Marco Benevento: Man in Motion



Marco Benevento is a man on the go, whether playing keys as one half the Benevento/ Russo Duo, in the Led Zeppelin cover band Bustle in Your Hedgerow, with jazz-funk outfit Garage A Trois, or in any number of bands with everyone from Jon Fishman, to Reed Mathis, to Andrew Barr, to Matt Chamberlain. Benevento is a man in constant motion, always moving and evolving, always looking for that next new musical horizon.

His new album, Me Not Me, is much of the same constant motion, a covers-heavy release that was born from two days in the studio in which he tracked a handful of tunes by artists like Leonard Cohen, My Morning Jacket, Beck, and Deerhoof – along with three of his own new songs.  Me Not Me is a fun, schizophrenic album anchored by Benevento’s rock-steady inventive playing.

While on the West Coast for a four-week long residency at Yoshi’s in Oakland, CA, that finds the keyboardist taking the stage every Tuesday with a different line-up, Benevento checked in with Honest Tune from the studio where he was spending his off-days while out West.


Honest Tune:  How has the residency been going?  Have you planned out all the nights in advance or have they been mostly improvised?

Marco Benevento:  Kinda both worlds.  The first gig was my trio with Andrew (Barr) and Reed (Mathis) so we played all the tunes off of the new record.  So we knew what we were doing for that gig.  The second gig was totally improvised no set list, just totally made up music with Billy Martin, Skerik, and Calvin Weston.  Last night was a mix of both worlds.  Scott Amendola and Devon Hoff (the rhythm section from Nels Cline Trio) and Jeff Parker (the guitarist from Tortoise) played, and they learned some of my tunes.  We did a mix of improv and tunes.  And next week is all Neil Young.

HT:  You are playing with Joe (Russo, drummer from the Benevento/Russo duo) again next week right?

MB:  Yeah, Joe is playing the Neil Young night.

HT:  When is the last time you guys played a Duo show? 

MB:  It has been a long time.

HT: Any nerves to get back and play with him again?

MB:  Joe and I see each other often and play often – we just haven’t done a Duo show in a while. We are trying to hold out and write some new music and put together a new record before we hit the road and tour together as the Duo.  In the meantime we are playing some random gigs together – Bustle In Your Hedgerow (Benevento and Russo’s Led Zeppelin cover band with RANA’s Scott Metzger and Ween’s Dave Drewitz) and the Neil Young gig.  I am excited that he is going to be rocking out with us next week.

HT:  Are you looking at the end of the year for a new Duo album and tour then?

MB: No probably next year, 2010.

benevento_russo.jpgHT:  Did you find your time away helped you bring something new to the table or do you guys find that since you have played together for so long that you have pretty set roles when you play together?

MB:  It definitely helps for us to bring something new to the table.  The doors are open and the winds of freshness are blowing through.  We have been playing a lot with other bands and this has helped bring a new freshness to the Duo.  It has helped us discover new things the Duo could be up to right now.  Joe has played with a bunch of bad-asses and I have played with a bunch of other folks and then when we hang out it is not so stale, like when we see each other all the time in the van when we are on tour.  It is nice to take a year and figure out what the next move is.

A lot of bands fall apart because someone gets another gig or what not. Joe and I are doing other gigs, but we are always thinking in the back of our minds we are going to get together again someday.

HT:  You have so many projects you are a part of, you have your finger in so many pots, how do decide what you want to do next?  Is it more you deciding what you want to do, or is it just taking what ever opportunities come your way?

MB:  A lot of it is both.  I will get a call and end up in North Carolina playing a gig where Jon Fishman is the drummer and it is awesome.  Then sometime down the road I may wind up playing with Jon Fishman again.  For this residency I called up Billy Martin, and Calvin, and Skerik and was like "let’s put this band together" – we had done it once before at Sullivan Hall (New York City) in January 2008.  So it’s a combination of being audacious and reaching out and calling people, and saying I am going to call Jon Fishman and see if he can do this gig and just being around people who call or email me.

I think overall though it is more me reaching out and putting these bands together.  I am actually in the studio recording right now. I just came outside to take a little break.  I am recording with the guitarist from Deerhoof and the drummer from Apollo Sunshine and we are just tracking and hanging out today.  And this came about because Jeremy (Black, drummer for Apollo Sunshine) has a studio and was like "come on over and record.A lot of it is chance, but a lot of it is me getting off my ass and calling people.

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HT:  It seems like you like to instigate a lot of these different projects.  Is there a project that you really want to do that maybe seems out of your wheel house or your norm that would go completely against what people would expect from you that you are just waiting for the right opportunity for?

MB: Definitely. Even the band last night was a step outside. I have never played with Devon Hoff, or Jeff Parker.  I had played with Scott Amendola once.  It was a nice band; I would like to do that again.

I do like thinking about the totally acoustic thing where I show up at a place with an upright bass player and just play piano with no effects or nothing, very acoustic.  I also think about playing totally electronic music and just traveling around with my circuit-bend toys and playing them and a drum machine.  I have a lot of different things in my mind.

HT:  Do you ever have a desire to go completely into another world and make something catchy and poppy with lyrics?

MB: {laughs} No I am happy where I am at.  But I am not opposed to it either, I would love to try something like that, I have never written any lyrics…maybe I should try.

HT: Do you have a wish list of people you would like to work with?

MB:  I really just want to work with someone who wants to work with me {laughs}.  It would be nice to hang out with a guy like Jon Brion; I have hung out with and played with him before.  But it would be great to sit-down and check him out in the studio and see how he works and see how we could collaborate with different keyboard sounds.  I am going way over the edge but someone like David Byrne or Brian Eno…would be something to work with them as well.


Photo: Michael DiDonna /

HT:  It seems you have a good version of musical ADD where you keep having to try different stuff.

MB: {laughs} Yeah.

HT:  How does that musical ADD play into the new album?  Was it a planned idea or was it like you said one of those things that just happened?

MB:  It just seemed to happen. I had a May tour last year with Matt Chamberlin and Reed (Mathis) and we had two days off and we just went into the studio to track, like I am today.  We played some original tunes and we played some covers and I got home and started messing around with the stuff and before I knew it I had like ten tunes and was like “wow, I have pretty much made another record already.”

It is a lot easier to do that these days.  A lot of musicians have Pro Tools, and they can edit their own music.  It is easy to make records; it is just hard to sell them.  Why not just make them and make your own label and just put out stuff?  It definitely can’t hurt.  The model has definitely been broken.  There is no right way to do it.  I feel like people are searching for a different way to put out different stuff.  Ryan Adams just released some Valentine’s Day thing a couple of days ago.  Musicians are just doing different things, recording more.

HT:  There is no build up or wait for albums, there is just the immediate release of it.

MB:  That’s exactly it. You can go into the studio for twelve days for like $1,000.  And if you go in with your friends who are musicians who just want to be there with you and play with you, you can have a record done for like $4,000. It use to cost like $30,000 or even more.

HT:  Was there a worry that the album was coming out so soon since your last one (2008’s Invisible Baby)?

MB:  I thought about that and wondered if I should put it out, and then I thought, "why should I not put this out?"

HT:  Do you look at these two albums differently because they were created so differently?

MB:  I view them differently because Me Not Me is more covers and those songs were already written.  There are only three originals on the album.  The originals I spent some time with, but the covers I didn’t have to worry about the composing or the melody notes or the bridge, or any of that.  I really just got into a producer role.  I messed with the arrangement and the overdubs and the circuit-bend toys and the way I could run the drums through a distortion pedal and use my different keyboards at home.  I just got into this creative process where I acted like an engineer/ producer at my house.  We tracked the record in two days.  It was two ten-hour days, and then I just went home and had fun wrangling up and twisting it apart.

HT:  Those were covers you have had in your live repertoire for some time?

MB: Yeah, I felt really comfortable recording them.

benevento.jpgHT:  Do you want to take another batch of covers and start playing them on tour and see if another album comes out of them in a couple of years?

MB:  Yeah, I have been playing this tune called “She’s Not There” by the Zombies and I still haven’t recorded that one.  I could get into doing other people’s music.  I definitely went through some phases where I was making this record and I asked “What am I doing?  This isn’t even my music – I am recording someone else’s songs.  I should be working on my own music.”  I got a feeling I am now going to go and work on more of my own music because that’s what you are supposed to be up to as a musician. But I do enjoy doing the covers and making my own interpretation of the cover and putting it on a record and hearing people’s responses to it like, “Wow that’s that song, I didn’t even recognize it.”

HT: It is fun to hear your take on these songs.  There is a sense of familiarity there, but at the same time you are putting your stamp on it. It is just not the song regurgitated back out.

MB:  Right, right.  That was a really fun role to get into on the record, the arranger and overdubbing and playing different piano tracks at home and really experimenting.  I was working a lot from ten or eleven at night to like four in the morning – just getting really freaky with it in my basement, just messing around with sounds.  I really enjoyed that role as a musician.

The new Garage a Trois record with Skerik, Stanton Moore, and Mike Dillon will probably come out in the fall or early 2010. I also stepped into that producer role on that album as well and put a lot of circuit-bend toys on it and rearranged a lot of stuff, I messed with Stanton’s drums, and Skerik’s sax.  It is a new thing for me and I am really into the producing thing right now.

HT:  Is that a role, as the producer, that you would like to pursue in the future?

MB: Yeah totally. Actually in April I am getting together with Nathan Moore (from Surprise Me Mr. Davis) and I am going to work on his record as the producer.

HT:  Do you ever want to produce something that is outside of you normal realm.

MB:  Oh yeah, totally.  Do some rock band or some avant-garde band, or a string quartet.  If someone said they wanted me to put my stuff over this I would be so into it.  It is really fun to do that.  It is cool as a musician to figure out things as you are growing and learning that…I am a pianist and I will study piano and jazz until I die, but now I have entered a world of also being excited about sounds and making records.  I like to put on my headphones and mess around with different sounds and mixes and see how this amp sounds compared to this amp with this mic.

HT:  That seems like a good way to keep from getting bored.

MB: Exactly.