That means I'm home 120 days out of the year. So I'm kind of experimenting on people because I get to see people react to my music and see the way people react to our sets and see the way people [are] singing. And it's so much better, and the general consensus is that we're almost at a new starting point with our show and the energy with everything. I feel like what I'm doing is working.
As you just mentioned, you tour takes up a good amount of the year. How do you mentally prepare for something like that?
You almost have to prepare for it the other way around, like getting back to your home life versus mentally preparing to get on tour. You don't do anything to mentally prepare to go on tour. You just go. Then you do it, and it's fun and it's great. You come home, and you're like, "Whoa, that was an intense trip. I can't believe I'm home, hanging out with my kids. I'm hanging out on the farm. I'm here in Woodstock. What the hell did I just do?"
I just played from New Orleans to San Diego and from San Diego all the way up to Seattle, all in two and a half weeks. Just playing every night. You sort of have to prepare to come home to just like look back at what you've done. But that's what you do when you're on tour. You're pumped. You don't have time to think when you're on the road. You just go and go and play and play and meet people and figure out what was a bad opener or if that new song we did was great. So the fun things happen on the road, which goes quickly ... then you come home.
You're performing at this year's installment of Mountain Jam. How does it feel to be on the bill? And what are you looking forward to most?
Well first of all, it's 20 minutes from my house. It's really close and really nice to have a festival in your backyard. I'm looking forward to playing with my band. I know I'm playing in between moe.'s sets, so I'm going to get some of those guys on the stage during mine because I know those guys, and I've played with them before. I'm looking forward to the surprises that happen during my band's set.
You've been doing this for a long time. But for the acts who are new to festivals, what's your advice for them?
My advice to them is to have a great time. Engage the audience. They want to be right there with you.
You've been using Go-Pro cameras a bit in your videos. We featured "If I Get to See You at All" in February, and you have a few other videos that incorporated them. How did Go-Pro come into the Marco Benevento equation? And how do you go about thinking of the concepts for these videos?
The Go-Pro thing is pretty cool. I've been in touch with those guys, and they've been giving us more cameras. They like the video that I made for "At the Show."
Yeah, I was wondering if that was an official video.
Yeah, it's an official one, sort of, made unofficially because I just put a bunch of Go-Pro cameras around my studio and then just edited it together in iMovie or whatever. But since then, Go-Pro reached out and said they loved the video and have sent me more cameras to make the video for "If I Get to See You at All." And then they showed up at one of our shows with literally 20 Go-Pro cameras set up in the venue that we played. They're going to make a live video for me. They have tons of footage that they're working with. So that whole thing happened organically through my friend who used to work there. He got me to use it first, then [Go-Pro] reached out after they saw the video and sent me more cameras and came to film the show. So that's how the whole Go-Pro thing happened. Just a cool thing that happened with a cool company.
And generally for videos, I usually have a vision for how I want it to look. I had a video, not with Go-Pro cameras, but people with lots of [other] cameras here at the house. I had a vision for "Limbs of a Pine," the video with Kalmia [Traver] of Rubblebucket. So with that video, I had a vision, which I told the people who made the video, that I was picturing strobe lights and people dancing around a fire, like the whole time, and having it be a nighttime party set. Or sometimes, for a video, I'll shoot a lot of stuff. And as I'm editing the video, I'll get inspired on how it gets made. I didn't dabble too much with editing, but I know how to do it a little bit better.
Swift has only been out for a year, but are you working on new material potentially for the next record?
Oh absolutely. I have 10 new songs, and we've been testing a couple of them on the road. I have a vision of the new record, and I have a lot of demos made. There's definitely going to be something coming out sooner than later. I've just been working here in my own studio. I really like the direction of this band and like the audience reaction when we're playing shows. So I want to have songs like that. But yeah, I'm pretty close to getting a new record done. And probably by 2016, it'll be out.
So is the bulk of 2015 mostly touring?
I do a lot of recording with various people, but pretty much I'll be on tour with my band, playing festivals and shows. I recorded with the guy from the New Pornographers, AC Newman. And his latest record [Shut Down the Street], which came out a few years ago, I did the keyboards on that. And I get hired to do the keyboards on people's records around here, and I like doing that a lot.
Aside from Mountain Jam, Benevento will also be playing a number of dates this summer and fall. Check them out below, and grab more details at his official website.
June 4-7 -- Hunter Mountain, N.Y. -- Mountain Jam
June 26-27 -- Rothbury, Mich. -- Electric Forest Festival
July 5 -- Quincy, Calif. -- High Sierra Music Festival
July 11 -- Greenfield, Mass. -- Green River Festival
July 17 -- Truman, N.Y. -- Grassroots Music Festival
July 24-25 -- Denver -- The 1up
Sept. 12 -- Hector, N.Y. -- Stonecat Cafe
Sept. 25 -- Guthrie, Okla. -- Taloe Festival