“Bene Being Bene”: Marco Benevento’s Sonically Swirling & Fearless TigerFace

Marco Benevento has been called a “sound sculptor.”  With his new album TigerFace (out now on Royal  Potato Family) this assertion may never be more evident then it is with this adventurous, mystical masterpiece.  While Benevento’s albums always are humbly structured, this album is his most intellectual and sophisticated to date, yet manages to retain the risk taking, almost childish, playful charm he has always enamored his fans with present, showcasing it on songs like “Atari” and “Real Morning Party.” 





 Honest Tune checked in with Benevento, as he gears up for an extensive Fall Tour that will keep him on the road through the Thanksgiving holiday.



Honest Tune: While the blood, sweat, and tears won’t be really be done until you finish this heavy workload of tour dates, how are you feeling now that the album is complete and ready for an audience?

 Marco Benevento: The entire process for making this record took two years, so it actually feels particularly good to finally have this record done and out there for people to hear. Of course having the two songs with Kalmia Traver (Rubblebucket) is also a very exciting part of the record for me because I’ve never written words to my tunes. It’s a new door opened and I’m thrilled at the end result. Having John McEntire (Tortoise and The Sea and Cake) on a tune is also pretty exciting for me too.  I’m a huge fan of the record Standards that Tortoise released back in 2001 and working with him at his studio in Chicago (Soma) was mind blowing. I’m looking forward to hitting the road with my band (Dave Dreiwitz and Andy Borger) and playing a bunch of the new tunes in the fall.



HT: The overall feeling of this album seems to be much more direct than previous works.  As an avid listener and fan, I have always felt that you had a “Thelonious” approach to your playing.  A sort of delayed precision, where you are just taking a melody to the edge before you keep it going by hitting just one simple note.  Is that a correct assumption, and if so is this piece of work intentionally a bit of an antithesis  approach? 

MB: I really didn’t intentionally do anything different for Tigerface than the other records I’ve made. I think just having more time allowed for me to exhaust anything and everything that came to mind for every tune.  I almost had too much music to work with after tracking with so many folks. By adding so many musicians to the mix and with all of the layered ideas that arose I wound up taking away more stuff in the end. I was looking for some simpler ideas and concepts for this record, but I think that’s what I’ve been searching for on stage too. Compositionally speaking I feel like a lot of the tunes are very much in the style of what I’ve been up to lately, so I feel like it’s a more modern representation of the music in my head.  We’ve been playing the tunes live a bunch over the last year and they fit in nicely with the other tunes from the other records so I’m digging the freshness of the new tunes live.


HT:  Not that the other albums lacked structure, but this album feels a bit more tightly coiled where other albums are softer and more open-knitted in structure.

 MB: Yeah the tunes without words almost seem like they could have words.  They also have more of a concise simple pop quality about them, especially the song “Fireworks.”  A lot of the tunes have smaller solo sections or no solo section at all, so we wound up focusing a bit more on the arrangement and dynamics of the tune as well as the song as a whole. A handful of songs were actually written in the studio rather than written before hand, so I wasn’t married to any specific way a particular song should go.  “Escape Horse” was actually tracked in the opposite order than it began on the record.  We tracked it and the intro was called “A” the middle called “B” and the ending section was “C” however in the final edited finally version of the song I changed it to go like this backwards: C B A.



HT:  What are you using most to overdub on this work compared to past pieces, Moog, Optigan, Mellotron or Farfisa?

 MB:  I’m using a lot of the same stuff that I’d normally use. There is a lot of Optigan, specifically on the intro of “Going West.” Farfisa is heavy on that one too.  I used a VCS3 on Limbs of a Pine, that’s the synth intro and background you here throughout the tune. I’ve never used one of those before they’re pretty hard to find.  Luckily John McEntire had one at his place. [John] Medeski had his Mellotron and Wurlitzer 7300 at Applehead Studio in Woodstock where I did a bunch of mixing and overdubbing, so I used that “Do What She Told You.”  I used a Stylophone and a Clavioline at the end of “Soma.” I never recorded with those freaky keys before. So, yes there are a handful of keyboards that I’ve never used before on this record. I’m happy I got to use them!



 HT:  Working with producer Tom Biller…interesting as I feel as though I could find some of these tracks on ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  I see correlations to Tom Biller that seem fitting, but Bryce Goggin has worked mainly with punk-ish indie bands (aside from Phish) like Pavement and The Morning Glories.  This is your second album working with him, what do you think he adds?  Did Mike Gordon recommend him?

 MB:  Joe Russo and I worked with Tom Biller out in LA to make Play Pause Stop back in 2005, so I’ve know him and his wife for a while.  He’s just a great guy to work with in the studio. He’s super chill, gets amazing sounds, knows how to work quickly and really focuses on each tune to help bring out what will help the life of the tune. My band stayed at his house while we tracked, so we really got deep into it. 

 Working with Bryce in Brooklyn is such a blast.  He’s so quick on the draw too.  Basically if you are messing with an idea on another keyboard somewhere else in the room as you’re listening back to a take, before you know it one of his assistants has an amazing mic out there ready to record your spontaneous idea.  His studio was also real close to my apartment when I lived in Brooklyn, so that was a plus.  Not to mention the first time I recorded with Trey, Mike and Joe was at Trout.  That’s when I first met Bryce.  We just hit it off, talking about gear and slappin’ the grand ham slapper, two geeks in a studio style. Bryce really is a professional capturist – he’s there, but not there, you’re recording, but it’s not a slow paced sterile environment, it’s buzzing with abundant musical directions and he’ll be there to get it for you. I also call his place “The House Of Closure” because I’ve mixed songs from three records there so Trout is where I have to make the final decisions on the mixes.


 HT:  You seldom play with guitarists, but you have worked with some of the most heralded axe players.  Notably Trey Anastasio and Steve Kimock.  Particularly what is it like to play with someone like Kimock who is known to really stretch things out?  Can they adapt and follow well to works off of Invisible Baby, and the like? 

 MB:  Well I definitely come from a stretch it out background.  Jazz, free jazz and spontaneous music making is how I learned my instrument so traveling with Steve down that path is super fun.  He’s easy to get along with and damn, he can play his ass off!  We’ve done a handful of shows together. Whether it’s sitting in with my band or playing with The Everyone Orchestra, Steve and I can hang. We get along well and ultimately have a good time feeding off each other onstage and listening to each other.



 HT:  Various musicians absolutely rave about you, especially bass players and drummers.  Give yourself a pat on the back here for a minute.  What is it about your style that seems to get these guys like Andrew Barr, Matt Chamberlein, and bassist Reed Mathis off so much? 

 MB:  Well all three of those guys are superb musicians and can do the right thing at the right time always. They are definitely in that category of musicians who have reached their ten thousandth hour and are on their way to being a master, Reed might already be a master.  We all can listen and respond well enough to each other that sometimes it makes us crack up. Sometimes I look at Matt and he looks like an eight year old playing his first beat on his first kit, smiling and bashing away, in total awe at what he’s doing, and what he’s doing is ridiculous!  Andrew and I go way back to 1995 Boston days, so we have a deep respect for each other as well as a serious love for the Fringe (George Garzone, John Lockwood and Bob Gullotti), so that says it all.  We would wind up playing a lot at his house in Boston into the late hours of the night. Just piano and drums. Those were some good ol’ days.



HT:  You are a big proponent of “Circuit Bending.”  For those who may not know the gritty details, would you care to explain, and give some examples of songs where this is a most prominent feature?

 MB:  Generally circuit bending involves a battery operated kids toy (Speak N Spell, or Casio keyboard) and a soldering iron.  Of course you need a screw driver to take it apart, but that’s basically all you need.  I’ve never actually done any circuit bending myself, but my friend who does (Tom Stephenson of Roth Mobot) basically described it like that. You can modify the toys with a switch or a turnable knob that effects the pitch and then put quarter inch outs on them so you can run them into amps and pedals.  I’d just recommend checking it out online, or buying a bent toy on ebay.  They are basically noise boxes or glitch boxes that make electronic tweaked sounds. I like them because when you put them behind a piano track or behind a band it really adds this David Lynch-esque quality to your tune. It’s a tweaked out layer of sound mingling with a timeless old piano sound that really sparked my interest in using them live. “This Is How It Goes” was written around that toy loop during the chorus on a kids toy Yamaha small keyboard. “Now They’re Writing Music” also has a lot of toys on it.



 HT:  Between the Needle and Nightfall comes off as much more deliberate, where as TigerFace comes off tremendously versatile, and Invisible Baby, comes off much more groove based.  This album seems to have the structure and intellectual strength of Needle and Nightfall, but with a lot more willingness to let go and play different tones and really layered and patient.  What were the key differences & elements in approach to this album?

 MB:  I took all the time in the world to make TigerFace and live with it and so naturally more sounds and approaches found their way onto the final record over those two years.



HT:  For those at home not keeping score, how many of these songs have you played live already?

 MB:  Escape Horse, This Is How It Goes, Limbs Of A Pine, Fireworks, Eagle Rock and Going West have been played in some shape or form out there.



HT:  The first two tracks (“Limbs of a Pine” & “This is How it Goes”)  feature vocalist Kalmia Traver of Rubblebucket.  How did you come to the conclusion of adding vocals to this album, how did you hook up with her, and will these songs find a way of making it to the stage? 

 MB:  Oh man, Kal is amazing. I saw her totally rock a crowd in Burlington with Rubblebucket. I was floored. And prior to that we played a gig together in Denver with The Everyone Orchestra, so we knew each other a little bit.  While I was editing “This Is How It Goes” and thinking of what it might need I honestly, intuitively felt that I wanted a high vocal part; sort of a cross between Debbie Harry and Satomi Matsuzaki (singer in Deerhoof), something high and thin and cute but super badass too. My wife and I with reckless abandon wrote lyrics syllabically (ooooohs and ahhhhs and eeeeees) to the piano melody. We really didn’t want to think to much about the words because we just wanted to hear what the vocals would actually sound like on the tune. Our friends and me and my wife (during a pretty late night of eating and drinking) recorded a version of the song with all of us singing. It sounded like a big chorus and we loved it and had a real fun time doing it. I almost released that version of the song! The original chorus is on the record however we’re just in the background. 

After sitting with it for a while I thought I should try one with a singer who could possibly nail that Debbie Harry/Satomi Matsuzaki vibe and well of course Debbie Harry was the first person I thought of to call, but it seemed like a pipe dream. A couple months before I had just seen Kal and Rubblebucket and was totally blown away by the sound of her band and her voice so I reached out to her.  We pulled it together for a day of overdubbing in Brooklyn at Trout. Kal had so many ideas and her enthusiasm actually made me feel like the song needed vocals all along. Adding a singer to my music didn’t feel awkward at all, it was my first time trying it so you never know, but it wasn’t strange to me actually it felt very natural. She sang harmonies with the melody and overdubbed herself to create these thick moving vocal lines.  I was totally impressed with her natural ability to come up with real great supportive ideas for the tune and of course floored by the quality of her voice and how well it worked with the tune.



HT:  One last thing, did Panda Bear from Animal Collective help you design your new album cover?

 MB:  Nope. I used my friend Baptiste Ibar.  He also did Invisible Baby, he’s an incredibly talented painter, guitar player and singer.